5 Takeaways from the 2023 NFL regular season

Jan 9, 2024, 8:30 AM | Updated: 9:43 am

Jalen Hurts #1 of the Philadelphia Eagles walks off the field after the 33-25 win against the New Y...

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The 2023 NFL regular season has officially come to a close, with Wild Card Weekend officially upon us!

This year did not disappoint, with several winners and losers coming out of all divisions. We saw some surprises, some formalities, and even more disappointment across the NFL landscape. And we still have a whole month of playoff football ahead!

For now, let’s reflect on the five biggest takeaways from the 2023 NFL regular season.

1. The NFC South remains a mess

If there was one division in the NFL that is perpetual losers, it’d have to be the NFC South. Or as I prefer to call it, the NFC Swamp.

“The Swamp” has produced horrible competition for the last two seasons, with Tampa Bay winning out at a middling 9-8 in 2023. They also won the division in 2022, at 8-9.

Point being: There really is no reason for the other three teams to not have a chance each season, regardless of who’s under center.

The 2023 season produced all-time lows for the South, combining for a 27-41 record as a whole. In the group, we had the Buccaneers limp to the postseason, the New Orleans Saints miss out on the tiebreaker (also 9-8), the Atlanta Falcons fold like a house of cards down the stretch and the Carolina Panthers have their worst season since 2010 (2-14). 

The Bucs and quarterback Baker Mayfield will host the Philadelphia Eagles on Wild Card Weekend. And despite Philly looking a shell of themselves in recent weeks, Tampa barely beat the Panthers, 9-0, in Week 18. 

So who knows what to expect?

At least the division of mediocrity produced some LOL moments in 2023. From Panthers owner David Tepper throwing a drink at Jacksonville Jaguars fans, to Saints fans losing their minds over Dennis Allen and Derek Carr on a weekly basis.

The cherry on top was Falcons’ coach Arthur Smith, or former coach, I should say. Not only did Smith go 7-10 in each of his three seasons in ATL, but he somehow made top picks Bijan Robinson and Kyle Pitts look mediocre by not using them properly. His shining moment came after Week 18, telling off Allen for scoring in garbage time during a 48-17 loss. 

The best part: The Saints went rogue on their own head coach, thanks to Jameis Winston.

To sum up: Carolina is hopeless again, the Falcons and Saints feel a coach and an above-average quarterback away from relevancy and the Buccaneers are probably a first-round playoff exit. 

Not a lot of optimism for the future of the NFC South.

2. The Bears have an impossible decision to make

The 2023 NFL season concluded with football optimism in Chicago. 

The Bears rallied from a 1-5 start to finish 7-10 on the season, including a 4-2 record in the final six games. More importantly, young QB Justin Fields showed progress as the season went along, and the defense showed up after the trade deadline. In fact, per adjusted DVOA, Chicago finished 7th down the stretch.

The Bears were on to something as the 2023 regular season came to an end.

But like most seasons in the Windy City, the Bears have a choice. Do you start over from scratch? Or, do you go one more year with the current regime in place?

Coach Matt Eberflus was on the hot seat in October, now likely to remain in charge for the time being. Fans were looking to move on from Fields at the halfway point, now chanting his name as the season comes to a close. But after executing a massive deal with Carolina before the 2023 NFL Draft, Chicago now has the No. 1 pick this year. And Caleb Williams is on the board.

So what do you do?

My money is on Chi-Town staying pat for now and trading the pick once more. After getting a big haul for three first-round picks in 2023, 2024 should yield even bigger compensation with a bonafide generational QB prospect on the board. Trading back only a few spots (New England on line 1), the Bears could still take wide receiver Marvin Harrison Jr., the best prospect in the class, while acquiring further draft equity down the line. And, the Bears have the most cap space this offseason, allowing them to put a real squad around Fields.

But, we know Chicago doesn’t always listen to the fans. And Justin Fields’ postgame presser after Week 18 didn’t inspire too much.

So what do you do? The 2024 offseason feels like a major fork in the road for this historic franchise. 

3. It’s time for a fresh start in New England

Break-ups are always the hardest, and this one is going to sting New England: It’s time to cut ties with Bill Belichick.

