The Top 5 Contenders in the NFC for 2023
The 2023 NFL season will kick off with the Pro Football Hall of Fame game that will take place on August 3. Since it’s still the off-season, there is still plenty of time to do rankings to analyze the top contenders to battle for the NFC conference crown.
Who are the top five contenders in the NFC for 2023?
1. Philadelphia Eagles
The 2022 NFC champions are heading into 2023 as the favorites to make their third Super Bowl appearance in six years after narrowly losing to the Kansas City Chiefs in Super Bowl 57.
The Eagles extended MVP runner-up quarterback Jalen Hurts to a five-year $255 million dollar contract during the off-season that will keep him in Philadelphia through 2028. In 2022, Hurts garnered 3,701 passing yards, 22 touchdowns with a QBR of 66.4 (ranked 4th). Hurts was the MVP favorite until he suffered a shoulder injury in week 15 which caused him to miss the next two games.
The 2022 second-team all-pro quarterback led the Eagles to a dominant postseason run that included victories over the New York Giants and the San Francisco 49ers. In the Super Bowl, Hurts set numerous records with one of them being having the most rushing touchdowns by a quarterback in a Super Bowl (3).
If Hurts can stay healthy, expect the 2022 pro-bowler to be even better in 2023. The Eagles lost their lead halfback Miles Sanders to free agency, but picked up former Detroit Lions running back D’Andre Swift. Swift garnered 542 rush yards with an average 5.5 yards (career high) per carry in 2022.
Philadelphia was accredited for having the best offensive line in 2022 and it remains that way heading into 2023 according to Pro Football Focus. The Eagles drafted 2022 second-round pick offensive lineman Cam Jurgens to make up for the loss of former Eagles offensive lineman Isaac Seumalo, who signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers in free agency.
The Eagles pass catching room is still electric which features 2022 second-team all-pro A.J Brown, Devonta Smith and tight-end Dallas Goedert.
Philadelphia defensively ranked second in total defense in 2022. The 2022 NFC East champions will be without pro-bowl defensive tackle Javon Hargrave but fortunately selected former Georgia defensive lineman Jalen Carter in the first round of the 2023 NFL draft.
Philadelphia are the heavy favorites going into the 2023 campaign rightfully so, with a roster that is stacked from top to bottom.
2. San Francisco 49ers
The 49ers made their third NFC championship game appearance in a four-year span in a loss to the Eagles in the 2022 NFC title game.
San Francisco lost rookie quarterback Brock Purdy in the first quarter of the conference championship game to a shoulder injury. Purdy led the 49ers to a 5-0 record across his five starts while garnering a passer rating of 119.4 in the regular season.
With the departure of former 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo and the uncertainty of quarterback Trey Lance, it looks to be that Purdy is the franchise quarterback for San Francisco. If Purdy can return as the same player post-shoulder surgery, Purdy will have a breakout season in 2023.
One of the reasons why Purdy and the offense performed solidly is because of the level of talent at their skill positions such as wideout Deebo Samuel, halfback Christian McCaffrey and tight-end George Kittle. San Francisco also has a well-founded offensive line led by 2022 first-team all-pro offensive tackle Trent Williams. In 2022, the offensive front gave up only 31 sacks (27th least in league).
The 49ers finished last season with the number one overall ranking in total defense that was led by former San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator and current Houston Texans head coach DeMeco Ryans. With the departure of Ryans, former Carolina Panthers interim head coach Steve Wilks takes the reigns as defensive coordinator.
Wilks served as the defensive coordinator for Carolina in 2017 and led them to a seventh-place ranking in total defense. Wilks has the opportunity to work with another all-pro linebacker (Luke Kuechly) in 49ers middle linebacker Fred Warner. Warner was a first-team all-pro selection in 2022 and led the defense with 130 total tackles.
San Francisco’s success in 2023 will rely on the health of Purdy, but on paper, the 49ers are poised for another deep playoff run.
3. Dallas Cowboys
“America’s Team” are still looking to reach an NFC championship game, a game they haven’t appeared in since 1995.
The Cowboys reached the divisional round in the 2022 postseason and were defeated by the 49ers on the road. Dallas finished 2022 with a 12-5 regular season record and was the fifth seed in the NFC.
