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2023-2024 Early Division Projections

Regular season football is officially less than a week away! To help pass the final waiting moments until the pads get put on for real, TRO is here to try to predict how each team will fare in their respective divisions.


Football is back. The Draft has come and gone, all of the preseason games have been played, and rosters have been trimmed. We have just enough of a sense of how all 32 organizations look on paper, and have seen some glimpses of what might be to come. While no team has ever won anything on paper, or before Week 1 kicks off, but if you are here, you are looking for football content, and TRO is here to deliver. Below, you will find how we think each Division will finish from first (best) to fourth (worst):


AFC NORTH:

via Ryan Meyer / Cincinnati Bengals


1) Cincinnati Bengals (9-11 wins)

The margin of error in the AFC North is going to be particularly small this year as the gap is closing between all four of these teams. While we do think that the Bengals will take a small step back this season due to some irreplaceable losses in their secondary, we think what they have on the other side of the ball will keep them on top. It's also worth reminding everyone that they bolstered their offensive line in a big way by adding Orlando Brown, Jr. In a division with little room for error, we're going to side with Joe Cool, even if he is currently day-to-day with his calf.


2) Pittsburgh Steelers (9-11 wins)

This team is going to be much improved in 2023. Mike Tomlin squeezed a 9-8 record out of this group last year while dealing with a rookie Kenny Pickett and Mitch Trubisky quarterback battle and injuries on the defensive side of the ball. This year, the team looks healthier, deeper, and we are loving everything we have heard and seen out of Pickett, George Pickens, and Najee Harris this summer. This is a group ready to take a step forward from where they were a year ago.


3) Baltimore Ravens (9-11 wins)

Lamar Jackson got paid, and Odell Beckham, Jr. is in town. This team will be in every single game, and win more of them than they lose, but the Ravens don't quite pack the same punch on the defensive side of the ball that we have come accustomed to seeing in Baltimore. There is also a longevity and health concern issue with key players on this team. Lastly, with a new offensive coordinator in town, it might take a little while to get the ball rolling out the gates.


4) Cleveland Browns (7-9 wins)

We still don't buy into the Deshaun Watson hype train just yet. Every year is the "year that the Browns put it together," but then something happens and they don't put it together. Until we see real progress with this organization, we just can't bet on this group to finish ahead of the other teams in this Division who have provided concrete evidence of stability. Plan on Cleveland being the odd man out once again, while the other three teams finish with similar records to one another.


AFC SOUTH:

via Kam Nedd / Jacksonville Jaguars


1) Jacksonville Jaguars (9-11 wins)

Look at how the Jaguars finished last season. This is a young team that was working through issues and errors Urban Meyer left behind. As the 2022 season progressed, we saw their spark. We saw what Trevor Lawrence was capable of, and watched them win a playoff game for the first time in a long time. Now you take that same team, add another year of growth, throw in a very healthy and motivated Calvin Ridley (who has impressed all training camp), and mix it with a not so overly daunting schedule, and you have the recipe of a team primed to win their division and return to the playoffs.


2) Tennessee Titans (7-9 wins)

This Titans team won't be quite like some of the Tennessee teams of recent years, but it is just well-coached enough to outshine the remaining two teams in the AFC South. Derrick Henry will still be able to run the ball, and DeAndre Hopkins will keep defenses honest, even if the quarterback situation is in flux in the Music City. There are just enough defensive pieces to keep some games low scoring enough to keep this team from falling too far into the depths of their division.


3) Houston Texans (5-7 wins)

The Texans had themselves quite the offseason. We really like the direction in which this team is headed. This year will be a great year for the new head coach, quarterback, and young defensive core to grow together, put some out some film that they can build on, and establish an identity. There is a lot to be excited about in Houston, but you don't go from 3-13-1 to competing for your division crown overnight.


4) Indianapolis Colts (5-7 wins)

The Colts seem to have the most questions out of any team in this group. Jonathan Taylor is going to miss a chunk of the season, their receiver room leaves much to be desired, there's injury concerns on the defensive side of the ball, and while Anthony Richardson is an absolute freak of an athlete, he has a long way to go as a passer before this team will see sustained success.


AFC East:

via Thomas Diniz Santos / Miami Dolphins


1) Miami Dolphins (9-11 wins)

We liked what we saw out of this Miami team last season. If they can keep Tua Tagovailoa out there commanding that offense (he's looked like he bulked up a bit this offseason), then they will be able to contend with the Bills and the Jets all season. We also think Vic Fangio will be a huge addition to this defense, even more so than the arrival of Jalen Ramsey. It'll be tough sledding navigating through their schedule, and trying to hang with Buffalo and New York each week, but we're going to roll the dice Fins up this year.


2) Buffalo Bills (9-11 wins)

As long as Josh Allen is at the helm of this offense, Buffalo will be in the thick of the playoff race each year. We have questions about their run game, and think that the Bills' defense is slowly regressing. They will benefit from getting both of their stud safeties back this season with a clean bill of health, but that might not be enough to prevent them from taking a key division loss or two that keeps them from repeating as AFC East champions. Look for this team still to make noise in the playoffs as usual though.


