Even in the offseason, opinions vary regarding whether teams and players will have successful seasons. Certain storylines are talked about throughout the offseason, but which ones are worth believing in?
Matt Cassel and Eric Mangini offer their thoughts on topics — one for each of the NFL’s eight divisions — letting you know if there are buying or selling a scenario that could exist at some point this season.
Buy or Sell in AFC?
AFC North: Most Coaches on Hot Seat?
I love talking about coaches getting fired. That’s very real. But to me, this is definitely a sell in this division.
The only coach that could happen this year would be Kevin Stefanski. And I don’t even know if that’s fair at this point, considering the transition that they had to make with quarterback Deshaun Watson missing 11 games and everything else that came into play with that.
You have to give him at least through this season and see what happens because he’s done a lot of great things there at a place that it’s been hard to do, a lot of great things. When you look at the rest of the coaches in this division, who are you going to pick to let go? They’ve all been incredibly successful in different ways, and some for a long time.
If Kevin Stefanski doesn’t get a shot to move on after this year and still be the head coach of the Cleveland Browns, I think that they’re nuts. I was with Stefanski when I was with the Minnesota Vikings, and he’s a special coach. He’s got such a great football mind, and he relates to the players really well.
This is the year in which we’ll see Stefanski hopefully get Watson back into Pro Bowl form. If he can do that, his tenure could be extended for a long period of time.
AFC West: Worst Two Records in NFL?
I’m selling on this one, too. I don’t see the Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders having the worst records.
The division is rough, but you have Russell Wilson a year into it. Hopefully, last year was an aberration. It’s hard to imagine that’s where he is. He’s in a much better situation from an organizational stability and coaching perspective.
I like coach Josh McDaniels a lot, I like offensive coordinator Mick Lombardi and the offensive staff, and I like Jimmy Garoppolo. The Raiders are going to surprise some people, too.
The counter to that is you can look at teams like the Arizona Cardinals, Houston Texans, Los Angeles Rams and Indianapolis Colts. I don’t know if any of those teams have made significant enough strides in what they’re hoping to do to avoid being at the top end of the draft next year.
The Cardinals are the one team that stands out to me because QB Kyler Murray is going to be out with his ACL tear. We don’t know when he’s going to come back.
That means Colt McCoy is probably going to be playing for the majority of that first half of the season. On the defensive side of the ball, they were a bottom-three defense last year, and they didn’t make a ton of moves to upgrade any of those positions.
When you look at Houston; it’s the same deal. They’ve got a rookie head coach, a rookie quarterback, and yeah, you hope he’s going to hit right away. But we all know how difficult that transition is. Even though they’ve added some pieces, they had a lot of holes they had to fill, and that’s probably not enough at this point.
You also brought up the Los Angeles Rams. When you look at the Rams’ defense, they underperformed last year. They don’t have a lot of depth on that side of the ball outside of Aaron Donald. That means there are going to be a lot of young guys playing different positions on that defense, which already was a struggling defense last year.
AFC South: Next Powerhouse QB Division?
I’m selling. It’s exciting to get these young high draft picks in the building, but they’ve all got serious question marks.
You look at a guy like Anthony Richardson and his physical upside, but he didn’t exactly light it up last year in college. You’re betting that this is going to hit, and it’s going to hit big. But the transition from college football to pro football is huge. When you’ve struggled like like he did to some extent in college football, it’s hard to imagine that jump is going to come in the first year. This may be two or three years out.
The questions on C.J. Stroud with the tests and the ability to process, you have to let that play out. That’s a team that has holes. And for him to be able to lift the Texans up in the short term, that’s tough, too. There are a lot of questions there.
I think Will Levis will end up starting this year at some point. It doesn’t look like Tennessee’s committed to Ryan Tannehill. From a developmental perspective, there are probably more questions than answers right now.
It was exciting to see what Trevor Lawrence did in the second half of the 2022 season. But for a season-and-a-half, it wasn’t very good. When you look at the playoffs, that first game is where he throws four picks in the first half.
I’m going to buy these guys. I like Lawrence and what he did with his development. He had Doug Peterson come in. We knew that there were going to be some bumps in the road. This guy’s got all the talent in the world. He could be a generational talent.
Richardson’s a guy who has huge question marks. But if you can catch lightning in a bottle, the ceiling is so high. He’s in the right system with Shane Steichen. Shane came from the Philadelphia Eagles with Jalen Hurts. That same system can be implemented with the Indianapolis Colts.
Richardson’s a generational athlete. I did not say generational quarterback yet, but he has the potential to be. So if you can get that athleticism and combine that with consistent quarterback play — which I think Steichen has done with Hurts with Justin Herbert — then he’s a guy who could go out and take the league by storm.
