With the NFL schedule released for the public, we now know when each team will encounter opponents and the level of difficulty each squad will face this season. Matt Harmon attempts to predict when in the NFL schedule we'll get answers to 10 of the most pressing questions we have as we enter the 2023 season.
Are the Lions for real?
We’re going to get an answer to this one right away. In a stunning turn of events, the Detroit Lions will be traveling to Arrowhead to take on the Super Bowl champion Chiefs in the season opener on September 7.
The fact that they’re deemed fit to commence the season is a testament to not just how far the Lions have come under the Brad Holmes/Dan Campbell regime but where they’re expected to go. Detroit wasn’t even a playoff team last year. This shows they’re expected to take the next step and join a small group of real contenders in the NFC.
It feels like a distant memory from a long-gone life, but we’ve seen a Patrick Mahomes vs. Jared Goff barn burner in an island game before.
Most of the enthusiasm for the 2023 Lions is brought on by what the offense did last year, especially toward the end of the campaign. I’m not saying we should project Goff and Detroit to get in a 50-plus-point trading affair with Kansas City like that 2018 Rams game, but a strong offensive showing should be anticipated. If we don’t get it in Week 1, that’s troubling.
If Detroit is for real, hanging in a moment like this is the expectation, not a treat.
Generally, I am a Lions’ believer. And yet, there’s a part of me that’s a little concerned about the high-end of this offense’s range of outcomes … at least early in the season.
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Amon-Ra St. Brown is ready to join the superstar club and can be the load-bearing truck of this team’s passing game. But what’s Detroit’s counterpunch in the passing game? With Jameson Williams suspended for the first six weeks of the season, the WR2-4 positions will be manned by a Marvin Jones, Josh Reynolds and Khalif Raymond rotation. Useful players but not exactly a top-level passing attack in 2023. Even when Williams gets back, it’s tough to peg a guy who is still mostly an “in theory” prospect 1.5 years into his career as the savior.
Sam LaPorta was taken early in the second round but rookie tight ends don’t typically get off to hot starts. Fellow rookie Jahmyr Gibbs is such a special receiving prospect he could be the No. 2 target behind St. Brown. Not impossible but still, a lot to ask.
St. Brown is so good he can cover up a lot of sins but the rest of this passing game right now needs elevating. Is this all too much to put on the shoulders of Goff, a guy who has typically gone with the flow and talent level of his supporting cast? We’ll find out quickly.
Are the Jets legit contenders with Aaron Rodgers?
The Jets are banking on Rodgers taking a team that was great on defense (without the benefit of an outlier turnover season) and a talented young offense and pushing it to the next level. I see three inflection points in their season schedule where we’ll get clarity on this subject.
Week 1, Bills at Jets on Monday Night Football. If New York hangs or, even better, beats the big brother of the division right off the bat, the Rodgers move might look like a revelation right away. The Bills are still a very talented roster and I love some of the slight tweaks they made this offseason. It’s a tough task for Rodgers to come out firing with his brand-new weapons and take down an operation like Buffalo. Then again, Rodgers is the type of player from whom you expect the most.
Week 4, Chiefs at Jets on Sunday Night Football. Pretty much the same logic. The Rodgers trade was made with designs that the Jets would be a real contender. They aren’t looking to just get to “kid brother” status in the AFC behind the real big dogs.
Although to be fair, that would be a big jump from what their quarterback situation was in 2022.
It will be completely fair by this point of the season to expect Rodgers to have fully developed his chemistry with Garrett Wilson, for Breece Hall to be back closer to 100% and the offense overall to be clicking on a weekly basis.
Week 12, Dolphins at Jets on this new Black Friday special game. Miami has a good roster and if Tua Tagovailoa is healthy, we know this offense is dynamic. That said, if the Jets aren’t better than the Dolphins at this point in the season, I’m ready to call the Rodgers trade a disappointment. The AFC East is a really difficult division. No denying that. But with Rodgers in town, New York should expect to be a tone-setter in that knockdown, drag-out fight. Not just along for the ride.
Hey, what about Jordan Love … is he legit?
We will certainly be getting to see the answer to this question play out a lot in isolation this year. The Packers are one of 11 teams with five-plus primetime games this year. The Chiefs, Bills, Cowboys and Chargers are the only four with six.
Green Bay is a marquee franchise but if they’re going to be on the level of those teams, Love will need to be good right away. After spending the better part of the last year quietly leaking their enthusiasm for Love’s pseudo “behind the scenes breakout,” the Packers brass is now evangelizing patience for their new starting quarterback.
The Packers are preaching "patience" for Jordan Love around the organization 🕰️
"He's not gonna be able to step out on the field and immediately light this up. It's going to take some time." —@diannaESPN pic.twitter.com/23GwUr1Y3H
— NFL on ESPN (@ESPNNFL) May 9, 2023
It’s not an unreasonable ask. Love looked impressive when he got on the field against the Eagles last year after Rodgers got hurt but his overall game action has been incredibly limited.
The Packers' Weeks 11 to 13 stretch — at home vs. the Chargers, in Detroit for Thanksgiving and at home against the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football — feels like a good check-in moment on the early returns of the Love era.
Has the Ravens offense actually evolved?
