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September 04, 2023

NFC Hierarchy/Obituary: Week 1 edition

The Eagles go into 2023 at the top with the Cowboys and 49ers poised to challenge them. The Cardinals meanwhile might end up 0-17.

Eagles NFL
090323JalenHurts Tommy Gilligan/USA TODAY Sports

Jason Kelce and Jalen Hurts

For those of you who are new here, we do a "Hierarchy/Obituary" post every week during the season, in which we kill off teams that have reached the point where they have almost no chance to make the playoffs. We then write their obituary and never speak of them in the Hierarchy again. 

Anyway, it's my hackneyed sell-out spin on the more traditional "power rankings." Got it? Cool.


16) Cardinals (4-13 in 2022): You've all watched the following Jonathan Gannon video by now, right?

Can anyone explain the bit about driving to the facility vs. taking the bus?

Honestly it's worth watching the first five minutes of the full video. I'll wait. Go do that.

Done? Cool. 

This was my favorite part:

Love that PowerPoint slide. 

  1. Team
  2. You

Lol. The Cardinals have a legitimate shot at going 0-17.


15) Panthers (7-10 in 2022): My guy Sheil made me do a double take when he listed the Panthers as the fifth best defense in the NFL

Another big swing! I’m so ready to get myself on @OldTakesExposed in like Week 7 if this defense stinks.

But here’s the case for Carolina. The Panthers have young, ascending talent at premium positions, and they complemented that talent with solid veterans. Up front, the Panthers have edge rusher Brian Burns and defensive tackle Derrick Brown, a pair of first-round picks, and I liked the decision to add veteran pass rusher Justin Houston in August. Linebacker Frankie Luvu was a fun player last season. Jaycee Horn, the team’s first-round pick in 2021, has the tools to be a no. 1 corner if he stays healthy. Jeremy Chinn, Vonn Bell, and Xavier Woods give the Panthers versatility at safety.

I appreciate the bold take! And certainly, I do agree that Burns and Brown are a really good 1-2 combo along their line that the team can build around. 

Unfortunately that defense is probably going to get wrecked this season because they're not going to get much help from the offense. I loved Bryce Young as a prospect, but he's playing behind a bad offensive line and he'll be working with a who's who of skill position mediocrity in Miles Sanders, D.J. Chark, Adam Thielen, and Hayden Hurst. The only skill player on this team who should invoke any sort of curiosity is second-round rookie Jonathan Mingo.

Young will take his lumps this year, and I assume the Panthers will spend copious resources on improving their offense next offseason.


14) Rams (5-12 in 2022): Here's the Rams' roster:


See the guys highlighted in green? They're rookies. Count them up and you get 14, none of whom were first-round picks. Count up the guys who were either Day 3 picks or UDFAs and you get 11.

As you can see, the majority of them are backups, but a lot of those guys are still going to have to play. 

If the Rams get out to a bad start — four of their first five games are against the Seahawks, 49ers, Bengals, and Eagles — it's not hard to envision them dealing Aaron Donald or other veterans at the trade deadline.


13) Buccaneers (8-9 in 2022): At the time Baker Mayfield signed with the Bucs in March, it was his fourth team in 253 days.

Sometimes it just best to keep it simple — If the Buccaneers were bad in 2022 with Tom Brady, they're going to be bad again in 2023 with Mayfield.

The Bucs are a sneaky sleeper for the No. 1 overall pick, if Jonathan Gannon somehow messes up the Cardinals' obvious tank job.


12) Falcons (7-10 in 2022): The Falcons are this season's breakout darling for a lot of folks. I don't see it.

They selected Bijan Robinson with the 8th overall pick, and while that is an asinine use of resources, I don't think there's much doubt that Robinson will be a really good player during the short window he'll have to be an impact player in the NFL. He showed some glimpses of what is to come during the preseason:

Unfortunately, the Falcons don't have a quarterback or a pass rush, and therefore have no chance at Super Bowl contention. As such, they would be wise to keep Robinson on something of a "pitch count" early in his career so that he can still be a good player for a few years in the event the Falcons eventually land a quarterback and build up their defense.

Here are the last five running backs who were drafted in the top 10, and how many touches they had in their rookie seasons:

2018: Saquon Barkley, 352 touches
2017: Leonard Fournette, 304 touches
2017: Christian McCaffrey, 197 touches
2016: Ezekiel Elliott, 354 touches
2015: Todd Gurley, 250 touches (missed 3 games)

I was surprised to see that McCaffrey had fewer than 200 touches his rookie season, but the Panthers still had Jonathan Stewart and Cam Newton gobbling up a lot of carries, so I guess that made some sense. They made up for it in 2018 (326 touches) and 2019 (403 touches, lol). But whatever. Getting back on track...

#Spoiler: Arthur Smith is going to want to continue to establish a smashmouth identity, and he's going to put a lot of wear and tear on Robinson (300-plus touches, as long as he stays healthy) when the Falcons' best case scenario is a first-round home loss in the playoffs. 


11) Bears (3-14 in 2022): For the first time in Justin Fields' career, he'll be playing behind a competent offensive line and throwing to quality receivers. 

Fields is one of the most polarizing players in the NFL. I skew positively on him, for the record. On the one hand, he has a better supporting cast, which, hey, great! On the other hand, if he doesn't improve substantially this season, his supporters 🙋‍♂️ will stop making excuses for him.


