Football season never truly ends. The Chiefs’ championship in Las Vegas simply means we can start looking forward to the 2024 season — which will conclude with Super Bowl LIX in New Orleans (and broadcast on FOX and the FOX Sports app).
It’s a little early to have any fully formed takes. The league year opens in mid-March, and we’ll have plenty of free-agency and trade activity to account for. The 2024 NFL Draft will also have a huge hand in changing the picture. All of that will come in due time.
None of that is a good enough excuse to stop me from taking an early guess. As we begin the long journey back to the Super Bowl, here is a very premature look at the league’s hierarchy.
What more do we need to see? This Chiefs team was flawed and frustrating all season, and it didn’t ultimately matter. Back-to-back champions, with a shot at a first-ever three-peat. They’ve done a phenomenal job stocking the roster with young talent, and they have Patrick Mahomes to get them over the finish line. There are two big decisions to make about the futures of Chris Jones and L’Jarius Sneed, but it feels foolish to doubt that the Chiefs will be back in the Big Game once again next year.
There’s no way to classify this Super Bowl LVIII loss as anything other than a missed opportunity, but the 49ers should have at least one more shot with this core. Most of the team will return in 2024, and the 49ers can once again try to load up around Brock Purdy and make another push. In the wake of another heartbreaker, that sounds like a daunting task. San Francisco should once again be among the league’s best teams in 2024. Maybe this is the year?
Dan Campbell is right that the Lions may never make it back to the NFC Championship Game, but outside the two Super Bowl participants, I don’t think anyone is better set up to make a run. Virtually all of Detroit’s core players are young, so there aren’t a ton of crucial free agents. Ben Johnson decided to return as offensive coordinator. That’s before you mention that the Lions have $50 million in salary-cap space, and they could create even more by extending Jared Goff. They were a play or two away from reaching the Super Bowl this year, and they may field an even better team in 2024.
This placement may be a surprise, as it’s a bit of a projection. I was sky-high on the Packers before I knew Jordan Love was That Dude, so of course I’m driving the bandwagon now. Yes, Green Bay does need to clear cap space, and that may lead to some tough financial decisions. But the bottom line is there’s promising young talent all over this roster, with a stud quarterback pulling the trigger and a quality head coach in Matt LaFleur running the show. I firmly believe the Pack is back.
Baltimore employs a two-time NFL MVP at quarterback, so they’re going to be fine in the big picture. But I think the Ravens are about to experience the downside of success in the NFL. Mike Macdonald is already off to Seattle, and my guess is that young stars like Justin Madubuike, Patrick Queen and Geno Stone are about to cash in after big-time seasons. These are good problems to have, but it’s just tough to keep a great team together.
It’s a testament to how I feel about Josh Allen that I have the Bills ranked this highly. The salary cap is a mess, and the defense will need to be retooled with half a dozen key contributors hitting free agency. There’s also bound to be speculation about Stefon Diggs‘ future. Regardless, if Allen is healthy and doing his thing, I trust the Bills will be formidable come playoff time.
It was easy to dunk on the Eagles’ disastrous finish to the season, but let’s not bury them just yet. The key pieces of a very good roster are still in place, and Nick Sirianni is determined to fix his coordinator issues by hiring two highly qualified guys in Kellen Moore and Vic Fangio. I’ve got no problem betting Philly will still be one of the NFC’s best teams.
It’s a crossroads season in Dallas. Mike McCarthy is coaching for his job, and the Cowboys’ hopes of contending are directly tied to how they proceed with Dak Prescott and his $59 million salary cap hit. Will Prescott get an extension, or is 2024 going to be his last ride? The answer is going to determine a lot about whether this team can improve on last year’s embarrassing playoff exit.
It’s hard to know what to do with the Browns. The roster’s great, and there’s not much in the way of free-agent losses to worry about. But how well does Nick Chubb bounce back from such a major injury at the age of 28? And then the big one: the Browns are very obviously tied to Deshaun Watson financially. Can he finally raise his level of play, provided he can stay healthy? Joe Flacco gave us a taste of how scary this team can be with good quarterback play.
