The beauty of the NFL is that turnarounds can be quick.
Last year’s losers can easily become this year’s darlings. It happens every year. In the 2022 season, seven of the 14 teams that made the postseason did not qualify in the previous season. Fans should expect about the same rate of post-season turnover in the 2023 NFL season.
In the spirt of that, we are going to look at three teams who were think will go from being a 2022 also-ran to a 2023-playoff participant. (We present the teams in alphabetical order.)
New Orleans Saints
It’s all set up for the New Orleans Saints. They have one of the easiest schedules in the NFL this season, and according to The Athletic’s quarterback tiers, the Saints don’t face an elite quarterback this season. Plus, the Saints live in the NFC South — probably worst division in the league. So, New Orleans and new quarterback Derek Carr are set up to make a run in the division.
The Saints have a good defense (they were fifth in the NFL in total defense, allowing 314.8 yards per game) and have some weapons on offense, so the presence of Carr should help this team excel after going 7-10 last season. With the addition of Carr factored in with the easy slate, the Saints could get into the 9-10 win range. That should be enough to win the division and get them into the postseason. Now, don’t get me wrong … I’m not expecting the Saints to march on a Super Bowl. I’m thinking they may be more like the 2022 Minnesota Vikings: Win the division and then go one-and-done in the postseason.
Unlike the Saints, if the Steelers go to the postseason it won’t be sponsored by an easy road. The AFC is stacked and Pittsburgh has to tangle with both the Cincinnati Bengals and the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. But here’s the deal: The Steelers are good. They will very much be in the AFC mix. Look, I’m one of those no-fun people who puts absolutely zero stock into the preseason. So, including the Steelers in this group was not because the Steelers looked so strong in the preseason. Yet, they looked good because they are good.
I’m not sure if second-year quarterback Kenny Pickett is going to play at a Pro Bowl level this season, but I think he is going to play winning football and he may have a special chemistry brewing with fellow second-year player, receiver George Pickens. Overall, this is a strong roster and the Steelers are extremely well coached by head coach Mike Tomlin and his staff. Pittsburgh made the playoffs in 2020 and ‘21. Expect a return to the postseason after a brief detour last season.
This might be my favorite team on this list. But like the Steelers, Washington’s road to the playoffs won’t be easy. The NFC East is stacked and an argument could be made that the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants are all in a better spot than the Commanders, who finished last in the division in 2022, are. Yet, there is a lot to like about this team, which went 8-8-1 and was just barely left out of the playoff mix, and the good vibes flow after the sale of the franchise from Daniel Snyder to Josh Harris.
Look at the roster. It’s pretty underrated and ability on both sides of the ball. The defense is nasty (it was third in the league last season, allowing 304.6 yards per game). The team is high on young quarterback Sam Howell and if he is ready, watch out. Howell won’t need to carry this team, either. New offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy should give Ron Rivera’s offense juice and Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has that side of the ball covered. If you’re looking for a sleeper in 2023, don’t look further than the Commanders.