NFL schedule 2023 best matchups, winners, Super Bowl picks

ByNFL experts ESPN logo
Friday, May 12, 2023

The 2023 NFL schedule is officially out. The regular season kicks off on Thursday, September 7, with the Detroit Lionsvisiting the Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. The opening week will also feature a Monday Night Football showdown in East Rutherford, N.J., with the Buffalo Bills visiting the New York Jets.

Other highlights for the 2023 slate include threeChristmas Daygames(includingNew York Giants atPhiladelphia Eagles), yet another edition of the Cincinnati Bengals facing off against the Chiefs and a matchup between Carolina Panthers QB Bryce Young and Houston Texans QB C.J. Stroud (the top two picks in this year's draft). There are alsofive international contests, including two matchups in Germany. The Jacksonville Jaguars will play in two of three London games.

It's a loaded schedule, with14 playoff rematches from last season, the most in a season in NFL history (per ESPN Stats & Information research). One of those games is Eagles at Chiefs in Week 11, a rematch of February's Super Bowl.

Who are the biggest winners from the 2023 schedule release? What are the must-watch games? Which debuts will be the most interesting, which late-season matchups could prove important for the playoffs, and which teams could get off to fast -- or slow -- starts? Our panel of NFL experts weighs in on all that and more, including predictions for Super BowlLVIII.

Skip to a question:

Which matchup do you have circled on your calendar?

Matt Bowen, NFL analyst: San Francisco 49ers at Philadelphia Eagles, Week 13. This could be the most physical game we watch all season out of the NFC. And it features the top two teams in the conference. There are likely serious playoff implications here, too.

Jeremy Fowler, national NFL writer:Philadelphia Eaglesat Kansas City Chiefs, Week 11. GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium will be on full tilt on a late-November night as the Eagles try to avenge the Super Bowl loss. Both teams should be playing high-level football by then, too.

Dan Graziano, national NFL writer: Cincinnati Bengals atKansas City Chiefs, Week 17. I can't get enough of this matchup. The past four have been must-watch games, and two of them have been AFC Championship games. While anything could happen, I expect these to be two of the top teams in the league again this year, and a New Year's Eve matchup two weeks before the playoffs start will be a delicious appetizer.

Eric Moody, fantasy and betting analyst:Kansas City Chiefsat New York Jets, Week 4. Patrick Mahomes is coming off an impressive season, earning his second MVP award and a second Super Bowl ring. He's clearly establishing himself as one of the all-time greats at the quarterback position. Meanwhile, the Jets have high hopes with Aaron Rodgers under center and fancy themselves as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. What's more intriguing? These two quarterbacks have never before faced off against each other.

Mike Tannenbaum, NFL front office insider: Detroit Lions atKansas City Chiefs, Week 1. It's an opportunity for Detroit to show its improvement on the national stage. I believe the Lions will take the next step this season and win the NFC North, but they could struggle out of the gate against the defending champs. If nothing else, it will be a big test to start the season and could be a really good game.

Who or what is the biggest winner of the schedule release?

Bowen: Rookie quarterbacks. I think every NFL game is hard to win, but based on strength of schedules off 2022 win percentages, Carolina's Bryce Young, Houston's C.J. Stroud and Indianapolis' Anthony Richardson all face one of the league's lighter slates. That could be huge for that trio as they adjust to the NFL game.

Fowler: The Jets. When have the Jets been this relevant, complete with five prime-time games? A young, exciting team paired with top-five quarterback Aaron Rodgers deepens the intrigue for the long-suffering, major-market franchise. And Bills-Jets in Week 1 might end up being one of the best matchups of the year.

Graziano: Thanksgiving weekend viewers. It has become trendy in recent years to complain about the Thanksgiving matchups, but you won't hear much of that this year. Packers-Lions kicks things off, and then we get a Commanders-Cowboys rivalry game and a Seahawks-49ers nightcap that should feature two of the best teams in the NFC. But that's not all! The Black Friday game is a fascinating Dolphins-Jets divisional matchup, and that week's Sunday schedule features such treats as Steelers-Bengals, Chiefs-Raiders, Bills-Eagles and Ravens-Chargers.

Moody: The Green Bay Packers. Jordan Love and the Packers are set up to thrive this season, with six games against the NFC North and four against the not-so-intimidating NFC South. The lack of defensive powerhouses in both of those divisions might work in Love's favor, and the favorable schedule could lead to the Packers having a winning record halfway through the season.

