Win total projections are not perfect. You might remember the Seahawks’ line was set at 5.5 a season ago and they hit the over before their bye week. On the flip side, the total for the defending Super Bowl champion Rams was set at 10.5. They won five games.
So I’ll repeat, win totals are not perfect, but they are informative. They’re a huge help when it comes to grouping teams into tiers. There are the Super Bowl contenders — Chiefs, Eagles, Bills, Bengals, 49ers — each of whom is projected to win 10 or more games in 2023. Then there’s the large middle class in the 7.5-9.5 win range, home to teams like the Dolphins, Chargers, Vikings, Giants, Saints and so on. And then there’s the bottom of the barrel.
Six teams have win totals set at 6.5 or below: Commanders, Buccaneers, Rams, Colts, Texans and Cardinals. In the two 17-game seasons we’ve experienced this far, seven teams won six games or fewer each year. That means another team (I’m looking at you, Vegas) could potentially join this group.
Of course, it’s possible that one of the six teams projected to finish at the bottom can top its win total.
For the purpose of this exercise, we’re looking at those six squads and trying to gauge whether they’ll have Caleb Williams or Drake Maye jerseys in the team store this time next year or if they fit more into the Seattle archetype — or if they’ll fall somewhere in between – bad, but perhaps not bad enough for a shot at the No. 1 pick.
Arizona Cardinals: 4.5 Wins — Over (-125) | Under (+100)
The Cardinals won four games in 2022 with quarterback Kyler Murray healthy for 10 and receiver DeAndre Hopkins active for nine. Murray (ACL) is expected to miss the start of the season and Hopkins was recently released. Oh, and safety Budda Baker requested a trade, defensive end J.J. Watt retired and first-year head coach Jonathan Gannon is taking over.
Arizona is set to be a shell of last year’s team, which was already one of the worst in the NFL.
Here’s the silver lining: The Cardinals are in great position to hit the reset button next spring if they are as bad as expected. And they have another lottery ticket in their pocket — the Texans’ 2024 first-round pick. Arizona and Houston are tied for the worst Super Bowl odds, which means the Cardinals could own the first and second picks in next year’s draft, something that’s only happened once in NFL history.
There’s little motivation for Arizona to outperform expectations and with Colt McCoy (11–25 as a starter) under center for a sizable chunk of the season that might not even be an option. The Cardinals are up against the 11th-hardest schedule, per SharpFootballAnalysis, and they don’t have much of a home-field advantage to fall back on after they went 1–8 at State Farm Stadium last season. Conor Orr explored the many outcomes at play for this club and what they might mean for Murray — most of the scenarios involve Arizona ending up at or near the top of the draft.
Houston Texans: 5.5 Wins — Over (-152) | Under (+120)
The Texans improved in the offseason. Drafting quarterback C.J. Stroud and edge rusher Will Anderson Jr. made them a better team. So did hiring coach DeMeco Ryans and signing a long list of veteran free agents, including safety Jimmie Ward, tight end Dalton Schultz and running back Devin Singletary. Still, how much better is this team than the one that just went 3–13–1?
Houston is dead last in SI’s post-draft power rankings. The future could be bright with talented first-year players at premium positions joining the team on both sides of the ball, but Stroud and Anderson would have to be truly transformative to move the needle much as rookies. The Texans do have the seventh-easiest schedule in the league, a benefit of playing in the AFC South, and even then the road map to more than five wins is murky.
No team has fewer victories over the last three years than Houston, which has not won more than four games in a season since before the pandemic. That said, the Texans have no incentive to lose with the Cardinals holding the rights to their first-round pick. Wins will come, but they’ll be few and far between.
Indianapolis Colts: 6.5 Wins — Over (-137) | Under (+105)
The Colts have a wide range of outcomes this season and that was largely by design. They drafted quarterback Anthony Richardson fourth overall, a massive swing at an all-time athlete who could be the future of the franchise or fall flat. Crucially, the Richardson pick was made after the hire of coach Shane Steichen, who oversaw the development of Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia.
