Chiefs may really miss Chris Jones in opener; why Titans and Commanders will be feisty; and picking every NFL division winner

Football games that count. My goodness, it’s been a long road to get here. Just hours from now, Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will be kicking off their season against the Detroit Lions, which gives us the perfect place to jump in with the first regular season Four Verts column. Breathe it in. Cherish this moment. We’re back, baby!

Chris Jones’ holdout is going to be an early test for the Chiefs

Chris Jones is all the way serious about his current holdout from the Chiefs as they get ready to play in their season opener against the Lions on Thursday night. Jones is as good as it gets from a defensive tackle perspective, blowing up pass plays and run plays alike — and he wants to be paid roughly $30 million this year for what he brings to the table. 49ers defensive end Nick Bosa was in a similar spot as Jones as far as his holdout status was concerned, but the 49ers agreed to a deal with Bosa that will pay him roughly $34 million on an annual basis. Good money if you can get it.

Jones is, quite obviously at this point, willing to see if the Chiefs miss his presence before they back up the Brinks truck into his bank account. At a charity event on Wednesday, Jones stated his goals as far as his contract goes in a succinct manner. “All I’m doing is asking for a raise,” Jones said to reporters. The Chiefs have held strong on whatever contract offer they think should get this done, but Jones doesn’t see it that way — leading to an immediate tough test for the Chiefs without him.

Here come the Detroit Lions, who have the perfect offensive setup to take advantage of Jones’ absence and potentially get the upset over the defending champions to start their season. If there’s one thing the Lions will definitely do well this season, or at least plan to, it’s run the ball. They have a mauling group of offensive linemen, two talented running backs to lead the way in terms of their ground game and an offensive coordinator that knows how to attack defenses in the run game. Someone like Chris Jones would be pretty useful at a time like this!

Regardless, unless something changes right before the game, the Chiefs won’t have Jones available to start the season. Luckily, they still have this guy named Patrick Mahomes who gives them the upper hand in any game they play, but Jones’ help in this specific matchup would have been huge for the Chiefs. If the Chiefs do in fact get shredded, Jones will have a pretty strong case to get the contract he wants while getting to play an integral role in the Chiefs’ season, which comes with Super Bowl expectations.

This is an interesting case study to see how much an elite quarterback can cover up flaws for the rest of the team, especially with Travis Kelce likely to not be at 100% as he deals with a hyperextended knee. The Chiefs might not need Jones to beat the Lions (we’ll see), but they absolutely will need him to continue their dynastic run through the NFL.

Don’t sleep on the Titans this season

Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel may not have the same talent level he's has in years past, but don't sleep on this team in 2023. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)
Tennessee Titans head coach Mike Vrabel may not have the same talent level he’s has in years past, but don’t sleep on this team in 2023. (AP Photo/Charlie Neibergall)

Shocking development here: Mike Vrabel is going to coach a rugged, hard-nosed football team that makes life hell for opposing teams. Even though this Titans roster is one of the more flawed units than Vrabel has had in previous years, they still have enough pieces to be a tough out and potentially a player in the AFC South.

Ryan Tannehill was a potential trade piece this offseason, but they opted to keep him and now he’ll be the steady veteran quarterback presence on an offense that’s going through a bit of a transition. Yes, Derrick Henry is still a great running back and DeAndre Hopkins is a big boost to a passing game that needed weapons on the outside, but they’re starting four new guys along the offensive line. That will be a tough test for them, but the Titans might have just enough talent among their skill position players to overcome an offensive line that will undoubtedly need some time to mesh and grow together.

Where the Titans should legitimately be strong is on defense, led by Jeffery Simmons, Azeez Al-Shaair and Kevin Byard giving them a piece of strength at all three levels. They have tremendous depth on the defensive line in general with Teair Tart and Denico Autry providing steady play that opens everything else up for the defense. There are some players at cornerback that still have things to prove, but for the most part this is going to be another strong defense for the Titans.

The Jaguars are going to be the toughest test the Titans face in the division this season, but Tennessee has enough top-end talent to play the rock fight style of football that has won it a lot of football games over the past few years under Vrabel. This team might not have the build of a 12- or 13-win team, but at the very least they can make a push for the wild card and potentially win the division if the offensive line can provide some steady play.

The Commanders have assembled some quality skill talent

Washington is in a transition in many facets of the entire organization as they welcome new ownership into the fold, giving the team a level of credibility off the field that it hasn’t had in decades. It’s easier to focus on what the team has assembled on the field, which is a squad that might actually be able to play spoiler from time to time within their own division.

The defense has their cast of characters that are well-known by now, starting with their ferocious defensive line led by Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne. On the other side of the ball, they have their new starting quarterback in Sam Howell, but he’s being buoyed by what has the potential to be an explosive supporting cast. Much will fall on how well new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy pieces together this offense, and they have the talent to make his scheme work.

The Commanders have a wide receiver duo that most teams would kill to have. Terry McLaurin has developed into one of the best wide receivers in football after being a third-round pick a few years ago and Jahan Dotson is quickly looking overqualified to be a secondary receiver for an NFL offense. Throw in a backfield that features Brian Robinson Jr. and the playmaking abilities of Antonio Gibson and it’s easy to see why fans are excited about the potential of their offense. One thing this organization actually has done well over the past few seasons is accumulating enough skill talent that can feasibly give a second-year, fifth-round quarterback a chance to succeed this year. That’s not exactly a small feat.

Actually usurping the Eagles and Cowboys (and Giants to a lesser degree) in the NFC East will be tough, but even though this team might not have the depth of a true Super Bowl contender, they have enough to give those teams headaches and be a team that can ruffle feathers with the talent they have. Of course, everything else will come to frame once they get a true look at how well Howell can perform. For now, it’s just a weirdly exciting time to be a Commanders fan.

Predicting the division winners

This year, there seems to be a whole lot of competition across the NFL, which should make for a tightly fought season, especially on the AFC side. Here’s a guess at which team will win each division.

AFC West — Kansas City Chiefs

Patrick Mahomes plays on this team.

AFC South — Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars have flaws that might stop them from getting to the AFC title game or Super Bowl, but this is a team that clearly has the best offense in their division and they can ride that talent to a division win.

AFC North — Baltimore Ravens

Lamar Jackson has another MVP-quality season with new offensive coordinator Todd Monken, the Ravens defense picks up where they were at the end of last season and they barely beat out the Bengals for the AFC North crown.

AFC East — Miami Dolphins

The Dolphins added a ton of talent on defense, will get Jalen Ramsey back for the postseason stretch and still have the most explosive offense in the league. This division might not get solved until the final week of the season, but they have the best roster top-to-bottom in the AFC East.

NFC West — San Francisco 49ers

Seattle feels like a team that needs to let their young players get another year of seasoning before they can push the 49ers for the crown, but this isn’t a super easy selection. Geno Smith has a great trio of wide receivers to throw to, but the 49ers get the edge here due to their defense and Kyle Shanahan.

NFC South — New Orleans Saints

Typing this out is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me. However, the Saints have the best quarterback in the division at least for this year. That’s enough to get them the division title in a weak year for the NFC South.

NFC North — Green Bay Packers

A bit of a surprise maybe. The Packers have the basis of a strong roster if they can overcome some potentially poor safety play. The Jordan Love hype train is off and rolling, and he gives them just enough to take down the Vikings and the Lions over the course of the season.

NFC East — Philadelphia Eagles

The Cowboys have a compelling case here, but the Eagles might have the best offensive depth chart in football and have enough potential on defense to get by while some of their front seven players get more accustomed to the NFL.

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