Optimism springs eternal at the start of a new season, but reality tells another story about the true contenders for the Lombardi Trophy in 2023.
Kansas City defends its Super Bowl title starting Thursday with a home date with the upstart Detroit Lions, a beleaguered franchise 30 years removed from its last meaningful postseason appearance.
Yet, some are certain even without squinting and hallucinogens that this could be the year the Lions are the last team standing.
In the middle-heavy NFC, maybe the Lions are legit.
Based on the franchise's recent run of rough starts, we're withholding final approval.
Here's how the NFL stacks up under our educated but reality-twinged appraisal entering Week 1:
32. Los Angeles Rams: Went for all it and got the trophy, now the bills are due with interest. An early injury to Cooper Kupp underscores minimal depth, a death knell in the rugged NFC West.
31. Arizona Cardinals: Gutted from the top-down and without Kyler Murray for at least a month, the Cardinals are content piling up losses and improving draft standing with the long view in mind.
30. Indianapolis Colts: Even if the QB carousel stops with No. 4 pick Anthony Richardson, he's a man on an island in Indy.
29. Las Vegas Raiders: Talent and defensive firepower are better. Offensive nowhere near good enough.
28. Houston Texans: Youth and optimism are high. If C.J. Stroud plays to his ceiling, Houston sits as a possible surprise.
27. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Steep decline from Tom Brady to the next QB, and that's not an intended knock on Baker Mayfield.
26. Washington Commanders: Compel us to find a reason the Commanders can be better than 9-8 in 2023.
25. Tennessee Titans: Historic injury woes racked the Titans in 2022. Major questions about the offensive line and pass rush mean the losing will linger.
24. Carolina Panthers: Rebuild only beginning behind Bryce Young, 7-10 seems reachable.
23. Green Bay Packers: Hard reset for the first time since Brett Favre. No playoffs again in Titletown.
22. Chicago Bears: Justin Fields makes the Bears competitive. Can his defense hold up its end of the bargain?
21. New England Patriots: Bill Belichick has a tendency to prove his doubters wrong when you least expect it, so perhaps this is the Patriots' year.
20. Cleveland Browns: Rise would be contemplated if the Bengals and Ravens weren't ahead of Cleveland in the AFC North queue.
19. New York Giants: Good enough to be dangerous gets you beat in the NFL.
18. Atlanta Falcons: Somehow the senior-most starter with his current team in the division is Desmond Ridder (four games). We need some receipts before loading the bandwagon.
17. Denver Broncos: Counting on Russell Wilson and Sean Payton to cook up a run, but nothing near the height of their expectations.
16. New Orleans Saints: Age and depth are factors pushing the Saints back to the pack but we're here for the Chris Olave breakout season.
15. Pittsburgh Steelers: Praised for their preseason polish, we aren't budging on our assessment of Kenny Pickett and the Steelers just yet.
14. Seattle Seahawks: GM John Schneider and head coach Pete Carroll bet on another Pro Bowl year from Geno Smith. We aren't.
13. Miami Dolphins: No knock on Miami, the Dolphins find themselves in the middle of a brutal division.
12. Minnesota Vikings: Patchwork might be good enough to land a wild card. Who will back Kirk Cousins and the Minnesota defense in the playoffs?
11. Jacksonville Jaguars: All the momentum favors the Jaguars behind the lone AFC South team with teeth. Once the playoffs arrive, finding the passing lane is next to impossible in this conference.
10. New York Jets: Old men only play quarterback at Aaron Rodgers' age behind pristine blocking. Rodgers can't say the same thing Drew Brees (Saints) and Brady (Patriots, then Bucs) could at the same age.
9. Detroit Lions: We hear you, the roar might be real after Detroit went 8-2 to nearly sneak into the playoffs despite a 1-7 start. We need more proof.
8. Los Angeles Chargers: Justin Herbert in MVP conversations even with a defense prone to big letdowns.
7. Dallas Cowboys: Defensive tweaks made Dallas better. Will the offensive line doom Dak and Big D?
6. San Francisco 49ers: Too many toys to disappear, we're pessimistic Brock Purdy keeps his savior cloak after the seventh-round rookie played flawlessly in 2022.
5. Philadelphia Eagles: No reason to expect a big decline from MVP candidate Jalen Hurts. An encore from the defensive line might be coming, too, with DT Jalen Carter leading the charge.
4. Baltimore Ravens: Low-key but impactful defensive additions and polish at the WR position place Lamar Jackson's crew in the NFL's Final Four.
3. Cincinnati Bengals: Zeus Jr. at left tackle stabilizes the Bengals' offensive line and Joe Burrow puts up the points to cover for a flawed secondary.
2. Buffalo Bills: Josh Allen can lean on improved RB depth to remain upright. His time is coming.
1. Kansas City Chiefs: Gravity works against the champs the longer DT Chris Jones (contract holdout) and TE Travis Kelce (knee) are away. MVP Patrick Mahomes keeps the team afloat provided his line does its job.
—Field Level Media