3) New York Jets (9-11 wins)

The best defensive line in the NFL, stability at the head coach position, young playmakers, and the acquisition of Aaron Rodgers. It's hard not to fall into the hype Hard Knocks has helped create, but this team really looks good. The Jets finished 7-10 last year, and you can't help but count how many of those one score games they would have been on the other side of if Rodgers was there. Don't let the third place projection fool you, this is a playoff caliber team, but concerns about the offensive line still leave us giving a slight edge to Miami and Buffalo. All three of these teams should have similar records, and any one of them could come out on top.


4) New England Patriots (7-9 wins)

Barring any devastating injuries to the three teams above, we just don't see where the Patriots will finish ahead of any of them. New England will be fairly stout defensively, making it possible to keep games low scoring, but Mac Jones and this offense lack explosiveness and are fairly predictable. They just don't have the horses to hang with the rest of the AFC East.


AFC West:

via David Gray / Kansas City Chiefs


1) Kansas City Chiefs (11-13 wins)

Don't expect the reigning Super Bowl Champs to have any kind of championship hangover. Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid, Travis Kelce, and Company will have these guys locked in out the gates. Last offseason was a big year to try to jump on the Chargers (we were guilty), but Kansas City proved to us it doesn't really matter who is lined up out wide. This offense has a new found commitment to running the football, and still have no issue airing it out. Our only concern is their secondary, and whether or not they get Chris Jones paid in time to suit up for Week 1, as he is the end-all be-all for that defense.


2) Los Angeles Chargers (9-11 wins)

Once again, the Chargers seem to have most everything together. They have the quarterback, they have the utility, workhorse running back, they have the playmakers on the outside, and they have the names on the defensive side of the ball. The questions arise in their ability to keep key players healthy, and their ability to close out games. They'll be a good, playoff-caliber team once again, but will drop some games in typical Chargers fashion placing them a tad behind Kansas City.


3) Las Vegas Raiders (7-9 wins)

Don't sleep on the Raiders too much. Jimmy Garoppolo is a good fit for this style offense, who should have no problem getting Davante Adams the ball early and often. Also, with Josh Jacobs satisfied financially, they will be able to pound the ground game. However, the Defense will let this team down from time to time, and they will just not be able to hang in several tight games down the stretch, but we don't expect them to be the basement-dwellers out West.


4) Denver Broncos (5-7 wins)

At the risk as sounding as "haters", Sean Payton is overrated, and won't be the savior Denver fans are looking for. While Russell Wilson should be poised for a better year statistically, this team will feel the loss of defensive coordinator Ejiro Evero, and it is very difficult to have any confidence in Jerry Jeudy or Courtland Sutton's abilities to remain healthy and/or deliver consistent tier 1 wide receiver play.


NFC North:

via Andy Kenutis / Minnesota Vikings


1) Minnesota Vikings (9-11 wins)

We expect big things out of Kirk Cousins and the Vikings' offense in year two under Kevin O'Connell. Additionally, the Brian Flores hire will pay dividends for Minnesota, but not until they can acquire the personnel to match. This team won 12 one-score games last year, which is undeniably impressive, but typically impossible to replicate. Expect this team to come down a peg or two from last year, but that shouldn't stop them from swiping the division away from the surging Lions at the very end of the regular season.


2) Detroit Lions (9-11 wins)

Everyone should pump the brakes on the Detroit Lions hype just a little bit, but no one should overlook the fact that this will be a competitive team this season. Detroit finished last year on a high note, their core roster remains in tact, with some of their young players gaining another year of experience, and everyone appears to remain bought in to what Dan Campbell is selling. It will be a close call, and Detroit could very much could be on the positive end of a playoff push this year, but we don't see them outshining Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson, and company for the crown in the North.


3) Green Bay Packers (7-9 wins)

Packers fans are headed for uncharted waters coming off of the last 31 years with a first ballot Hall of Famer as their franchise quarterback. People are ready to write the Packers off entirely as a noncompetitive football team, but we're not quite ready to put them in the basement of the NFC North this season. This Defense is top tier, and they have a strong run game. If Jordan Love can play game manager, then this Packers team will steal some wins, upset some bettors, and flirt with a .500 record.


4) Chicago Bears (7-9 wins)

Bears fans won't like their positioning here, but hear us out. We are a believer in Justin Fields, we love the job Ryan Poles has done as GM, and we think that Chicago will be on the up and up. All of that being said, this team is coming off of a 3-14 season, there are still some inconsistencies with Fields' arm that he is still (rightfully so as it will be his second year as a starter) working through, and despite some very sound acquisitions, this defense still has some concerns. This team is close, and trending in the right direction, but they need one more year to put it all together. Save the MVP chants and playoff promises for at least another year, Bears fans.


