We all know which NFL teams are primed to dominate in 2023. But make no mistake, the future matters just as much as the present.
Building a long-term and sustainable winner is the main priority for all NFL teams While several clubs have gotten this memo, others have been ignoring it and will soon pay the consequences for it.
Here are five NFL teams facing very dark futures, and five with the brightest.
Dark: Los Angeles Rams
The Rams have been all-in every year under Les Snead since 2017, Sean McVay’s first year as the head coach. And they should have zero regrets since the all-in approach led to two NFC Championship victories and of course a Super Bowl 56 title.
But let’s be real, the long-term outlook of this team ain’t promising. One of its “core four” players, cornerback Jalen Ramsey, was sent to the Miami Dolphins in a cap-saving move. The remaining core players – Matt Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald – are coming off injury-riddled seasons. And they’re all in their 30s now.
The cap situation and never-ending trading of their early-round draft picks have left the Rams with little roster depth. Donald flirted with retirement in 2022, and McVay was said to be on the radar for several network analyst jobs.
Maybe the Rams squeeze out one or two playoff runs with this roster. But things are not going to be pretty two, three and five years from now. That much we can promise you.
Bright: Detroit Lions
The Lions have been rebuilding since 1957, so it feels kinda weird putting them on this list. Hopefully we don’t look silly saying this, but for once, it feels like this longtime losing organization is on the rise again.
Dan Campbell and Brad Holmes inherited a team that was clearly attempting to tank in 2021. Fast forward one year later. Aaron Rodgers is out of the division. Kirk Cousins appears to be on his way out as well. And the Chicago Bears are the Chicago Bears.
In other words, the Lions are set up to be the kings of the NFC North for years to come.
Is Jared Goff the answer at QB? We aren’t sure. But the offense is loaded with young studs in Jameson Williams, Amon Ra-St. Brown, Jahmyr Gibbs and Penei Sewell. Aidan Hutchinson, James Houston and Malcolm Rodriguez look like cornerstones to build around on defense. And if 2023 first-rounder Brian Branch comes as advertised, the Lions could have a perennial All-Pro patrolling their secondary.
Throw in veterans like Frank Ragnow, Taylor Decker, David Montgomery and Emmanuel Moseley, and you have a look of a team that’s ready to win now AND over the next decade-plus.
Campbell and Holmes have built a fun-loving, energy-filled culture in Detroit. It’s been a giant breath of fresh air from the toxic Matt Patricia-Bob Quinn era, alright. Now it’s time for the Lions to put it all together and emerge as a powerhouse in the NFC for the first time since Barry Sanders’ prime years.
Dark: Arizona Cardinals
Remember when the Cardinals started out 7-and-0 in 2021 and looked to be on the path to great things? Pepperidge Farm remembers…
Murphy’s Law has since applied to the Redbirds in every aspect. They lost four of their final five games in 2021 and were blown out by the Rams in the wild card round. And it’s been all downhill ever since.
Star wideout DeAndre Hopkins was suspended six games for violating the league’s PED policy. Quarterback Kyler Murray suffered a season-ending ACL tear in Week 14 and will miss time in 2023. Locker room leader JJ Watt retired despite a strong bounce-back season at age-33.
GM Steve Keim resigned for health reasons and head coach Kliff Kingsbury was fired. They were replaced with Monti Ossenfort and Jonathan Gannon, respectively.
From top to bottom, this is the worst roster in football. And Murray’s rocky relationship with the organization makes you wonder if 2023 will be his final year with the team. Take out Murray, and who can this team possibly build around moving forward?
That’s right…nobody. We hate to be frank, but it does feel like the organization is headed to its darkest days since relocating from St. Louis to Phoenix in 1988.
Bright: Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers were a team stuck in limbo with Ben Roethilsberger, and their loyalty to the two-time Super Bowl champion set the organization back a couple of years.
But Big Ben finally took the hint, accepted he was finished and retired after the 2021 season. That allowed the Steelers to begin what should have been a long-term rebuild. Except, y’know, this organization had different ideas.
They drafted Pittsburgh product Kenny Pickett with their first-round selection in 2022. Though he experienced his fair share of struggles as a rookie, Mike Tomlin and the star players stepped up and produced a nine-win season. And so, the Steelers’ streak of not having a losing season since 2003 lives on!
Pickett, Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson, Pat Freiermuth and George Pickens round out a scary nucleus on offense. Not to mention that 2023 first-round pick Broderick Jones has the makings to be a franchise mainstay on the offensive line.
The always-stingy defense isn’t going anywhere. Not with TJ Watt, Alex Highsmith, Cameron Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick and 2023 second-rounder Joey Porter Jr. leading the way.
The Steelers have a great mix of young and veteran talent on both sides of the ball, plus a top-five front office and a future Hall of Fame head coach. All the pieces are there for this organization to emerge as a long-term championship contender.
Dark: New Orleans Saints
Make no mistake, the Saints should be considered the front-runners to win the laughable NFC South in 2023 and probably even in 2024. Derek Carr is the most proven QB in the division, after all.
But the Saints have an aging core and a miserable cap situation that will prevent them from making more big moves down the road.
Carr, Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, Michael Thomas and Alvin Kamara only have so many productive years left. Outside of Marshon Lattimore, Chris Olave and Ryan Ramcyzk, how many true star players do the Saints have under the age of 30?
New Orleans is good enough to win the division, but probably not good enough to be a Super Bowl contender. Carr’s presence will be enough to help them squeak out a playoff berth, but that’s about it.
If Bryce Young hits his ceiling in Carolina, and if Atlanta’s young star-studded offense comes together, New Orleans will soon be an afterthought in the NFC South.
