What's an NFL offseason without rankings of some kind? Of course we've already released plenty to whet your appetite for the 2023 season, including and . But now, in the spirit of , we're turning to the contenders -- and wannabe contenders -- in the NFC, which produced some of last year's juiciest storylines in the form of the Eagles' dominant title bid, the 49ers' QB turnover, the Giants' rejuvenation and Geno Smith's own revival.
Which teams deserve the preseason hype? Which ones could be headed for rockier roads? Here's one opinion on the NFC landscape going into 2023, with all 16 clubs separated into five different tiers:
Tier 1: The trophy hunters (3)
Philadelphia Eagles, San Francisco 49ers, Dallas Cowboys
The gap between these three and the rest of the conference feels pretty substantial. The Cowboys are technically the least qualified among the trio, failing to reach the NFC Championship Game since 1995, but they've won 12 games in back-to-back years, upgraded at two premium spots with Brandin Cooks and Stephon Gilmore, and possess some of the game's best young defensive talent in Micah Parsons, Trevon Diggs and DaRon Bland. Conservative coaching remains a concern with Mike McCarthy, and QB Dak Prescott is still in search of a defining late-year run, but as is often the case, America's Team has the star power.
The Eagles and 49ers, meanwhile, have combined for five NFC Championship appearances and two Super Bowl bids in the last six years. San Francisco is a bigger question mark due to a convoluted QB situation; Brock Purdy was unusually poised as a rookie, but he's coming off elbow surgery and a small sample size of NFL production, and the alternatives, Trey Lance and Sam Darnold, are reclamation projects in their own ways. Even so, coach Kyle Shanahan constructs the closest thing to a QB-proof system in the league, and he's still got a defense with imposing playmakers at every level.
Philly probably owns the NFL's best all-around roster for a second consecutive year, thanks to general manager Howie Roseman's crafty ways. QB Jalen Hurts has the makeup to be a perennial MVP candidate, provided his physical rushing doesn't take him off the field, and the weapons across the board -- A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith, Haason Reddick, Darius Slay -- coupled with an all-star O-line bode well. The biggest roadblocks to another Super Bowl trip may well be internal; while facing a tougher schedule, coach Nick Sirianni will be juggling new coordinators on both sides of the ball.
Tier 2: The growing contenders (3)
Two of these three were surprise 2022 playoff teams, and the other is angling to snap a six-year streak of non-postseason action. In other words, none of them feel particularly trustworthy, and yet, on paper, they register as organizations built for another step forward. Let's start with the Giants: it's still unclear whether QB Daniel Jones has the help or wherewithal to stretch the field as a passer, but if Brian Daboll can guide a road playoff win with last year's makeshift setup, adding vets like Darren Waller and Parris Campbell shouldn't hurt. With underrated, ascending youth on both sides of the line, they should at least be scrappy again.
Like the G-Men, the Seahawks are betting their QB's breakout wasn't a fluke, and while Geno Smith reverted to some turnover tendencies down the stretch, he's got deep skill-position support and a defense that looks vastly improved. Pete Carroll might finally have a stingy group again, adding physicality up front (Dre'Mont Jones), in the middle (Bobby Wagner) and on the back end (Devon Witherspoon). The Lions are just as promising, surrounding Jared Goff with a sturdy line and young playmakers like Jahmyr Gibbs and Amon-Ra St. Brown. Their "D" also got more physical with a secondary makeover. It's been a long time, however, since they had such high expectations to meet, and Goff has his own hurdles to clear when it comes to off-script, big-game deliverance.
Tier 3: The wild card wanderers (5)
Call this the middle ground, full of teams destined to hover around .500 and tease -- or surprise -- with a playoff push. The Vikings almost never bottom out, and they've still got top-shelf offensive weaponry between Kirk Cousins, Justin Jefferson and T.J. Hockenson, but Brian Flores' arrival as a more aggressive schemer can only do so much to mask a stripped-down defense. The Packers have dropped off the radar since trading Aaron Rodgers, and their pass catchers are very young, but Jordan Love's lively arm, plus a formidable ground game, should keep them feisty. The Saints still tout a suffocating "D" and should enjoy Derek Carr's gutsy leadership at QB, but key players like Alvin Kamara and Michael Thomas have questionable availability. The Panthers figure to endure the hiccups of a reset, lacking elite weapons, but with a growing "D" and the poised pairing of Bryce Young and Frank Reich at QB and head coach, they may have the moxie to make noise in the NFC South. The Falcons have a slew of young playmakers like Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts, but Arthur Smith is married to an old-school recipe of winning on the ground, with the unproven Desmond Ridder leading the charge.
Tier 4: The restoration projects (4)
This group features four franchises with very different track records but equally uncertain futures. The Bears finally added help for the dynamic but still-developing Justin Fields this offseason, but it remains to be seen how much better they'll be under defensive coach Matt Eberflus. The Commanders have legit weapons in Terry McLaurin and the defensive front, but coach Ron Rivera, who hasn't led a winning season since 2017, is betting on a total unknown at QB in Sam Howell. The Buccaneers are equally, if not more, talented on "D," but they're also in QB limbo with Baker Mayfield replacing Tom Brady. The Rams, meanwhile, have the coach (Sean McVay), the QB (Matthew Stafford) and the star wideout (Cooper Kupp) but very little else, dumping many of their high-profile defenders in the name of long-term growth.
Tier 5: The draft-pick darlings (1)
On an island of their own, the Cardinals could be without mercurial franchise QB Kyler Murray for the start of 2023, if not a big chunk of the year, as he recovers from injury. That leaves Colt McCoy and/or a rotation of other reserves to shepherd a roster headlined by aging and/or injury-prone cogs like James Conner and Marquise Brown, and overseen by first-time coach Jonathan Gannon. Arizona signaled its slow-burn approach by stocking up on 2024 draft capital this offseason, but the journey to the next stage of the rebuild isn't likely to be without major bumps.