Ranking NFL teams heading for tough runs in 2023: Patriots, Titans and Buccaneers could struggle this year

Ranking NFL teams heading for tough runs in 2023: Patriots, Titans and Buccaneers could struggle this year

Good luck finding an NFL fanbase on their favorite team right now. When I predicted records for every NFL teamnothing but 17-0 for literally any franchise was met with nothing less than contempt and derision. The Brinson Model™️ is meant to please!

A three-toed sloth could count the number of winning seasons the Browns have had since returning to Cleveland in 1999 … on one foot. Still, Browns fans are apoplectic if you suggest 7-10 might be on the table.

Last year around this time, my good mate Jason La Canfora identified five teams he believed were in the worst shape and for the toughest run in 2022. He pretty much made it: Chicago and Houston had the top two overall picks in the draft, while Carolina and Atlanta were “involved” in an ugly run NFC South before scoring the top -10 caps (Caroline would trade up to No. 1 overall) and Washington, well, they blasted their way to another impressive Snyder-style season.

Now it’s my turn to find the five teams set up for the toughest race in 2023. This year has been much, MUCH tougher: I’m personally on top of what the Falcons are doing and three out of five Last year’s JLC teams — Carolina, Houston and Indy — ended up drafting a quarterback with a top-five pick. Unless you really hate a prospect’s prospects, you need to be optimistic about decent rosters adding young quarterback talent to the top of the draft.

Ultimately, this list will likely end up being a mix of teams that will struggle in 2023 as well as teams that have long-term questions about the overall direction of the franchise. Washington Commanders are an automatic addition to this list if Dan Snyder still owns the team in week 1, but if he actually sells I can’t get them to point in the fake direction.

1. Arizona Cardinals

I’m not going to lie and suggest that I start here in alphabetical order: the profile of cardinals as per far the worst football team for 2023 and it’s not particularly close. Arizona has a first-year general manager and a first-year head coach, both of whom made some interesting early missteps. Monti Ossenfort self-declared tampering charges with Jonathan Gannon leading up to the hiring process, which essentially cost his team a top-100 pick. Gannon declined to meet the media after Arizona’s first day of the draft and also told Arizona reporters everyone wanted him fired because the Eagles didn’t blitz enough. Maybe it was a lie. For a team that could seriously struggle to compete this year, that’s not an ideal way to start things off with the press and fans.

The quarterback could be a mitigating factor here, but Kyler Murray is recovering from a season-ending ACL tear. It would be a pretty huge surprise if he was ready to roll by Week 1. And there’s the added question of whether the Cardinals to want let him be ready. Arizona has its own first-round pick and Houston’s in 2024 – factor in a new regime and Caleb Williams/Drake Maye are absolutely in play for the Desert Birds.

Oh and there’s the whole pesky case of the former vice president of personnel. Terry McDonough accuses owner Michael Bidwell of “serious misconduct, which includes cheating, discrimination and harassment”.

Arizona currently has its own tier in these rankings.

2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs’ placement here isn’t so much an indictment of the organization’s long-term health as it is a snapshot of Tampa’s current situation. The Bucs won a Super Bowl in 2020 after the audacious acquisition of Tom Brady — not to mention the rest of the roster being built by general manager Jason Licht — and have been in the playoffs for the past two years, even amid a coaching change from Bruce Arians to Todd Bowles.

But with Brady retiring this offseason, the bill has come due for Tampa’s immediate and possibly long-term future. Baker Mayfield is in town on a one-year deal and we can’t talk enough about the heat of Bowles’ siege. The Arians won the Super Bowl; a disastrous season for the longtime defensive coordinator could certainly cause Tampa to change head coaches next offseason (or before).

There’s still a lot to love about this roster, especially on the defensive end, and you won’t hear anyone complaining about Tampa’s pass catchers either. But the offense wasn’t the same without Arians and now without Brady pulling the trigger, it’s impossible not to worry about how 2023 is going for this team.

