Flaws, weaknesses for 2023 NFL playoff contenders: 14 teams

Even the NFL's best teams aren't perfect. Inevitably, just about every squad is going to get found out. Take last season, when the Giants blew up the Vikings' pass coverage to upset them in the wild-card round. The Eagles were able to overpower the Giants up front to blow them out in the divisional round. Three weeks later, in Super Bowl LVII, the Chiefs used the threat of jet sweeps and Philadelphia's struggles dealing with motion to score two key touchdowns and knock off the Eagles.

Some flaws become apparent as the season goes along. Others seem obvious before the season even begins. Based on what we saw last season and the changes each team made this offseason, we're going to identify a potential problem with each playoff contender and rank them from most concerning to least concerning.

Defining "playoff contender" is a tricky proposition. There are 14 teams in the AFC that could credibly call themselves playoff contenders right now. To keep things narrowed down and be able to talk more in depth about each team, I had to shorten the list of teams to examine.

With that in mind, I looked at ESPN's Football Power Index (FPI) and included the seven teams from the AFC and NFC that project to make the playoffs by the FPI's algorithm. To be clear, these aren't my picks for who will make the postseason in 2023. (I'm trying to avoid getting angry messages here -- it won't work.)

The FPI has a relatively static playoff field for 2023, with only the Buccaneers, Dolphins and Giants failing to make return trips to the postseason. It projects the Lions, Jets and Saints to take their place, so I'll include them with the 11 returning playoff teams. I'll start in Baltimore, where the Ravens have a hole in a position that never seems to be a problem for them:

Jump to a contender:

1. Baltimore Ravens

Chances to make the playoffs, per ESPN's FPI: 54.8%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 6.8%

Biggest flaw: Pass rush

I'm concerned about the Ravens' pass rush. Are the Ravens? It doesn't appear so. General manager Eric DeCosta has seen former Baltimore players Yannick Ngakoue and Justin Houston sign deals in the past couple of weeks to play elsewhere in 2023 without being tempted to add a veteran pass-rusher to his own roster. A Ravens team that won't return a single player who racked up more than six sacks a year ago seems to be comfortable staying put with its front seven.

Enter David Ojabo and Odafe Oweh, who will shoulder the bulk of the pass-rushing workload on the edge. Oweh has a modest eight sacks and 26 knockdowns across 1,249 defensive snaps over his first two seasons, while Ojabo played only 21 defensive snaps last season in his return from a torn Achilles. Both players will see an increase in their snap count this season, and veteran Tyus Bowser will also get reps.

If any team deserves the benefit of the doubt for developing young talent on defense, it might be the Ravens, so I'm willing to believe Ojabo and/or Oweh will impress in 2023. Given the stakes, though, this could end up being a glaring weakness on Baltimore's roster. With the Ravens turning over two of their three starting cornerback spots around star Marlon Humphrey, they are going to need all the pass-rushing help they can get against the best teams in the AFC. DeCosta traded for Ngakoue when the Ravens needed help during the 2020 season; I wonder whether he'll consider a similar trade for a veteran this October if both guys get off to slow starts.

2. New York Jets

Chances to make the playoffs: 51.5%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 7.4%

Biggest flaw: Offensive line

Remember what happened the last time the Jets traded with the Packers to acquire a future Hall of Famer at quarterback? In 2008, Brett Favre had New York riding high at 8-3 in the AFC East with five games to go, only for the season to collapse because he wasn't healthy. Playing through a torn biceps muscle, Favre went from posting a 94.1 passer rating through the first 11 games of the season to a 55.2 mark over the final five games. With Favre throwing nine picks over that stretch, the Jets went 1-4 and missed the postseason. He then re-retired and then re-unretired, joining the Vikings.

Enter Aaron Rodgers, whose numbers declined last season while the star quarterback played through a thumb injury in Green Bay. He could be throwing with a hockey glove on his hand and still be better than Zach Wilson, but for the Jets to get the Rodgers they're hoping to see, they have to keep the 39-year-old veteran upright. An injury would leave them right back in the nightmare they faced during 2022: having a team good enough to compete for the playoffs, only to be stuck with an overmatched Wilson under center.