Both moves should give the franchise some degree of long-term stability after years of cycling through stopgap quarterbacks, but our scope here is strictly the 2023 season and Indianapolis will likely be a much better team this fall. The Colts are up against the third-easiest schedule in the NFL, which should allow for their defense to return to form after it regressed last year. Even average quarterback play will be a step up from the combination of Matt Ryan, Sam Ehlinger and Nick Foles and running back Jonathan Taylor, the 2021 Offensive Player of the Year, will be back healthy for Week 1.
Our post-draft power rankings are particularly bullish on Indy, which comes in at No. 11, one spot behind the division-favorite Jaguars. Even if that positioning is a bit optimistic, the bones of this roster are demonstrably better than a 4–12–1 record would have you believe. The Colts look ripe for improvement and a few additional wins seems well within reach.
Los Angeles Rams: 6.5 Wins — Over (-110) | Under (-110)
Expectations for the Rams are much lower following their disastrous season. Salary cap constraints forced the team to release linebacker Bobby Wagner and trade cornerback Jalen Ramsey and the front office famous for the “f— them picks” approach made a whopping 14 selections in the draft. But with Sean McVay agreeing to return to coach the trio of Aaron Donald, Matthew Stafford and Cooper Kupp, there’s room for cautious optimism in L.A.
The quarterback-receiver pairing of Stafford and Kupp, with McVay dialing up the offense, is a recipe for, at worst, baseline competence. And running back Cam Akers finished last season on a tear with three straight 100-yard games. Similarly, Donald is a foundational player on the defensive line capable of elevating those around him.
The Rams are middle of the pack in strength of schedule but find themselves ranked 25th in our latest power rankings. Of note, Los Angeles currently owns its own 2024 first-round pick. The last time the franchise drafted in the first round was in 2016 when it used the No. 1 pick to select Jared Goff, who was eventually traded away.
Just like last year, the success of this team hinges largely on the availability of Donald, Stafford and Kupp. If they’re all active for the majority of the season, the Rams should outperform expectations. But if any of them miss more time, then that ‘24 pick could end up being rather early — perhaps early enough to select Stafford’s successor.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6.5 Wins — Over (+110) | Under (-141)
The Buccaneers have the most juice on the under of any of these teams and for good reason: Tom Brady is retired. For good this time, says the new minority owner of the Raiders. His replacement is Baker Mayfield, who is on his third team in the last calendar year, and the other option under center is Kyle Trask, who’s thrown nine career passes.
Brady brought Tampa Bay a Super Bowl win and a 13-win season in his first two years in Florida. Then the wheels fell off and an 8–9 team limped into the playoffs and was quickly dispatched by a superior Cowboys team. Soon after, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich was fired and Brady told the world he was indeed calling it a career. There’s still plenty of talent on the offense (center Ryan Jensen, tackle Tristan Wirfs and receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin) and defense (linebacker Devin White, defensive tackle Vita Vea and safety Antoine Winfield Jr.) but the question at quarterback looms large over the team.
The core of a good roster was there when Brady arrived — it was the upgrade from Jameis Winston to the GOAT that was the difference between seven wins and a Super Bowl. Prior to 2020, the Buccaneers had not made the playoffs since 2007. A new drought might begin in 2023. Tampa Bay has the longest odds to win the NFC South, by no means a stout division, and faces a slightly harder than average schedule.
Washington Commander: 6.5 Wins — Over (-125) | Under (+100)
The Commanders are bringing up the rear of what quickly became the toughest division in the NFL. The other three NFC East teams all made the playoffs last year while Washington fought its way to .500, its best winning percentage under coach Ron Rivera. Plenty changed this offseason in D.C.: New ownership is set to take over, offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy joined the staff and the franchise affirmed its commitment to quarterback Sam Howell.
Relying on a second-year signal-caller with one career start (who was taken in the fifth round, mind you) doesn’t sound particularly promising on its own. But if Bieniemy can help Howell along and the defense repeats as a top-10 unit, there’s a path to some level of success. That might not translate to unseating the Eagles, but it could mean eight wins once again, which was nearly enough for a wild card spot in the NFC last year,
As Albert Breer wrote in a recent mailbag reply: “Rivera, GM Martin Mayhew and executive vice president of football for player personnel Marty Hurney can’t afford to throw this season overboard.” There’s undoubtedly pressure from ownership to win, especially given the lack of success Washington has seen this century. Even against a gauntlet schedule, the juice is on the over for the Commanders, who have won seven or more games each of the last three years.
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