Pro Football History.com Blog
By Oliver Vaughn
August 16th, 2023
The 2022 NFL season marked a significant milestone for the league and the NFC East. For the first time since 1987, and first-time ever since divisions realigned to four teams, three teams from the same division (Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants) all qualified for the Divisional Round of the playoffs. There’s also reason to believe the NFC East will be even better in 2023 as the Washington Commanders seeks to improve, and the three playoff teams all made moves to try and take their franchises to the next level.
A lot of unanswered questions, however, still surround each team as the season prepares to get underway. Can the Philadelphia Eagles become the first NFC East team since 2004 to win back-to-back NFC East crowns, or have the Giants, Cowboys, and Commanders done enough to supplant them atop the division? This article will delve deeper into the biggest questions surrounding each NFC East team heading into Week 1 of the NFL season.
Before the season starts, will Howie Roseman acquire a linebacker or safety?
The loss of linebacker TJ Edwards and defensive tackle Javon Hargrave has been felt in the preseason. While first-round pick Jalen Carter is poised to fill Hargrave’s shoes just fine, the Eagles still face questions at linebacker as well as in the secondary, which was evidenced in the Super Bowl. While Nakobe Dean is set to take one of the linebacker spots and Terrell Edmunds and Reed Blankenship are poised to start as safeties, there's room for more talent.
As a general manager known for his strategic maneuvers, Roseman has made an impressive 17 trades during training camps or the start of the regular season since reassuming his position in 2016. So, if he perceives the need for an upgrade in these positions, seeing him spring into action wouldn't be surprising. As training camp battles unfold and new additions like Nolan Smith fight for a starting role, the potential for new additions to the team is certainly an exciting prospect to watch.
Is there a potential return for Ezekiel Elliott to support Tony Pollard?
Letting Elliott go was not a popular decision amongst the Cowboys fan base, with many believing the move was premature. With Pollard set to play on the franchise tag this year, it's clear he's the top dog in Dallas. However, he’s coming off a torn fibula, and despite claims that he feels better than ever, it’s not an easy injury to bounce back from. That means the Cowboys need a strong No. 2 option, and thus far, they are still looking for someone to step up.
That someone might be sixth-round pick, Deuce Vaughn. Despite his 5’5”, 176-pound frame, Vaughn, whose drawn comparisons to another undersized Kansas State back, Darren Sproles, has impressed in training camp and the team’s first preseason game. However, his size is still a concern. While Malik Davis, Rico Dowdle, and KaVontae Turpin are also fighting for the No. 2 spot, no one has stepped up enough to impress head coach Mike McCarthy. That has led to questions of whether the team should bring Elliott back, who is still seeking a team to play for.
The team can't ignore Elliott’s past work for the club, even if his performance declined last year, as he ranked lowest in yards per carry, tackles evaded, and the proportion of his rushes that gained 10 or more yards. If Elliott can rebound from his lackluster performance, he could provide good support for Pollard, even though it would be considered a gamble.
New York Giants
Will the Giants resolve contractual issues with Saquon Barkley?
The Giants don’t need distractions, but the Barkley saga, unfortunately, has been the story of the offseason. Barkley’s future with the Giants remains uncertain as the franchise and star running back were unable to reach a long-term deal in the offseason. The core of their disagreement reportedly lies in the annual salary, with a $2 million gap and some $22 million in guarantees.
Barkley did sign a one-year deal worth $11 million just before the preseason, giving the Giants the option to franchise tag him in 2024, but it’s still not a long-term solution. Barkley may have to go through this procedure again next year, something he would rather not experience. If the Giants’ season doesn’t materialize, the Giants and Barkley could agree to part ways, allowing the team to trade him to a contender. The Giants hope, however, it doesn’t come to that. With Daniel Jones signing a long-term deal and the additions of tight end Darren Waller and rookie wide receiver Jalin Hyatt, the team has aspirations of following up their comeback season and winning an NFC Championship in 2023.
Is Sam Howell Finally the Answer at Quarterback?
If you listen to the training camp reports, then the Commanders believe they have solved their quarterback woes which have been a problem since the turn of the century. Since 2000, just twice has a Washington quarterback been selected to the Pro Bowl (Robert Griffin III 2012, Kirk Cousins 2016). The last several years have been spent trying to groom players like Taylor Heinicke and Dwayne Haskins while hoping they could revive the careers of Alex Smith, Carson Wentz, and Ryan Fitzpatrick. Nothing has worked, and as a result, their NFL odds have plummeted.