I'm not sure the Jets did enough this offseason to give themselves a great chance of protecting Rodgers. On paper, they have options: They can sort through Duane Brown and 2020 first-round pick Mekhi Becton at tackle, have 2021 first-rounder Alijah Vera-Tucker and Laken Tomlinson at guard, and sport a veteran center in former Broncos lineman Connor McGovern. With Billy Turner as their swing tackle and rookie second-round pick Joe Tippmann on the interior, there's a scenario in which they feel great about their line.

Damien Woody: Dalvin Cook 'makes a lot of sense' for Jets

Damien Woody reacts to Dalvin Cook signing a-year deal with the Jets.

It's pretty easy, unfortunately, to pick holes in the likelihood of that scenario taking place, though. Brown and Becton are both coming off surgeries. The former player is 37, while the latter has played just one game over the past two seasons. Brown isn't practicing yet, and Becton wasn't able to play his expected number of snaps in the Hall of Fame Game because of tenderness in his knee. Becton played 28 snaps in last weekend's win over Carolina, which was a positive sign, but neither wants to play right tackle. One will need to do so. Turner was unsigned until after the draft, which suggests there wasn't much interest in the former Denver and Green Bay utility lineman.

Even the interior has question marks. Vera-Tucker is returning from a torn triceps. McGovern, per the FTN Football Almanac, allowed a career-high 26 blown blocks last season. Tippmann started the summer working with the third string on offense, and Jets fans were delighted to see him get elevated to the second-stringers last week. There's no guarantee he'll be able to make an impact during the regular season.

It won't be all doom and gloom for the Jets, and there are certainly teams with worse offensive line situations than Gang Green. Given that they're all-in to win with a 39-year-old quarterback, though, this feels like a situation in which they would have liked to come away with more to protect Rodgers before the season begins. If one blown block does lead to a Rodgers injury, it could cost New York its best chance of competing for a title in decades.

3. New Orleans Saints

Chances to make the playoffs: 56.5%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 4.5%

Biggest flaw: Overall team age

With a difficult cap situation and a front office prone to trading away draft picks for veterans, the Saints are unsurprisingly one of the NFL's oldest teams. They have chosen (with their salary cap restructuring choices) to lock themselves into a core of veterans, many of whom are on the far side of 30.

Last season, the Saints fielded the league's oldest roster on the basis of snap-weighted age, which accounts for how often each player was used on the field. They had 10 players who are 30 or older play at least 300 snaps. Six of those 10 are back in meaningful roles; a seventh was Andy Dalton, who was replaced by 32-year-old Derek Carr.

Age in itself isn't a problem; the Bucs were one of the oldest teams in football during Tom Brady's run in Tampa Bay, and they won three division titles and a Super Bowl. With an aging roster, though, a team needs younger players to come in and play meaningful roles around those veterans on cost-controlled contracts. Those Bucs teams had a young secondary to go along with young core linemen Tristan Wirfs and Vita Vea, who were excellent on rookie deals.

Since their legendary draft in 2017, the Saints haven't been able to add much top talent to their roster. The only player left from their class of 2018 is Tre'Quan Smith, a backup wide receiver. Edge rusher Marcus Davenport didn't pan out and cost them their 2018 and 2019 first-round picks, and while they landed center Erik McCoy in 2019, he's the only player left from that draft on the roster. The 2020 draft delivered guard Cesar Ruiz, who had his fifth-year option declined this past spring, while linebacker third-rounder Zack Baun hasn't emerged off special teams. Pete Werner has grown into a solid young linebacker from the 2021 draft, but first-round pick Payton Turner has been buried on the edge-rushing depth chart when healthy, while cornerback Paulson Adebo allowed a 119.6 passer rating in coverage a year ago, the sixth-highest mark in football among corners.