3. Tennessee Titans

Fully set to look like an IDIOT when Mike Vrabel wins his split and lands the AFC No. 1 seed in a few months. But 2023 looms as a possible tough ride for the Titans as they move from Ryan Tannehill — in the final year of his contract — to Will Levis, who they drafted with a second-round pick this offseason. Levis’ status doesn’t guarantee him future franchise material (see: Malik Willis last year for Tennessee) but he feels like someone Vrabel is gambling his future against now-ousted Jon Robinson.

The issue for Tennessee fans isn’t so much that the team will be “terrible” or one of the worst teams in the league, but there is a fragility in the way the Titans seem to be built. The offensive line isn’t as good as it was when Derrick Henry was snatching 2,000-yard seasons. Tannehill could very well play 17 games and play them well, but it’s entirely possible he’ll end up riding the pine at some point in the season so Tennessee can see what he’s got in the rookie. Rough patches are to be expected if this is the case.

Offensively, it’s hard to see the Titans scoring a ton of points every week. Defensively, they are better than people give them credit for. It’s hard to win a ton of 16-13 games – it’s just the fragile nature of football when you let the lines get so thin.

Henry is also in the final year of his contract. Maybe he and Tanny are trying hard to break the bank, but the Titans – as we’ve known them for the past few years – are changing their identities in the 2023 season, which could make things a little bumpy in road course.

4. New England Patriots

WHAT COULD GO WRONG?? Greatest dynasty in pro sports history, as depressed as it’s been for the last 25 years with Bill Belichick’s back somehow/maybe against the wall, so why wouldn’t I just stack I not here expecting to never get burned by the greatest manager in football history, professional or otherwise???

The Pats replaced Matt Patricia and Joe Judge with Bill O’Brien, a hugely significant and obvious upgrade in terms of offensive management. I’m still not convinced the offense will be above average, though. JuJu Smith-Schuster, Devante Parker and Tyquan Thornton are not the receiving corps 1927 Yankees. Rhamondre Stevenson may be an elite running back, but things thin out after him on the depth chart. Mac Jones still has a lot to prove to a lot of people!

Defensively, no one doubts Belichick, especially when he robbed Christian Gonzalez later in the first round. It wouldn’t be at all surprising if the Pats looked a lot like the Titans. But it comes down to how fragile things are in the NFL when you want to run the ball and play defense in 2023. And that’s amplified for a team like the Pats in a division like the AFC East, where Buffalo is on a run three years of dominance, the Dolphins are a dangerous contender if their QB is on the field and the Jets have just added Aaron Rodgers. I’m optimistic for New England this year, but it’s very possible that 2023 will be a long season for Pats fans.

5. Las Vegas Adventurers

Let’s eliminate all those who are linked to the Patriot dynasty, why not us?!? It felt like the Raiders took one step forward and one step back the entire offseason. Adding Jimmy Garoppolo to replace Derek Carr was the perfect metaphor for this team: they made the ultimate lateral move, even though it could benefit the team in the long run due to Jimmy’s fit into Josh McDaniels’ system.

I’m a huge fan of Jakobi Meyers (essentially a one year contract) and Josh Jacobs (franchise label) but expecting the latter to produce the same as last year is asking a lot, especially with the frustration of another potentially lingering single year contract. Even if the offense explodes, the Raiders could easily be the fourth-best offense in their own division.

Tyree Wilson is a very attractive addition as a passing thrower, but will he see significant action this season with Chandler Jones playing the (likely) final year of a dodgy contract? It’s hard to find a path where this Raiders defense is significantly better than last season.

The division is just flat. The Broncos almost have to be better, the Chargers’ offensive coordinator upgrade should yield immediate benefits, and the Chiefs remain, well, the Chiefs. Last year people were clamoring for McDaniels midway through his first season, what happens when the division is loaded and the Raiders are struggling this year? Tom Brady probably won’t have to fire McDaniels in his first year as a minority owner of the Raiders, but the idea is very tricky to think about.

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