The Saints will be competitive for two more years, max. And then, dark days with a painful and lengthy rebuild will lie ahead…
Bright: Houston Texans
The Texans appear to finally be recovering after years of mismanagement by former head coach and de facto GM Bill O’Brien, whose careless roster moves ruined something special in H-Town.
The last two years of rebuilding were painful, but the Texans are finally on the rise again. They hit a home run with the hiring of DeMeco Ryans.
The ex-San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator was once a star linebacker for the Texans. A two-time Pro Bowler, Ryans played in Houston from 2006 to 2011, so he’s very familiar with the organization and community.
Secondly, the Texans found their new franchise quarterback in CJ Stroud — the No. 2 selection of this year’s draft. Growing pains are expected, but Stroud has all the tools to be a bonafide superstar.
Houston traded up for Alabama edge rusher Will Anderson Jr., adding another franchise building block on that defense to complement cornerback Derek Stingley Jr. Those two alone are more than capable of turning this defense into a juggernaut again.
Throw in promising youngsters in John Metchie III, Dameon Pierce and Kenyon Green, and there’s a lot to like about this offense. Veterans Laremy Tunsil, Shaq Mason, Robert Woods and Jimmie Ward can also play big roles in mentoring the youngsters and getting them ready for prime time.
The future is finally bright in Houston again – and we aren’t talking about the Texas sunshine. Stroud, Stingley Jr. and Anderson Jr. give this organization A LOT to be excited about for years to come.
Dark: Washington Commanders
The Commanders are a team stuck in the so-called mushy middle. They’re barely good enough to compete for a playoff spot, but nowhere close to Super Bowl contention. That also means not being bad enough to land franchise-changing draft picks in the top five to 10 range.
They have a top-10 defense led by Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Chase Young. They have several dynamic offensive weapons, including receviers Jahan Dotson and Terry McLaurin, and running backs Antonio Gibson and Brian Robinson Jr.
But they don’t have much on the o-line, and the QB position is still a giant question mark. Do they really think 2022 fifth-rounder Sam Howell is the answer? He might make this team respectable, but he’s definitely not carrying them to Super Bowl, or even playoff, contention.
With a plethora of “very good players” but few true franchise players and a leaky situation at QB, the Commanders just look like a team that will be stuck in that six-to-eight win range — which just won’t cut it in a tough NFC East.
Bright: Seattle Seahawks
The Seahawks were supposed to be contenders for a top-five selection. Granted, they did get the No. 5 pick in this year’s draft…but that was courtesy of the Denver Broncos thanks to the Russell Wilson trade!
But we forgot that Pete Carroll and John Schneider are great at their jobs, so forgive us for thinking the Seahawks would sink once Wilson got traded. But don’t blame us for not forecasting Geno Smith as the Comeback Player of the Year, because I don’t think anyone out there called that one!
Smith may be in his mid-30s now, but the rest of this Seattle roster is loaded from top to bottom. DK Metcalf, Kenneth Walker, Tyler Lockett and 2023 first-rounder Jaxon Smith-Njigba round out an elite set of skill position guys that should make any offensive coordinator jealous.
The o-line, a never-ending weakness in the Wilson era, has three young stars in Damian Lewis, Charles Cross and Abe Lucas. But it’s really the defense that has us especially excited about Seattle’s long-term outlook.
Tariq Woolen has the physical tools to be a top-five corner in this league, yet he might not even be Seattle’s best defensive player over the long haul. That nod instead will likely go to Devon Witherspoon, the No. 5 pick of this year’s draft.
Seattle has zero glaring roster weaknesses. They are deep from top to bottom across the board, and they are well-positioned to challenge the rival San Francisco 49ers and Philadelphia Eagles for long-term NFC supremacy.
Dark: Las Vegas Raiders
Remember what we said about the Commanders being in the “mushy middle”? That’s where the Raiders are too.
Releasing Derek Carr into the open market put Vegas on a logical path to begin a rebuild. Instead, they threw money at the injury-prone and inconsistent Jimmy Garoppolo and passed on the chance to take a QB in the stacked 2023 draft class…
Vegas has three bonafide superstars in Davante Adams, Josh Jacobs and Maxx Crosby. Hunter Renfrow and Jakobi Meyers are also useful pieces on offense. But the Raiders have a horrible offensive line and a helpless secondary that will prevent them from emerging as a true playoff contender.
Throw in the fact they have to face the likes of Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert in the AFC West, and we have zero confidence in the long-term outlook of this team.
Let’s call a spade a spade here: Raiders aren’t set up to win in 2023, 2024 or over the next five years. They’ve been okay with mediocrity for a decade, and that process isn’t likely to change moving forward.
Bright: Jacksonville Jaguars
The Super Bowl-winning head coach brought new energy and passion to this once-demoralized roster. Lo and behold, the Jaguars emerged as a contender and won the AFC South division crown last season.
Lawrence, Travis Etienne Jr., Evan Engram, Calvin Ridley and Christian Kirk headline a deep set of weapons on offense. The o-line is in good hands with 2023 first-rounder Anton Harrison joining the likes of Brandon Scherff, Luke Fortner, Cam Robinson and Walker Little.
That defense is loaded with young stars and should also be a force for years to come. Tyson Campbell, Andre Cisco, Devin Lloyd, Travon Walker, Foyesade Oluokon and Josh Allen give this team the makings of a top-five D at every level—from the secondary to the d-line.
At this point, it doesn’t feel like it’ll be long before this organization claims its first Super Bowl title.
How would you describe your favorite NFL team’s future outlook? Is it bright or dark?
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