Chris Olave looks like a star at wide receiver -- and there's still time for these guys to mature into standouts -- but you get the idea. Given how easy the Saints' schedule looks to be and how the rest of the NFC South is transitioning to unknown quantities at quarterback, they are understandably favorites to win the division. To do anything more -- or to avoid missing out on their best chance to claim the South -- they'll need their veterans to keep playing at the same level they have been in years past, plus Michael Thomas or Alvin Kamara returning to form. If they don't, I'm not sure the young players on this roster can pick up the slack.

4. Minnesota Vikings

Chances to make the playoffs: 51.8%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 5.9%

Biggest flaw: The secondary

Let's begin a string of teams facing the same problem in different ways. I suppose Vikings fans could point out that their secondary wasn't very good last season, when Minnesota still managed to go 13-4 and win the division comfortably. It had the league's sixth-worst pass defense by QBR allowed, and its season ended when Daniel Jones and the Giants marched up and down the field unbothered throughout a 31-24 victory in the postseason.

General manager Kwesi Adofo-Mensah & Co. knew the secondary was a concern heading into last season, but their best-laid plans didn't work out. The Vikings used their top two picks in that draft on defensive backs, but Lewis Cine broke his leg in October and missed 14 games, and Andrew Booth was limited to 105 defensive snaps by a knee injury that eventually required surgery. Cameron Dantzler struggled before hitting injured reserve, and Akayleb Evans suffered three concussions before joining him.

Wholesale changes are afoot. Patrick Peterson, Duke Shelley and Chandon Sullivan were the three starters at cornerback during the loss to the Giants. They're all on other rosters. Starting safety Camryn Bynum will be pushed for his spot in the lineup by Josh Metellus and Cine. The only starter from last January who will be in the same spot in Week 1 is stalwart Harrison Smith, who might be entering his final year with the organization.

Opportunity abounds, for young players and for opposing passing attacks. Byron Murphy, a free agent addition from Arizona, will be one of the starting corners. Booth will be competing with Evans and middle-rounds rookies Mekhi Blackmon and Jay Ward for opportunities. New defensive coordinator Brian Flores loves to be aggressive and put his defensive backs on islands in coverage, so these guys will be in sink-or-swim situations in 2023.

5. Detroit Lions

Chances to make the playoffs: 65.4%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 9.9%

Biggest flaw: The secondary

It's awfully hard to win a lot of games with a bad secondary. The Lions went 9-8 last season with a pass defense that ranked last in the NFL in QBR allowed. To contextualize how difficult it is to post a winning record when a team can't stop the pass in the modern NFL, consider that no other squad that finished in the bottom five of the QBR rankings in 2019, 2020, 2021 or 2022 was able to match Detroit's feat. The average record for those teams, even with the Lions in the mix, was right around 5-12. The table stakes for being a playoff team is having a passable secondary.

The Lions aren't dumb. They made major changes to their secondary this offseason. Detroit had seven defensive backs play 40% or more of its defensive snaps last season, and four are gone: safety DeShon Elliott and cornerbacks Jeff Okudah, Mike Hughes and Amani Oruwariye. Will Harris will play a utility role and bounce around the backfield again, while Jerry Jacobs will move into a reserve role. Free safety Kerby Joseph is the one player likely to stick in his 2022 role.

Why Stephen A. Smith picks the Lions to win the NFC North

Stephen A. Smith explains why he is picking the Detroit Lions to win the NFC North over the Vikings, Packers and Bears.

The Lions could have as many as four new starters in the secondary if everyone stays healthy and adapts quickly. Cameron Sutton, who had an excellent 2022 season for the Steelers, is likely to start outside in one cornerback spot. The other starter could be former 49ers corner Emmanuel Moseley, but the oft-injured defender is coming off a torn ACL and is still on the physically unable to perform list.

The slot and safety roles are still up in the air. C.J. Gardner-Johnson will start in one of those roles, but after he had an injury scare early in camp, the door has been opened for rookie second-round pick Brian Branch. If Branch continues to impress in camp, he would likely start the year at safety, pushing Gardner-Johnson into the slot role he played with the Saints. If the Lions want to go slow with Branch, Gardner-Johnson could move back into the safety role he played with the Eagles, which would open up the door for 2021 starter Tracy Walker to move back into the lineup after he tore his Achilles tendon last September.