Stroud has exceptional pocket presence, accuracy and the tight window throws that everybody was knocking him about. The guy can make plays. He’s going to be exceptional in the NFL.
Levis could be the steal in the draft when you look at him: prototypical size, arm strength and a quick release. There are fundamentals that you definitely have to clean up with him — his footwork and his accuracy at times. But if they can work on those things that he needs to get better at in his game from a physical standpoint, this kid could be really good for the Tennessee Titans for a long period of time, too, moving forward.
AFC East: No QB Will Play All 17 Games?
I will buy it for a couple of reasons. The first thing is in New England, I’m not sure that Mac Jones has the starting position nailed down. I’m not sure how happy they are with him.
You can attribute it to the offensive staff if you want to. Bailey Zappe is a guy they seem to like there, and I would imagine they’d be willing to move to if Jones struggles at some point, which there’s a good chance he could with the number of concussions he’s had.
It’s hard to imagine that he’s going to go through a full season without having to deal with that problem again. Typically, when you have something like that, the probability of having it again increases as opposed to decreases even with rest.
Bill O’Brien and Bill Belichick aren’t going to hesitate if they feel it’s best for the team to go out and win ball games.
The way that Josh Allen plays, I’m sure the Buffalo Bills coaches talk to him a ton about getting down, not trying to turn every play into a big play and not taking unnecessary hits. I just don’t know if he’s wired that way to where he can throw it away enough not to take those hits.
The best chance of having someone start all 17 games is Aaron Rodgers with the New York Jets. Over the course of his career, he’s been pretty durable. I would imagine that dealing with a new offensive line and not really a new system, but just new people could potentially open him up for some hits early in the season that maybe he wouldn’t have gotten in Green Bay. He gives them the best chance to go through 17, but it’s going to be hard.
I’m going to sell this one because Allen over his career has been one of the more durable quarterbacks. He puts himself at risk, and I know that there’s this constant conversation with him about not being so aggressive as a runner, taking those hits and taking on defenders with that big body.
When you look at Rodgers, this guy goes out week in, week out. He’s one of the tougher quarterbacks I’ve ever seen play that game.
Last year he had a rib injury and a fractured thumb. The year before that, it was a fractured pinky toe. But somehow, some way, he was always able to manage to go out and play in those games. This year he’s got something that he wants to go out and prove. He wants to be there for that team.
These guys have the ability to go out and play the game even when they’re hurt and when they’re not feeling their best. It’s going to take a catastrophic injury to get those guys off the field.
Jones, last year, had a bad ankle sprain, but the year before that, as a rookie, he started all 17 games. He actually started 18 games because they went to the playoffs and lost in the first round.
Buy or Sell in NFC?
NFC North: Lions First to Clinch Playoff Spot?
I’m selling. For them to get the opening game against the Kansas City Chiefs is amazing. Typically the champion’s opponent is a team that had been in the playoffs the previous year.
So the amount of love the Detroit Lions are getting for a late-season run, it’s a lot. It’s a lot in terms of expectations that people are putting on them, and they’re being anointed as the team to beat. I’m not sure that they’re in that space yet.
It’s hard to imagine they’re going to be able to continue the run they had late in the season. Playing a year where nobody thinks you’re going to do anything is different than when everybody expects you to be really good.
I love Dan Campbell and the culture he’s created. The Lions had a solid free agency period. They did well in the draft, and they’ve got a lot of young talent that can go out and be an explosive offense, as we saw last year.
But at the same time, I’m selling it for the same reasons. Their team is in a position to be successful, but now they have to go out and prove it. To say that they’ll be the first team to clinch a playoff spot when there’s Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs; there’s Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles, who didn’t lose as much talent as expected. Picking the Lions over one of those teams, I would be hard-pressed to say with a straight face.
So I’m selling this as well, even though the expectation level has risen in Detroit. They could be a really good team; I just don’t think they’re there yet to where they’ll be.
NFC West: Will Geno Smith Be Division’s Best QB?
I’m buying this 100 percent. I was so wrong about Geno Smith. What he did last year was impressive and, to some degree, inspiring.
I really like Shane Waldron, their offensive coordinator. He’s going to be a head coach in the very near future.
They did an amazing job to lose Russell Wilson and insert Smith the way that they did. For him to have 30 touchdowns, only 11 picks, and to have over a 100 quarterback rating both years that he’s been in Seattle. His completion percentage was almost 70 percent.
It’s such a good example for any quarterback or player in the NFL in terms of resilience and being able to grow while you’re in the league. This is just a great story, and I hope and expect it to continue the way it did.
Well, I called this early last year. I said Smith is going to jump off the screen at you this year.
