The NFL has always been considered a “win now” league, but most executives and coaches operate with a three-year plan in mind. The goal is to remain in title contention for at least three seasons while most of the team’s blue-chip players are entering their prime years.
Although Joe Burrow contends the Cincinnati Bengals’ championship window is his entire career, the majority of quarterbacks need a loaded squad to accomplish the feat. Whether it is Patrick Mahomes playing alongside a Hall of Fame-caliber tight end (Travis Kelce) and a Defensive Player of the Year candidate (Chris Jones) or Jalen Hurts leading an all-star squad to the title game, the game’s top quarterbacks need a stellar supporting cast around them to get it done.
Looking ahead to the 2023 season, there are a handful of teams who need to make a deep playoff run or ownership could be forced to make hard decisions about the quarterback, play caller or playmakers on the roster. The pressure to produce a banner this season will put several high-profile quarterbacks and players under the microscope as evaluators attempt to determine who is responsible for the team’s repeated failures.
With a “Super Bowl or bust” mandate on the table, here are the five teams facing the most pressure heading into the season:
It is now or never time for the Cowboys after owner Jerry Jones pushed the chips into the center of the table with a series of personnel moves that have the team fielding its best roster since the mid-1990s. As one of the few teams without a glaring weakness on each side of the ball, the Cowboys expect to make a deep post-season run under the leadership of Mike McCarthy and Dak Prescott. The Super Bowl-winning head coach should unlock No. 4’s talents as an elite playmaker while also helping the veteran quarterback take his game up a notch as he attempts to ink another blockbuster extension that could net him at least $55 million annually — considering the money that is on the line for Prescott and McCarthy’s shaky status as the team’s ultimate leader, the Cowboys’ franchise leaders are sitting squarely on the hot seat heading into the 2023 season.
Los Angeles Chargers
After securing Justin Herbert to a long-term deal that put him at the top of the quarterback salary hierarchy, the Chargers need to advance deep into the postseason to justify some high-end pieces around him. With Keenan Allen, Mike Williams, Khalil Mack, Joey Bosa, Derwin James, and JC Jackson commanding vast pieces of the salary cap pie, the Chargers are heading into a “make-or-break” year with an AFC Championship Game appearance viewed as the bar for a team loaded with all-star talent. Given their epic meltdown in the AFC Wild Card Game in 2023 and the Kansas City Chiefs’ continued dominance in the AFC West, Brandon Staley and Co. must find a way to advance through the postseason, or ownership could swap the pieces around the quarterback, hoping for a different result.
Sean McDermott’s version of the “Bickering Bills” is nearing the end of their championship window without any hardware to show for their efforts. Although Josh Allen’s presence will keep the team in title contention for the next decade, the Bills could need significant roster upgrades to keep pace with their division rivals, who are trotting out all-star squads on each side of the ball. While the Bills’ talent has undoubtedly put them in a position to win the AFC with Allen leading the way, it is time for the team to get it done, or McDermott and general manager Brandon Beane could be forced to break up the squad with another playoff failure highlighting the team’s shortcomings.
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San Francisco 49ers
With Trey Lance’s failures putting the spotlight on the team-building decisions made by Kyle Shanahan and John Lynch, the 49ers need to win and win big with Brock Purdy at the helm. “Mr. Irrelevant” guided the 49ers to the NFC Championship Game as he operated with surgical precision from the pocket, but the jury is out on whether he can sustain a Cinderella-like run with the rest of the league poised to adjust his game. As the 49ers enter the prime of their championship run with Nick Bosa, George Kittle, Deebo Samuel, Christian McCaffrey, Trent Williams, and Fred Warner playing the best ball of their respective careers, the pressure is on Shanahan and Lynch to walk away with some hardware at the end of the season to squash the criticism around the Lance debacle.
The Ravens’ controversial decision to move away from the offensive scheme that helped Lamar Jackson become a unanimous MVP while also compiling a 45-16 record as a starter has put the team squarely in the spotlight this season. Despite the outcry for the team to spread it out due to their playoff failures, Jackson’s success as a dual-threat quarterback in an option-based attack will prompt observers to compare and contrast the playmaker’s success in a traditional offense. Moreover, the splashy additions of Odell Beckham, Jr. and Zay Flowers to a receiving corps that already features Mark Andrews, Isaiah Likely, and Rashod Bateman will make it imperative for Jackson to thrive in the postseason as a playmaker from the pocket.
With the Ravens’ defense breaking in several young defenders, the onus is on Jackson to guide the team on a title chase as the focal point of a new-and-improved pass-centric offense that lights up scoreboards around the league. If the Ravens’ aerial attack falters with the former MVP at the control, the football world will wonder why the team pulled the plug on a successful experiment that transformed Jackson into the ultimate offensive weapon.
Bucky Brooks is an NFL analyst for FOX Sports. He also breaks down the game for NFL Network and as a cohost of the “Moving the Sticks” podcast. Follow him on Twitter @BuckyBrooks.
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