Things are fluid in terms of personnel, but the upside is clear. When the Lions held opposing offenses under a 50 QBR last season, they went 7-2. Aaron Glenn's defense was otherwise 2-6 when the rest of the league won about 36% of the time in those situations. Detroit doesn't have to be perfect in the back end, but if it can improve and get closer to league average, it likely will be a playoff team in 2023.

6. Cincinnati Bengals

Chances to make the playoffs: 76.4%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 17.1%

Biggest flaw: The secondary

I wrote about the changes the Bengals are making in their backfield when I discussed Cam Taylor-Britt as a potential breakout candidate last week. While they haven't yet handed out new deals to Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins, we know those contracts are coming. Ja'Marr Chase is going to follow. Those three are going to get a combined raise in the ballpark of about $75 million per season versus what they were making on rookie deals. It's a good problem for the Bengals to have.

Like the Eagles, Cincinnati is trying to adjust to its new economic reality on the fly. In the process, it has had to let veterans leave. Eli Apple, Jessie Bates, Vonn Bell and Tre Flowers all left in free agency this offseason. That's more than 3,100 combined defensive snaps from last season scattering around the NFL.

There are players here to try to replace those lost veterans. Nick Scott, who emerged during Los Angeles' run to the Super Bowl in 2021, signed a low-cost deal to take over one starting safety spot. Dax Hill, a first-round pick in 2022 who played 131 snaps as a rookie, will be the other starter. Mike Hilton returns in the slot, and Taylor-Britt got better as his rookie season went along. Rookie second-rounder DJ Turner could see time in his debut season and profiles as the likely long-term replacement for Hilton.

The biggest difference-maker might not be any of those guys. Chidobe Awuzie was playing at an All-Pro level last season before tearing the ACL in his right knee in November. The former Cowboys corner had been a revelation since joining the Bengals in free agency, raising his game in 2021 and then again even higher in 2022. If the Awuzie who comes back is the guy who was allowing a 53.4 passer rating in coverage before his injury, the Bengals should be fine. If he's battling to stay on the field as he recovers from the torn ligament in his knee, there will be real questions about whether this secondary can hold up to the passing attacks it'll face in the playoffs.

7. Seattle Seahawks

Chances to make the playoffs: 47.8%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 4.8%

Biggest flaw: Linebackers

You remember how last season ended for the Seahawks? Linebackers Cody Barton and Tanner Muse were trapped in Kyle Shanahan's torture chamber of misdirection and over routes, with Brock Purdy seemingly finding any receiver he wanted for huge gains. The 49ers averaged more than 11 yards per pass and nearly 6.0 yards per carry in a 41-23 victory in the wild-card round, punting just once all game.

Linebacker was a problem even before the playoff loss. The Seahawks allowed more passing yards to running backs and tight ends than any other team, in part because they allowed an average of 6.1 yards after catch, which ranked second worst in football. Only the Cardinals were worse. Their rush defense ranked 24th in DVOA. With the pass rush exceeding expectations and the secondary landing standout rookie Riq Woolen, linebacker was the biggest weakness in the Seattle defense.

Is it better in 2023? We'll see. Barton and Muse are gone. Muse was starting only because of the torn ACL suffered by former first-round pick Jordyn Brooks in December. Brooks is expected to miss the beginning of the season during his recovery, although the Seahawks should be able to get him into the lineup later in the campaign.

The Week 1 starters are two well-known players who will need to live up to their past expectations. Every Seahawks fan knows Bobby Wagner, of course, and the longtime Seattle star returned home after a year away in Los Angeles. Wagner had a resurgent campaign in Los Angeles after looking well past his best in Seattle, but he's also 33 and has been a cap casualty in back-to-back seasons. He still has great instincts and whiffed on only 1.4% of his tackle attempts last season, which is a remarkable rate for a player as busy as Wagner. If he can be the player he was a year ago in his return to the Pacific Northwest, he'll be a significant upgrade.