Tannenbaum: The Chiefs' defensive backs. They luckily won't have to cover a very motivated Tyreek Hill at Arrowhead Stadium, since they get to instead play theDolphins in Germany.

Which Week 1 debut are you most interested in, and why?

Bowen: Todd Monken, offensive coordinator, Baltimore Ravens (vs. Texans). The opening week of the season will give us a look at how quarterback Lamar Jackson fits in a new offensive system under Monken. I'm expecting more spread, trips and empty formations here to create space for Jackson as both a runner and thrower in 2023.

Fowler:Bryce Young, QB, Carolina Panthers (at Falcons). Yes, let's assume Young takes over Carolina's starting quarterback job from Andy Dalton over the next four months. We've spent the previous four months debating whether Young's instincts and savviness can overcome his slight build, and this will be his first chance to start erasing any doubt. The Panthers clearly expect that after moving up eight spots to No. 1 overall to draft him. And he has an intriguing group of offensive skill players around him, both young and old.

Graziano: Bill O'Brien, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots (vs. Eagles). How much of New England's offensive anemia last season was due to Bill Belichick's decision to put the offense in the hands of coaches who had never before been offensive coordinators? How different will that offense look this year under the experienced O'Brien? The Patriots on paper look like the fourth-place team in a stacked AFC East, and they open with a tough test in the defending NFC champion Eagles. I'll be watching closely to see what Mac Jones and the Patriots' offense looks like coming out of camp.

Moody: Bijan Robinson, RB, Atlanta Falcons (vs. Panthers). The Falcons' decision to draft Robinson raised eyebrows, especially after Tyler Allgeier's impressive rookie season in 2023. I'm excited to see how Robinson performs behind the Falcons' strong offensive line. He has been likened to Saquon Barkley, and it'll be intriguing to see if he can match Barkley's incredible rookie campaign, when he amassed 2,028 total yards on 352 touches. Will Robinson live up to the Barkley comparison? I believe he can.

Tannenbaum: Darren Waller, TE, New York Giants (vs. Cowboys). He could help quarterback Daniel Jones take the next step in his career, as long as he can play in all 17 regular-season games. The Giants haven't had someone with his ability at tight end in a long time, and Waller could be a top target in this offense as Jones continues to take the next step.

Call it now: Which late-season matchup will have playoff implications?

Bowen:Cincinnati Bengals at Kansas City Chiefs, Week 17. At this point of the season, Joe Burrow vs. Mahomes could determine the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoff bracket. Kansas City won 23-20 in the most recent matchup in last season's AFC Championship Game, kicking a game-winning field goal with three seconds remaining on the clock.

Fowler: Buffalo Bills at Los Angeles Chargers, Week 16. Matching up two elite quarterbacks this late in the season is bound to shake up the AFC playoff picture. The Chargers have built enough talent to contend for the AFC West crown, while the Bills are going for a fourth consecutive AFC East title. With the quarterback pantheon in the conference, securing a divisional crown seems like a wise move. Anything is possible with the wild-card berths.

Graziano:New York Giants at Philadelphia Eagles, Week 16 -- AND Eagles at Giants, Week 18. This is a bizarre twist, with the two division rivals meeting twice in the final three weeks of the season. Both of these teams made the playoffs last year, and I think a lot of people are kind of sleeping on the Giants' chances to do it again. I expect the Eagles to be one of the top teams (if not the top team) in the NFC, but if the NFC East race is close late, the Giants could make things tough on Philly. Remember, no team has won the NFC East two years in a row since 2003-04.

Moody: Buffalo Bills at Miami Dolphins, Week 18. In the past three seasons, the Dolphins have either clinched or lost a playoff berth in Week 17 or Week 18. The Dolphins are expected to do big things in 2023 with so many prime-time games, and as the season winds down and playoff positioning is determined, things should get interesting in the AFC East.

Tannenbaum:Kansas City Chiefs at Los Angeles Chargers, Week 18. Can the Chargers break through and win the AFC West? This game could very well be for the division title in an epic showdown of Mahomes vs. Justin Herbert.

Which team could get off to a hot start based on schedule?

