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NFL 2023: Predicting the NFC Divisional Winners

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NFL 2023 Detroit Lions Fan

On the opening day of the 2023 NFL season, Jared Goff and the Detroit Lions stunned the reigning champion Kansas City Chiefs.

The Lions side has reached the playoffs just three times this millennium, yet somehow, they managed to upset Patrick Mahomes and his dynasty-like Chiefs. Miraculously, this win went down at the Chiefs’ precious Arrowhead Stadium, which further added to the impact of their monumental victory.

The Detroit Lions have since built upon this incredible start with a 6-2 record after eight game weeks. 

At the halfway point of the 2023 NFL season, let’s take a look at the current state of play in the NFC and predict who will come out on top of their respective divisions in two months.

NFC East – Philadelphia Eagles

The NFC East is one of the most stacked divisions in the entire NFL. Last season, three of the division’s four teams reached the playoffs, with the Philadelphia Eagles, Dallas Cowboys, and New York Giants all impressing. This year, the Giants have somehow fallen off a cliff and their performances have nosedived. 

The MetLife Stadium outfit currently has a paltry 2-6 record. To put that into perspective, only the Arizona Cardinals and the Carolina Panthers have a worse record in the entire league. The Eagles and the Cowboys, meanwhile, remain powerhouses. the former is currently top of the division with seven victories and just one defeat, while the latter is two wins further back having played a game less. 

While the Cowboys seem to be well on their way to becoming a powerhouse once more, they’re still some way behind the Eagles, in terms of their development.

In Jalen Hurts, the Lincoln Financial Field side has a quarterback who’s capable of winning games on his own. They do have a tough second half to the season as they’re expected to face off against the Cowboys twice, as well as battle it out with the Buffalo Bills and the Chiefs – the team that conquered them back in February at Super Bowl LVII.

Despite these testing games, we expect them to come through those tests and top the NFC East for the second consecutive season.

NFC West – San Francisco 49ers

No team began the 2023 season better than the San Francisco 49ers. They won their first five games on the spin and catapulted themselves to becoming favorites for the Lombardi this season. However, in recent weeks, the wheels have seemingly come off. 

They have lost their last three games in the spin and the most recent of those was a resounding 31-17 on home turf against the Cincinnati Bengals. Add to that fitness concerns over star running back Christian McCaffrey, and it’s clear to see why the odds on the Levi’s Stadium side going all the way this term are tumbling. 

While the 49ers have been falling, their divisional rival Seattle Seahawks have proven themselves to be worthy contenders again. They’ve quietly gone about their business, building up an impressive 6-2 record to top the NFC West. Ultimately, though, we feel that the 49ers will be able to win it back.

Former Mr. Irrelevant Brock Purdy is a sensational quarterback who still hasn’t reached peak form. Add to that McCaffrey’s inevitable return to peak fitness in a few weeks, and the 49ers should have enough about them to top the division.

NFC North – Detroit Lions 

As we mentioned earlier, the Detroit Lions stunned everyone in this year’s curtain-raiser as they defeated the reigning champions on the road. But maybe we shouldn’t have been surprised. In the final game of last season, they proved to everybody that they revel in the role of party-poopers as they defeated their rival Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field, ending the hosts’ hopes of reaching the playoffs. 

This term, they’ve built up an impressive 6-2 record and have become one of the teams to beat in the NFC. In their division, neither the Packers nor the Chicago Bears pose a threat. The only concern to their divisional ambitions is the Minnesota Vikings. However, an injury to their starting quarterback, Kirk Cousins, may have extinguished their hopes. 

As such, the division is the Lions’ to lose. With a favorable run in – including two games against the rock-bottom Bears – they may very well rival the Eagles for top-seed honors in the conference when it comes to the end of the year.

NFC South – Atlanta Falcons

If the NFC East is one of the toughest divisions in the NFL, then the NFC South is one of the weakest. None of the four teams in the division, namely the Atlanta Falcons, New Orleans Saints, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and Carolina Panthers, have a winning record.

A tough second half to the season could be on the cards for all. If we had to pick a winner, though, we would take the Falcons as they have a slightly more favorable run-in than the Saints.

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Olympic Champion Gable Steveson Embarks on NFL Journey with Bills

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Gable Steveson’s agent informed ESPN’s Adam Schefter that his client signed a contract with the Buffalo Bills on Friday.

Steveson, who won a gold medal in freestyle wrestling at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, initially pursued a career in professional wrestling with WWE. However, he was released from his WWE contract earlier this month. Now, Steveson, who has never played organized football, will attempt to make the Bills’ roster as a defensive lineman.

