The confetti has barely settled on the Kansas City Chiefs’ title celebrations but attention is already turning towards the 2023/24 NFL season and who might challenge the Arrowhead franchise for the sport’s top prize.
The Chiefs scooped their second NFL championship in four years with a thrilling 38-35 win over the Philadelphia Eagles in Arizona and Patrick Mahomes and co are currently the 11/2 favourites to become the first team since 2004-2005 New England Patriots to win back-to-back titles.
With Mahomes and Andy Reid going nowhere, the Chiefs are the team to beat as we examine how each franchise might fare next year in our very early lookahead to next season.
The Bills were amongst the favourites this year but fell short of expectations, winning a third straight AFC East title before losing to the Cincinnati Bengals at home in the Divisional Round.
Injuries curtailed Buffalo’s dreams with quarterback Josh Allen hindered by an elbow injury in the latter half of the campaign, while they lost some key pieces on defence.
San Francisco share Buffalo’s injury pain having lost their top three quarterbacks to various ailments over the course of the season.
Brock Purdy was the last of the trio to go down in the NFC Championship game loss to the Eagles but with so much talent on both sides of the ball, particularly on a top-ranked defence, the Niners are rightly priced as the NFC’s top title contender.
The Eagles are unsurprisingly highly-rated having come so close to NFL glory this year and although they’ll retain the majority of their key players, head coach Nick Sirianni will need some new deputies after both his offensive and defensive coordinators, Shane Steichen and Jonathan Gannon left for head coaching jobs.
The Cincinnati Bengals were happy to see their coaching staff remain intact after another excellent season which saw them reach a second-successive AFC Championship game.
With Joe Burrow firmly establishing himself as one of the league’s top quarterbacks, the Ohio franchise have plenty to be excited about.
The Dallas Cowboys went 12-5 last year and finally ended a long wait for a playoff win, but that was still short of expectations and the pressure is on head coach Mick McCarthy, who could lose his free offensive piece, Tony Pollard, in the off-season.
Failure to meet the Cowboys’ expectations cost offensive coordinator Kellen Moore his job, but the young coach wasn’t out of work long, as he was quickly snaffled up by the Chargers.
Moore is now tasked with unlocking the potential of Bolts quarterback Justin Herbert and an offence that is in need of some fresh talent if they are to seriously challenge divisional rivals Kansas City.
The pieces are all there for the Jets to take-off next season, all that’s missing is a quarterback.
Aaron Rodgers and Derek Carr have both strongly been linked and whoever goes to New York will join a team bursting with young talent on both sides of the ball, including both the Offensive and Defensive Rookies of the Year, Garrett Wilson and Sauce Gardner.
The Ravens will be spending their off-season trying to work out a new deal for quarterback Lamar Jackson.
The addition of a new offensive coordinator in Todd Monken might help persuade Jackson to stay on a team that only needs to revamp its attack given the defence gave up the fourth-fewest points per game this season.
Deciding whether to keep a quarterback is the theme of the Packers off-season too as they try to persuade Aaron Rodgers they can make another run at an NFL Championship.
Green Bay missed out on the playoffs last year as they failed to make up for a slow start and improvements will be needed on defence after the unit fell short of expectations.
The Rams produced the worst title defence in NFL history when going 5-12 this season and it’s tough to see them getting anywhere close to a title game again.
Quarterback Matthew Stafford’s neck injury is a concern, while they are well over the salary cap and don’t have a first round draft pick this year.
Head coach Sean McVay is staying on at least but it’s an unfavourable situation.
The Jaguars were the bounce-back story of the season this year and will hope to build on their playoff run.
A young roster will have benefitted massively from another season in the NFL and head coach Doug Pederson looks the right man to take the team forward.
The salary cap situation isn’t the best and will need working around as they bid to add more talent.
The Lions came within a whisker of the playoffs last season and having finally got their act together under head coach Dan Campbell, they are ones to watch.
The Lions offence averaged the fifth most points per game, they have money to spend in free agency and they hold a top-six draft pick this year thanks to the trade with the Rams for Stafford.
The Vikings won the NFC North this season but needed a big slice of luck to do so and once they reached the playoffs, they were found out.
The Minnesota defence was amongst the worst in the league, while news that star running-back Dalvin Cook needs shoulder surgery is another concern for a franchise way over the salary cap entering the off-season.
Brian Daboll made an instant impact as coach of the Giants, getting the most out of what was thought to be a below-par roster to reach the playoffs.
Big Blue are one franchise with a lot of money to spend in free agency and another playoff challenge should be expected if Daboll can get the players he wants, while also keeping running-back Saquon Barkley.