10) Commanders (8-8-1 in 2022): Congratulations to the Commanders and their fans for ending the Ravens' preseason win streak.

That was their best moment since, what, 2012?


9) Vikings (13-4 in 2022): I give the Vikings credit. They understood that their bullshit 13-4 season was a lucky anomaly, and they were guided accordingly this offseason, trading edge rusher Za'Darius Smith and releasing Dalvin Cook, a pair of fiscally responsible moves that would not typically be made by a more delusional front office.

Those moves will make them worse in the short term, though, and they are the consensus best bet to experience major regression in the win column from 2022 to 2023.


8) Giants (9-7-1 in 2022): If you were the Giants, how many quarterbacks would you trade Daniel Jones for? Well, this was a question posed to the fine folks over at, where four writers opined on the topic.

One writer had seven quarterbacks on his list, and two had six, lol. One guy didn't really answer the question. My favorite opinion in the post? 

"Jalen Hurts... is Jones with a great OL and great receivers."

It's been a while, but Giants fans are back.


7) Packers (8-9 in 2022): Jordan Love might be good. He played a fair amount in the preseason, completing 21 of 33 passes for 225 yards, 3 TDs, and 0 INTs, while also making some plays with his legs. I really liked what I saw out of him when he filled in for Aaron Rodgers against the Eagles last season. And I love this throw:

He has talent. And if Love can play well, he has a good offensive line in front of him, and an emerging playmaker in Christian Watson.


6) Saints (7-10 in 2022): The Saints are the oldest team in the NFL, at an average age of 27.4 years old. The next-closest team is the Jets, at 27.0, and the next team after that is the Texans, at 26.7. That's a pretty big gap from the oldest team to the third-oldest team. Here are the oldest teams in the league by year since 2012 (at 53-man cutdowns):

• 2023: Saints (27.4)
• 2022: Buccaneers (27.1)
• 2021: Bears (27.0)
• 2020: Falcons (26.9)
• 2019: Patriots (27.0)
• 2018: Raiders (27.4)
• 2017: Cardinals (27.3)
• 2016: Falcons (27.1)
• 2015: Colts (27.2)
• 2014: Raiders (27.0)
• 2013: Lions (27.2)
• 2012: Chargers (27.2)

As you can see, they are tied for the oldest team in the NFL since 2012 with the 2018 Raiders. 

They also have the highest number of player contracts with void years in the NFL, with 22.

What does that mean? The simplified answer is that there are 22 players on the roster who have money that will count toward the Saints' salary cap after their current contracts expire.

Teams like the Rams and Buccaneers are rightfully starting over, knowing that their runs are over. The Saints are heading into Year 3 without Drew Brees and still haven't figured out that they aren't anything close to Super Bowl contenders anymore.


5) Seahawks (9-8 in 2022): The Seahawks have a lot of second-year and rookie projected starters, and at some important positions:

• RB Kenneth Walker, second season
• WR Jaxon Smith-Njigba, rookie
• LT Charles Cross, second season
• RT Abraham Lucas, second season
• Edge Boye Mafe, second season
• CB Riq Woolen, second season
• CB Devon Witherspoon, rookie

The Seahawks had owned the Niners in recent years, but they got swept by San Francisco in three games in 2022, (two regular season games, and in the playoffs). How well those young guys above play in 2023 will determine if they can unseat the Niners in the NFC West. I think the Seahawks are a lot closer to the Niners than the consensus view, but I'm not quite ready to make any bold claims of Seattle taking the NFC West just yet.


4) Lions (9-8 in 2022): The Lions have become a high-profile team, so much so that the NFL scheduled them to face the Chiefs in the opening game of the season Week 1. But what makes them intriguing as a team poised to become a contender in 2023 isn't the wacky head coach or the skill position guys or anything you may remember about Hard Knocks last year. It's their offensive line:

Taylor Decker Jonah Jackson Frank Ragnow Graham Glasgow Penei Sewell 

There aren't many teams that have a better LT-C-RT trio. Maybe just the Eagles?


3) 49ers (13-4 in 2022): Here's some more ammo for the folks who like to point out that Kyle Shanahan is responsible for the many injuries his quarterbacks have suffered over the years: 

That aside, I've gone back and forth on who I believe the second-best team in the NFC is all offseason. In my mind the one really scary thing that could go right for the Niners was Trey Lance figuring some things out and becoming a dangerous dual-threat quarterback in an offense loaded with great skill position players. That possibility is now gone.

With Brock Purdy or Sam Darnold or Brandon Allen or whoever is up after those three guys get hurt there's always going to be a ceiling.

Oh and by the way, Nick Bosa is still a holdout: 

Even if Bosa were to sign, saaaayyyy, today, he's probably not in "football shape."


2) Cowboys (12-5 in 2022): Back in June when I was trying to pick at the Cowboys' scabs for our dumpster fire series, I found it easier than anticipated to list 10 legitimate concerns with this team, mostly on the offensive side of the ball and within their coaching staff.

However, what I really couldn't knock on this team was their defense, which is loaded up with star players and doesn't have much in the way of glaring holes. It may very well be the best defense in the NFL.


1) Eagles (14-3 in 2022): The Eagles have the best quarterback in the NFC by a wide margin, the best wide receiver duo, the best offensive line, and arguably the best pass rush.

They'll play a harder schedule this season and they'll have a target on their backs, but this is still pretty clearly the most talented roster in the NFC, and possibly the NFL.

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