Dallas will be without former offensive coordinator Kellen Moore for the first time since 2018, as he signed with the Los Angeles Chargers in the off-season. Moore did wonders for Dallas Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott, as the former Mississippi State Bulldog had his best statistical season in 2021 when he garnered 4,449 passing yards and 37 touchdowns with a quarterback rating of 104.2.
Prescott has shown flashes of being a top-10 quarterback in the league, but has committed costly turnovers in crucial moments (vs 49ers 2022 divisional round) throughout his Dallas tenure. Without Moore, will Prescott’s play regress?
The bright side for Dallas is their talent level at the skill positions. Running back Tony Pollard is the lead man in the backfield due to the departure of the declining Ezekiel Elliot. In 2022, Pollard tallied 1,007 rushing yards with an average of 5.2 yards per carry (third-highest average among running backs with under 200 carries). Since Pollard will be getting most of the carries, expect Pollard to prove he can be a top-10 halfback in 2023.
Dallas’s wideout room is solid with talent such as 2022 second-team all-pro Ceedee Lamb, Michael Gallup and free agent acquisition Brandin Cooks. In 2022, Dallas’s offensive line was riddled with injuries, but the line will still be led by eight-time pro bowl guard Zach Martin and two-time first-team all-pro left tackle Tyron Smith going into 2023. According to Pro Football Focus, the Cowboy’s offensive line is top-10 quality.
Defensively, Dallas has one of the best groups of 11 players in the league. The Cowboys’ defense is furnished with game-changers such as 2022 first-team all-pro edge-rusher Micah Parsons, pro-bowl defensive-end Demarcus Lawrence, pro-bowl cornerback Trevon Diggs and veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
In 2022, Dallas led the NFL in pressure rate (25.5 percent) and ranked third in sacks (54) led by defensive coordinator Dan Quinn.
Quinn has a successful track record coaching defense, as he was the defensive coordinator for the Seattle Seahawks (‘13-‘14) that went to back-to-back Super Bowls (48 and 49) with a victory in Super Bowl 48. Quinn led Seattle to first place in total defense rankings consecutively (‘13-‘14).
Dallas is clearly a legitimate contender in the NFC, as their potential success relies on Prescott playing up to his long-term contract status.
4. Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks were one of the more surprising teams to break out last season with the departure of former Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson prior to the 2022 campaign. Seahawks quarterback Geno Smith, who served as Wilson’s backup (’19-’21), had a career resurgence in 2022 having led Seattle to a 9-8 record and a playoff berth.
Smith had his best statistical season in 2022 by garnering 4,282 passing yards (most passing yards in a single season in Seattle history), 30 touchdowns and completed 68.9 percent of his passes (led the league). Smith was the only quarterback in 2022 to take every offensive snap in all 17 games. With his improved level of play, the former New York Jet earned the 2022 NFL Comeback Player of the Year award along with this first pro-bowl nod.
The former West Virginia Mountaineer had his monumental campaign under former Seattle Seahawks offensive coordinator and current Tampa Bay Buccaneers offensive coordinator Dave Canales. With the subtraction of Canales, Smith will have to prove if last season was a fluke or not. Luckily for Smith, he has a solid receiver group with D.K Metcalf, Tyler Lockett and 2023 NFL draft first-round pick Jaxon Smith-Njiba out of Ohio State. Halfback Kenneth Walker III is coming off a productive rookie season garnering 1,050 rushing yards along with 27 receptions for 165 receiving yards. Walker III was the second player to rush for 1000 yards as a rookie in franchise history.
Seattle’s offensive line is among one of the weakest in the league, as Pro Football Focus ranks the lineup 30th overall. The offensive line lacks in-game experience in Seattle’s system other than 2020 NFL draft third-round pick left guard Damien Lewis. Left tackle Charles Cross is entering his second season with Seattle, right guard Phil Haynes only started five games in his career, right tackle Abraham Lucas is heading into his second campaign with Seattle and center Evan Brown is approaching his first season with the Seahawks. Smith will need supreme pass protection if the Seahawks hope for him to duplicate last season.