More About the Decision

According to Schefter, Steveson signed a “standard rookie three-year deal.” Steveson expressed his excitement about the new challenge, stating: “I have been fortunate to compete at the highest level in my sport but am looking forward to the challenge of seeing how my wrestling skills may translate to football. I am grateful to Coach [Sean] McDermott, [general manager] Brandon Beane, and the Buffalo Bills organization for giving me this opportunity.”

Despite his impressive athletic background, including two NCAA Division I national championships in wrestling as a heavyweight at the University of Minnesota, Steveson is essentially starting from scratch in football. Schefter noted that Steveson had never even put on a pair of cleats before his recent workout with the Bills.

At 24 years old, Steveson faces long odds to make Buffalo’s 53-man roster in 2024. However, if he shows enough potential in training camp and preseason, a practice squad spot could be a possibility.

McDermott, a successful high school wrestler himself, has a history of gravitating towards players with wrestling backgrounds. According to Schefter, McDermott believes Steveson’s wrestling skills could help him transition to the NFL as a defensive lineman.

While Steveson is somewhat undersized for an NFL defensive lineman at 6’1″ and 275 pounds, his undeniable strength could set him apart from the competition.

Steveson’s attempt to carve out an NFL career is reminiscent of Brock Lesnar’s path. After leaving WWE in 2004, Lesnar, also a national champion wrestler at the University of Minnesota, tried out for the Minnesota Vikings despite not playing football since high school. Although Lesnar was eventually cut, he transitioned to MMA and won the UFC heavyweight title before returning to WWE.

Gable Steveson

In high school, Steveson achieved remarkable success as a three-time age-level world champion, securing U17 world titles in 2015 and 2016, followed by a U20 world title in 2017. Continuing his wrestling career at the University of Minnesota, he placed third at the NCAA Tournament as a true freshman in 2019, and went on to win consecutive national titles in 2021 and 2022.

During his time with WWE, Steveson’s training was interrupted in 2022 due to a heart procedure to treat Wolff-Parkinson-White syndrome. Although he was cleared to return to training, he only had one televised match before his release.

Steveson now joins a long line of Olympic athletes attempting to transition to the NFL. Hall of Fame wide receiver “Bullet” Bob Hayes is the only Olympic gold medalist to have won a Super Bowl, accomplishing this feat with the Dallas Cowboys at the end of the 1971 season.

Draft Strength’s

The Buffalo Bills added 12 rookie free agents this offseason who will compete for spots on the roster or, at the very least, positions on the practice squad. We’ve already had a chance to see them in action during the rookie minicamp and the recent OTAs. Once OTAs conclude, we won’t see them or any players again until training camp kicks off in late July.

NFL history is filled with legendary undrafted players like quarterbacks Kurt Warner and Warren Moon, and one of the greatest defensive backs, Dick “Night Train” Lane. Including these greats, Keaton Bills looks to be the most exciting undrafted free agent on this year’s Bills team.

Keaton Bills, who played college football at Utah, was a mainstay on their offensive line for three years. Interestingly, his name and jersey number are perfect for the team—he wears number 60, the same year the Bills began playing football. At 6 feet 4 inches tall and weighing 321 pounds, Bills possesses significant experience and expertise. He earned Pac-12 All-Conference honorable mention for two consecutive years (2022 and 2023) and was a team captain, a trait that Brandon Beane seemed to prioritize in this year’s draft. Sobleski isn’t alone in his admiration; fellow Bleacher Report writer Ryan Fowler also sees Bills as the most likely UDFA to make the team. With his talent and depth on the offensive line, let’s hope he proves them right and secures a spot on the roster.

Team Synergy

Together, Gable Steveson and Keaton Bills represent the diverse talent and untapped potential that the Buffalo Bills are banking on this season. Steveson’s raw athletic power and wrestling prowess, coupled with his willingness to embrace a new sport, bring an element of surprise and excitement to the defensive line. His journey from Olympic gold medalist to NFL hopeful is a testament to his versatility and determination. If he can translate even a fraction of his wrestling dominance to football, he could become a formidable force on the field.

The synergy between Steveson and Bills could be a game-changer for the Bills. Steveson’s potential to disrupt opponents’ offenses and Bills’ ability to fortify his own team’s offensive line create a dynamic that could elevate the entire squad. Their respective backgrounds in wrestling and college football bring a unique blend of skills and perspectives to the team, potentially filling gaps and adding strengths where needed.

