The 2023 NFL season is right around the corner, as all 32 teams have begun training camp. Before you know it, Week 1 will be here. To many, the AFC is the more intriguing conference in 2023. It appears to be the superior conference, as it loaded up on star power this offseason with additions such as Aaron Rodgers and Sean Payton -- who have already .
It's going to be tough to make the playoffs in the loaded AFC, and all 16 teams will have to face different kinds of obstacles on the way to Super Bowl LVIII. Below, we will examine the biggest question each AFC team must answer in 2023.
Can Todd Monken strike a balance with new offense?
The most important thing the Ravens will do this preseason is install Todd Monken's new offense. It's certainly a reason to be excited about what Baltimore can accomplish in 2023, but striking a balance is important. Virtually everyone is expecting more passing with Monken, and the arrivals of Odell Beckham Jr. and Zay Flowers further support this hypothesis. At the same time, Lamar Jackson and the run game have been important to the Ravens' recent success. Since 2018 -- Lamar's rookie year -- the Ravens haven't finished outside the top three in rushing offense. That's pretty remarkable. If Monken finds that right mix of run and pass, the Ravens could be one of the best teams in the NFL.
Who is that No. 2 offensive weapon?
It probably wasn't the top item on Buffalo's offseason to-do list, but the Bills needed to add a couple of weapons on offense. They didn't chase DeAndre Hopkins and didn't score a top running back like Saquon Barkley or Dalvin Cook (yet), but they need someone to step up alongside Stefon Diggs.
Diggs is the Bills' passing attack, as he accounted for 29 percent of Buffalo's receptions in 2022, which was tied for the third-highest rate in the NFL. Who is going to help him out? Tight end Dalton Kincaid is a first-round pick that can contribute to the passing game, then Deonte Harty and Trent Sherfield are the new faces in the wide receiving corps along with fifth-round pick Justin Shorter. I'm also interested to see if Khalil Shakir can step up in Year 2, or if Gabe Davis can find more consistency.
It's true that the Bills had the No. 2 total offense in the NFL last year, but it's very clear it could be better. Josh Allen can't lead the team with 26 rushing yards in the playoffs, and Diggs can't be the only wideout teams need to worry about. How will this offense be improved in 2023?
How will the new-look secondary fare?
Cincy's secondary is going to look pretty different in 2023, as they lost Jessie Bates III, Vonn Bell, Tre Flowers and Eli Apple in free agency. Cam Taylor-Britt, Dax Hill and Nick Scott figure to be the new starters on the back end, and they will be tasked with helping the Bengals' defense improve in opponent points per game for the fifth-straight season. Lou Anarumo's background is with defensive backs, which is a reason to be optimistic. Plus, the Bengals having a solidified front seven helps.
Can Deshaun Watson get going?
If Watson turns the corner with the Browns and returns to elite form, Cleveland will be a problem. Of course, it remains to be seen if he can do that. After serving an 11-game suspension last season for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, Watson went 3-3 as the starter for the Browns while averaging a career-low 183.7 passing yards per game with seven touchdowns and five interceptions. The Browns averaged 16.3 points per game with Watson as the starter, which ranked No. 26 in the league from Weeks 13-18.
Cleveland's defense appears to be improved, especially with new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, Watson has a good offensive line and new weapons to work with like Elijah Moore and Cedric Tillman. It's time for the Browns to get going. Kevin Stefanski's job is to revitalize Watson.
Will Russ feel dangerous again?
It's pretty simple. If Russell Wilson returns to Seattle Seahawks form in 2023, the Broncos are going to be as good as their fans hoped they would be last year. Does Russ deserve all of the blame for what happened in 2022? No. His head coach clearly wasn't ready, the offense itself wasn't good and then the amount of injuries Denver had to deal with was very unfortunate. But we should all be able to agree that Russ didn't look like the quarterback he was in Seattle. With Sean Payton, many expect him to rebound in a big way. Wilson won't be as bad as he was in 2022, but how improved will he be?
Can C.J. Stroud show franchise QB potential?