The other spot will likely fall at first to Devin Bush, the 2019 first-round pick who never seemed to launch in Pittsburgh. He made a few splashes as a rookie, but the Steelers never trusted him on third downs in coverage. He then tore his ACL in 2020, and while that can seem like a routine injury for players these days, he never seemed to show the same sort of explosiveness the Steelers were counting on after the injury. The Seahawks will have to try to hide Bush in coverage if they're going to use him on passing downs.

There's one other option: What about Jamal Adams? The Seahawks have Quandre Diggs and signed away safety Julian Love from the Giants. Adams isn't great in man coverage, but he's athletic and a threat to spy, rush the quarterback or get home on green-dog pressures. If the goal is to get the best 11 pass defenders on the field on third down, it might make sense to use Adams more as a linebacker. He'll just need to stay healthy after he has missed 21 of the past 22 games with various injuries.

8. Philadelphia Eagles

Chances to make the playoffs: 80.8%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 25.5%

Biggest flaw: Defense up the middle

If you're a baseball fan, you've heard the old adage about how hard it is to win if you're not strong up the middle. It's not as essential in football, but it's a perfect way to capture what's concerning about the 2023 Eagles. The NFC champs lost five defensive starters, all of whom play in the middle of the field: defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, linebackers T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White, and safeties Marcus Epps and C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Throw in the departures of Ndamukong Suh and Linval Joseph and there are loads of snaps missing from the middle of this defense.

Let's go level by level and start up front. Hargrave was the team's most impactful interior disruptor; he shouldered the responsibilities of the defense's gap-and-a-half scheme on early downs and still racked up 11 sacks last season. The Eagles have used first-round picks in back-to-back seasons on Georgia tackles Jalen Carter and Jordan Davis, so this is the position where they're best equipped to try to replace their departed starter. Unfortunately, Hargrave is also the best player of those five by a considerable margin.

Linebacker is a position Philadelphia typically hasn't valued, so it was no surprise Edwards and White were allowed to leave. The team is right to believe it's easier to find useful players at off-ball linebacker than most other positions, but Alex Singleton and Nate Gerry have in the past become scapegoats in Philadelphia for their struggles in coverage. There's a fine line between saving money and letting a position waste away, and it's one general manager Howie Roseman can fluctuate on from year to year.

What must Jalen Hurts improve on this season?

Louis Riddick details the adjustments that Jalen Hurts can make in his mental game to make him the "ultimate weapon" for the Eagles.

Again, there's a Georgia product in the mix here, with 2022 third-rounder Nakobe Dean expected to play a larger role. Nicholas Morrow was signed from the Bears, but it was no surprise to see Roseman go after a pair of veterans last week when he signed Zach Cunningham and Myles Jack to one-year deals with just $25,000 guaranteed. Cunningham and Jack are still young and have big names, but they've been cap casualties for their struggles in coverage elsewhere, which is why they were still unsigned in mid-August. The hope will be that one of those veterans will make the team, but Roseman might not be done shopping at the position as camp cuts occur.

Safety would be my biggest worry. Reed Blankenship will take over for Gardner-Johnson, a change that was a major problem last season. Even with a dominant defensive line, two veteran linebackers and cornerbacks playing at a high level, swapping out Gardner-Johnson for Blankenship was enough to transform the Philadelphia defense. The same Eagles defense that allowed a 28.2 QBR with Gardner-Johnson on the field dropped to 52.7 with Blankenship taking his place. (I thought the effect might be a product of Blankenship playing in garbage time, but it was actually an even bigger split after I put a win probability filter in the mix.)

Blankenship will need to take better angles as a tackler and hold up in coverage in Philadelphia's split-safety looks. He'll be joined by Terrell Edmunds, who will move from primarily serving as a box safety in Pittsburgh a year ago to playing more deep coverage in Philadelphia. Rookie third-round pick Sydney Brown could figure in the mix, while there's a deep sleeper in Justin Evans, who impressed early in his career with the Buccaneers before missing the 2019, 2020 and 2021 seasons because of injury. Evans finally made it back last season and played 392 snaps for the Saints before signing a one-year deal with the Eagles.

