NFL kickoff: Predictions and top storylines to watch heading into 2023 season

NFL insider Jerry McDonald looks into his crystal ball as the 2023 NFL season kicks off

Looking ahead to the 2023 season:

Winner of the Super Bowl

The Bengals of Cincinnati. The Bengals finally beat the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game, accomplishing what they failed to do against the 49ers in Super Bowls XVI (1981 season) and XXIII (1988).


Joe Burrow is from Cincinnati. Burrow has all of the tools he needs, and the addition of left tackle Orlando Brown to shore up his defense cannot be overlooked. He demonstrates that pocket passers are not obsolete.

Player of the Year in Offense

49ers’ Christian McCaffrey. Last season, McCaffrey went from an intriguing offseason acquisition to the 49ers’ most important offensive player. He’s now had an entire healthy offseason under his belt. If his health holds up, the 27-year-old former Stanford star will have his second 1,000-yard season (rushing and receiving yards).

Player of the Year in Defense

T.J. Watt is from Pittsburgh. Watt’s sack totals from 2018 to 2021 were 13-14-14.5-15-22.5. Last season, a torn pectoral muscle in Week 1 limited him to 5.5 sacks in eight games. Watt was the DPOY in 2021 when he was healthy, and he could be again.

Rookie offensive player of the year

Bijan Robinson is from Atlanta. If Desmond Ridder is your quarterback and you select a running back at No. 8, assume Robinson will get the rented-mule treatment and up to 300 touches. On a team that was already run-oriented, he’ll get plenty of handoffs and check-down passes.

Rookie defensive player of the year

Houston’s Will Anderson Jr. Anderson is a three-down edge player from Alabama who was drafted third overall and will have a chance to record double-digit sacks and make highlight-reel defensive plays under first-year coach and defensive guru DeMeco Ryans.

National Coach of the Year

Robert Saleh, New York Jets. It was Brian Daboll of the New York Giants last year, and this year it’s Saleh, another Meadowlands resident. He has longtime Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and a defense that allowed the fourth-fewest points per game in the NFL last season. Going from 7-10 to 10-7 or better appears to be a foregone conclusion.

Forecast for the Fearless 49ers

There won’t be another 10-game winning streak like last season, when the 49ers didn’t lose a regular-season game after Oct. 23 and finished 13-4 overall, but with a loaded roster of star players assembled by Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, anything less than 11 wins, a division title, and an NFC Championship Game victory would be a disappointment.

The first coach was fired.

Tampa Bay’s Todd Bowles

Take a look at the video below. The Buccaneers (8-9 last season) are on track for double-digit losses and a last-place finish in the NFC South, which may be the NFL’s weakest division.

The year’s best game

In Week 12, the 49ers travel to Philadelphia to face the Eagles. There was no shortage of excuses after the 49ers lost Brock Purdy in Philly and then were thrashed 31-7 in the NFC championship game. And the Eagles are fed up with hearing about it.

Offseason moves that will have the most impact

Three quarterbacks to watch who will demonstrate that location is as important in football as it is in real estate: Aaron Rodgers from the Packers to the New York Jets, Derek Carr from the Raiders to the Saints, and Jimmy Garoppolo from the 49ers to the Raiders.

Players who are on full-time injury watch

Lamar Jackson of the Baltimore Ravens just signed the largest contract in NFL history (five years, $260 million) and is off and running, which is a risky proposition for any quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa of the Miami Dolphins will be scrutinized every time his helmet hits the ground after missing five games, including the playoffs, due to multiple concussions.

Packers’ Love Affair

Green Bay has finally gotten off Aaron Rodgers’ crazy train. The Packers’ immediate future is determined by whether Jordan Love, a first-round pick in the 2020 draft, is as prepared to succeed Rodgers as Rodgers was to succeed Brett Favre 15 years ago.

Profit is worshiped

Thursday night games are a disservice to ticket-buying fans who may be shifted from a Sunday game to a date they may or may not be able to attend. They disregard the players’ health, as they are still recovering from the previous Sunday. However, they increase profit margins for owners and the NFL as a whole.

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