Fool's Gold: Which NFL Teams Are Being Overrated for 2023?

May 16th 2023

Bryan Knowles

The 2023 NFL schedule is out! It remains somewhat hilarious that listing the matchups – which we already knew, mind you – in chronological order can somehow be a multi-day production extravaganza, but here we are. Anime Chargers! Baffled bachelorette parties in Tennessee! Script-writers in Jacksonville! Hey, you’ve got to fill the offseason somehow, right?

The one tangible thing we do get out of the schedule release is the initial batch of lines for all the games, and with it, the implied power rankings that come out of it. While online power rankings in May are generally worth the paper they’re printed on, it’s interesting to check in on the wisdom of the crowds as they put their money where their mouth is. Generally speaking, the implied early rankings from the market does a good job of sorting the league into tiers of assumed strength, as Ben Baldwin compiles every year.

And speaking of filling the offseason somehow, disagreeing with May power rankings isn’t a particularly meaningful exercise, either. OTAs don’t even kick off in earnest until next week; we’ll be flooded with reports from camp about how every single player is in the shape of their lives in no time at all. But, just before that begins, I figured it was a good opportunity to throw down some early markers – the teams I think the market is the most wrong about at this point. At the very least, it should be good for a laugh come the middle of January.

Today, we’ll look at the three teams I think the general consensus is overrating. Later this week, we’ll flip it around and look at the teams the wisdom of the crowds may be sleeping on.

Denver Broncos

Market Ranking: +0.7 points above average

We’re doing this again, huh? We’re going all in on Russell Wilson and the Broncos rising to the heights of – let me check my notes here – mediocrity? Ah, NFL, fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice…

Obviously, the logic here is easy to follow. You have Wilson, who has historically been a very good quarterback. You are pairing him with Sean Payton, who has historically been a very good coach. Put them together, and magic must surely result, with the memories of 2022 boxed up with Nathaniel Hackett and kicked out of town.

But Wilson didn’t just have a poor 2022; he had a disastrous one. 28th in DVOA at -15.2% is terrible; it’s not only the worst season of his career but his only season in the negatives. It was a 22.7% dropoff from his 2021 campaign, which is in the 89th percentile for year-to-year DVOA drop-offs – it was the 113th biggest fall out of 974 passers who qualified in consecutive seasons, so it was an uncommonly big fall. And if you limit the list to players with significant sample sizes (say, 400 pass attempts in each season), then Wilson actually looks comparatively worse; this isn’t something that can easily be explained away by small sample size nonsense or a lingering injury. People betting on the Wilson bounceback are putting a lot of faith in Hackett’s offense being the primary problem. Betting on a rebound for a quarterback turning 35 this season, especially one who relies on his mobility so much, is a frightening proposition.

And that’s not even getting into the other issues the Broncos have at the moment. It remains an open question where any semblance of a pass rush is going to come from – not great in a division where you have to play Patrick Mahomes and Justin Herbert twice, not to mention how good Jimmy Garoppolo can be when he’s both healthy and unpressured. Randy Gregory can’t do it all himself, after all. Offensively, there are question marks at running back if Javonte Williams isn’t healthy and in pass protection with the reworked offensive line – Wilson and Payton have their work cut out for them even if Russ recovers some from the disaster of 2022. If Wilson looks like he did in Seattle circa 2019 or so, the Broncos might make some noise. But after buying into the hype last season and getting burned, you’ll forgive me if I sit this one out.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Market Ranking: +1.0 points above average

Bouncing from three wins to nine in one season is fantastic, and proof of just how bad Urban Meyer was as head coach. Even improving to competency would have produced a bounce for Jacksonville, and Doug Pederson did better than that. Add in a huge jump for Trevor Lawrence between year 1 and 2 – the ninth-biggest DVOA jump for a sophomore since 1981, going up 32.5% in passing DVOA – and the Jaguars were able to jump from the worst team in the league to the fringes of competitiveness in just one season. The public at large seem to think that will continue, keeping them right where they were in that above-average range for 2023.

