The much awaited 2023 NFL schedule has been released, and fans are already trying to determine whether their teams have a shot to win it all. Vegas has posted win totals for the 32 teams, and websites everywhere are poring over each detail hidden in these schedules. I’m not going to bother with any of that. I’ve looked at the schedules and the release itself, and I’ll share my top takeaways. If I didn’t touch on your team, their schedule is probably average. I tried to boil it all down to easy-to-comprehend, overarching notes to give you a sense of what’s in store. Predicting too much this early is probably foolish (but admittedly fun).
East Divisions Have it Rough
The fact that the divisions labeled “East” in each conference are following similar trends is purely coincidental. The reasons why their schedules have turned out this way is meaningful but possibly obvious: they have to play the other teams in their own divisions! The AFC East and NFC East are loaded. All 4 squads in the NFC East finished .500 or better, and they’ve all made improvements. In the AFC East, everyone but New England is a contender. The Jets acquired Aaron Rodgers to pair with their great defense, while the Bills and Dolphins are still very good.
Based on projected record, 3 of the 5 hardest schedules belong to AFC East teams. According to the more traditional SOS metric, the 8 most difficult schedules are ENTIRELY composed of the teams in the AFC East or NFC East. The East divisions have one more factor making their schedules harder: these two divisions match up this year. Every season, each division in conference plays the 4 teams in one division from the other conference. This time, the AFC East and NFC East are matched up. Since both of these divisions are loaded, that’s 3-4 more really difficult games on each schedule. Whoever makes the playoffs from these divisions will have truly earned it.
South Divisions are Laughable
The same logic described above explains why the 3 easiest schedules based on projected record belong to NFC South teams. Meanwhile, AFC South and NFC South teams have the 6 easiest schedules in 2023 based on the traditional measure. These projections are based on a simple truth: most of these 8 teams are going to be terrible. In the NFC South, Atlanta still looks like a poor team, and Carolina will be relying on a rookie QB who is 5’10”. Tampa looked bad last year, and now they won’t have Tom Brady keeping them afloat. Only New Orleans seems decent here.
Jacksonville is the clear favorite in the AFC South because of Trevor Lawrence. The other 3 teams are likely train wrecks. The Texans probably won’t be AS bad as last year, but this is still a weak roster. Tennessee is in a complete rebuild; Ryan Tannehill and Derrick Henry are sacrificial lambs behind the dismantled offensive line. Indianapolis seems like they’re a QB and a left tackle away from contention, but they didn’t add the tackle, and rookie Anthony Richardson isn’t a pick for 2023; he’s incredibly raw. Expect only one team to qualify for the postseason from each South division while the others fill the 2024 draft’s top 10 picks.
AFC Playoff Previews Galore
The schedule includes several games that are either sequels of last season’s playoff clashes or matchups that might foreshadow this year’s postseason. Aside from the guaranteed divisional matchups, we’ve got numerous additional heavyweight battles. Buffalo will play Jacksonville, Cincinnati, and Kansas City. The Bengals will also face the Chiefs for the 3rd consecutive regular season. On the NFC side, Dallas will play the Lions, Niners, and Seahawks. Philly encounters Minnesota in addition to SEA and SF.
These games are going to be crucial for tiebreaker purposes. It doesn’t always happen, but it’s not a coincidence that KC and Philadelphia made it to the Super Bowl as 1 seeds. The first-round bye and home field advantage that come with each conference can be critical. Does any team want to go to Arrowhead in January? How about facing Seattle’s notorious crowd? Certain situations are simply meant to be avoided. Winning these playoff previews will dictate control of the playoffs.
The games are also going to give teams insight into how their opponents play. Watching film is nice, but there’s no substitute for playing against a foe for real. The Bengals beat the Chiefs in the regular season last year but fell to them in the AFC Championship. San Francisco used their two earlier divisional games against Seattle to trounce them in the playoffs. It’s very possible that these teams will meet each other more than once, with the first matchup holding the key to the second.
Arizona Cardinals are Early Favorites for #1 Pick in 2024 Draft
I’ll probably make more concrete predictions about how teams will do this year later on. This one just happened to stick out as I combed through all the schedules. I see only ONE game in which this team might be favored (week 11 at HOU). Two other games (week 10 vs. ATL and week 16 at CHI) potentially look winnable. Otherwise, I can easily imagine the Cardinals dropping the other 14 games. Their roster looks that weak. I can’t name a real bright spot on offense or defense, and all 3 of their division foes look superior. Even the Rams, who were a train wreck last year, are likely to enjoy better health from their stars.
