It’s not too early to look ahead to the 2023 NFL season, focusing on one team in each division in the NFC that might surprise.
4 NFC Surprise Teams
North: Chicago Bears
I love that Fields returned to college and got his degree. That shows maturity, leadership and perspective.
Look where he made progress: whether it’s completion percentage, quarterback rating, touchdown percentage or interception percentage. He improved in all those areas, so if he can make another significant gain — with what he does running the football — he will become that much more dangerous. His growth and maturity are exciting.
On defense, it’s the second year with head coach Matt Eberflus’ system, and they added two significant linebackers in Tremaine Edmunds and T.J. Edwards. Edwards led the NFC in combined tackles last season and Edmunds has been to two Pro Bowls.
>>WATCH: Matt Eberflus 1-on-1 Conversation
Those two not only add production but experience. They’re guys who have a little bit of caché, and that helps a young and struggling defense. The hope is they bring in the mentality they’ve had and that mushrooms.
There’s a lot to be said for the second year in a system because that learning curve under a new coordinator can be challenging. They won’t be a bottom defensive team as they were last year.
South: Atlanta Falcons
Quarterback Desmond Ridder talked about the struggles in his first year: how his head was swimming and how he had to get used to the system. He had the opportunity to play in the second half. He got a decent amount of playing time, and he’s in a much better spot for 2023.
The Atlanta Falcons also have six No. 1 picks on offense, three on the offensive line. They have the young weapons they’ve invested in with running back Bijan Robinson, wide receiver Drake London and tight end (Kyle Pitts), in addition to Cordarrelle Patterson. They’ve got a chance to be really good, especially offensively.
The Falcons won a significant number of games last season with a pretty big transition and with a lot of uncertainty at quarterback.
As with the Bears, this is a defensive issue, and the Falcons have had a massive overhaul on the defensive side. Most of the defensive staff is gone, and they’ve had a huge roster overhaul.
They brought in five defensive linemen and six defensive backs. They’re throwing some resources at trying to fix that problem.
East: New York Giants
What head coach Brian Daboll is facing is that the New York Giants are not sneaking up on anybody. They’re expected to win in a market that has very little patience for not winning once the bar is set.
They haven’t been able to add that much. TE Darren Waller was a big addition offensively, but they paid a lot of money for guys they already had under contract.
It’s a pretty ridiculous early schedule with three games in the first 11 days and seven out of their first 10 games are on the road.
This is a pretty big mountain to climb. The good news is the Philadelphia Eagles have some issues with losing both coordinators. Who knows what’s going to happen with the Washington Commanders? And the Dallas Cowboys always have high expectations, but you never know where they’re going to fall on the consistency spectrum.
I wish the Giants were able to add more parts this offseason. But when you have to pay QB Daniel Jones what they paid him ($40 million per season for the next four years) and you’ve got to franchise RB Saquon Barkley, there’s not a lot of money to go get other pieces that you may need.
West: Seattle Seahawks
The Seattle Seahawks moved on from Russell Wilson, and nobody expected them to do anything. Smith came out and threw 30 touchdowns and only 11 interceptions. He has back-to-back seasons with a 100 quarterback rating.
They started two rookie tackles and a rookie running back, so to have the success they did was amazing.
This is a young team with a humble quarterback who signed an extension, and it added four draft picks in the top 50 players.
The San Francisco 49ers are a tough out no matter when you play them, but Seattle is going to be a tough out no matter when you play them, too.
It was not a flash in the pan for Smith. When a team has that many young players playing that early, at such a high level, and it’s able to infuse another four in the top 50 draft picks, it has got a chance not just to be good this year, it’s got a chance to be good for a long time.
All those guys are going to be able to grow together, and there are not a lot of bad habits you have to break. They could form a nucleus that could challenge in the division for multiple years.
Eric Mangini is a former NFL Head Coach and won three Super Bowls as the defensive backs coach of the New England Patriots. In 2006, he became the then-youngest head coach in the NFL with the New York Jets.