Since Tom Brady left the Patriots in the 2020 offseason, Belichick has been in charge for four years. In that timeframe, New England has a 29-38 record. Furthermore, they haven’t finished higher than second in the AFC West, and have only made the postseason once.

The 2023 season was the most jarring season, dropping to 4-13. That’s the worst Patriots’ record since 1992, more than 30 years ago!

Sometimes you overstay your welcome, and it appears the clock has struck midnight on the Patriots dynasty under Belichick.

New England enters a polarizing offseason with countless questions, including if the coach will stay or go. His exit video call with the media didn’t allude to a whole lot, only that the ball is in owner Robert Kraft’s court.

Could we see a change of guard in the northeast? It’s possible, but there are avenues to save face. 

He could be traded to another franchise, or the two sides could come to a mutual agreement to part ways. Either way, he’s not getting fired from the place he led to six Super Bowl wins. Plus, the players still seem to be in line with his coaching, playing hard despite a rudderless 2023.

If he were to move on, places like Los Angeles and Washington D.C. come to mind. And if he does go, New England may have their next HC already figured out.

We’re waiting Tennessee! 

Jokes aside, the Patriots need to do a hard reset once more. They have the chance to do that this offseason, especially with a top QB prospect in play.

This doesn’t change anything for Belichick either, leaving New England as one of the winningest coaches ever (387-266). He’ll still get his statue, he’ll be in the ring of honor. 

However, it’s time to cut bait. The reign lasted 24 years, that’s more than most teams get out of four coaches.

4. The Texans got it right

Sometimes being lucky is better than being right. But sometimes, it takes a little bit of both to turn your franchise around and the Texans had both in the 2023 NFL season. 

The Houston Texans achieved both those things on draft night last April, taking QB C.J. Stroud with the second overall pick. Stroud has been electric for Houston, leading the team to three game-winning drives in his rookie season. The Ohio State alum has thrown for 4,108 passing yards, 23 touchdowns and five interceptions in 15 NFL starts as well. His play helped the Texans make the playoffs, and win the AFC South for the first time since 2019.

He’s everything they could have asked for. But he didn’t thrive on his own, with first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans elevating the entire organization.

The former 49ers defensive coordinator returned to his former team last offseason, during the franchise’s fortunes around immediately. His leadership style suits the youthful roster in Houston. They embrace his player-focused methods, enough to get total. buy-in from the locker room. 

That should be enough to keep him around long-term. But then he made the postseason in Year 1, taking a moment to reflect on his accomplishment Sunday.

How can you not love this team?

The Houston Texans entire the 2023 postseason with house money, hosting the Cleveland Browns at NRG Stadium. Sure it’d be great to win at least one playoff game, but just being at the dance was the biggest goal.

This youth renaissance in Houston is just getting started, especially if second-overall pick Will Anderson Jr. keeps improving with each game. He had seven sacks and 45 combined tackles in his rookie season. Not too shabby. 

It all comes down to Stroud’s progression though. And so far, he and the Texans have a bright future ahead.

5. What happened Philly?

Remember when the Philadelphia Eagles were 10-1 and serious Super Bowl contenders midway through the 2023 NFL season? Feels like a distant memory at the moment.

Since losing to the 49ers in Week 13, the Eagles have not looked the same, dropping their last four of five contests. Those include losses to the Arizona Cardinals, Seattle Seahawks, and New York Giants.

To make matters worse, they’re significantly banged up. In Week 18 alone they lost A.J. and Sidney Brown to knee injuries, with the former being far more important to the team’s success. Then, Jalen Hurts suffers a dislocated middle finger in his throwing hand. Sure, he didn’t break it, but it will likely hinder him for the rest of the playoffs. Also, the defense can’t stop a parked school bus.

So is it time to ask, what’s wrong with this team?

Maybe a wild-card game in Tampa Bay will change things for them. The Buccaneers are also banged up, only managing to score nine points in a win of Carolina Week 18. The visitors have more talent on paper, but is that enough right now?

We’ll find out next Saturday. 

Regardless, this franchise has problems internally. And they need to get sorted out by the conclusion of the 2024 offseason.

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