10. Los Angeles Rams
It’s amazing what crushing a couple of draft classes can do. Not only did the Rams make the playoffs, but with so many young players breaking out, most of their true difference-makers are under contract. Now, for the real drama: will they use their first-round draft pick this spring, or start getting spicy again?
11. Houston Texans
Don’t underestimate how different things might look for Houston next year. By my count, nine players who started games in 2023 are headed for free agency, as well as kicker Ka’imi Fairbairn. Fortunately, the Texans have plenty of cap space, not to mention a star quarterback in C.J. Stroud who can negate that type of attrition.
12. Miami Dolphins
Credit to the Dolphins for pushing their chips in to gun for a Super Bowl, but it just hasn’t panned out. This is still a very good roster, but Miami now must clear a ton of cap space, make a Tua Tagovailoa contract decision and try to bring back Christian Wilkins. And that’s before accounting for the injuries that ravaged their offensive line and pass rush. It’s too soon to say for sure that the Dolphins missed their window, but it’s starting to feel that way.
It could be a year of transition in Cincinnati. Several key members of that 2021 Super Bowl team, like Tee Higgins, Tyler Boyd, D.J. Reader and Chidobe Awuzie, could be walking out the door. And yet, if Joe Burrow is back to full health, I feel very confident the Bengals will be right back in the mix.
14. Seattle Seahawks
The Legion of Boom made an obvious impact on the DNA of this franchise. The Seahawks’ defense has slipped drastically in recent years, so of course, general manager John Schneider hired Mike Macdonald to get things back on track. If Macdonald can get that side of the ball moving in the right direction, there’s more than enough talent on offense.
Let it be known that I am buying as much Colts stock as I can get my hands on. Shane Steichen deserved more love for NFL Coach of the Year, and Anthony Richardson showed some incredibly fun flashes before he got hurt. Now, we’ll get to see them together again. Yes, Indy has to decide what to do about key free agents like Michael Pittman Jr. and Kenny Moore, but the Colts have cap space to burn. I’m very excited to see what Year 2 looks like.
The exact middle of the pack feels perfectly reasonable for the Buccaneers. They were good enough to reach the divisional round of the playoffs, but they also face as much uncertainty as any team in the league. Baker Mayfield, Mike Evans, Lavonte David, Devin White and Antoine Winfield Jr. are all slated to hit free agency in March. The Bucs’ capacity in keeping the band together will tell us a lot about their fortunes in 2024.
Arthur Smith was axed in Atlanta because his talented offense just couldn’t get consistent enough production from the quarterback. How ironic that he’d find himself in a similar situation as the Steelers’ new offensive coordinator. I genuinely think Smith will be good in this role, but the Steelers need a solution at quarterback — and I hope that solution is a bit more creative than bringing back Mason Rudolph to push Kenny Pickett.
I assumed the Jags would continue their upward trajectory after a playoff win the year before, and I paid for my sins. Trevor Lawrence is a good young quarterback, but we can officially say he hasn’t taken the league by storm the way many expected. The defense also needs a boost, which is why Ryan Nielsen was hired. His first order of business should be convincing the front office to keep Josh Allen in Duval County.
19. New York Jets
On paper, the Jets look like contenders once again with Aaron Rodgers back in the lineup. Reality can be a bit trickier. An Achilles injury is a tough recovery for anyone, let alone a 40-year-old quarterback whose ability to navigate the pocket is one of the strengths of his game. I want to see what the Jets look like with Rodgers at his best, so here’s hoping he plays like he never missed a snap. But I do have concerns.
20. Chicago Bears
The Bears are in a pretty good spot, regardless. If they want, they can trade out of the No. 1 pick and throw even more resources into building this roster around Justin Fields. They could also take a swing at the Next Big Thing and have four years to build around a cheap, rookie quarterback. I think the right move is to start over with either Caleb Williams or Drake Maye. But regardless of what they decide, the Bears will have promise in 2024.
Antonio Pierce did a great job as the interim head coach, and I’m so happy he got this shot at the full-time job. But building a program from scratch is tougher than taking over a fully formed team. Not to mention, the Raiders once again will be in search of a starting quarterback.
