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Jalen Hurts and the Eagles will have a rematch with the San Francisco 49ers, their opponents in last season's NFC Championship Game, on Dec. 3 at Lincoln Financial Field. (Monica Herndon/Tribune News Service)
Jalen Hurts and the Eagles will have a rematch with the San Francisco 49ers, their opponents in last season's NFC Championship Game, on Dec. 3 at Lincoln Financial Field. (Monica Herndon/Tribune News Service)

The Hoosier Network's NFC season preview

Breaking down the contenders, the dark horses and the possible disappointments

This season, Hoosier Network writer Joe Brennan will be providing his thoughts on the NFL, starting with a division-by-division breakdown of the NFC.
NFC East

Predicted Winner: Philadelphia Eagles

Likely to Disappoint: Dallas Cowboys

The NFC East produced the NFC champions, three divisional playoff teams, and each team finished at .500 or better. However, it’s unlikely that lightning strikes twice. Last season the NFC East easily had the weakest schedule in the NFL. In the 2022-23 season, the Dallas Cowboys had the toughest schedule in their conference, yet finished at 23 overall in terms of strength of schedule (when looking at combined wins from opponents). 

With all of this being said, it is tough to deny that the Eagles will once again be Super Bowl contenders. The Eagles return nine starters on offense and six on defense from their Super Bowl squad. Their additions through free agency and the draft will allow this team to reload for another Super Bowl campaign. The only concern for this team is their depth at linebacker and the departure of both offensive and defensive coordinators. 

Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy and the boys are putting all their faith into franchise quarterback Dak Prescott and becoming a pass-heavy offense this season. With the addition of Brandin Cooks to run alongside Ceedee Lamb and Michael Gallup, Prescott should have weapons galore to prove he can make a deep playoff push. Additionally, on the other side of the ball, Dallas will have one of the best defenses in the NFL. But it wouldn’t be the first time the Cowboys have all the pieces but can’t find a way to put them together. With the fifth-toughest schedule going into the 2023-24 season, it’s likely this team wins between nine and 11 games this year as a fringe Wild Card team. 

NFC North 

Predicted Winner: Detroit Lions

Most Exciting: Chicago Bears

The NFC North is undoubtedly one of the most interesting divisions this upcoming season. Aaron Rodgers and the Packers parted ways, leading into the Jordan Love era. Bears quarterback Justin Fields now has immense pressure, as the pieces now surround the quarterback with a 5-20 record as a starter. The Vikings are coming off a 13-4 NFC North title with an uninspiring defense but the most electrifying player in football on offense, Justin Jefferson. All the while, the Lions have become one of the most anticipated teams to take the field this season. 

After a 3-13-1 start at the helm in his first year with the Lions, head coach Dan Campbell was able to get the wheels going in the right direction last season. The Lions finished with a record of 9-8 with six of their losses being by four points or fewer. Additionally, Amon-Ra St. Brown, Penei Sewell, Aidan Hutchinson and Jared Goff all proved to be spectacular keystone pieces to build around. With new additions such as David Montgomery, C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Jahmyr Gibbs this team certainly has more firepower on both sides of the ball. If the Lions can build off of last year's leap, they are certainly in the running for a division title, if not the front-runner. 

The Bears are one of the most fascinating teams entering the 2023 season. While they finished dead last with a record of 3-14 last year, they are expected to make a leap this season. Fields finally has the assets around him to succeed, along with a competent defense to keep games competitive. By no means is this team supposed to win 10 or more games, but if they can finish around .500 that would show great progress and hope for Chicago’s future. On the flip side, if they can only win five or fewer games the organization could consider blowing it up. Fields, leading the passing and rushing attack this year, has arguably more pressure on him to succeed than any other quarterback. 

NFC South 

Predicted Winner: New Orleans Saints

Darkhorse: Tampa Bay Buccaneers 

It wouldn’t be a hot take to claim the NFC South is the worst division in football this season. Coming into the year, the Saints are clear frontrunners to capture the division title. However, there are multiple storylines in the division to watch out for. The Falcons ignored positional needs on defense and opted for a potential franchise running back in, Bijan Robinson. Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask find themselves in a quarterback battle to see who will run the Buccaneers' offense. The Carolina Panthers’ Bryce Young will also have the spotlight on him as this year’s top pick in the draft. 

The New Orleans Saints aren’t the flashiest team in the NFL, but don’t let that fool you. Derek Carr is absolutely an upgrade for the Saints and has weapons to throw to. While Michael Thomas is on the decline, Chris Olave is one of the best up-and-coming receivers in the league. With the addition of Jamaal Williams to go along with a suspended Alvin Kamara, the offense is good enough to be the best in their division. Additionally, a soft schedule to start out the season could allow them to come out of the gates hot. While they may only win 10 or so games this season, that’s all they need for a division title. 

While moving from Tom Brady to Mayfield isn’t the smoothest transition, it could work. The tools are all there for the Buccaneers. A defensive-minded head coach, Todd Bowles, keeps key components of his defense on all three levels. Additionally, Chris Godwin, Mike Evans, and Tristan Wirfs can all make the transition at the helm smoother for the Bucs. If their starting quarterback, whether Mayfield or Trask, can be mediocre they could sneak into a Wild Card spot this postseason. 

NFC West

Predicted Winner: San Francisco 49ers

Hammer the Over: Seattle Seahawks (8.5)

Each team in the NFC West currently sits in a very different position. The Cardinals sank to the third-worst record in the NFL this past season and will try to turn things around with first-year head coach, Jonathan Gannon. The aging LA Rams will look to bounce back from last year's disappointing season with the return of Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp. Seattle's combination of young and veteran talent makes them a dangerous team that could fly under the radar into the postseason. Meanwhile, the 49ers come off a division title and once again look to compete for a Super Bowl. 

It’s a fair assumption to say San Francisco could have won the Super Bowl this past season if all three of their quarterbacks hadn’t gone down last season. This is easily one of the most complete teams in all of football. The only issue that the 49ers have coming into this season is determining who will be their starting quarterback. With Sam Darnold looking exceptionally sharp in training camp, he turned it into a three-horse race with Trey Lance (before he was traded to Dallas) and Brock Purdy.

Seattle is in a great position all around. Offensively they can run it down your throat, throw it to their two Ferraris out wide, or get the ball to their newest addition Jaxon Smith-Njigba. On the defensive side of things, Pete Carroll has slowly started to rebuild the Legion of Boom. Well, the defensive talent is not nearly what it used to be for young guys. I have started the show with lots of promise, and they will only get better. If Seattle’s offensive line can be above average and their defense can stop the run this team will make the wildcard and win at least nine games.

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