So much of what works and doesn't work for the Eagles is dictated by what happens up front. Last season, with the offensive line healthy and the defensive line posting one of the best sack rates in NFL history, everything was working. If the line continues to get pressure at the league's highest rate, the guys behind it will be fine. If the front four drops back toward league average, though, new defensive coordinator Sean Desai will be feeling the loss of those veterans up the middle.

9. Los Angeles Chargers

Chances to make the playoffs: 50.1%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 6.2%

Biggest flaw: Run defense

In 2021, the Chargers were kept out of the postseason by an inability to stop the run. (No, it wasn't because of a timeout.) They responded by trading for Khalil Mack and signing veteran tackles Sebastian Joseph-Day and Austin Johnson, giving them three good run defenders on the line of scrimmage. The goal was to improve a run defense that ranked 30th in rush defense DVOA in 2021.

Well, the good news is the Chargers did improve their run defense in 2022 and made the postseason in the process. The bad news is they finished 29th in rush defense DVOA and couldn't stop the run in the playoffs. The Jags ran the ball 21 times for 117 yards in their dramatic comeback victory over L.A., including a fourth-and-1 conversion for 25 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

I'm being a little glib and unfair. The Chargers did improve their performance up front, as they improved from 25th in the league to first in "power" rushing situations, per the FTN Football Almanac. They were without Joey Bosa for most of the season, and Johnson hit injured reserve in November. The problem was they allowed too many big plays on the ground; the 18 runs of 20-plus yards they gave up was the fourth most in football, trailing only the Lions, Bears and Texans. Two of those teams weren't actively trying to win for most of last season.

Guess what? The Chargers have added more players to stop the run in 2023. Los Angeles has replaced Drue Tranquill with Vikings veteran Eric Kendricks. The 2019 first-team All-Pro was one of the league's most talented linebackers in his prime, but he struggled in coverage last season and saw his plays made percentage decline from ninth in the league to 25th. With 2020 first-rounder Kenneth Murray continuing to disappoint, they need Kendricks to be the most reliable player on their defense.

Coach Brandon Staley's commitment to the Vic Fangio style of defense with lighter boxes and gap-and-a-half defenders up front might preclude his teams from ever being great against the run. That's fine. In a division with Patrick Mahomes as the direct competition, L.A. doesn't need to be the 2000 Ravens against the run. The Chargers do need to avoid allowing big plays on the ground and be able to stop the run in key situations. If they can pull that off and rank closer to the middle of the pack in rush defense DVOA, it would solve their biggest problem.

10. Buffalo Bills

Chances to make the playoffs: 69.8%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 16.5%

Biggest flaw: Offensive line

Buffalo once had arguably the deepest offensive line in football, but that's no longer the case. There were going to be inevitable cutbacks once Josh Allen, Tre'Davious White and other young stars got into their second deals, and when the Bills tried to go all-in last offseason, they prioritized a massive contract for Von Miller over adding two or three players around the roster at the same cost. You can understand why, given how Miller played in Super Bowl LVI, but when Miller tore his ACL last December, the team might have regretted steering away from its usual approach toward free agency.

General manager Brandon Beane tried to prepare for this day. He picked the two veterans he wanted to keep around on significant salaries in left tackle Dion Dawkins and center Mitch Morse. The cost-controlled players Beane wanted to put around them haven't necessarily panned out, though. Cody Ford, a second-rounder in 2019, struggled at multiple positions before being traded to Arizona. Spencer Brown, a third-rounder in 2021, took a step backward after a promising rookie season. Beane matched a deal for guard Ryan Bates in restricted free agency and got something closer to what was expected, but Dawkins had a subpar season by his standards, ranking in the top 10 in the NFL in penalties and blown block rate (the latter mark among tackles, per the FTN Football Almanac).

