Every team’s goal should be to win the Super Bowl. That’s why they play the game.
But some teams’ paths are a little more complicated than that. Some aren’t looking to win now, per se — if only because the current makeup of their roster won’t facilitate that goal. Others, though, know they have the means to make a championship run and will do whatever is necessary to give themselves the best shot to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
Here, we’ll break down all 16 NFC teams heading into the 2023 season into four categories: win-now, ascending, transition or rebuilding.
Win-now: Throwing all chips into the middle of the table with a short-term mindset
Ascending: Building steam with a solid core of players, but not mortgaging the future yet
Transition: A plan is in place and moves have been made but they’re not but not there yet
Rebuilding: Complete teardown — typically with rookie QB and a roster devoid of top-level talent
The Cowboys are in a very tenuous position right now and possibly sit at the precipice of either their continued rise or their eventual downfall. Dallas is loaded with expensive talent they can move on from if this season goes sideways and Jerry Jones wants to refresh the team. They also need to pay linebacker Micah Parsons and receiver CeeDee Lamb (and maybe running back Tony Pollard, too). The Cowboys need to strike in 2023 while the iron is still hot with Dak Prescott.
The Eagles are looking to return to the Super Bowl in the 2023 season and made the requisite moves to fortify positions where they lost talent this offseason. Namely, the running back room is full of new faces and the defense replaced defensive tackle Javon Hargrave with rookie stud Jalen Carter. Jalen Hurts’ new contract also means Philadelphia is all-in on their quarterback, even if the team lost its offensive and defensive coordinators in one summer.
San Francisco 49ers
This team was already stacked heading into the season, so there isn’t much they can do other than move forward. San Francisco snagged Hargrave away from the Eagles in free agency, but otherwise kept their roster the same at the key positions. Everything will hinge on Brock Purdy – again – alongside skill position players Christian McCaffrey, Deebo Samuel and George Kittle.
Seattle’s surprise 2022 campaign meant the team wasn’t rebuilding or transitioning – they were always one of the rising teams in the league. Geno Smith looked fantastic, the offense played efficiently and the defense held it together. First-round picks Devon Witherspoon and Jaxon Smith-Njigba complement their respective sides of the ball well, and third-round running back Zach Charbonnet gives Seattle another dimension in the running game. The Seahawks built it right and don’t need to make earth-shattering moves just yet to compete.
New York Giants
New York handed Daniel Jones a sizable bag of confidence this offseason and found a way to retain Saquon Barkley. That’s enough to keep the Giants on the right path in 2023 so long as they can replicate their 2022 success. The Darren Waller trade is as close to an all-in move as the general manager Joe Schoen will likely get since it only cost them a third-round pick to add a quality tight end. The low-risk additions of Isaiah Simmons and Boogie Basham on defense are intriguing as well.
The release of Dalvin Cook isn’t enough to push the Vikings down a tier, especially after they just won the NFC North and drafted wideout Jordan Addison in the first round. A pass-catching trio of Addison, tight end T.J. Hockenson and reigning NFL Offensive Player of the Year Justin Jefferson is enough to keep them in the conversation as conference contenders. The retention of defensive end Danielle Hunter is a sign the team hasn’t given up yet, either.
The Lions are the hottest team in the NFL not to have made the playoffs this past season. And for good reason: Dan Campbell had Detroit playing sensationally after an 8-2 end to the season, and the team added depth on offense and defense this offseason. Rookies Jahmyr Gibbs and Sam LaPorta could contribute immediately on offense, while fellow first-year players Jack Campbell and Brian Branch could have roles on defense. This season will prove if the Lions are here to stay or not.
Green Bay Packers
There’s always a period of uncertainty any time a team moves on from a Hall of Fame quarterback. The Packers did it in 2008 when they promoted Aaron Rodgers after sending Brett Favre to the Jets and they’ll do it again in 2023 with the swap of Jordan Love for Rodgers. There will be hiccups for sure, especially with the Packers’ young pass-catcher core, but that doesn’t mean the Packers will implode immediately. It could take some time, though, before Green Bay takes the NFC North again.
The Falcons are a hard nut to crack because they appear to have their core team in place with a third-year head coach but without a clear-cut quarterback. Their past three first-round picks – Kyle Pitts, Drake London and Bijan Robinson – are the heart of the offense, and the defense is led by Grady Jarrett and A.J. Terrell. This is a team that will teeter on the brink of a rebuild quickly if this season goes off the rails, though.
Los Angeles Rams
The Rams could very much be in a rebuild without completely signaling it, but for now they remain in limbo with key members of their Super Bowl roster still around. Matthew Stafford, Cooper Kupp and Aaron Donald are good enough at their respective positions to keep Los Angeles somewhat relevant. The Rams will likely still have a tough time competing in the division, much less the conference.
New Orleans Saints
Derek Carr could be the Drew Brees replacement the Saints have been searching for since 2020. He’s only 32 and already has four Pro Bowl appearances under his belt. New Orleans has quality offensive players like receiver Chris Olave and a solid defense on the back end. The tepid NFC South leaves a playoff push wide open for the Saints in their second full season without Sean Payton at the helm.
Is Sam Howell the future? Who knows, but the Commanders are at least willing to find out in 2023. Things could quickly change in Washington with new ownership running the show, though. The team has some core elements at important positions like wide receiver and defensive line and they’ve pushed for a playoff berth the past two seasons after winning the NFC East in 2020. But until they figure out the quarterback position, this is a team in flux.
Chicago is another team that isn’t quite rebuilding but isn’t quite not rebuilding, either. Therefore, the Bears are in the transitional phase after they decided to keep quarterback Justin Fields and trade away the No. 1 pick for receiver D.J. Moore and other draft capital before the selection of offensive tackle Darnell Wright. The Bears could surprise the NFL in 2023 or remain stuck at the bottom of the league.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Buccaneers’ contention hopes faded as soon as Tom Brady officially retired from the NFL. While the team remains mostly intact, the lack of a quarterback puts Tampa Bay on track for a rebuild unless Baker Mayfield suddenly turns into the stud the Cleveland Browns expected him to become two years ago. More than likely, Mayfield will be a bridge to a rookie in 2024 as the Buccaneers figure out their future on the fly.
It’s hard for a team to not be in rebuild mode after they traded up to take a quarterback with the No. 1 pick. The Panthers also have a brand-new, experience-laden coaching staff that could accelerate their plans if Bryce Young catches onto the NFL quickly. A wide-open NFC South makes things a bit easier as well, but for now Carolina will spend the 2023 season in search of its new identity.
This is the ultimate rebuilding team of the 2023 season. The Cardinals hired a new general manager and new head coach, traded back in the draft to pick up a second 2024 first-round pick (from the Texans, no less) and annexed pieces for pennies on the dollar all offseason. Arizona won’t even name a starting quarterback yet with Josh Dobbs and Clayton Tune the only options. Despite handing Kyler Murray a new contract a season ago, the Cardinals are very clearly looking at 2024 rather than this upcoming season.