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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

Predicting who’ll win AFC and NFC division and wild card playoff spots

How the NFL divisional and wild card races shape up in 2023:

NFC West

49ers. Imagine being good enough to be a prohibitive division favorite with any of the quarterbacks on the roster. Either Brock Purdy or Sam Darnold could — and will — win with this team.

NFC North

Detroit Lions. OK, I’m on board with Detroit after its 8-2 finish last season. We’ll find out right away as they drew the Thursday night opener. Oh, and quarterback Jared Goff may be better than Matthew Stafford, the man who replaced him with the Rams. Imagine that.

NFC South

Carolina Panthers. The Panthers are the strongest of the weakest in a division where 9-8 ought to be enough to finish first. No. 1 pick Bryce Young, the former Heisman Trophy winner out of Alabama, is in a good position with Frank Reich as his head coach and a roster that had a strong finish in 2022.

NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles. The NFC’s best team a year ago, no matter what the 49ers say. There could be a bit of a drop-off from 14-3 a year ago, but an elite pass rush and do-everything QB Jalen Hurts should be enough to repeat in the division.

Wild cards

Dallas Cowboys, Seattle Seahawks, Minnesota Vikings. The Cowboys have too much talent to avoid double-digit wins, although QB Dak Prescott is being watched closely. The Seahawks upgraded their overall talent and need to prove QB Geno Smith was not a mirage. The Vikings might reach the postseason, but expect another early playoff exit from Kirk Cousins and Co.

On the outside looking in

New Orleans Saints. Longtime Raiders QB Derek Carr seldom hits the ground running (or passing) with a new coordinator.  Will Jon Gruden get an in-season emergency phone call if the Saints don’t make a move in the NFC South?

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (15) and head coach Andy Reid talk on the bench during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 5, 2020, in Kansas City. (AP Photo/Jeff Roberson)

A.P. Photo

Patrick Mahomes (15) and Andy Reid will keep Kansas City atop the NFC West in 2023.

AFC West

Kansas City Chiefs. The Chiefs are showing no signs of relinquishing division dominance. Patrick Mahomes has had constant reshuffling of his receiving corps other than Travis Kelce, and even that doesn’t seem to matter. He’s that good. And so is coach Andy Reid.

AFC North

Cincinnati Bengals. Quarterback Joe Burrow’s presence should enable the Bengals to hold off the Steelers and the Ravens provided rookie edge rusher Myles Murphy and cornerback DJ Turner contribute right away.

AFC South

Jacksonville Jaguars. Riding the wave of overcoming a 27-0 deficit to the Chargers in the playoffs, the Jaguars’ talent base and another step forward from third-year quarterback Trevor Lawrence should be enough to prevail in a weak division.

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