Read more: Who Are the Top 2024 NFL Draft Prospects?

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Detroit Drafts into the Spotlight: Unprecedented Turnout and Lions’ Standout Picks

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NFL Ball with Logo of all NFL Team

The opening day of the 2024 NFL Draft in Detroit witnessed an unprecedented turnout, with over 275,000 fervent fans flocking to support their teams, shattering the previous attendance record for Day One.

NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell revealed this staggering figure midway through the first round on Thursday, following the closure of the NFL Draft site due to reaching maximum capacity even before the commencement of the draft proceedings.

The previous Day One attendance milestone was set by the 2018 NFL Draft in Nashville, Tennessee, where over 200,000 attendees gathered on the inaugural night.

Draft in Detroit

Since the NFL designated Detroit as the host city for the 2024 draft, officials had touted the event as an opportunity to elevate the city’s national prominence and generate a substantial economic boost. However, skeptics, both among experts and within the downtown draft environment, question the true significance of enhancing Detroit’s national image and its potential long-term financial implications.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan expressed readiness to showcase a revitalized Motor City, emphasizing that the event’s true impact would be gauged not only in the immediate aftermath but also in its lasting effects on the city’s trajectory.

In addition to the overwhelming turnout of fans in downtown Detroit, millions more across the nation tuned in to witness the draft unfold against the backdrop of Detroit’s cityscape. Unlike previous events such as the 2006 Super Bowl, which relied on temporary installations, Detroit showcased its thriving downtown, with the towering presence of a nearly 700-foot structure emerging from the site of the historic Hudson’s store.

Dave Beachnau, the head of the Detroit Sports Commission, highlighted that the draft also provides essential funding for local nonprofit and community organizations, prompting reflection on what enduring legacies the event will leave behind once the NFL departs from the city.

Day One Pick Terrion Arnold

Following this record-breaking attendance, the Lions draft pick was Terrion Arnold coming from Alabama Crimson Tide. In the 2023 season, Terrion Arnold, demonstrated his versatility and impact across various facets of the game. Racking up a total of five interceptions, 17 passes defensed, a forced fumble, a sack, and 63 total tackles, including 6.5 for loss, Arnold emerged as a dominant force on the defensive side of the ball.

Arnold’s prowess also extended beyond his individual statistics, as evidenced by his exceptional performance in coverage. Over the course of 471 coverage snaps throughout the season, he held opposing quarterbacks to a passer rating of just 50.7, showcasing his ability to shut down passing lanes and limit big plays downfield. Furthermore, Arnold’s impact was not limited to his coverage skills alone, as he also proved to be a highly effective run defender. With a remarkable Pro Football Focus(PFF) run-defense grade of 90.6, Arnold consistently demonstrated his ability to disrupt opposing rushing attacks and make key stops in the backfield.

Arnold’s stellar performance throughout the 2023 season did not go unnoticed, earning him well-deserved recognition from both the media and analytics experts. Garnering first-team All-American honors from the Associated Press, Arnold solidified his status as one of the premier defensive players in the nation. Additionally, his impressive overall grade of 88.4 from PFF further underscored his impact and contributions to his team’s success. 

Second Day Pick Ennis Rakeshaw

The Lions’ newest addition, Rakestraw, boasts a versatile skill set suited for both zone and man coverage schemes, yet he strongly favors press man coverage, aligning well with the team’s preferences. With a background primarily on the outside, he’s demonstrated proficiency in slot coverage, indicating potential flexibility in his NFL role. Rakestraw’s arrival could provide the Lions with added depth and strategic options in their defensive lineup, potentially allowing their current nickel starter to take on more versatile matchups.

Rakestraw offers a candid assessment of his playing style, emphasizing his physicality, competitiveness, and love for tackling. While acknowledging the need to increase his ball production, he asserts confidence in his ability to judge the ball in flight and disrupt passes effectively. Known for his aggressive play, Rakestraw brings a fearless attitude to the field, delivering impactful hits and asserting his presence on every play.

In coverage, Rakestraw showcases patience and versatility, excelling particularly in press man situations. His adeptness at mirroring receivers, coupled with sharp change-of-direction skills, allows him to maintain tight coverage and minimize penalties. Despite occasional challenges with long speed, Rakestraw compensates with instincts, often positioning himself strategically to contest passes effectively.

