Way back on August 17th, Pro Football Focus (PFF) made three bold predictions for each NFC West team.
I missed the article at the time, but PFF is PFF so of course they “repackaged” their predictions as new news, via a Labor Day weekend article titled: Three bold predictions for every NFL team ahead of the 2023 NFL season.
And, oh boy, do they have some doozies!
My personal favorites:
AFC North: Kenny Pickett will throw for three times as many touchdowns in 2023 as he did in 2022.
This sounds impressive until you notice that he only threw seven touchdown passes (in thirteen games) last year. If I’m a Steelers fan, and I most certainly am NOT, the idea of my starting quarterback throwing 21 touchdown passes and that being seen as a bold prediction . . . well, that’s downright depressing.
I don’t think it’s a secret that I’m not a fan of Aaron Rodgers. That said, I am looking forward to seeing him play for the Jets. Of course, if I’m being honest, at least 70% of that is because their offensive line is terrible and I like the idea of A-Rod running for his life when he’s on the field and muttering under his breath about how he should have never left Green Bay when he’s standing on the sideline.
I can’t argue with the write-up (below), but count me in the camp that doesn’t think the Russell Wilson / Sean Payton pairing is going to end well.
Last season was a disaster for Denver. The Russell Wilson trade is in danger of being one of the single-worst roster moves in NFL history, and the head coach presiding over the debacle was fired before the season concluded. His replacement, Sean Payton, already cost the Broncos a first-round pick to hire and has been confident enough in his own analysis to publicly blowtorch Nathaniel Hackett. Payton has an incredible track record of success and an elite win rate without Drew Brees as his quarterback. If he pieces Wilson back together again, the Broncos still have a roster capable of making major noise, even in a loaded AFC.
. . .
Note: In one of their other AFC West predictions, PFF “boldly” predicts that the Kansas City Chiefs won’t win the division.
I’m not a big believer in Derek Carr - never have been, doubt I ever will be. But . . . the other starting quarterbacks in the NFC South are Desmond Ridder (Falcons), Bryce Young (Panthers), and Baker Mayfield (Buccaneers). That’s not exactly a murderer’s row of talent. On paper, I think the Saints are definitely a good pick to win the NFC South, but picking them to make the NFC Championship game? Well, it’s definitely bold (and very likely to be W-R-O-N-G).
Note: In another NFC South prediction, PFF has the Buccaneers cycling through four different quarterbacks this season.
NFC East: Dallas earns the No. 1 seed in the NFC.
Thinking that the Cowboys will finish ahead of the Philadelphia Eagles in the NFC East isn’t unreasonable. Thinking that they will earn the NFC’s No. 1 seed while playing in what, on paper, is the toughest division in the conference . . . well, it’s certainly bold.
Personally, I don’t see it happening, but I am 100% in favor of seeing the Cowboys dethrone the Eagles if only because it would mean another year of the NFC East Champion failing to defend their crown - a streak that dates back to 2005 and represents the longest such streak in NFL history.
Okay, time for the main course . . .
The NFC West.
First, the CliffsNotes version for our division rivals:
- Arizona Cardinals: Kyler Murray is back in the starting lineup in October, Isaiah Simmons looks like a Pro Bowl safety (for the New York Giants - haha), and Zavin Collins will be a failed experiment at outside linebacker.
- Los Angeles Rams: Aaron Donald wins Defensive Player of the Year for the 87th time, CB Tre’Vius Hodges-Tomlinson cracks the starting lineup, and their offense finishes in the bottom 10 league-wide.
- San Francisco 49ers: Brock Purdy’s PFF grade improves but his actual numbers decline, Trey Lance is traded before the deadline (reminder: the article was originally published three weeks ago), and their O-line finishes in the bottom 10 league-wide.
PFF’s bold predictions for the Seattle Seahawks:
Bold Prediction No. 1: Geno Smith turns back into a pumpkin.
Geno Smith was one of the most amazing stories of the 2022 NFL season, earning himself a new contract with his performance as the Seahawks’ starter. Smith made 35 big-time throws and recorded a 77.7% adjusted completion rate, ranking among the best quarterbacks in the game in a variety of categories.
The issue is that Smith also tied for the league lead in turnover-worthy plays (29) and his grade was built largely on three extraordinary single-game performances. Outside of those games, Smith’s PFF grade ranked 20th in the league and he had more turnover-worthy plays than big-time throws. Of course, removing every passer’s best games would impact their numbers, but few seasons were as top-heavy as Smith’s last year. It wouldn’t take much for him to regress into a more marginal starter from his 2022 level.
Surprise, surprise, PFF thinks that last season was a fluke.
On some level, the Seahawks do too - which is why his contract is very team-friendly unless he matches or improves upon last season’s performance (in which case he can earn up to $15M in incentives).
Count me in the camp that thinks Geno will set new career highs in a number of categories this year, including passing yards (4,282), passing touchdowns (30), and wins (9). I’m less certain about Geno topping last season’s 69.8% completion rate or his 100.9 passer rating, but that doesn’t mean I think he won’t.
Bottom line: Geno Smith is NOT a pumpkin.
Bold Prediction No. 2: Riq Woolen finishes top five in PFF coverage grade.
Tariq Woolen had a case to win Defensive Rookie of the Year despite being a fifth-round draft pick as well as a player who was playing wide receiver until partway through his redshirt sophomore season at UTSA. Few, if any, players have ever had his athletic and physical profile, and for him to be as good as he was from day one suggests a sky-high ceiling.
Woolen allowed just a 72.1 passer rating into his coverage and had 10 pass breakups to go along with six interceptions. With another year of development and growth playing cornerback, he could be among the very best in the NFL.
I would feel better about this prediction if Devon Witherspoon were 100% healthy and starting opposite Woolen on the outside - if only because teams might thrown Woolen’s way more often. As is, at least to start the season, I think teams may avoid his side of the field whenever possible.
That doesn’t mean I think PFF is wrong though. From a potential standpoint, few cornerbacks have higher ceilings and Woolen has to brimming with confidence given how well his rookie season went.
Bold Prediction No. 3: Jaxon Smith-Njigba leads the team in targets as a rookie.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba is bringing a skill set to the Seahawks that has been missing for a few years — the ability to work the middle of the field effectively and move the chains. Last season, D.K. Metcalf led the team in targets with 152, so the bar is set pretty high, but his route-running savvy and change-of-direction skills play in an area where no other Seahawks receiver thrives.
The last time we saw JSN play football for an extended period of time, he averaged 4.0 yards per route run and was both more productive and targeted more often than Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave — who were playing outside of him in the same offense.
I mean this in the nicest possible way, but I think No. 14 would melt down - both on the sidelines and in the games - if a rookie gets more targets than he does.
And rightly so.
JSN may very well have otherworldly talent - his Ohio State teammates said as much in this College GameDay video - but there’s a reason the Seahawks try to feed the beast (aka D.K.) and JSN’s presence should increase Metcalf’s targets, not decrease them.
Plus, from a pure numbers perspective, JSN would need ~140 to 150 targets to lead the team and how likely is that to happen his rookie year?