Howell is a bit of a mystery. Selected in the fifth round of the 2022 NFL Draft, most expected him to be a career clipboard holder. However, after the Wentz and Heinicke experiments failed, the Commanders turned to Howell and seemingly found something. He showed promise in the team’s Week 18 game last year and has had an exceptional training camp and preseason thus far. Still, while everyone has said the right things regarding his maturation and starting ability, Commanders fans know all too well that seeing is believing when it comes to the quarterback position.
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By Stephen Juza
July 31st, 2023
Continuing our predictions for the 2023 NFL season, our next stop is the AFC South. The division is in a transition period, with three of the four teams taking quarterbacks in the first two rounds of April’s draft, two new coaches starting their head coaching careers, and a division that is as open as any. Watch for the Jacksonville Jaguars to repeat as division champions under second-year head coach Doug Pederson.
After finishing with six wins in their last seven games, the Jaguars were able to clinch their first division title since 2017. After a disastrous 2021 season that saw new head coach Urban Meyer fired before his first season was completed, the team rebounded under Doug Pederson. The Jaguars enter the season with a strong hand, hoping to play their hand right and secure another division title under the guidance of Coach Pederson.
Continuity will be a major with this team. The team returns almost every starter from last season. Third-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence began showing why he was one of the most hyped draft picks in the last ten years and he should continue that this season. Beyond a year of experience, this season brings a new receiving weapon after Calvin Ridley returns after his season long suspension. For those familiar with poker hands, he could be the equivalent of a royal flush if he can find some form.
Look for the Jaguars to repeat as champions and secure their first back-to-back division titles since the 1998/1999 seasons.
The Houston Texans had a rough 2022 season, culminating in firing their head coach for the second consecutive offseason. Entering 2023, optimism is high with the hiring of DeMeco Ryans to lead the team. After drafting quarterback C.J. Stroud and edge Will Anderson, Jr. second and third overall in the NFL draft, the team hoped to find franchise cornerstones on both sides of the ball.
After leading the 49ers defense for the last two years, including a defense that ranked #1 in both yards and points allowed, Ryans hopes to shore up the Texans defense. A big step in leading that will be free agent defensive tackle, Sheldon Rankins. In a division with two of the top running backs in the league, the run defense will be critical to winning the close games that the Texans will need to rely on in 2023.
The Indianapolis Colts enter the 2023 season with many of the same questions as the Texans, behind a rookie head coach/quarterback tandem. While Ryans led a top defense in the West, new Colts head coach Shane Steichen led a top offense in the East. Steichens was hired by the Colts to turn around the franchise, and providing stability to the QB position will be a big part of that success. After constant turnover at the position, the franchise is hoping that fourth overall pick Anthony Richardson can be the answer.
His success should be easier with defending rushing champion Jonathan Taylor in the backfield, should he report to the team. In an offseason filled with noise and threats of holdouts from the running backs across the league, Taylor is the last high profile running back who has yet to report. Entering the final season of his contract and hoping for an extension, if the Colts want to win games, they will need him in the backfield. If, or rather, when, he reports, he should pair with Richardson to form a feared running combination in the division.
While the Tennessee Titans have one of the best running backs in the league in Derrick Henry and new wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins, I do not think it will be enough on offense to compete in the division. Henry will be good enough to lead the team to a few victories on his own, but the Titans probably will not get much help from the quarterback position.
After having arguably the worst season of his career since his rookie year, he should not inspire hope for the franchise. Look for the Titans to turn it over to one of the young quarterbacks on their roster by their bye week as they start to look toward the future. While head coach Mike Vrabel has led the team to three division titles in his five seasons, look for his seat to start warming up by the end of the season if they end in the basement.
Read our other division predictions:
By Stephen Juza
July 25th, 2023
As we continue our predictions for each of the divisions, our next stop is the AFC West. In what feels like the easiest division to predict its winner (spoiler, the Kansas City Chiefs), there are a lot of intriguing storylines for the remaining three teams that will impact the playoff race in January. Despite some big splashes across the division, expect the Chiefs to win their eighth consecutive division championship.
Kansas City Chiefs Fresh off their second Super Bowl victory during the Andy Reid era, the Chiefs are well positioned for their eighth consecutive division title, which will be the second longest streak in NFL history. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes remains the league's best quarterback and boasts some truly astonishing records against his division opponents. Since he has taken over the starting quarterback role, the Chiefs are 27-3 against AFC West opponents, and a perfect 15-0 on the road.
