Expert Analysis


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10 Biggest QB Storylines to Close Out 2023 Season

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen
Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) during overtime loss against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. Photo by: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

As we head into the stretch run of the 2023 NFL season, several NFL quarterbacks are sitting front and center with their play on the field — and drama off of it — grabbing headlines. 

Here’s my list of the top 10 quarterback storylines to close the regular season.

10 Biggest QB Storylines

10. Will Josh Allen, Bills Miss Playoffs?

Josh Allen continues to be a talented risk-taker who makes outstanding throws with his great arm and big runs using his rare athleticism. Unfortunately, he tends to follow those plays up with costly interceptions. He ranks third in passing yards, but his 13 interceptions are tied for the league lead.

His Buffalo Bills, missing several key defenders, lost three of their last four games, including a crushing overtime defeat in Philadelphia last Sunday. Allen ran for 81 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 339 yards and two more TDs against the NFL’s top team. But a costly fourth-quarter interception and a miscommunication with Gabe Davis on a potential winning play in overtime left the Bills with another loss.

The 6-6 Bills are at Kansas City and home vs. Dallas after their bye this week and close at Miami, which they beat 48-20 in Week 4. Unless Allen has a phenomenal run in the last five weeks to boost his team, he will miss the playoffs for the first time since his rookie season (2018).

9. Will Justin Fields Cement Franchise QB Status in Chicago?

Justin Fields is coming off a Monday night road win over a playoff-contending Minnesota Vikings team in which he led the winning drive but lost two fourth-quarter fumbles that nearly cost the Chicago Bears the game. It was typical of the roller coaster season he’s had. Fields, who missed four games due to a thumb injury, is 2-6 as Chicago’s starter. He has a career-high 92.3 passer rating and leads NFL quarterbacks with an average of 50 rushing yards per game.

Fields, the No. 11 overall pick in 2021, is essentially on a five-week trial run, beginning at home against the Detroit Lions after the bye. He then will face Cleveland’s top-ranked defense on the road before closing with three cold-weather games that are never easy for quarterbacks (home vs. Arizona and Atlanta and at Green Bay).

The Bears brass will then have to decide if the athletic but not always consistent Fields is worth keeping or if one of the top college quarterbacks will head to the Windy City.

8. Will Aaron Rodgers Return Before the Season Ends?

As long as Aaron Rodgers keeps teasing the New York Jets and their fan base about his miraculous recovery, this will remain a major story. In his most recent statement, he said his return will depend on his, “health first and are we alive for the playoffs second."

With three playoff contenders in Atlanta and Houston (at home) and then at Miami up next for the 4-7 Jets — who have lost four straight games — it’s doubtful they’ll be in the race to entice Rodgers to return in late December. And would he really want to face Myles Garrett and the top-ranked Cleveland Browns’ defense in Week 17?

7. Will C.J. Stroud Lead Texans to Playoffs?

C.J. Stroud, the No. 2 overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, leads the league with 297 passing yards per game and ranks sixth in passer rating (100.8). He has elevated the Houston Texans — who finished 3-13-1 last season — to a 6-5 record and in playoff contention despite a painful three-point loss to the AFC South-leading Jacksonville Jaguars last Sunday. Stroud had 351 yards of total offense with three TDs and almost led a late comeback.

If he can lead the Texans to the playoffs by navigating a remaining schedule that includes home games against winning teams in the Denver Broncos and Browns and playing at 6-5 Indianapolis in the regular season finale along with home-and-home with the rival Tennessee Titans, he deserves to be not only the Offensive Rookie of the Year but also in the race for NFL MVP.

6. Will Joshua Dobbs Return to Form?

Joshua Dobbs was the NFL’s best story in Weeks 9 and 10 after he was traded from Arizona. After no reps with the starters, he led the Minnesota Vikings to an improbable comeback win in his hometown of Atlanta and then beat the Saints. But midnight struck on his Cinderella story, and the career journeyman (on nine teams in seven years) threw five interceptions and lost one fumble in losses the past two games to Denver and Chicago, dropping the Vikings to 6-6.

