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Around the league: 3 predictions for the 2023 season

Pittsburgh Steelers v Atlanta Falcons Photo by Kevin Sabitus/Getty Images

When I perform a numerical analysis, I am usually trying to answer questions about the past, like, How well did a QB perform or why did an offense have success? Analyzing the future is much harder, but sometimes, I see data that suggests a probable future performance that is contrary to popular narratives. So I’ll present 3 such examples here and foolishly try to turn them into predictions.

Dallas Defense

Last season the Dallas defense was one of the best in the league. They allowed the 3rd fewest Points per Drive, ranked 2nd in defensive DVOA and gave up the 3rd lowest Drive Success Rate and EPA per Play to opposing offenses.

Their success wasn’t a fluke either as they put up similar numbers in 2021. So, it’s no surprise that many analysts are predicting them to be a top 3 defense again this year. Yet, my crystal ball sees it differently.

Last year, the Cowboys defense faced an easy schedule. Using end of season DVOA, their opponent offenses ranked 30th (3rd easiest schedule) and by those same 2022 numbers, Dallas looks to face the 9th toughest offenses this year.

Also for the past 2 seasons, the Cowboys have led the league in take-aways. Turnovers are highly impactful plays and played heavily into Dallas’ defensive success. However, they are a fickle thing. Turnovers are infrequent and have a large element of randomness to them. The year over year correlation of team take-aways is about +0.23. That means there is some season to season carry-over, but it is not a strong predictor. In other words, it is likley that Dallas has a lot fewer take-aways in 2023.

In 2021, on drives without turnovers, Dallas gave up the 7th lowest Drive Success Rate. So, that was a defense that was stout even without take-aways. But last year, they managed only the 14th best DSR on non-turnover drives, which is a significant step back.

Combine a tougher schedule, a likely regression in take-aways and a basically average ability to stop drives without a turnover and you get a defense that will not be as good in 2023. Now, they still may be a good defense, but I doubt they will be as dominant as they have been the past 2 years. I’m going to say that at the end of the season, they are outside the top 10 in Points per Drive and Drive Success Rate.

Jimmy Garoppolo

Jimmy G has never been a highly regarded QB and his move to Las Vegas has been met with predictions of his demise. ESPN thinks he will last just 1 year there. I won’t predict how long he lasts with the Raiders, but I think he will put up better efficiency numbers than Derek Carr did.

Garoppolo is a hugely under-rated QB in my opinion. Over the last 4 seasons, his cumulative performance ranks 2nd in EPA per Dropback, 6th in Passing Success rate, 1st in Yards per Attempt and 2nd in First Down Conversion %. That’s crazy good and no one talks about it.

That’s not to say he is without flaws. He turns the ball over and can’t throw deep to save his life, not to mention his injury history. Also, his efficiency relies on big Yards After the Catch and that is why people sleep on him. They think that without the 49er receivers, he’s just not any good. I disagree. Yes, he relies on YAC, but that is not driven 100% by receiver talent. YAC is also a function of finding open receivers, accuracy and quick throws, things that Jimmy G excels at.

If the detractors are right, Garoppolo’s efficiency should fall off a cliff in Las Vegas. I’m going the other way and predict that he will finish top 10 in both Yards per Attempt and First Down Conversion rate next year.

I’m not super comfortable with that prediction as changing teams is basically a 100% change in the variables of the equation. The Raiders defense is nowhere near as good as San Francisco’s, so Garoppolo is going to be playing from behind and will have to air the ball out a lot more than he is used to (not his strength). Also, he is not going to fit into just any offense. He needs an offense that requires quick reads on short throws and I don’t know if he will have that. He may need more than 1 season to adapt. Maybe I should retract this one.

Justin Herbert

Herbert has been in the league 3 years and many are already calling him a top 5 QB. I am not in that group . . . at least not yet.

Herbert’s rookie year was good for a freshman QB, but really just OK relative to all starting QBs. It was his 2021 season that spurred all the hype as he finished 5th in EPA per Dropback and 7th in Passing Success Rate. However, in 2022 he took a step back with below average efficiency (19th EPA/d, 20th PSR). Most people are blaming team injuries on his 2022 performance and there is no doubt that that was a factor.

However, there are some concerning similarities between 2021 and 2022. In both years, he took a longer than average time to throw the ball, yet he made shorter than average attempts. That is the sign of a QB that can’t find open receviers downfield. Now maybe that is receviers not getting open or maybe it is a QB who has trouble seeing all his reads and/or is slow to pull the trigger.

In Herbert, I think it may be the latter. This season, he is going to face tougher passing defenses than 2022 and unless his O-line can return to 2021 form and give him great protection, he will have to adapt his play (throw quicker, throw underneath more). He didn’t do that in 2022 and I’m guessing he doesn’t do that in 2023.

I can see him being better than last year, but I don’t see a return to top 5 staus. I’m predicting a Yards per Attempt and overall EPA efficiency outside the top 10.


There are so many interesting changes to watch for this season. If I had more time, I could have made some other predictions (Jalen Hurts takes a step back, Justin Fields continues to be bad), but I wanted to keep this semi-brief and include only what I consider some aggressive (contrary) picks. I’ll keep myself honest and re-visit this at the end of the season. I won’t be surprised if all of these are wrong, but then again I won’t be surprised if all of them are right either.

Let me know what you think. Am I spot on here or have I missed the mark more than Trent Richardson missed running lanes. What predictions do you have?