After three and a half weeks of preparation, the exhibition plan for 2023 is finally set. Now it’s time for the real NFL games to begin. But first, what do we take away from our first live look at all 32 teams heading into the new year?
Here are 10 of our key takeaways – key things we learned during the 2023 preseason:
1. The NFC East gets juicy
Daniel JonesGetty Images
The reigning conference champions, the Eagles, still have a much-touted roster. The Cowboys feel the same, now with Trey Lance behind Dak Prescott as a surprise contingency plan. And both Daniel Jones and Sam Howell looked confident as conditions improved for the Giants and Commanders, respectively. The key will be whether Darren Waller stays healthy as Jones’ new number 1 and whether Eric Bieniemy can trust Howell to master his offense over the long term. At least the entertainment value is there!
2. Buyers pay attention to dolphin health
The first red flag was Jalen Ramsey, their star defensive signing, who sustained a serious knee injury at camp. Since then almost everyone But Injury-plagued quarterback Tua Tagovailoa has been dealing with a few ailments — including left tackle Terron Armstead, running back De’Von Achane, wide receiver Jaylen Waddle and struggling new backup QB Mike White. This team has plenty of speed and a smart new defensive spirit, but it remains a risky bet from a medical standpoint.
3. The Chiefs will be fine (again).
Skyy Moore Getty Images
2022 was all about losing All-Pro Tyreek Hill. 2023 was all about properly supporting Travis Kelce with, well, someone other than JuJu Smith-Schuster. Aside from the fact that Kelce and Patrick Mahomes would keep Kansas City afloat anyway, almost all of their youngsters, including Skyy Moore, Rashee Rice and even Ihmir Smith-Marsette, have shown their great skills this summer. And only one of them could get a real look this year! Andy Reid’s offense could be WR safe.
4. Bryce Young could use your prayers (and/or more help).
There’s a lot to like about the Panthers’ No. 1 pick, both personally and stylistically. The rookie QB seems wise beyond his age. But the way Carolina’s offense looks this preseason, it could be years before he has competent protection and weaponry similar to Justin Fields in Chicago. Frank Reich is a good opponent as a head coach, but not even Ikem Ekwonu, who was a solid left tackle as a rookie, has set up a shaky line and aging possession player Adam Thielen seems like the only safe player on the wing…in year 2023.
5. The Steelers offense is about to take a big leap
George Pickens, left, and Kenny Pickett USATSI
Even Pittsburgh fans couldn’t celebrate Mike Tomlin’s recent losing streak as the Steelers looked sluggish for much of 2022. But second-year QB Kenny Pickett has had no problem moving the ball this summer, helped by George Pickens’ acrobatic performances on the sideline and Jaylen Warren’s outburst as a relief to Najee Harris. With an improved line and an underestimated safety valve in tight end Pat Freiermuth, all the makings are in place for this club to make a splash in the AFC North.
To be clear, this is not an acquittal or charge against the Colts’ rookie QB. Ever since his rise up the draft boards, the talk has remained the same: he’s an athletic freak in need of plenty of polish. And that became crystal clear in preseason when the Florida product flaunted both a wildly unpredictable and overpowering arm while doing most of his work on the ground. One thing’s for sure: Good, bad, or somewhere in between, Indianapolis is in for a fun year under the middle.
7. The Raiders may have encountered a long-term QB
Aidan O’Connell USATSI
We’re premature, of course, but most of the criticism of Las Vegas’ lucrative rental of Jimmy Garoppolo has to do with the Josh McDaniels regime’s betting on an actual situation Solution at the QB. Don’t tell that to Aidan O’Connell! The fourth-round rookie from Purdue led a half-dozen scoring drives in significant preseason actions and completed 70% of his shots without a single pick. He may be a statue in the bag, but he’s never looked over his head and was expected to be the team’s No. 2 QB from the start.
8. Derrick Henry could run 2,000 yards again
Actually out of necessity. The Titans have added DeAndre Hopkins to Ryan Tannehill’s otherwise leaky WR corps, but their connection depends not only on their shared health, but also on keeping the revamped O-Line strong. Young backup QBs Malik Willis and Will Levis alternated sporting moments and thrilling moments throughout the summer. At the end of the day, even with a change in general manager, it feels like another old-school Mike Vrabel operation that will rely heavily on Henry’s superhuman size.
9. Don’t discount another Rams collapse
After an ugly, injury-plagued Super Bowl “encore,” Sean McVay’s roster returns with Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp, but the latter is already recovering from a fresh injury and the team’s best Stafford insurance plan is rookie Stetson Bennett, who’s seen his Losing accuracy every time he saw the field preseason. Los Angeles spent the early part of the offseason cutting costs and shifting focus to the long term. The 41-0 loss in the exhibition finals could be a fitting transition to the real games.
10. Jordan Love seems to have that touch
If Aaron Rodgers’ move to the Jets is the biggest storyline of the 2023 offseason, it’s to Love’s credit that we didn’t express too many concerns about the Hall of Famer’s future successor. The regular season will be the ultimate test, but the former first-rounder has been efficient, productive and, perhaps best of all, composed in all three starts of the tournament. We knew he had a live arm out of college, but the touch he showed on multiple red-zone targets was just as impressive.