Coach Kevin O’Connell says he will decide during this week’s bye whether to keep Dobbs as the starter at the Las Vegas Raiders on Dec. 10 or go with vet Nick Mullens or rookie Jaren Hall (whom Dobbs replaced when Hall suffered a concussion early in the Falcons game).

For two weeks, it looked like Dobbs could replace Kirk Cousins (out with a torn Achilles) as the Vikings' starting quarterback next season. Now it’s all up for grabs, and we’ll see if Dobbs even stays in the lineup after his recent careless play brought the “Passtronaut” back to earth.

If he keeps the starting job, he can look forward to working with All-Pro receiver Justin Jefferson, who has been activated after recovering from a seven-week hamstring injury. He’ll also have three division games to close out the regular season as the Vikings seek a return to the playoffs — home-and-home with Detroit and a New Year’s Eve home game against Green Bay.

>>READ: Josh Dobbs' Cinderella Story Ends

5. Can Jared Goff Lead Lions to NFC North Title?

Jared Goff has had an up-and-down season that began with a 5-1 start in which he threw 11 TD passes and three interceptions. A 38-6 shellacking by the Ravens came next, along with a big game (333 passing yards, two TDs) in a 41-38 win at the Chargers. In Week 11, he had a three-interception game in a comeback win over the Bears and a disappointing Thanksgiving loss to Green Bay in which he passed for 332 yards and two TDs but lost three fumbles.

Goff would love to show the Rams and Sean McVay that they made a mistake in trading him away in the Matthew Stafford deal with a solid regular-season finish and postseason run. Goff ranks fourth in passing yards per game (279.5) and eighth in passer rating (96.9). The three-time Pro Bowler has a 62-48-1 career record and a Super Bowl start with the Rams in the 2018 season after he was the first overall pick two years earlier.  

Starting this week, he has a challenging stretch with four road games in five weeks, including at playoff contenders New Orleans, Minnesota and Dallas, and a rematch in Chicago on Dec. 10. Goff and the Lions then host the hot Broncos in Week 15, and they have a home finale with the Vikings. We’ll see if Goff has overcome his turnover issues and is back on track by playoff time.

4. Can Russell Wilson Keep up Stellar Play?

The nine-time Pro Bowler started this season 1-5, and it appeared his time as Denver Broncos quarterback under coach Sean Payton would be short-lived. That start came after a career-worst season in 2022 when he was 4-11 as the starter after the trade from Seattle and signing a massive contract.

Russell Wilson and the Broncos are hot now and their five-game winning streak puts them in playoff contention at 6-5 (tied for the last AFC playoff spot). He has eight TD passes and no interceptions during that stretch. He ranks fifth in passer rating (103.4) with 20 TD passes and only four interceptions and is running more effectively than last season with 266 yards on the ground and 25 first downs.

Wilson has three straight road games coming up — at Houston, the Los Angeles Chargers and Detroit before the schedule eases with home games against the Patriots and Chargers and the finale at the Raiders. With his nine playoff wins and a Super Bowl title 10 years ago, Wilson should be a tough out if he and his team surprisingly make it to the postseason after the rough start.

3. Can Tua Tagovailoa Enter Playoffs With Momentum?

This is the first season in his four-year NFL career that Tua Tagovailoa has started every game, and he leads a Miami Dolphins offense that is atop the NFL in total offense, passing yards and scoring. He ranks fourth in passer rating (103.7), third in completion percentage (70 percent) and third in TD passes (22). But he is coming off a 34-13 road win over the Jets in which he had three turnovers.

The knock on Tagovailoa and the Dolphins is they haven’t beaten a team with a winning record and were soundly beaten by the now 6-6 Bills (48-20) and the Eagles (31-17). They played the Chiefs tough in a 21-14 loss, during which they trailed 21-0 at halftime.