NFC South:

via Carolina Panthers


1) Carolina Panthers (9-11 wins)

The NFC South will be wide open. We love the all-star coaching staff the Carolina Panthers have assembled. Under Frank Reich's wing he gets to collaborate with Jim Caldwell, Thomas Brown, James Campen, Shawn Jefferson, Josh McCown, Duce Staley, Ejiro Evero, Dom Capers, DeAngelo Hall, and others. Read that list again. Mix that in together with a very solid defense, the number one overall pick in Bryce Young, who has impressed all summer, and some nice veteran free agent acquisitions on both sides of the ball. We think this group will be ready to compete sooner than later, as long as their offensive line builds off of what it put together last year, and they can stay healthy at key positions as their depth is a bit questionable.


2) New Orleans Saints (9-11 wins)

The race for the NFC South will likely come down to the wire between the Saints and the Panthers. New Orleans has the potential to put together a solid football team, especially if Michael Thomas can actually get himself on the field to complement Chris Olave, and if their key defensive veterans can stay healthy. We still have concerns with this team's offensive line, Dennis Allen's coaching ability, and the depth of the defense, but New Orleans definitely has a favorable schedule and enough veteran leadership to put together a competitive 2023 campaign.


3) Atlanta Falcons (7-9 wins)

We like what Atlanta has been doing the past couple of years. They have young, budding star skill players, a solid offensive line, and are working to put together some pieces on the defensive side of the ball. The biggest question mark on this team is Desmond Ridder. The quarterback position, along with their inability to stop the run, will be what holds this team back.


4) Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-5 wins)

The Buccaneers smell like a team that is trying to position itself to land their next quarterback of the future. This will likely be Baker Mayfield's last opportunity to prove his worth in the NFL, so he will have a lot to play for, but we don't think that it will work out in his favor. Tampa Bay has holes on its offensive line, and an unimpressive backfield. Life without Tom Brady won't look too good down in the Sunshine State.


NFC East:

via Kiel Leggere / Philadelphia Eagles


1) Philadelphia Eagles (11-13 wins)

Last year's NFC champs will pick back up where they left off. They have one of the most, if not the most, complete rosters in all of football, a dynamic, MVP candidate quarterback, and a hunger to finish what they started a year ago. There won't be many games that the Eagles will not the betting favorites in this year, and rightfully so.


2) Dallas Cowboys (9-11 wins)

Dallas has, once again, a star-studded squad, highlighted by its electric defense and dynamic receiving corp. Look for Dak Prescott to have a bit of a bounce back season, but don't get ahead of yourself, as we just don't see them having what it takes to overcome Philadelphia. This team is operating under a new offensive coordinator, likely a downgrade, and will likely come up a few games short out East.


3) New York Giants (7-9 wins)

We think the Giants overachieved just a tad last year, and that is a product of great coaching. They will still be a well-coached group, but we think opposing teams this year will be better equipped to answer to Daniel Jones' running abilities, and this New York squad should drop a couple more games than they won a year ago.


4) Washington Commanders (7-9 wins)

This will be a much improved Commanders team, as Sam Howell gives them a dynamic edge at the quarterback position they were lacking last year. We think the Defense will play more like it was expected to this time last year, and this will be a competitive bunch. However, with Howell's anticipated growing pains, and the conservative coaching style of Ron Rivera, we don't see this team rising above any of the other 3 teams in the NFC East.


NFC West:

via Terrell Lloyd / 49ers


1) San Francisco 49ers (11-13 wins)

A team with Super Bowl aspirations, San Francisco will continue to have success behind one of the League's top defenses, and an arsenal of skill players in Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and Brandon Aiyuk that will continue to give opposing defenses nightmares. Mix in this team's talent and coaching with the lack of competition they will face from two out of four of the rival teams in this Division, and the 49ers should handily repeat as champions of the West.


2) Seattle Seahawks (9-11 wins)

We don't think what everyone saw out of Geno Smith was a flash in the pan. He seems to have finally found a home in Seattle, and is in a system, supported by the players, to help command this offense as an efficient machine. Seattle should be a mirror image of itself from a year ago, and find themselves in the thick of the Wild Card conversation all year long. They just don't quite have the help on defense to steal the division from San Francisco.


3) Los Angeles Rams (5-7 wins)

It's no secret that the Rams went all in on winning Super Bowl LVI, and they have been paying the price ever since. They have slowly been bleeding out players at almost every position. While Matthew Stafford should be healthier than he was last year, Cooper Kupp already has a nagging hamstring injury, and there's just not much else on this offense that really scares you. On the defensive side of the ball, there's not a whole lot that scares you outside of Aaron Donald. The Rams have seen their best days for a while. Lucky for them they were able to steal a Super Bowl in the process.


4) Arizona Cardinals (3-5 wins)

The Cardinals look like a team ready to draft Caleb Williams. They have been releasing and trading players, and Kyler Murray is set to miss a big chunk of the season. It's going to be a long year in Arizona, but maybe brighter days are on the way.

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