The Texans are rebuilding, but there's a different level of optimism around this franchise that's been absent for a couple years. The 2023 season is about proving this franchise is on the right track as opposed to competing for a Super Bowl, which gives us some flexibility when it comes to identifying Houston's "biggest question." DeMeco Ryans is a defensive-minded head coach that will be focused on resetting that side of the ball, but the Texans' rebuild will be expedited if they hit on their franchise quarterback.
We could look back at the 2023 season and say, "Wow, C.J. Stroud was the best quarterback in that class." His Ohio State offense ranked No. 1 in the FBS in points per game (45.0) and yards per game (526.0) over the past two seasons. He also threw the most passing touchdowns in a two-year span in Big Ten history with 85. I want to see if he can show franchise quarterback potential in his rookie season, and grow with the young weapons around him.
How steep will Anthony Richardson's learning curve be?
Anthony Richardson is expected to start Week 1, and while he's a tantalizing athlete, that's not what makes someone a good quarterback. We shouldn't overlook the growing pains that are likely coming. Richardson's 13 college starts are tied for the fewest by a first-round quarterback since 2000 (Mitch Trubisky in 2017), and he had the worst career completion percentage in college (55%) by a first-round quarterback since Jake Locker in 2011. Shane Steichen needs to bring Richardson along at the speed he believes is best, because he has enormous potential.
Will the defense let the offense down?
Last season, the Jaguars became the second team in NFL history to reach the playoffs after having the worst record in each of the previous two seasons. The Jags had a top 10 offense, and that's expected to improve with the addition of Calvin Ridley and continued development of Trevor Lawrence. What about the defense, though?
The Jaguars statistically had the ninth-worst defense in the league last year, and fifth-worst passing defense. Plus, Jacksonville lost two of its three sack leaders this offseason in Dawuane Smoot and Arden Key. The Jags didn't really bring anyone in on defense in free agency, and the first defender drafted was linebacker Ventrell Miller out of Florida in the fourth round. Is this Jaguars defense good enough to help this franchise reach that next level?
Which WR will step up?
There are a couple of different directions we could go here, but how the wide receiving corps shakes out will be fun to watch. The Chiefs haters have probably learned their lesson when it comes to doubting Patrick Mahomes and Andy Reid, but it's still fair to wonder where the production is going to come from with the wide receivers. Their leading wide receiver from last year is now with the Patriots, Marquez Valdes-Scantling is more of a deep threat than a well-rounded No. 1, Kadarius Toney has been injury prone and Skyy Moore caught just 22 passes in his rookie season. As for some of the new guys, Richie James was an underrated pickup, it's fair to be excited about Rashee Rice and then Justyn Ross is putting out highlights in training camp for the second straight year. Which one of these players are going to take JuJu Smith-Schuster's place? Which one of these players are going to take pressure off of Travis Kelce's?
What will the offense look like?
There's plenty of things we can point to in Vegas when it comes to question marks. The Raiders went 6-11 in 2022, and became the first team in NFL history to blow FIVE double-digit second-half leads in a single season. We could talk about the defense, but the offense is undergoing a major facelift.
The Raiders parted ways with longtime quarterback Derek Carr, and picked up Jimmy Garoppolo. Will he be an upgrade? Vegas also traded Darren Waller away, and is now in a troublesome situation with reigning rushing champ Josh Jacobs, where he's holding out of training camp after being slapped with the franchise tag. Star wideout Davante Adams openly admitted this offseason that he doesn't see eye-to-eye with the front office, and that he's going to have to, "buy into this and try to be as optimistic as possible." Between the quarterback change, the loss of one of the best tight ends in the game and the uncertainty that comes with the Jacobs situation, this Raiders offense could struggle in 2023.
Can the defense get right?
With the arrival of new offensive coordinator Kellen More and the addition of wide receiver Quentin Johnston, Chargers fans have to be feeling pretty good about the offense. I'm not sure the same can be said about the defense. L.A. has some big names such as Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Asante Samuel Jr. and Derwin James Jr., but this unit ranked No. 20 in yards allowed per game (346.1) and T-No. 22 in points allowed per game (22.6) last season. The Chargers allowed 5.4 yards per rush, which was the worst mark by any NFL team since 1959, and of course ended up being on the wrong side of the fifth-largest comeback in NFL history in the wild-card round.