It was one of those things that were one of the more surprising seasons that we’ve seen in a long time. It was particularly so given it was the quarterback position with Wilson leaving a team that I wouldn’t say was a great roster last season.
When you look at this team this year, they already had a great duo of wide receivers in DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett, but they drafted an outstanding young wide receiver with Jaxon Smith-Njigba.
The Seahawks addressed the interior of the offensive line and added depth at running back. They put Smith in a great position to be successful, to build off what he did last year.
As for the other teams in this division, the San Francisco 49ers have a lot of question marks right now at quarterback.
Is Trey Lance going to be the guy? Is he a guy you can see having success because they’re ultra-talented on offense? He really hasn’t played hardly any in the NFL. And you don’t know how Brock Purdy‘s injury is going to turn out.
Matthew Stafford and the Rams are depleted on the offensive side, but that offensive line was banged up last year. WR Cooper Kupp is coming back this year, but they don’t have a No. 2 or No. 3 wide receiver around him. And there are injury concerns there.
We know Murray is probably going to miss half of the Cardinals’ season due to the ACL injury. This is a no-brainer for me. I’m buying this all the way. Smith will be the top quarterback in that division this year.
NFC South: Division Winner Will Have Losing Record?
I’m buying it right now because I can’t figure out which team has made a big enough jump in the offseason to really distinguish themselves in the division. We don’t know what Bryce Young is going to bring to Carolina. I really like Ejiro Evero, the defensive coordinator; he’ll do a great job.
I’m cheering for Baker Mayfield in Tampa, but it’s been up and down since he left Cleveland. If he hits it right, that could go in a positive direction. But how much over .500 will it be?
Atlanta is really encouraging from an offensive firepower standpoint. They should have a ton of it. Can Desmond Ridder get that out of the group? Can they collectively perform with young guys in those key positions at a consistent, tough level to get over .500?
Maybe it’s Derek Carr in New Orleans. He gives probably the best shot in that division for someone or a team to pop out of there and win the division and win it by being over .500. But that’s far from a lock.
We could go back and forth all day because there are question marks and holes in each of these teams. At the same time, there’s a lot of promise, and it’s about how they collectively come together. How they establish themselves as an offense.
For Carolina, how quickly will Young get caught up to speed with what they’re asking him to do, and how will that gel with his game?
The New Orleans Saints defensively lost some defensive firepower, but they reloaded in the draft.
Carr had some success during his tenure with the Raiders. He’s by far the most established veteran quarterback in this division. If he can bring stability to that offense, their defense always has been a strong, top-10 defense.
NFC East: Every Team’s Record Will Regress?
I’m going to have to buy in. Here’s the main reason: For the Eagles to be where they were last year is going to be difficult when you lose two coordinators. It doesn’t matter who you replace them with; that’s hard. You lose all of those reps, experience and continuity. So that’s one element to overcome.
They gave Hurts a big contract. It shouldn’t make a difference. But often, those guys press when they get a big contract. It ends up being more of a negative than a positive until they get into a comfort zone and stop trying to prove that they’re worth the additional money and just do what they’ve always done.
I’m a huge Brian Daboll fan with the Giants, but the league did them no favors with their early schedule. It’s brutal. It might be a record number of road games early in the season (seven): Two of those are on the West Coast, and three games in 11 days.
Will the Commanders’ change in ownership affect anything? How well is the quarterback play going to work out? Defensively, for the past year-plus, they should have played so much better than they have. They’ve underachieved there. That should be an extreme strength.
The Cowboys are inherently unpredictable. Going 12-5 last year was probably better than I anticipated and better than I anticipate again this year.
I’m selling this one. The Dallas Cowboys lost their offensive coordinator. They didn’t have an active free agency, though they brought in cornerback Stephon Gilmore. That was an upgrade. You just never know with the unpredictability of the Cowboys.
The schedules do the Giants no favors. During a 10-week stretch, they have seven away games. One of their home games is actually against the Jets, which is going to be a mixed crowd. So it’s not truly a home game. They’re going to have to overcome a lot because of that.
The one team that has the opportunity to go out there and duplicate what they did last year is the Eagles at 14-3. They’re that solid.
If there’s one guy who is probably not as impacted, just knowing what I know about him, it’s Hurts. His work ethic, how people talk about his character, his ability to go out there and tune everything out and just go focus on the ball.
That he go a big contract is not going to impact him as much as it would with some other players. They have one of the most talented rosters in the NFL right now and can go out there and replicate what they did last season. The Eagles are the one team that’s going to hold this division together, and they’re going to duplicate what they did last year.
Matt Cassel is a former NFL quarterback who played with seven teams in his NFL career, most notably the New England Patriots, Kansas City Chiefs, Minnesota Vikings and Dallas Cowboys. Follow him on Twitter at @M_Cassel.
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.