I’m glad to see that the come-from-behind victory over the Chargers didn’t artificially juice Jacksonville’s numbers, but I’m more pessimistic here. They won’t tumble all the way back down to dead last, mind you, but I think they’ll have some growing pains in the second year of the Pederson era. The offensive line terrifies me. Cam Robinson will be out for an undetermined amount of time due to suspension, and even with him, the projected starting lineup is filled with question marks and concerns. Jawaan Taylor is gone. Anton Harrison is an untested rookie no matter which tackle spot he’s at. Luke Fortner was an untested rookie last season, and had some serious growing pains, particularly in run blocking. Left guard is an open question. Even Brandon Scherff is coming off of an off season, slowed by ankle and abdominal injuries. The biggest flaw in Lawrence’s game last season was performance under pressure, and I’m not convinced the Jaguars offensive line is going to generate enough clean pockets in 2023 for Lawrence to really thrive. This was a team that ranked 31st in ESPN’s pass block win rate, and they look worse off now than they were last season.

Jacksonville’s defense also needs to take a big step forwards, especially in pass defense. Travon Walker had significant trouble generating pressure as a rookie, with just 10 quarterback hits. He’s supposed to be the running mate for Josh Allen, but he hasn’t generated anything yet, nor has former first-rounder K’Lavon Chaisson. In the secondary, Tre Herndon is a major target in the slot, a situation which is only going to get worse if the pass pressure does not improve. The Jags are certainly in a better spot than they were two years ago, but they might take a half-step back before they’re able to build on last year’s success.

Miami Dolphins

Market Ranking: +2.6 points above average

I remain confident that the Dolphins will be the best of the three underachieving teams listed here; this is a relative ranking. But the market has Miami up there in that second tier of AFC contenders along with the Chargers and Ravens (and newly Rodgers-fied Jets), and I just can’t quite get there.

If NFL games were track meets, the Dolphins would be your Super Bowl favorites. Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle alone match up with any wide receiver duo in the league, and the extra speed added by Raheem Mostert and De’Von Achane at running back means that, in an ideal world, defenses are going to be run ragged racing back and forth across the field to keep up with everyone. And a healthy Tua Tagovailoa showed that he could deliver the ball to those skill position players; he was leading the league in DVOA for much of the season, and ended up finishing second at 25.7% when all was said and done. Were those numbers inflated by Hill and Waddle being able to run down slightly inaccurate deep passes? Sure. But results are results.

But that’s a healthy Tagovailoa, and that’s not necessarily a given. Head injuries are no laughing matter, and Tagovailoa has missed at least some starts in his last four seasons, going back to college. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll be hurt again going forward, but it’s a legitimate worry – either with Tagovailoa getting hurt again, or the cumulative effects of those injuries slowing him down. And that’s before you consider the offensive line issues.

Miami has been trying to get their line in order for years, and it’s still very much a work in progress. Health destroyed them in 2022; they had nine different starters and nine different offensive line combinations, with none of them lasting more than four games in a row. Austin Jackson is still an enigma; he missed all but two games last year and so hasn’t yet shown that he can handle NFL pass pressure. Liam Eichenberg had the third-worst PFF pass blocking grade for any interior lineman with at least 400 snaps, allowing 27 pass pressures. Terron Armstead is great, when healthy, but he’s never played a full season and is turning 32 in July. And there is no new talent to bolster the ranks, a problem for a line that ranked 24th in pass block win rate per ESPN last season. The Dolphins seem to be counting on superior health leading to superior performance, but the track record of nearly everyone involved makes that a shaky proposition.

None of this is to say the Dolphins won’t be playoff contenders in 2023 – indeed, there’s no reason to think they won’t be in the mix for a wildcard spot as the season goes along. It’s just that with these many health-related question marks, I’d temper my top-end expectations for the team, putting them closer to the Jacksonville and New Englands of the world, scrapping for the seventh seed rather than challenging for the top wild card spots.