Changes have been made. Veteran Rodger Saffold was released and replaced by former Cowboys guard Connor McGovern, who signed a three-year deal for just over $21 million. Bates will be pushed at right guard by second-round pick O'Cyrus Torrence, who could force Bates back into a utility role if he wins the competition in camp. In getting McGovern and drafting Torrence, the Bills seemed to place an emphasis on getting bigger and stronger in the hopes of running the ball more effectively. If they can keep Allen healthy after an elbow injury slowed the star quarterback last season, the new line will have done enough.

11. San Francisco 49ers

Chances to make the playoffs: 79.4%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 20.9%

Biggest flaw: Health of offensive stars

By the end of last season, it felt as if the 49ers could plug just about anybody who wasn't Josh Johnson in at quarterback and thrive. Even with Trey Lance sidelined for most of the season because of a fractured right ankle, Kyle Shanahan's offense was among the league's best, especially after San Francisco traded for Christian McCaffrey in October. Jimmy Garoppolo was playing well before he went down with a broken left foot in December, but the 49ers got even better with seventh-round rookie Brock Purdy.

An injury to Purdy's right elbow in the NFC Championship Game brought all that to an end, but outside of Garoppolo and right tackle Mike McGlinchey, the key members of the gang are all back in 2023. With Purdy looking on track to return from his injury and start for the 49ers in Week 1, will their offense be unstoppable once again?

Spears: Nick Bosa's holdout is the biggest concern for the 49ers

Marcus Spears explains why Nick Bosa's holdout from 49ers camp is a bigger hindrance than the teams' QB situation.

If the 49ers can stay as healthy around their quarterback as they were on offense during the second half last season, I think so. Asking them to pull that off, though, might be tough. Let's consider the track record of the key players around Purdy:

  • McCaffrey missed 23 games between 2020 and 2021 with various injuries.

  • Deebo Samuel has been sidelined for 15 of his 66 possible pro games with hamstring, ankle and knee ailments.

  • George Kittle has been out for 15 games over the past four seasons, including half of the 2020 campaign.

  • Trent Williams hasn't played a full season since 2013, missing an average of 2½ games per season over that span. (I'm leaving out the 2019 season, when Williams held out to force a trade away from Washington.) While the other players are in their 20s, Williams is 35.

During that brilliant second-half spell from 2022, these players were all present and accounted for outside of Samuel, who missed 3½ games in December. They're all game-changers when healthy -- and San Francisco has another talented playmaker in Brandon Aiyuk -- but it would be a surprise if they were all on the field for all 17 regular-season games. If they're each around for 15 games or so and the absences don't really overlap, the 49ers will be fine. If McCaffrey misses most of the season or Williams goes down for an extended period of time, well, the team might not seem as plug-and-play as it looked in 2022.

12. Dallas Cowboys

Chances to make the playoffs: 65.1%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 13%

Biggest flaw: Kicking

For a team with a loaded roster on offense and defense, the Cowboys have one glaring concern on special teams. It probably isn't a surprise they let Brett Maher leave this offseason after the veteran missed five of six extra points during the postseason, but it's a little worrying that they didn't land on a reliable replacement.

Journeyman kicker Tristan Vizcaino had first crack at the job, but after struggling in camp, he was cut last week. The only kicker on the roster is former Toronto FC draft pick Brandon Aubrey, who was 32-for-37 on field goals and 57-for-59 on extra points during two seasons in the USFL. Aubrey has never attempted a kick in the NFL.

The Cowboys could still add a veteran, especially as players are cut from camp competitions over the next few weeks. Maher didn't sign with Dallas until mid-August last year and had been enjoying a solid season before he seemed to lose the ability to kick extra points in January. There's nothing wrong with going with an unknown option at kicker, but in a season in which the Cowboys see themselves as Super Bowl contenders, I'm surprised team owner Jerry Jones hasn't been more aggressive in pursuing a known quantity.

