We are a month into the 2023 NFL season, so we can start having educated takes on players, coaches and teams.
It’s been a wild few weeks with several surprises across the league. Here are some of the biggest winners and losers after the first four games of the year:
Winner: Tua Tagovailoa, QB, Miami Dolphins
There were concerns Tua Tagovailoa wouldn’t play another snap in the NFL this offseason. That led to discussions about whether the Miami Dolphins should try to replace him with a more established veteran.
Tagovailoa has stayed healthy and played at an MVP level so far. The Dolphins were the NFL’s highest-scoring offense heading into Week 4 and appear to be legit contenders in the AFC.
The Dolphins had a disappointing loss in Week 4 to the Buffalo Bills, but that had more to do with the poor defensive performance than Tagovailoa. He wasn’t fantastic, but he gave Miami plenty of chances to put up points.
Tagovailoa has shut down all the questions about his ability, as there aren’t quarterbacks playing much better than him right now.
Loser: Vance Joseph, Denver Broncos
To say the Denver Broncos are struggling on defense might be the year’s biggest understatement. The Broncos gave up 70 points to the Dolphins in Week 3 and allowed a slumping Justin Fields to throw all over them in Week 4.
Quarterbacks against the Broncos’ defense the past two weeks in the first half:
158.3 passer rating (perfect)
— Zac Stevens (@ZacStevensDNVR) October 1, 2023
At one point, the Broncos had given up 13 touchdowns in 5.5 quarters. Another damning stat for Joseph: the Broncos forced just one total incompletion in the first half against the Dolphins and the Bears.
It’s been a long time since we’ve seen a defense struggle this much to start the year.
The good news is the Broncos did get a few defensive stops in the second half against the Bears but still allowed 28 points to one of the league’s least explosive offenses.
Joseph was once viewed as one of the NFL’s top defensive minds. However, his defense looks slow and undisciplined. Worse yet, it’s a very vanilla defense that is incredibly easy to dissect.
There don’t seem to be a lot of solutions, but it will be fascinating to see how long Sean Payton sticks with Joseph after the Broncos’ 1-3 start.
Winner: C.J. Stroud, QB, Houston Texans
It’s hard for rookie quarterbacks to have success in the NFL. That is especially true when a team has had as many injuries on the offensive line as the Houston Texans. But C.J. Stroud has played well in the season’s first month.
Stroud has done a fantastic job of moving in the pocket and getting rid of the ball quickly and accurately. He lit up Pittsburgh’s defense for 30 points in Week 4 despite missing four offensive line starters (and multiple backups).
Nico Collins with the TD reception from CJ Stroud!
— FOX Sports: NFL (@NFLonFOX) October 1, 2023
Stroud threw for more than 300 yards, and it was his third consecutive game with a passer rating of more than 100. He finished Week 4 averaging more than 10 yards per attempt with a passer rating of 111.2
While he has been far from perfect, Stroud has shown enough that Texans fans can be confident he is the right quarterback for the job moving forward. The Texans found themselves a franchise quarterback in the 2023 NFL Draft.
>> READ: Stroud Is Playing at Pro Bowl Level
Loser: Kyle Pitts, TE, Atlanta Falcons
We should first mention Kyle Pitts might not be 100 percent healthy. He is returning from a knee injury that ended his 2022 season. But he hasn’t had any success in Arthur Smith’s offense.
Jonnu Smith has been the more effective tight end, catching four more passes than Pitts.
Through four games:
Kyle Pitts: 21 targets, 11 receptions, 121 yards
Jonnu Smith: 20 targets, 15 receptions, 179 yards
— JJ Zachariason (@LateRoundQB) October 1, 2023
He might be a bad fit with Smith, and having Desmond Ridder at quarterback doesn’t help either. But the fact that Pitts has just 121 yards in four games is incredibly frustrating.
At some point, the Falcons must decide whether to feature Pitts in the offense or trade him. An occasional target here or there just isn’t helping anyone.
Winner: Dan Campbell, Detroit Lions
One of the biggest winners of the first month of the season has to be Dan Campbell. For the first time in decades, the Detroit Lions were favored to win the NFC North. Expectations have never been higher for Detroit, but the Lions have lived up to them so far.
The Lions got a Week 1 win in Kansas City against the Chiefs and beat the Green Bay Packers in Green Bay on Thursday.
The Lions are 3-1 to start the season and are a game up on the Packers for the division lead. Campbell also has the defense playing much better, holding the Chiefs, Atlanta Falcons and Packers to fewer than 21 points.
Campbell has his team playing hard, and the Lions look like a real contender in the NFC. For a team that has struggled so much lately, Campbell has the Lions trending up after the season’s first month.
>> READ: NFC North Runs Through the Lions
Loser: New York Jets
This one is really tough to write. The New York Jets looked like a Super Bowl contender in the preseason. But four plays into the season, Aaron Rodgers went down with an Achilles injury, which completely changed the Jets’ outlook.
The downgrade from Rogers to Zach Wilson is massive, and it’s had a ripple effect on the entire offense. Garrett Wilson went from a player with a chance to lead the NFL in receiving yards to someone with 225 receiving yards in the first four games combined.
Wilson isn’t the only offensive star who has had a lackluster start. RB Breece Hall has 83 total rushing yards in the past three games.
Watching this version of the offense for the third straight year has to be incredibly frustrating.
Marcus Mosher is an NFL writer with a decade of experience in podcasting and writing for various NFL websites, including Bleacher Report, Pro Football Focus and The Athletic. He is currently a managing editor at USA Today Sports Media Group and the host of the Locked On Cowboys Podcast. Marcus has been working full-time covering the NFL since 2015 and works as a betting expert for Gambling.com. You can follow him at @Marcus_Mosher.