Bowen:Cincinnati Bengals. Burrow and the Bengals can get off to a really strong start with games against the Browns, Ravens, Rams, Titans and Cardinals through the first five weeks of the season.

Fowler: Jacksonville Jaguars. Yes, facing the Chiefs and Bills in the first month of the season will be a test. But the Jaguars will also get the Colts twice, the Texans and the Falcons -- all teams in transition -- through the first six weeks. And Jacksonville is good enough to beat Kansas City or Buffalo, too.

Graziano: New Orleans Saints. Only one of their first six opponents made the playoffs last season, and that team was the 8-9 Buccaneers, whose quarterback has since retired. I don't love that four of those six games are on the road, but none of the opponents look especially daunting on paper at this point in the offseason.

Moody: Atlanta Falcons. The Falcons boast a talented roster filled with young offensive playmakers like Drake London, Kyle PittsandRobinson. Their defense received significant upgrades during the offseason, too, and they have the advantage of a highly favorable schedule. Their opponents had a win percentage of .417 last season. You should not be surprised if the Falcons get off to a hot start.

Tannenbaum:Green Bay Packers. They start with two very winnable games on the road (Chicago and Atlanta). If Love wins those first two starts -- both on the road -- it would be a huge boost for the young Packers QB. Green Bay doesn't face a team that made the playoffs last season until Week 8 (vs. Minnesota).

Which team could get off to a cold start based on schedule?

Bowen:New York Giants. Four of their first six games are on the road, with two trips out west. And in those first six games, New York draws Dallas, Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami and Buffalo. That's a challenging start to the season for Brian Daboll's squad. Based on 2022 win percentages, the Giants have the fourth-hardest schedule this season overall.

Fowler:New England Patriots. The Patriots' offense under new coordinator Bill O'Brien will be tested early. The Patriots open with the Dolphins, Jets and Cowboys, and two of those are on the road. Miami's offense is tough to outscore, the Jets have a top-five defense and Dallas can do a little bit of everything. If New England is to break out in the post-Tom Brady era, a strong start will help.

Graziano:Green Bay Packers. I'm going to disagree with Mike here on Green Bay. The schedule makers didn't do Love any favors as he takes over the starting quarterback job from Rodgers. Green Bay opens with two straight road games in Chicago and Atlanta, finally returns home in Week 3 to play the Saints, turns right around to play the likely division favorite Lions at home on Thursday night in Week 4, then has two road games in Las Vegas and Denver sandwiched around their early Week 6 bye week. The Packers won't play their second home Sunday game until Oct. 29.

Moody: New York Giants. The Giants are not a strong defensive team, and they are middle of the road offensively, even with some offseason additions. Having four of their first six games, and seven of their first 11, on the road is a problem for New York because of their difficult overall schedule. A slow start is definitely possible for this team.

Tannenbaum:Detroit Lions. Starting off at Kansas City in the season opener is a big test; Arrowhead is an extremely hostile environment for visiting teams. The Lions come back home in Week 2 but have to play a vastly improved Seattle Seahawks team. Again, I believe the Lions will win the NFC North, but they will definitely be tested right out of the gate.

What's your early Super Bowl pick?

Bowen:Philadelphia Eagles over Cincinnati Bengals. Philadelphia has the roster and offensive/defensive line play to make a return run to the Super Bowl. And this time, I think the Eagles win the title, beating Joe Burrow and the Bengals.

Fowler:Buffalo Billsover Dallas Cowboys. Buffalo has been too good for too long not to find a way into the big game. The championship window might be tightening a bit, but the offense is more versatile than a year ago, and the defense is still loaded -- and it gets Von Miller back.

Graziano:Cincinnati Bengals over San Francisco 49ers. The Bengals will get the better of the Chiefs this time around, and the Niners will take advantage of the Eagles' exhaustion after a late-season gauntlet.

Moody: Kansas City Chiefs over San Francisco 49ers. Brock Purdy and the 49ers will be outmatched by the Chiefs' extensive playoff experience, Mahomes' exceptional play and Andy Reid's playcalling.

Tannenbaum:Los Angeles Chargers over Detroit Lions. The Chargers will win the AFC West, then take a couple of home playoff games. And I could see the Lions upsetting the 49ers in the NFC Championship Game to make it to the Super Bowl. There, the Chargers will beat the Jared Goff-led Lions in a low-scoring matchup.

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