13. Jacksonville Jaguars

Chances to make the playoffs: 67.2%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 6.7%

Biggest flaw: Coverage over the middle

This Jags weakness was always going to be on the defensive side of the ball. You could make a case for pass rush, given that they ranked 28th in the NFL in sack rate last season, but I'm not as concerned there. They ranked eighth in pressure rate, suggesting they were getting home but not finishing the job. They ranked 31st in turning those pressures into sacks, and while that can happen if a team doesn't have great talent, Jacksonville has two first-round picks on the edge in Josh Allen and Travon Walker, the No. 1 pick in last year's draft. I would expect the Jags will be a little more fortunate in terms of sack success and get more out of Walker in 2023, alleviating concerns about the sack rate.

Covering the middle of the field isn't as noticeable of a problem, but it was a real issue last season. Mike Caldwell's defense ranked 26th in QBR allowed on throws between the hashes. Only the Titans allowed more completions there than the Jags. Jacksonville also allowed a league-worst 91.6 QBR on throws to tight ends, with opponents averaging a staggering 9.6 yards per attempt on throws to that position. The latter mark is the fifth-worst figure of the past decade and the worst mark we've seen from any team since 2018. Remember: The Jags' season ended when Travis Kelce caught 14 passes for 98 yards and two touchdowns on 17 targets against them in the AFC divisional round.

For most teams, I would look toward the linebackers and wonder whether the team needs to make a change. For the Jaguars, well, they've already invested heavily here. Foyesade Oluokun, a prodigious tackler in the run game, is one of the highest-paid off-ball linebackers in football. They also used a first-round pick last year on Devin Lloyd, who was excellent early in the season before falling out of favor and eventually losing his job in the starting lineup to Chad Muma. Lloyd allowed a passer rating north of 100 in coverage.

Lloyd will be back in the lineup in 2023, and he has to play better. Of course, if the pass rush gets going, covering players gets a lot easier across the board.

14. Kansas City Chiefs

Chances to make the playoffs: 77.3%
Chances to play in the Super Bowl: 21.6%

Biggest flaw: Dependence on Travis Kelce

If a team is going to be dependent on someone, it's probably a good idea to pick a future Hall of Famer who hasn't missed a game to injury since 2013. Kelce remains the picture of health at a position in which nobody has ever been this productive into his mid-30s. As I wrote last season, Kelce is probably one season from being the greatest tight end in NFL history and just became the first tight end 33 or older to put up 1,000 receiving yards since 1965. Nothing about Kelce or his performance suggests he is about to fall off a cliff.

History tells us that even the best players in football history eventually fall subject to Father Time. Tom Brady took a step backward last season. Jerry Rice couldn't make the Broncos out of training camp in 2005. Those guys were in their 40s, but Julio Jones had a 1,394-yard season in 2019 and has barely topped that mark over the three ensuing seasons combined. Greg Olsen didn't miss a game for nine seasons, had a 1,073-yard season at age 31 and then averaged 330 receiving yards across four injury-hit seasons to end his career. We're not good at spotting the end before it happens.

Why the Chiefs aren't a lock for the Super Bowl

Dan Graziano discusses why re-signing Chris Jones is crucial to the Chiefs' chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions.

So, what happens if Kelce gets hurt or takes a major step backward? Suddenly, the league's most pass-happy offense looks as if it would be stuck relying on ... Marquez Valdes-Scantling as its No. 1 receiver? (Valdes-Scantling did have a big performance when he was the only healthy regular left in the 2022 AFC Championship Game, but that team still had a healthy Kelce.) Skyy Moore has gotten a lot of hype during camp, but could the Chiefs really count on the second-year pro as their top playmaker if they want to make a run to the Super Bowl?

Fortunately for Andy Reid and the Chiefs, they probably won't have to face this quandary in 2023. They haven't drafted a replacement for Kelce -- if that's even possible -- but you've seen them continue to target receivers in the draft. After using a second-round pick on Moore last year, they drafted another wideout in the second round this year when they took Rashee Rice. General manager Brett Veach traded significant draft capital to acquire Kadarius Toney from the Giants, while Justyn Ross has turned heads when healthy in camp. Kansas City's next No. 1 receiver is probably in that group, but Reid likely won't want any of those guys to be thrust into that role for a couple more seasons.