The Dolphins may not have a first round draft pick this year but they appear to have a lot of nice pieces already on the roster to out-perform their odds.
The offence is stacked with talent, although a lot will rely on quarterback Tua Tagovailoa staying fit following a series of head injuries, or the Fins finding a replacement.
The Raiders have gambled by letting reliable quarterback Derek Carr leave and they’ll hope to find his replacement either with the number seven pick in the draft or via free agency.
They have issues elsewhere too though with the offensive line in need of an upgrade, but the money is there to improve Vegas.
Sean Peyton has been brought in to try and fix the Broncos after a disastrous first season following the big trade for quarterback Russell Wilson.
Denver have mortgaged their future on Wilson and if he flops for the second season in a row, they could be in big trouble.
If Wilson can bounce back, the supporting cast and coach in Peyton is there for Denver to make a playoff run.
Another franchise hoping an experienced quarterback can come good is the Browns, who are counting on Deshaun Watson to rediscover his old form after returning from a lengthy hiatus in 2022.
Much like Denver, the pieces are there for Watson to succeed if he can get his career back on track.
The Patriots are in a tough spot after a season in which they appeared to lose faith in quarterback Mac Jones.
They’ve hired a new offensive coordinator in Bill O’Brien in the hope of sparking life into the attack which is in need of a major revamp before New England can even be considered playoff contenders.
The Panthers have appointed Franck Reich as head coach and the former Colts offensive coordinator has inherited a team on the rise.
Carolina rallied to finish last year 7-10 and have some young studs on defence. A long-term solution at quarterback is Carolina’s main point of concern and if they can find one, they may out-perform their odds in a wide-open NFC South.
The Saints are sticking with Dennis Allen as head coach despite a sub-par 2022 and with the future looking far from rosy.
New Orleans are another side searching for a long-term answer at quarterback but may struggle to find one, particularly after trading away their first-round pick in this year’s draft and being $54million over the cap. A tough season lies ahead.
Life after Tom Brady isn’t looking good for a Bucs franchise that’s over the salary cap more than any other in the NFL.
Having enjoyed the highs of an NFL Championship under Brady, the Bucs may consider tearing it all down and starting again this summer.
Kenny Pickett gave glimpses of being a more than capable NFL quarterback in his rookie season and the outlook is bright for the Steelers.
They have a defence capable of being a top-10 unit, some nice young talent on offence and an excellent head coach in Mike Tomlin.
They are in a competitive AFC North but are an interesting franchise from a playoff perspective given the odds.
The Seahawks are sticking with Geno Smith at quarterback and will hope to add more exciting young talent around the veteran.
Seattle drafted well last year and with two picks in the top-20 this year, they could outperform their rating once more, particularly if they improve the defence.
The Commanders are stuck in no-mans-land with no obvious means of escape. They desperately need a top-level quarterback to complement a strong defensive front but don’t have a high draft pick or the cap space to attract one.
With a new general manager in Ran Carthon at the helm, the direction for the Titans is unknown.
They have always been a playoff-contending franchise under coach Mike Vrabel but a roster featuring several veterans potentially past their best is in need of an overhaul and the temptation might be to start again from scratch.
Coach Arthur Smith got plenty of the Falcons last year and it might be a mistake to immediately dismiss them from playoff contention.
The quarterback situation is a worry with Desmond Ridder perhaps not the long-term answer but they have the money to spend to replace him, or surround him with talent, and a high draft pick to work with.
Watch out for the Bears. Justin Fields gave plenty of demonstrations last year that he’s a future NFL superstar and Chicago has more cap space than anyone to maximise his talent.
They also hold the number one pick in the draft, which could fetch a pretty price if they traded it away. Chicago has the makings of a surprise title contender.
Shane Steichen has a massive job on his hands in his first head coaching position with the Colts in need of improvement in nearly every area.
A once great defence has crumbled, while the offence has become toothless. At least Indy can maybe find an answer to their quarterback problems with the fourth pick in the draft.
The Cardinals are ready to undergo a rebuild and there’s expected to be a huge amount of change in Arizona before the new season.
Kyler Murray will remain the quarterback after signing a massive new contract but the cast around him will change dramatically under new head coach Jonathan Gannon. Little is expected of them next term.
DeMeco Ryans has come home to Houston to resurrect the Texans franchise.
The second pick in the draft should allow them to select their quarterback of the future and in a division as weak as the AFC South, there’s the potential for a quick turnaround by Houston.
There’s money to spend too in free agency and Houston may prove better than their price suggests.