The Chargers have scored more points and allowed more points in Justin Herbert's starts than any other quarterback through three NFL seasons since the 1970 merger. Brandon Staley is a coach with a defensive background, but that hasn't shown yet.
Can they avoid (more) injuries?
Dolphins fans believe they are cursed, and with the stadium being built on Native American burial ground, maybe they are right. While the 2022 season brought the franchise their first playoff berth since 2016, it also brought forth a ton of injuries -- especially on the offensive line and at quarterback. Rookie seventh-round pick and third-string quarterback Skylar Thompson had to start the pivotal regular-season finale AND the wild-card matchup against Buffalo.
The Dolphins couldn't even start the 2023 season on the right foot, as newly-acquired star cornerback Jalen Ramsey suffered a that will knock him out until December. Can Miami get through camp and preseason ball without any more bad luck? Can Tua Tagovailoa remain on the field and put together a career year?
Miami showed potential in 2022. If the Dolphins stay healthy, they can make it back to the postseason -- and be more than a one-and-done this time around.
Can Bill O'Brien turn the offense around?
With the return of offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, the Patriots offense has to be better compared to last year, right? New England's offense averaged 18.2 points per game in 2022, its fewest since 2000, had a 35 percent third-down conversion rate, its worst since 1992 and a 42 percent red-zone touchdown rate. That was the worst rate by any team in the league last year.
Mac Jones went from a rookie Pro Bowler to a quarterback seemingly not many have faith in. The Patriots offense was statistically in the top half of the league in 2021, but finished No. 26 last year. It's not his second NFL season, but maybe Jones can take that "second-year jump" in 2023.
How will they fare in the first and second halves of their schedule?
How the young Jets handle the "outside noise" would be an appropriate answer here too, but that somewhat ties into what I'm about to discuss. The Jets are working in a new offense with a new quarterback, and some form of growing pains could come with that. It also doesn't help that the Jets have a tough start to the year.
Check out how New York's schedule opens:
vs. Buffalo Bills (MNF)
vs. New England Patriots
vs. Kansas City Chiefs (SNF)
@ Denver Broncos
What will be the Jets' record when they get to the bye week? Could they be 2-4? 3-3? I can already see the headlines now -- everyone overreacting to a slow start from Rodgers and Co. But the Jets can rebound in the second half of their schedule. Plus, Rodgers usually wins more games than he loses after the halfway point.
You've heard the "R-E-L-A-X" story from 2014, but Rodgers' Green Bay Packers won four out of their last five games last year, five out of the last six in 2021, six straight to close out the year in 2020 and five straight wins to close out the 2019 campaign. I believe the Jets will make the playoffs in 2023, but it's going to be important for New York NOT to get off to a slow start. Or, find a way to tune out the negative noise and rebound down the stretch.
Where do they rank in the division?
The Steelers have a prospective franchise quarterback in Kenny Pickett, an upgraded offensive line, a DAWG at wide receiver in George Pickens and a defense they hope is improved. There are multiple reasons to be excited about the Steelers in 2023, but the biggest challenge they face may be the division they reside in.
The AFC North could be the toughest division in the NFL. The Ravens have a new offense headlined by Lamar Jackson and Odell Beckham Jr., Joe Burrow and the Bengals are obvious contenders and then Deshaun Watson could return to star form with the Browns. The AFC North has fielded seven playoff teams in just the last three years. Think about that. The young Steelers have their work cut out for them. Where do they rank in the division?
Can they stay healthy?
The Titans finished with a losing record last season for the first time in the Mike Vrabel era because of injuries. Tennessee was once sitting at 7-3 after an impressive road win over Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, but then lost seven straight games as injuries ravaged the roster. The Titans placed a league-high 34 players on IR through Week 17, per Titans Wire, but still were sitting in a win-and-you're-in playoff situation in the final week of the regular season. If they had their quarterback Ryan Tannehill, maybe the Titans would have won the AFC South for the third-straight season.
There's no question about it. The toughest challenge for the Titans over the past couple years has proven to be remaining healthy.