Seattle ranked 26th overall in team defense in 2022. The Seahawks struggled to stop the run last season as they gave up an average of 150.2 rush yards per game. The pass rush majorly fell on the shoulders of linebacker Uchenna Nwosu, who garnered 9.5 sacks and 3 forced fumbles in 2022. Seattle added six-time first-team all-pro linebacker Bobby Wagner to provide a veteran presence on defense and help with the pass rush. Wagner was a centerpiece in the “Legion of Boom” era on defense for Seattle that won Super Bowl 48. The Seahawks’ defense ranked 28th in the league in pass rush win rate at 34 percent in 2022.
In the secondary, Seattle added cornerback Devon Witherspoon by way of the 2023 NFL draft with the fifth-overall pick. Alongside Witherspoon in the secondary is 2022 pro-bowl safety Quandre Diggs, strong safety Jamal Adams (missed 16 games due to torn quad in 2022) and 2022 pro-bowl cornerback Tariq Woolen (had 6 interceptions and 16 pass deflections in 2022). If Adams is healthy and Wagner continues to play at a high-level despite his age, Seattle could potentially be a top-10 team defensively.
Seattle has an outside shot to contend for the NFC Crown, but they have enough firepower and potential to be taken seriously as a threat.
5. Los Angeles Rams
The Los Angeles Rams finished the 2022 season with a 5-12 record, a year after winning the Super Bowl in 2021. The Rams suffered from the injury bug with key injuries to starting quarterback Matthew Stafford, all-pro wideout Cooper Kupp and all-pro defensive lineman Aaron Donald. The Rams had the third most players on the Injured Reserve list in the NFL in 2022.
Los Angeles is looking to bounce back after a five-win campaign and it starts with the type of offense they want to run. Stafford suffered a serious concussion and experienced loss in his fingers in 2022, as he enters his fifteenth season in the NFL. Rams head coach Sean McVay will have to incorporate a balanced offensive attack as the offense can’t rely heavily on an aging Stafford. This is where Rams halfback Cam Akers comes into play. Akers in 2022 garnered 786 rushing yards along with 17 receptions for 117 receiving yards. The former Florida State running back had 188 carries which will likely increase in the 2023 season.
Super Bowl 56 MVP wideout Cooper Kupp is returning to the lineup after suffering a high ankle sprain in week 10, which ended his season in 2022. Alongside Kupp in the receiving corps is Van Jefferson, who endured two offseason knee surgeries prior to last season. Jefferson made his season debut in week 8 and garnered 369 receiving yards and three touchdowns across the 11 games he played. The Rams will need Jefferson to take a gigantic leap in 2023, despite the fifth-round selection of wideout Puka Nacua in the 2023 NFL draft.
The Rams’ offensive front was riddled with injuries in 2022, as the offensive line featured 13 different starting lineups. The one constant piece was offensive tackle Rob Havenstein, who started all 17 games for Los Angeles in 2022. Los Angeles added solid talent to their offensive line by drafting guard Steve Avila in the second round of the 2023 NFL draft.
Alongside Avila is returning center Brian Allen (played 10 games in 2022 due to knee injury), 2022 second-round pick offensive guard Logan Bruss (missed last season due to torn ACL in preseason), offensive lineman Coleman Shelton (played 13 games last season and switched to center, left and right guard) and Havenstein. If the line can stay healthy throughout the year, Stafford and the Rams can improve immensely on offense from their last place finish in total offense in 2022.
The Rams defensively are led by three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year defensive tackle Aaron Donald. Donald only played in 11 matchups in 2022 due to an ankle sprain, but finished the season with 49 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and 5 sacks. Los Angeles cleared out familiar names during the offseason such as cornerback Jalen Ramsey, linebacker Bobby Wagner, linebacker Leonard Floyd, safety Nick Scott and defensive lineman Greg Gaines.
Fortunately for Los Angeles, they used their 2023 NFL draft picks wisely by selecting defensive lineman Kobie Turner in the third-round, outside linebacker Byron Young in the third-round, cornerback Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson in the sixth round, safety Jason Taylor II in the seventh-round and outside linebacker Ochaun Mathis in the sixth-round.
Los Angeles overall will be getting their three stars back, a healthy offensive line, a young, fresh defensive lineup led by one of the greatest defensive players in NFL history. The Rams aren’t in the same class as Philadelphia, Dallas or San Francisco, but they are due for a bounce-back season in 2023.