A look at how the 2023 season shapes up:
Super Bowl winner
Cincinnati Bengals. The third time is a charm as the Bengals finally get past the Kansas City Chiefs in the AFC Championship Game and do what they failed to do against the 49ers in Super Bowls XVI (1981 season) and XXIII (1988).
Joe Burrow, Cincinnati. Burrow has all the weapons needed at his disposal, and the signing of left tackle Orlando Brown to shore up his protection can’t be overlooked. He is proof that pocket passers are not obsolete.
Offensive player of the year
Christian McCaffrey, 49ers. McCaffrey went from an intriguing in-season addition to the 49ers’ most important offensive player a year ago. Now he’s got a whole healthy offseason under his belt. Health permitting, the 27-year-old former Stanford star is a lock for his second 1,000-1,000 season (rushing and receiving yards).
Defensive player of the year
T.J. Watt, Pittsburgh. From 2018 through 2021, Watt’s sack totals were 13-14-14.5-15-22.5. A torn pectoral muscle he suffered in Week 1 wound up limiting him to 5.5 sacks in eight games last season. A healthy Watt was the DPOY in 2021 and he could be again.
Offensive rookie of the year
Bijan Robinson, Atlanta. If Desmond Ridder is your quarterback and you take a running back No. 8 overall, go ahead and assume Robinson will get the rented-mule treatment and upwards of 300 touches. He’ll get handoffs and check-down passes galore on a team that already was run-oriented.
Defensive rookie of the year
Will Anderson Jr., Houston. Anderson is a three-down edge player out of Alabama taken No. 3 overall who will get a chance for double-digit sacks and highlight reel defensive plays under first-year coach and defensive whiz DeMeco Ryans.
New York Jets coach Robert Saleh has added quarterback Aaron Rodgers to a team that already has a solid defense. A.P. Photo
Coach of the year
Robert Saleh, N.Y. Jets. Last year it was Brian Daboll of the New York Giants’, this year it’s Saleh, another Meadowlands inhabitant. He’s got longtime Green Bay Packers star Aaron Rodgers as his quarterback and a defense that allowed the fourth-fewest point per game in the NFL last season. Going from 7-10 to 10-7 or better seems assured.
Fearless 49ers forecast
There likely isn’t another 10-game win streak on the horizon 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 accumulated under Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, anything less than 11 wins, a division title and an NFC Championship Game win is a disappointment.
First coach fired
Todd Bowles, Tampa Bay
Look out below. The Buccaneers (8-9 last season) are headed for double-digit losses and a last-place finish in the NFC South, which may be the weakest division in the NFL.
Game of the year
The 49ers visit the Philadelphia Eagles on Dec. 3 in Week 12. There was no shortage of excuse-making after the 49ers lost Brock Purdy in Philly and then got pummeled 31-7 in the NFC title game. And the Eagles are sick of hearing about it.
Offseason moves that will mean the most
Three quarterbacks to watch which will prove location in football is as important as it is in real estate – Aaron Rodgers going from the Packers to the New York Jets, Derek Carr from the Raiders to New Orleans and Jimmy Garoppolo from the 49ers to Raiders.
Players under full-time injury watch
Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson just signed the largest contract in NFL history (five years, $260 million) and is off and running, a risky proposition for any quarterback. Miami QB Tua Tagovailoa will be under increased scrutiny every time his helmet hits the ground after missing five games, including the playoffs, because of multiple concussions.
Packers’ Love connection
NFL 2023 predictions: How the NFL divisional and wild card races will play out
NFL kickoff 2023: Will the 49ers win the NFC West again?
49ers captains: Brock Purdy, Deebo Samuel join six-man crew
NFL kickoff 2023: Week-by-week look at SF 49ers’ schedule
49ers rejoice over Nick Bosa deal with hugs in coach’s office, relief in locker room
Green Bay has finally disembarked from the Aaron Rodgers crazy train. The Packers’ immediate future depends on whether Jordan Love, a first-round pick in the 2020 draft, is as ready to take over for Rodgers as Rodgers was to succeed Brett Favre 15 seasons ago.
Worshipping a profit
Thursday night games disrespect ticket-buying fans who could be flexed from a Sunday game to a date they may or may not be able to attend. They disrespect the health of the players, who aren’t fully recovered from the previous Sunday. But they increase the profit margin for owners and the NFL in general.