Welcome to NFL Prediction Week.
The 2023 NFL season officially kicks off Thursday night with the Kansas City Chiefs hosting the upstart Detroit Lions at 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC. And whether you're a fan of the defending Super Bowl champion Chiefs or the tanking-for-Caleb-Williams Arizona Cardinals, there's at least some level of optimism for every team entering the new league year.
In New England, that optimism revolves around new offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien, who is tasked with getting Mac Jones and the Patriots offense back on track after a disastrous 2022 campaign under first-time play-caller Matt Patricia. With JuJu Smith-Schuster, Mike Gesicki and Ezekiel Elliott joining the squad, there's reason to believe the Patriots can field a competent NFL offense and improve on last year's 8-9 record.
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MORE PATRIOTS COVERAGE
The problem for New England? Several other teams improved this offseason, most notably one in their own division: the New York Jets, who landed future Hall of Fame quarterback Aaron Rodgers this offseason. The Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins, meanwhile, are both coming off playoff berths in 2022, leaving the Patriots with an uphill climb in one of the toughest divisions in football.
So, how will it all play out? Our partners at Strat-O-Matic ran a full 2023 season simulation, complete with stats for every AFC East skill player, final records for all 32 teams and a forecast of the postseason.
You can check out those skill player stats here. Let's get into the record projections, beginning with the AFC -- which Patriots fans may not enjoy.
Strat-O-Matic clearly isn't high on the Patriots, who finish with the second-worst record in the entire conference at 5-12. The other three AFC East teams all post winning records in this simulation, with Aaron Rodgers leading the 10-7 New York Jets to their first playoff berth since 2010.
A 5-12 record would be a major disappointment for the Patriots, but they do face legitimate question marks: They're dealing with multiple injuries on the offensive line entering Week 1 and have one of the NFL's most difficult schedules, with six games against a deep AFC East and matchups with both conference winners from 2022 in the Philadelphia Eagles and Kansas City Chiefs.
But the biggest surprise here might be the fall of the Cincinnati Bengals, who stumble to an 8-9 record and a last-place finish in the AFC North after back-to-back AFC Championship Game appearances. That ties them with Houston, where rookie quarterback C.J. Stroud leads the Texans to their best record since 2019.
If Roger Goodell wants parity, he'll find plenty in the NFC.
While the San Francisco 49ers cruise to the No. 1 overall seed at 12-5, the rest of the conference is a dogfight, with ties atop two of the four divisions. The Eagles suffer a mild Super Bowl hangover to get edged by the Dallas Cowboys in the NFC East, while the Atlanta Falcons are the lucky winners of the worst division in football.
The Packers are a pleasant surprise, with Jordan Love guiding Green Bay past Detroit and Minnesota to take the NFC North crown. The Cardinals, meanwhile, bottom out to sew up the No. 1 pick with room to spare.
The Jets and Bucs knock off the Chiefs and Packers, respectively, in Wild Card Round surprises. Rodgers' run comes to an end in overtime against the Baltimore Ravens, who then outpace the division-rival Pittsburgh Steelers in a high-scoring AFC Championship Game.
In the NFC, Brock Purdy, Christian McCaffrey and the Niners cruise to their second straight NFC Championship Game and get their revenge on Philly in a rematch of last year's NFC title game. San Francisco's defense steps up in the Super Bowl, limiting Lamar Jackson and Co. to 14 points to secure the franchise's first Super Bowl title in three decades.