As the new year arrives, the eight NFL clubs already eliminated from playoff contention have a chance to prepare for a brighter future in 2023. These eight teams have two more games to evaluate their rosters and coaching staffs before the regular season concludes.
Many fans of the eliminated teams have been tracking draft stock and potential free-agent additions for weeks, concocting plans for how their favorite club might avoid early elimination in 2023. The year-by-year turnover in the NFL allows franchises to quickly go from the bottom of the league to playoff participants. One great offseason can change the fortunes of any club.
Let's join those fans already plowing through mock drafts, free-agent primers and lists of potential head coach candidates to name the top wish list item for each of the eight teams already mathematically eliminated from postseason contention.
Biggest wish: Franchise quarterback
The NFL's worst team needs help all over the field, but the most glaring hole remains at quarterback. Davis Mills did nothing this season to prove he's more than an NFL backup. The current platoon with Jeff Driskel underscores the fact that the Texans don't have a long-term answer under center. With Houston currently holding the No. 1 overall pick, the 2023 NFL Draft should bring new hope for a young franchise QB to help turn around a rebuild that has barely poured a foundation.
Biggest wish: Help for Justin Fields
GM Ryan Poles spent last offseason methodically beginning his rebuild, not overpaying to bring in flashy pieces. Then he flipped the script at the trade deadline, sending a second-round pick to Pittsburgh for Chase Claypool. The Bears need to continue building around their talented quarterback. As we've seen with Josh Allen in Buffalo and Jalen Hurts in Philadelphia, surrounding a young quarterback with the right pieces can escalate the development process. Chicago's offseason wish list includes upgrading the offensive line and adding at least one additional playmaking pass-catcher. The Bears might opt to use their top pick on a premier defensive player, but with plenty of cap space and draft picks, Poles has the ammo to upgrade Fields' supporting cast heading into a pivotal Year 3.
Biggest wish: Coaching staff to help Russell Wilson
Nathaniel Hackett's firing this week was inevitable after the Broncos cratered from lofty preseason expectations. Surely, some Denver fans would also like to move on from Wilson after one season filled with unending struggles. Alas, his contract would make that a very painful wish to grant. GM George Paton said this week he believes Wilson's issues are fixable. Now, Denver needs to prove that's not just offseason jargon. The Broncos need a coaching staff that coaxes the best out of Wilson.
Biggest wish: Pass rush firepower
J.J. Watt's decision to retire at the end of this season exacerbates the situation up front on defense in the desert. The three-time Defensive Player of the Year might not be the game-wrecker he was early in his career, but he still proved disruptive for stretches when healthy. Watt leads the Cardinals with 9.5 sacks in 2022. No one else has more than 5.5. A year after letting Chandler Jones walk in free agency, Arizona will head into 2023 without a pass rusher that offenses must game plan around. Zach Allen has had moments, setting a career-high with 5.5 sacks, and he's set to be a free agent. Markus Golden can be a solid rotational player, but his sack production has plummeted. Whether through free agency or the draft, the Cardinals need to add a player who can crumble pockets.
Biggest wish: Long-term quarterback
It's the same wish Colts fans have had since Andrew Luck abruptly retired in 2019. One year of Jacoby Brissett turned into one year of Philip Rivers, one year of Carson Wentz, and potentially one year of Matt Ryan/Sam Ehlinger/Nick Foles. Indy's shuffling of QBs in 2022 underscores that it's time to look to the draft to find the long-term answer. Yes, there are other holes on the roster and a coaching decision to make, but it always comes back to the quarterback. After rotating through veteran signal-callers year after year, Indy must finally take a shot at landing its franchise QB in the draft with a potential top-five pick.
Biggest wish: Offensive line aid
Staying healthy would also be on L.A.'s wish list after missing Cooper Kupp, Matthew Stafford and Aaron Donald for stretches. But good health and happiness are on everyone's wish list, not just those of football clubs. The Rams need to solidify the offensive line to try to bounce back from one of the worst seasons by a defending Super Bowl champ in NFL history. The plan to replace the retired Andrew Whitworth got waylaid off the bat as injuries piled up. L.A. used 12 offensive line combinations in its first 13 games. That's a recipe for disaster -- and getting your QB hurt. The group lacked cohesion and consistency even when some players started to return. To get back on track in 2023 under Sean McVay, the blocking must be better or the offense will never get back off the ground.
Biggest wish: Can we finally fix the defense?
Atlanta could use its potential top-10 pick on a franchise quarterback if Arthur Smith doesn't believe Desmond Ridder is the long-term solution. But the bigger offseason project is a defense that continues to reside in the basement of the NFL. It starts up front, where the Falcons continue to lack an edge rusher who can consistently pressure the quarterback. In the past two years combined, Atlanta has generated a league-low 37 sacks -- next fewest is 59. Woof. Adding a premier pass rusher and bolstering the rest of the defensive front alongside Grady Jarrett is a must if the Falcons ever want to climb out of the cobweb-infested cellar.
Biggest wish: Defensive help
Outside of Myles Garrett generating a pass rush and flashes from Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah before he went on injured reserve, there isn't much that has gone well for Joe Woods' defense. Missed tackles and busted coverages have been an issue all season for a group that fell precipitously in 2022. Cleveland needs significant upgrades, particularly at defensive tackle and safety, where underperforming players have hurt the unit.