The start of the 2023 regular season is so close we can almost taste it. As is the case heading into every year, there's a baseline of what we all expect to see and have happen. For example, the overwhelming consensus is that the likes of the Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Buffalo Bills, and Philadelphia Eagles will all boast elite offenses this coming season as they have in the years prior. That said, we have to leave some room for various clubs to surprise us. After all, who saw the Geno Smith-led Seahawks ranking as a top-10 offense entering 2022? How about the Jared Goff-led Lions?
It's in that vein where we'll comb through various offenses that have somewhat muted expectations and try to identify those that could burst onto the scene this year.
The Steelers have been a preseason darling, so seeing them make this list shouldn't come as too much of a surprise, but it's still well warranted. Of course, all eyes are on Kenny Pickett as he looks to make a sophomore leap after a solid rookie season. He didn't light the world on fire, throwing more interceptions than touchdowns through his 13 games played, but there is room for optimism. On top of the simple progression thanks to his 12 starts last season, Pittsburgh has also emphasized fixing one of its major issues in 2022: the offensive line. It'll likely have two new starters on the left side after signing guard Isaac Seumalo in free agency and then trading up in the first round to select Georgia left tackle Broderick Jones. The Steelers already ranked just outside the top 10 in adjusted sack rate last season (12th), and there's reason to believe they'll be able to protect Pickett even better with these newbies coming in along the O-line.
This reshuffled group should also help what was an overall mediocre running game. The Steelers averaged just 4.1 yards per rush last season, with starter Najee Harris averaging an underwhelming 3.8 yards on 272 rushing attempts. While the jury is still out on whether or not Harris will rebound to a more efficient level, Pittsburgh appears to have options in the backfield, primarily with second-year standout Jaylen Warren. Thus far, Warren has been the most explosive back, averaging 4.9 yards per carry in a complementary role during his rookie year. That has also seemed to carry over into 2023 (or at least the 2023 preseason). Check out this 62-yard touchdown run against the Bills, which also came in front of left tackle Dan Moore Jr. (currently battling with Jones) and Seumalo, who could be the Week 1 starter on the left side.
No matter if that's Warren or Harris in the backfield, the hole that the left side of the line was able to create should excite the Steelers for their potential uptick on the ground.
Of course, we can't forget about the pass-catchers. Pittsburgh has turned itself into a factory that produces extremely talented wideouts, and it seems like they have a strong duo with Diontae Johnson and George Pickens. Johnson has been a solid possession receiver since he entered the league in 2019 and should see some positive touchdown regression after going through the 2022 season without a single score. Meanwhile, you have Pickens, who is the more explosive of the two. He showed flashes of game-breaking ability during his rookie season, and with a year now under his belt, the expectation is that he'll take a leap. Tight end Pat Freirmuth has also been one of the league's better pass-catchers at the position.
Pittsburgh's offense ranked 18th in DVOA last season. If Pickett can take the proper steps in Year 2, coupled with the talent the Steelers have put around him, it's not out of the realm of possibility that they squeak into the back end of the top 10 in 2023.
The Falcons have spent the past handful of drafts bringing aboard ceiling-shattering talents at the skill positions. It was tight end Kyle Pitts in 2021, wideout Drake London last year and then running back Bijan Robinson as the No. 8 overall selection this spring. Those are three significant pillars that any team would scratch and claw to try and surround their quarterback with. The big variable with Atlanta, however, just so happens to be its most important position: quarterback.
After Marcus Mariota started the year in 2022, the Falcons made way for then-third-round rookie Desmond Ridder down the stretch, giving him some valuable game reps as he now looks ahead to his first season as the full-time starter. While it was a small sample size for Ridder, improved in each of his four starts to end the year. That culminated with a two-touchdown performance against the Buccaneers where he threw for 224 yards and finished with a 108.2 passer rating. In his lone preseason appearance thus far, Ridder was a sharp 7 of 9 for 80 yards. He did throw an interception, but the ball was tipped, so we'll give him a mulligan on that. More importantly, Ridder showed amazing touch on this throw to London down the right sideline. It's plays like this that have the Falcons as a dark horse to win the NFC South.
London is the most fascinating piece to this offense in my eyes, specifically because of his blossoming rapport with Ridder. In the four games Ridder started last season, London caught 25 of his 36 targets for 333 yards. If you project that out throughout a full season, London would be looking at 106 receptions and 1,415 yards.
Not only does Ridder have top-tier weapons at his disposal, but there's a strong amount of depth on the Falcons roster as well. In the backfield, second-year back Tyler Allgeier is coming off a rookie season where he averaged nearly five yards per carry en route to a 1,000-yard campaign on the ground. They also have veteran Cordarrelle Patterson rounding out the stable of backs. Outside of London, Mack Hollins is coming off a career year with the Raiders during which he totaled 690 yards receiving. Even tight end Jonnu Smith is intriguing based on his success with Arthur Smith when they were both in Tennessee.
Most importantly, the Falcons have a good offensive line. The arrival of left guard Matthew Bergeron (the team's second-round pick in the 2023 draft) will further bolster a unit headlined by fellow guard Chris Lindstrom and left tackle Jake Matthews.
If any team has a similar feel to the Seahawks of 2022, it might be the Packers. After all, Green Bay is also entering its first season after moving on from one of its greatest quarterbacks in franchise history following the trade of Aaron Rodgers to the Jets. Now, what Jordan Love has after the team selected him in the first round of the 2020 NFL Draft. While Love has minimal experience in regular season games, he did have the advantage of learning behind Rodgers, which, in theory, should make him well-versed in Matt LaFleur's offense.
From what Love has shown in the preseason, he looks the part. So far, he has completed 12 of his 18 pass attempts for 130 yards and two touchdowns. Beyond the numbers, Love has shown he can fit the ball into some extremely tight windows.
The whole series from @theqbschool on Jordan Love is great but look at the end zone angle on this wrap route.— Peter Bukowski (@Peter_Bukowski) August 23, 2023
Between the outstretched arm of the LB and sticky CB coverage. This is a tight window throw against an elite defense pic.twitter.com/prH1kxJFrL
If Love keeps this play up as we transition to the regular season, Green Bay has the weapons to be a threatening offense. At receiver, Christian Watson is the most dynamic. Down the stretch last season, the then-rookie totaled 523 yards and seven touchdowns on 31 receptions in his final eight games. He also added 61 yards and another score on the ground. Romeo Doubs is another threat in the passing game heading into Year 2, and the Packers also spent a second-round pick to bring in Michigan State wideout Jayden Reed. This unit is young but has tremendous talent that Love can tap into.
Of course, the backfield duo of Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon is arguably the best in the NFL. Jones can provide relief in the passing game, while Dillon is as sturdy as they come. Either could carry the load if the other goes down with an injury, making this backfield ironclad. As for the offensive line, this unit has constantly been among the best in the league; it ranked as the No. 2 line in run blocking in 2022 and sixth in adjusted sack rate.