By: Mike Patt
Hello sports fans, and welcome back to the IE Sports Radio Blog. The NFL pre-season has kicked off, which means the 2023 regular season is right around the corner. As is usually the case, we head into the season with clear favorites, rising contenders, and squads that are building for the future. We also have our fair share of wild cards, and no, I am not talking about the extra playoff spots given to non-division winners. Rather, these are teams that, for a variety of reasons, could finish almost anywhere in the standings. I believe that each conference contains three examples, listed below in no particular order. Let’s discuss why I think each team fits this description.
NFC: Chicago Bears
We start our list with a team that I really want to be good this year. The Bears made several key additions in the off-season, had a solid draft, and young QB Justin Fields continues to ascend. Still, there are other factors to consider. For all the excitement Fields brings to the field (pun intended), he has won five games in two seasons. The O-line, despite some investment, is still a concern, and the defensive front is uncertain. Having those two question marks will bring some volatility. The division is not as difficult as years past, which leaves a chance to make some noise.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Tampa went 8-9 last season with Tom Brady at quarterback. Admittedly, they dealt with some injuries, and Brady was 84 years old, but their performance was still below expectations. This year, they will have one of Baker Mayfield or Kyle Trask at QB, and their O-line has taken a step back. Still, the Bucs have great players on both sides of the ball, and their division is wide open. Those two components lead me to believe that their record will end up better than the roster would suggest. The ceiling is surprisingly high, but the floor is quite low.
One way to identify an unpredictable team is to look at their quarterback situation. In the case of the Commanders, you have a likely starter who is entering his 2nd year and has one career start. It was a good start, but still only one. His back-up is a veteran who has played on many teams, but does not have an amazing streak of winning games. The defense is strong but young, and young defenses make mistakes and have bad games. With a questionable O-line, there is potential for the bottom to fall out, but also a chance for a winning season with some of the pieces in place. The division is tough, making the task ahead that much more difficult.
AFC: Miami Dolphins
Over the past three seasons, the Dolphins have undergone tremendous amounts of change. They started their rebuild process by loading up on draft picks and adding young talent. They have since shifted to trading picks for veterans and adding experience to compliment their youth. What is left is a roster that is great at some spots, but unsure at others. You also have a QB who is one concussion away from being knocked out of the league (again, pun intended). That alone makes this team tough to predict. Add in the training camp injury to Jalen Ramsey, and things become blurry. The massive improvements by division rival New York Jets do not help.
Who would have thought that Russell Wilson would fall so badly when he went to Denver. Alas, there may not be much left in the tank for the former Super Bowl winner, but there are reasons for optimism. The team has excellent passing weapons, an improved O-line, and some stars on defense. They also have a new head coach in Sean Payton, who knows how to get the most out of his players. That upgrade alone should add to the win column, but how far this team goes and how well they do depends on Wilson. That alone makes this a tricky prediction, but throw in all of the top notch teams in the AFC, and this team could finish any number of places.
Does anyone really know what to expect out of the Browns? No matter what moves they make, it just seems like they can never put a consistent winning product on the field. This is supported by the fact that Cleveland has won less than a third of their games and had three winning seasons since their return in 1999. Still, there is no denying this team has talent. They have a strong O-line, and great play-makers on both sides of the ball. Deshaun Watson will be the QB, and it is no secret all of the drama he has dealt with off the field. On the field, it is tough to judge how he will perform after only six games with the team. Cleveland will be fascinating to watch.
There are probably others who could be mentioned, but these six will make the regular season interesting. Let me know which team YOU think could make an argument as a wild card. In any case, all the work teams put in to build their rosters and create a quality product is about to be tested. And we WILL be discussing more football in the near future, as fall is upon us! Tune in to Let’s Wine About DMV Sports w/Mike Patt on Fridays at 9PM Est/6PM Pst. Be sure to check all the great shows on IESR throughout the week, as well as the live calls on our partner station USRN. Shout out to all you loyal supporters who continue to help our network grow. Thank you for reading, and we will see you next time on IE Sports Radio; your direct feed for ALL that is sports.