I’m a lot higher on the Cards than a lot of others will be. They have a good coaching staff in place, and Kyler Murray can still play some quality ball. That’s a great starting point. Arizona also has $50 million in salary cap space and two first-round draft picks. This could be a greatly improved team by September.
Jim Harbaugh has the hard part figured out because he has Justin Herbert. You can say whatever you want about the guy, but I promise you it’s easier to fix a bad team if you can rebuild around a quarterback who averages 4,300 passing yards and 29 touchdowns per year. With Herbert as the foundation, I’m optimistic Harbaugh can rebuild quickly.
24. Atlanta Falcons
The Falcons are a quarterback away from being a pretty damn good team. The problem is, that’s been the case for about two years. Atlanta was in the division race until the very end despite Desmond Ridder’s uneven play. With even marginal improvement, this could be a playoff team in 2024. How will Raheem Morris address the issue Arthur Smith could not?
Apologies to Vikings fans, because this probably feels low for a team that nearly made the playoffs despite starting four different quarterbacks. The issue is, at this exact moment in time, Minnesota’s starting QB and best defender — Kirk Cousins and Danielle Hunter — are not under contract for 2024. I cannot wait to see which direction the Vikings take this, and how competitive they look.
There are bigger problems here than the Saints’ finances. Yes, as per usual, they are over the cap to a shocking degree. But more importantly, this just wasn’t that good a team last year, and there aren’t a ton of avenues toward improvement. The core of their roster — Derek Carr, Alvin Kamara, Cameron Jordan, Demario Davis, Tyrann Mathieu — is ancient by NFL standards. Star right tackle Ryan Ramczyk may need to retire for medical reasons. The vibes here just don’t seem great.
The current situation isn’t great, but there’s so much potential. Between $80 million in salary-cap space and the No. 2 overall pick in the draft, new head coach Dan Quinn and new general manager Adam Peters could turn this thing around quickly. Look no further than Houston for evidence. But, as we know, potential only goes so far. They’ve got to nail some big decisions in the coming months.
28. Tennessee Titans
The good news for new head coach Brian Callahan is that Will Levis showed a few flashes as a rookie. But the Titans need help all over the place — particularly on offense. And that’s before you remember that Derrick Henry and Azeez Al-Shaair could be gone in free agency. Don’t forget that the AFC South suddenly looks like a loaded division. It could be a tough turnaround.
29. Denver Broncos
The overwhelming likelihood is that the Broncos are going to pay Russell Wilson a ton of money to play quarterback elsewhere in 2024. The dead-cap charge if Denver cuts Wilson is going to make it tough to build a competitive team, and that’s before they even figure out who the new quarterback will be.
30. New York Giants
There’s plenty of time for this to change, but the Giants have a mess on their hands. Daniel Jones will be recovering from his ACL tear all offseason, and backup Tyrod Taylor is also a free agent. Saquon Barkley might also be out the door this spring. This wasn’t a very good team in 2023 even when healthy. The Giants have the No. 6 overall pick and a lot of holes to fill.
The Patriots’ location in the draft order is going to create some interesting decisions for new head coach Jerod Mayo. Do the Pats go after a quarterback even if the top two are gone? Do they trade out of the pick? Do they simply draft Marvin Harrison Jr.? What they do should tell us a lot about how far they think they are from being competitive.
Keegan-Michael Key had a great line at NFL Honors that only Taylor Swift, who was playing a show in Tokyo, was further away from the Super Bowl than Carolina. Harsh but true. I loved the job Dave Canales did in Tampa, and I’m optimistic he can help Bryce Young find his mojo. But this is still a bad roster, and the Panthers don’t own their first-round draft pick. It’s going to be a long road.
David Helman covers the Dallas Cowboys for FOX Sports and hosts the NFL on FOX podcast. He previously spent nine seasons covering the Cowboys for the team’s official website. In 2018, he won a regional Emmy for his role in producing “Dak Prescott: A Family Reunion” about the quarterback’s time at Mississippi State. Follow him on Twitter at @davidhelman_.
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