I’m no Kyler Murray fan, but he likely would offer more than Colt McCoy at this point. Murray’s ACL tear is likely to keep him out most of the season though, and McCoy is facing concussion issues himself (he’s expected to miss time this offseason). JJ Watt and AJ green retired but haven’t been adequately replaced. The pass defense is pretty much Budda Baker (who wants a trade) and nothing else, and the edge rushing will suffer without Watt or Zach Allen (signed with DEN in free agency). The team’s draft wisely focused on future players with upside, but that doesn’t help Arizona right now. It might actually behoove Arizona’s to struggle with Caleb Williams projected to enter the 2024 draft.
LA Chargers Have the Worst Coach but the Best Social Media Team
For the second year in a row, the Chargers unveiled their team schedule with an anime video. Once again, they outdid themselves. In their video (which you can watch here), the Bolts are the heroes in a larger-than-life, music-backed sequence. Numerous notable opponents make cameos as caricatures, including Dak Prescott, Bill Belichick, and Derrick Henry. The Pokemon Psyduck even appears in the team’s bye week clip! The team additionally makes a statement of purpose, where they chase a KC car in a helicopter to signify their intention to poach the AFC West crown (not super likely, but points for confidence).
Several shots are also taken at enemy teams. A “single cougars in your area” sign appears on a billboard for the Jets, and a message asking the viewer if they have a gambling problem is displayed for the Lions. Baltimore’s clip includes a Lamar Jackson contract signed by his “nonagent” Ken Francis. Most savagely, Buffalo’s exhibit has team executives staring at 4 flaming Super Bowl rings, representing the 4 consecutive titles the franchise failed to secure. This video is masterfully crafted from the opening moment (when a Charger stomps a receipt listing their 27-0 blown lead against the Jaguars in the playoffs). The team is still likely to hilariously collapse. It’s what they do. But they’ll always have their social media team!
Shad Khan Loves London
That’s my main conclusion after seeing that Jacksonville will play not one but TWO games across the pond in 2023. One will be at “home” versus Atlanta (at Wembley Stadium, a property of the Jags’ owner), whereas the other will count as a road game against Buffalo. For once though , the Jacksonville team the British fans get to see will likely be a good one. Even last year’s playoff team had a terrible start that included their London game. This time around, they’re reigning AFC South champions with a Pro Bowl QB in Trevor Lawrence. The Buffalo game should be great, and the Atlanta matchup should provide a rare overseas win for the Jags.
In other international game news, Baltimore and Tennessee will face off in the 3rd and final London game of the season. We’ll also have two Germany games, with Kansas City and New England “hosting” Miami and Indianapolis, respectively. Those two AFC South teams might not be very good (see above), but the Dolphins, Chiefs, and Ravens will all provide exciting offensive play. At the very least, Lamar Jackson, Patrick Mahomes, and Tua Tagovailoa will be major draws for these audiences. There’s no game in Mexico this year as Estadio Azteca is undergoing renovations and will be unavailable until 2024.
New England and Green Bay Might Experience Unfamiliar Territory: Last Place
Two constants for most of the 2000s have been the Patriots and Packers. Quarterback play has been the main reason why, as 20 years of Tom Brady for NE and a combination of Brett Farve and Aaron Rodgers for GB have made these two squads perennial contenders. With Brady retired and Rodgers moving on to the Jets, though, these teams have uncertainty under center for the first time in a WHILE. Mac Jones and Jordan Love are both facing critical seasons. Jones has to prove that his promising rookie year was more representative of his ability than 2022. Love, with barely any NFL experience, is trying to replace the great Rodgers.
Both teams’ QBs have covered roster holes for what feels like an eternity. Now that these legends are gone, the dearth of talent will likely be exposed. New England has one of the toughest schedules (see the first takeaway). The offensive talent is still lacking, and the defense has gotten old. Even special teams, Bill Belichick’s pride and joy, have question marks. The Jets, Dolphins, and Bills are all good, and the Patriots look like the clear-cut worst team in the division. Green Bay has some cellar competition from Chicago, but the man who “owns” the Bears is gone. The Packers can’t stop the run, and their pass catchers are all unproven. A rude awakening may await the Cheeseheads.