With the NFL Week 1 odds heavily favoring the Chiefs against the Lions, Chiefs’ fans are eagerly waiting for the season to start as they look to defend their Super Bowl title. Although they lost offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy to the Commanders in the offseason, expect the offense to look similar. Matt Nagy was promoted into his second stint as the offensive coordinator this offseason, and while the coordinators may change, it remains Reid’s offense.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Los Angeles Chargers finished second in the division last year and expect them to finish there again in 2023. This team has a lot of key cornerstones in place, but they have the unfortunate position of sharing a division with the Chiefs.
Quarterback Justin Herbert has looked good in his first three seasons in the league. While he is not on the same level as Mahomes or Josh Allen in Buffalo, he looks like he will be consistently toward the top of the QB rankings for the next decade. Running back Austin Ekeler is one of the most versatile running backs in the league, giving Herbert a lot of different options out of the backfield. On the defensive side of the ball, their pass rush featuring Khalli Mack and Joey Bosa will be able to get consistent pressure on opposing offenses.
While they did not likely improve to overtake the Chiefs, they should remain better than the other two teams in the division.
One of the biggest toss ups entering the 2023 season is the Denver Broncos. After finishing last place in the division, the last three seasons, there is a lot of optimism in Denver after the hiring of new head coach Sean Payton. Payton brings experience that will immediately improve the team over last year’s one-and-done head coach Nathaniel Hackett, although that is not difficult.
While quarterback Russell Wilson is on the downslide of his career, he should be better than his 2022 season. Last season, he had the fewest touchdown passes and second-most interceptions of his career. To help Wilson rebound, the Broncos prioritized the offensive line, bringing in free agents Ben Powers and Mike McGlinchey to help cut down on the fifty-five sacks Wilson took last year (tied for most in the league)
So, while the team should be better, it is tough to find how they will be good enough to challenge for the division.
Las Vegas Raiders
Rounding out the division is the Las Vegas Raiders, led by head coach Josh McDaniels. While other teams in the division made moves to improve, I do not see improvement happening for the Raiders in 2023. Downgrading from a healthy Derek Carr to a questionable Jimmy Garoppolo has the potential to blow up in the Raiders’ face. Garoppolo has not played a full season since 2019 and had offseason foot surgery, but he should be ready for Week 1.
Their defense needed a lot of improvement after last season, and they prioritized that side of the ball during the draft. Six of their nine draft picks went to defensive players. They will need to do a better job of putting pressure on the quarterback in 2023, and rookie Tyree Wilson should help them in that role.
Look for the Raiders to bottom out in the division, which might lead to Josh McDaniels’ firing come January.
Read our other division predictions:
By Stephen Juza
July 12th, 2023
After a two decade run of Patriots domination, the Buffalo Bills have made a statement the last three years that the division now runs through the Bills. Expect that to continue through the upcoming season, where despite moves from the other three teams will still leave them looking up at the Bills in the standings.
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The Buffalo Bills Rise:
The Bills recent success started back in 2017 with the hiring of first-time head coach Sean McDermott, who after an inaugural 9-7 season broke the sixteen season long playoff drought for the team. The following draft, the team drafted Josh Allen seventh overall. Over the past five years together, the Bills have won the division three times, made the playoffs as a wildcard one other time, and won 10+ games each of the last four seasons, the first time the Bills have accomplished that since the 90s.
Allen has become a shining star for the team, consistently ranked in the top three of any QB ranking in the league. Between him, Patrick Mahomes in Kansas City, and Joe Burrow in Cincinnati, those three quarterbacks will have many years of battling for AFC supremacy between them.
They may not have made any flashy moves in free agency, but they didn’t really need to. After winning the division three consecutive seasons, and bringing back their biggest contributors, they are still the team to beat in the division. Despite some headline-grabbing moves by others, it won’t be enough to unseat the Bills. Look for them to claim their fourth consecutive AFC East title, the first time since the 90s that a team other than the Patriots have accomplished the feat.
New York Jets Make a Splash:
Despite the team’s improvement in the win column the last two years, the New York Jets saw a major opportunity to jump into Super Bowl contention when they traded for future Hall of Famer Aaron Rodgers. Beyond the potential impact he will bring to the field this season, and maybe 2024, it also gives the Jets a chance to reset at quarterback. After Zach Wilson showed last year that he wasn’t starter material in his second season, it gives him a chance to sit on the bench and work on his game away from the pressure. It remains uncertain if he will ever regain a starting role in his career.
It’s not uncommon for a team to go worst-to-first in a division, and the Jets are a strong contender if the Bills falter during the season. Either way, look for the Jets to finish at least second in the division and end their longest playoff drought in franchise history.