While ball production remains an area for improvement, Rakestraw demonstrates promise in his ability to position himself for plays on the ball. With the guidance of NFL coaching, he has the potential to further enhance this aspect of his game. Notably, Rakestraw’s standout attribute lies in his run defense, where he exhibits exceptional instincts and tackling prowess. Quick to diagnose plays and unafraid to take on blockers, Rakestraw’s proficiency in run support sets him apart as one of the premier defenders in his class.

Read More: Arsenal beat Tottenham to stay alive in the EPL 2023/24 title chase

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Rodgers’ Reinstatement: Eagles’ Cornerback Depth Gets a Lift

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Philadelphia Eagles NFL Kit and Equipment

Just days before the kickoff of the 2024 NFL Draft, the Philadelphia Eagles received encouraging news. Isaiah Rodgers has been reinstated by the NFL after serving an indefinite suspension for violating the league’s sports gambling policy.

The 26-year-old cornerback was initially suspended last summer and subsequently released by the Indianapolis Colts. Despite his suspension, the Eagles demonstrated faith in the young defensive back by signing him in August of the previous season, with the understanding that he would be ineligible for at least a full season. The decision to retain Rodgers on the Reserve Suspended List underscored the team’s belief in his potential and willingness to provide him with a second chance.

The Eagles’ voluntary offseason program commenced on April 15, marking a timely opportunity for Rodgers to rejoin the fold. Now, Rodgers could potentially be a hidden gem for Philadelphia in the upcoming 2024 season. While a year away from NFL action might raise questions about his immediate impact, Rodgers has a clear path to a significant role on an Eagles team in need of both short-term and long-term help in the secondary.

The Suspensions

A total of 12 players have faced suspensions for gambling, starting with receiver Calvin Ridley’s season-long suspension in 2022. Ridley was reinstated in March and has since joined the Jacksonville Jaguars. Despite the NFL reinstating five players from gambling suspensions on April 18, Rodgers’ name was conspicuously absent from the list. 

In an interview with ESPN conducted in February, Rodgers admitted to placing bets from his account, albeit on behalf of others residing in Florida, where online sports betting remained illegal at the time. He acknowledged the error in judgment and expressed remorse for the consequences. Notably, Rodgers’ suspension coincided with a period of personal growth and reflection, as he contemplated the ramifications of his actions.

Before Suspension

Prior to his suspension, Rodgers had exhibited promising potential as a cornerback for the Colts, with his standout season occurring in 2022. Over the course of his tenure in Indianapolis, Rodgers showcased his versatility as a kick and punt returner, amassing impressive statistics and demonstrating his value as a multifaceted player. With the NFL’s revised kickoff rules enhancing the importance of return specialists, Rodgers’ reinstatement presents an opportunity for the Eagles to leverage his speed and agility in special teams play.

Despite his modest stature at 5’10 and 170 pounds, Rodgers’ previous experience primarily as an outside cornerback suggests he could transition seamlessly into the slot position for the Eagles.  The UMass product possesses exceptional speed, evident from his impressive kick return stats as a rookie in 2020. That year, he ranked third in the NFL with an average of 28.8 yards per kick return and scored a touchdown with a 101-yard run-back. His agility and speed, evidenced by his impressive 40-yard dash time of 4.28 seconds, make him a formidable asset in coverage and special teams play alike.

In his subsequent seasons, despite limited defensive snaps, Rodgers showcased his playmaking abilities with interceptions, pass breakups, and fumble recoveries. His versatility and skill set have garnered praise from teammates and opponents alike, with many recognizing his potential impact on the field.

The Comeback

Rodgers will likely compete for an outside cornerback role, but he may also see reps both inside and outside. With a strong off-season, Rodgers could contend for a starting spot or a key backup role, especially with competition at the corner from players like James Bradberry, potential improvement from Kelee Ringo in his second year, and the Eagles’ potential draft plans.

With players like Darius Slay Jr. and Bradberry aging at cornerback, Rodgers provides a mix of youth and experience to the Eagles’ defense. Additionally, with the NFL emphasizing the return of meaningful kickoff plays, Rodgers could be a frontrunner to handle return duties for Philadelphia in 2024, adding speed and agility to a crucial position.

Additionally, Rodgers could contribute as a kick returner, boasting a career average of 27.0 yards per return and one touchdown. With the NFL’s new kickoff rules potentially increasing his value, Rodgers has another opportunity to make an impact.

While expectations should be tempered given his year-long absence from football and adjustment to a new team and scheme, Rodgers could prove to be a valuable addition to the Eagles. His performance in OTAs and training camp will be worth watching as he looks to make his mark in Philadelphia.

Read More: 2024 NFL Draft Top Young Prospects

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