Risers and Fallers of the 2022-23 NFL Season

The NFL, strictly speaking, isn't a full-blown parity league. You can't say that about a league where teams like the Patriots, Chiefs, and Packers dominate four-team divisions for a half-decade or longer and where one position (quarterback) is so integral to team success.

But the NFL certainly gives off the appearance of a greater degree of parity than other major sports. In the MLB, NBA, and NHL, modern-day teams don't go from winning a third or fewer of their games to a minute away from the championship about 14 months later, as the Bengals did.

Another way the NFL stands out is that about half the league's playoff teams change from year to year. Remarkably, that number has been pretty consistent since 1990, when 12 teams qualified for the playoffs and there were a total of 28 clubs, compared to today's 14 and 32, respectively. Last season, 7 of 14 teams that qualified for the postseason after the 2020-21 season returned last season.

Before the Bills and Rams kick off the season next week, we can safely assume that six or seven of the teams that played in the third weekend of January and beyond won't be doing so in the first month of 2023.

Let's make a stab at figuring out the teams most likely to make the jump into the playoffs and who could fall out. But first, a recap of who climbed up the standings in 2021-22 and who lost out from a year before.

Last year, the Bengals, Patriots, and Raiders replaced the Ravens, Browns, and Colts in the AFC playoffs. In the NFC, the Cowboys, Cardinals, 49ers, and Eagles were new playoff teams, while the Saints, Seahawks, Commanders, and Bears didn't return from 2020-21. The Chiefs, Bills, Titans, and Steelers participated in both years' AFC playoffs, and the Packers, Rams, and Bucs made the playoffs from the NFC both years.

These are the teams currently favored to make the playoffs in each conference (odds as of Aug. 29 on FanDuel Sportsbook):


Bucs (-750)
Packers (-500)
Rams (-270)
Cowboys (-260)
49ers (-225)
Eagles (-178)
Vikings (-110)


Bills (-600)
Chiefs (-225)
Colts (-172)
Chargers (-162)
Ravens (-156)
Broncos (-146)
Bengals (-144)

So, even if linesmakers chalk prevails, that's five new playoff teams out of the 14. We can be reasonably sure things aren't going all chalk.

To me, there's only four teams that are close to certain for the playoffs, barring catastrophic injuries to key players and/or the franchise QB: the Bills, Bucs, Rams, and Packers. I'm reasonably confident the Eagles are getting back there after a successful offseason and better-than-expected offensive production last season. The Chiefs would be in my locks category if not for the top-to-bottom talent level of the AFC West.

The Colts, almost by default, look like the top team of a bad bunch in the AFC South, whose defending champion (Tennessee) looks set to drop back to the back. I think both Indy and the Chargers are correctly valued as the most likely teams to jump into the playoffs from last year. If the AFC's Los Angeles team had closed the deal on a playoff spot last season, we might be talking about them as a Super Bowl favorite; their roster is that strong on both sides of the ball.

It won't come as a surprise to anyone besides casual football fans and bettors, but the odds indicate that the NFC is supposed to be a much more stable conference than the AFC. That means there's value to be taken advantage of with the nine "underdog" teams. The Saints, who should have a top defense and an offense that sputters less than last year, are the most obvious case for a playoff jump at plus money (+118).

At a longer shot in the NFC, I have my eyes on the Panthers (+400), who had the No. 2 total defense last year with an offense that couldn't stay on the field. Carolina loses arguably the best player from that group (Haason Reddick), but should have better offensive line and quarterback play.

The 49ers and Cowboys each strike me as high-ceiling and relatively low floor teams in the NFC. Trey Lance hasn't filled anyone with confidence this summer, and the specter of Jimmy Garoppolo no longer being moved doesn't seem like the best recipe for team chemistry. For Dallas, Dan Quinn's takeaway-heavy defense of a year ago is a prime candidate for regression.

In the AFC, more than half of the conference's teams (Colts, Chargers, Ravens, Broncos, Bengals, Titans, Browns, Dolphins, Patriots, and Raiders) are valued between -180 and +170 for a playoff spot, which makes finding a big value extremely tough. Furthermore, last year's No. 7 seed Steelers are at +330, and wouldn't be a new team to the postseason. Mike Tomlin hasn't had a losing season during a head coaching career spanning 15 years, but that streak may well come to an end this year.

Add it all up, and the only true long-shot options for the AFC are the Jaguars (+450), Jets (+710), and Texans (+1500). Jacksonville has to be better under Doug Pederson, but 9 wins is a bridge too far. I don't think we even need to discuss the Jets or Texans.

If you had to make me choose one AFC team to jump into the playoffs that isn't favored to do so, I'd pick the Dolphins. Tua Tagovailoa throwing to Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle should be a great fit for a Mike McDaniel offense, and the defense returns many pieces from a group that closed the season strong in 2021-22.

With the second year of a 17-game season on tap and a lot of big-name trades taking place in the offseason, there's reason to believe there's going to be a good amount of flux in the standings for 2022-23. History tells us six or seven teams that weren't in the playoffs last season will get there this time around.

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