As the 8-3 Dolphins pursue the AFC‘s top seed and home-field advantage in the playoffs, they have a challenging final three games. They host the Cowboys, are at the Ravens and have a home rematch with the Bills. The Dallas and Baltimore games will allow Miami and Tagovailoa to beat winning teams. That could also be the case against Buffalo as the Dolphins seek to build momentum and confidence for the postseason along with a high seed.  

2. can Dak Prescott Set Cowboys up for Super Bowl Run?

Dak Prescott and the 8-3 Dallas Cowboys are in the same boat as Tagovailoa and the Dolphins as far as no wins against teams with winning records. Dallas has beaten up bad teams, such as outscoring the Giants 89-17 in their season sweep. But the game that stings is a 42-10 early October beatdown in San Francisco (in which Prescott had three interceptions and only threw for 153 yards). This was against the team that knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs the past two seasons.

The other painful loss to a winning team was three weeks ago in Philadelphia when Prescott drove Dallas to the Eagles 6-yard line before two penalties and a sack set up a pass short of the goal line to CeeDee Lamb on the final play of the 28-23 loss. It was a brutal ending to an excellent game for Prescott, who passed for 374 yards and three TDs.  

Prescott is having an excellent season overall. He is the second-ranked in passer rating at 107.4—which would be a career-high, and he has 18 TD passes with only two interceptions in the last six games since the loss to the 49ers.

It’s good timing because he’ll seek a significant contract extension in 2024, the final year of his four-year, $160 million deal. The Cowboys surely want to see him beat some winning teams, and he has that opportunity with five straight games coming up against teams currently at .500 or better, including road tests at Buffalo and Miami in Weeks 14 and 15 and home games this week against Seattle and in Week 17 against Detroit.

The biggest game for Prescott and Dallas to prove their mettle is the Dec. 10 home rematch with the Eagles. It’s a must-win for the Cowboys to have any chance of overtaking Philly in the NFC East and earning a high seed and home playoff game or two. The Cowboys have a 5-0 home record compared to 3-3 on the road, so being at home in the playoffs is the best shot for Dallas to get to its first NFC title game and first Super Bowl since its 1995 championship season. Prescott would also love to improve his 2-4 postseason record before negotiating his next contract.

Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson
Baltimore Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson (8) stiff arms Cincinnati Bengals defensive tackle DJ Reader during a Week 11 game. Photo by: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

1. Can Lamar Jackson Claim His Second MVP?

After all the angst over Lamar Jackson’s contract negotiations the past two years that stemmed in part from his injuries that prematurely ended his 2021 and 2022 seasons, he has shown his worth to the Baltimore Ravens in leading them to a 9-3 record, good for the top AFC seed heading into this week’s bye.

Jackson’s last two seasons ended after playing 12 games, and it’s critical for Baltimore’s postseason hopes that he is healthy entering the playoffs. Jackson hasn’t changed his style of play, with running still a big part of his game, as he leads all quarterbacks with 574 rushing yards. He ranks seventh in passer rating (98. 4) and has his best supporting cast yet at wide receiver (Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham and Rashod Bateman). 

There’s also a chance that one of Jackson’s favorite targets — tight end Mark Andrews — could return from his ankle surgery for the playoffs.

Holding onto the top seed with the first-round bye would give Andrews an extra week to recover and for Jackson to rest up. The Ravens have just a half-game lead over the Chiefs, Dolphins and Jaguars. They have a demanding remaining schedule, including Week 15 at Jacksonville, Christmas night at San Francisco and hosting Miami on New Year’s Eve before the Steelers come to Baltimore in the regular-season finale with the AFC North title possibly on the line.

If Jackson can stay healthy and lead Baltimore to the division title and a top seed while continuing his excellent play, he’ll be in the running for his second league MVP, which he last won in 2019.

The bigger goal should be to improve on his 1-3 playoff record. Jackson has an impressive 54-19 regular-season record but sat out due to a knee injury when the Bengals eliminated the Ravens in last season’s wild-card round.