Miami Dolphins Treading Water:
Coming off Mike McDaniel's inaugural season as the head coach of the Miami Dolphins, along with their first playoff berth since 2016, the future felt bright for the Dolphins. Quarterback Tua Tagovailoa’s advanced performance statistics place him among the top of the QBs in the league. Additionally, the Dolphins big acquisition this offseason, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, should be instrumental in slowing down the potent aerial offenses throughout the league.
However, despite Tua’s success when he’s been on the field, he’s missed about a quarter of the games the last two seasons with injuries. The Dolphins need him on the field all seventeen games this season to have a chance to improve on their 2022 season. Without that, look for them to slide to third place in the division.
New England Patriots In The Cellar:
The New England Patriots have themselves in unfamiliar positions the last few years. After Tom Brady left the team before the 2020 season, the team has posted two losing seasons in the last three seasons. Despite Bill Belichick’s personal greatness as a head coach, the offensive coaching staff failed second-year quarterback Mac Jones last year. At a critical point in his career development, the offense was entrusted to former defensive coordinator Matt Patricia and former special teams coordinator Joe Judge.
While the Patriots have an experienced offensive coordinator now with Bill O’Brien, the fierce competition in the AFC East suggests they are likely to end up at the bottom of the standings for the first time since Belichick’s first season in New England. Assuming the other teams remain healthy, the Patriots will need Mac Jones to make a monumental leap in ability this season to compete against the other teams in the division.
Read our other division predictions:
By Oliver Vaughn
July 7th, 2023
The NFC South division is filled with competitive teams, making it difficult to predict their rankings. In this analysis, we will assess each team's position groups, coaching staffs, and overall outlook heading into the upcoming training camp. By assigning numerical weights to each position group ranking, we can gauge the relative strength of each team.
Despite minor variations, all four teams in the division have a reasonable chance of finishing anywhere within the top four spots. This uncertainty adds excitement for football fans, but it might cause anxiety for Tampa Bay Buccaneers supporters. Without further ado, let's delve into the full team rankings of the NFC South.
New Orleans Saints
The New Orleans Saints claim the top spot in the NFC South rankings. Led by quarterback Derek Carr, they possess strong units in running back, wide receiver, tight end, linebacker, safety, and special teams. The Saints have constructed a solid all-around roster, with their only weakness being the offensive line. This team's success largely depends on the performance of their quarterback and the coaching staff's ability to overcome offensive line challenges.
However, with a strong supporting cast and a competitive defense under head coach Dennis Allen, the Saints are in a good position to contend for the division title and a playoff berth.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers finish just behind the Saints in the rankings, with a difference of 1.5 points. They share the highest number of top position groups with the Atlanta Falcons, totaling four.
The Bucs have assembled a plethora of talent on the defensive side of the ball, boasting players like Vita Vea, Shaq Barrett, and Antoine Winfield Jr. Coached by an innovative mind, they have the potential to possess the best defense in football, if not just in the NFC South. However, questions arise on the offensive side, particularly at running back and with a rookie play-caller. Despite these concerns, the Bucs are embracing variance and banking on the potential resurgence of their quarterback, Baker Mayfield, to propel them to success.
The Atlanta Falcons ranking might seem surprising, but the absence of synergy in the calculations could explain this discrepancy. Head coach Arthur Smith is constructing an offense that will be challenging for opponents to stop. The Falcons showed promise in their run game last year and have further bolstered their offensive line.
With the synergy of a potent run game against defenses primarily focused on stopping the pass, the Atlanta Falcons odds could emerge as the top offense in the NFC South.
On the defensive side, notable signings have elevated the talent level, but the cohesion of these additions remains uncertain. If the defense can gel, the Falcons might surprise as a dark horse playoff contender.
Although the Carolina Panthers possess potential for higher rankings in the future, they are currently in a rebuilding phase. With a new coaching staff and a rookie first-round quarterback, the Panthers exhibit typical markers of a team in transition. Despite having some talented players, they did not rank first in any position group within the NFC South.
In fact, they ranked last in five different areas. However, the Panthers' coaching staff stands out as the division's best, which can maximize the team's potential even with a less impressive roster. This coaching advantage could help the Panthers compete sooner rather than later.
The NFC South is a highly competitive division, and each team has a viable path to claim the top spot. After careful analysis, the New Orleans Saints emerge with a slight edge due to their strong defense and the presence of the division's best quarterback.
However, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Atlanta Falcons, and Carolina Panthers all possess unique strengths and factors that could influence the division's outcome. As football fans, we can eagerly anticipate an exciting battle among these teams in the upcoming season.
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