I’m a big believer that the Ravens will look vastly different than the previous iteration of the Lamar Jackson-era offense with Todd Monken now at the controls. I don’t think we’ll have to wait long to find out if I was right.
The Ravens get the division rival Bengals in Week 2. With the new talent at receiver and a more modern passing game design, Baltimore should be ready, willing and, more importantly, able to turn that into a high-flying offensive affair.
There’s a chance that the Ravens are the fantasy football value offense of the season; one that the consensus overlooks because of the past but new talent could make it key to winning in 2023. I don’t want to leave my drafts without taking at least one of the Ravens’ top three receivers. You’ll know by Week 3 how I’m feeling about this take.
Did Calvin Ridley help take Trevor Lawrence to the next level?
We could look back on the Ridley trade at the end of the year and see that he was the Stefon Diggs to Lawrence’s Josh Allen. He’s a great, established starting-level receiver and Lawrence took a big leap in his second season. But just like Diggs and Allen helped bring out the best in each other, the Jags duo could do the same.
Of course, Ridley’s path to get to Jacksonville was not clean as he’s spent a year and half away from football at this point. I’ve tried to let that quell my enthusiasm but there’s no denying he’s exactly what Lawrence and this offense needs as the finishing touch.
I think we’ll know how this Ridley trade is going to play out by Week 7 of this season. The Jaguars will travel to play the Saints in New Orleans on a Thursday night. We could have the national audience fully tuned in to Ridley and Lawrence cutting up a solid defense in a hostile stadium and ready to crown them as the next big QB/WR duo.
On the other hand, it could be the night those of us who were ready to draft Ridley as a sneaky value WR1 ended up changing the channel early.
For real, who is the 49ers QB?
The 49ers have a big NFC game against the Cowboys in Week 5 in San Francisco. We better have some clarity on their quarterback room by then.
Is Brock Purdy back and healthy at this point? Did Trey Lance carry over the momentum from a strong summer and finally put his career on track leading the 49ers to 4-1 record coming into this game? Did the Sam Darnold rehabilitation timeline actually turn into a reality?
At this point, I’m already weary from the guessing games, psychoanalyzing Kyle Shanahan and all the hypotheticals. I just want to know. By Week 5, we should have an idea.
When does Mike McCarthy hot-seat watch begin?
Staying in that same game: This is a pretty big matchup for the Cowboys. The 49ers have beat Dallas in all three of their previous games including sending them home in the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. It’s time to correct the course.
The Dallas offense looks prime to be a great unit this season. The receiver trio of a healthy Michael Gallup, newcomer Brandin Cooks and superstar CeeDee Lamb has a chance to be a top-flight crew. Tony Pollard will be a Round 1 fantasy pick. Dak Prescott is set up to succeed. Right or wrong, I think we’re all just skeptical about Mike McCarthy taking over as the play-caller and whether that could be the one thing that holds this offense back.
The Cowboys have the Giants, Jets, Cardinals and Patriots in Weeks 1 to 4. That’s a bit of a mixed bag of a schedule. A big NFC matchup against the 49ers is a better barometer for whether to start the McCarthy hot-seat watch or if the NFL consensus was too hard on the long-time coach.
Is Russell Wilson fixable or beyond broken?
I’m putting this one at Week 8. It’ll be Denver’s second game in three weeks against Kansas City with the first coming in Week 6 on Thursday Night Football. Most will be ready to drop the hammer on the Wilson and Sean Payton marriage in that island game but I think we can allow them half a season to gel.
Overall, I’m skeptical about Wilson being salvageable or this Broncos offense being ready to hang with the Chiefs on any level. I’m sure Payton is fine either way as he can just start to plan his next play as the Broncos czar if Wilson isn’t a viable starter eight weeks into the season.
Did the Titans try to push this era one year too long?
We should have a good sense for whether Tennessee did in fact run the car all the way to empty on the Derrick Henry/Ryan Tannehill/No wideouts identity by their Week 7 bye. The Titans have the Saints, Chargers, Browns, Bengals, Colts, Ravens in Weeks 1-6. That’s a pretty tough slate overall.
If Mike Vrabel has this team at or above .500 and Henry has shown zero signs of slowing down, their triple down on this era of Titans football may just be a success. Should the other side of the coin be the one flipped over, we could be looking at “Will Levis watch” on the near horizon.
Was Deshaun Watson’s 2022 six-game disaster a blip?
Watson’s problems that landed him in this spot are all of his own making but it’s fair to say a six-game sample shouldn’t define who he is as a player forever. The quarterback he was in Houston is still an attainable reality. We just have to fully move beyond the nightmarish stretch from 2022 when he wasn’t even a top-40 quarterback in EPA per dropback.
I love the setup of Cleveland’s offense. Amari Cooper is a strong starting flanker, Elijah Moore is an excellent full-field receiver primed for a bounce back, Cedric Tillman is a nice X-receiver prospect and Donovan Peoples-Jones is a field stretcher. That room is deep.
David Njoku turned his dynamism into production last year. Nick Chubb is set up for possibly his best season as a fantasy player yet with Kareem Hunt gone and the passing game ripe to erupt.
The Browns are another contender for the best value offense in fantasy football. Oddly enough, it just comes back to the quarterback they’re paying ungodly money to be the one who holds up his end of the bargain.