The NFL season has come and gone with a familiar team reigning on top in the Kansas City Chiefs, the first to repeat as Super Bowl champions since the 2003-2004 New England Patriots. While Kansas City is on top of the NFL world again, the league had plenty of teams rise to contention over the course of the season.
The Baltimore Ravens went from a wild-card playoff team to the best record in the NFL. The Houston Texans went from 11 wins over the previous three seasons to 11 wins in 2023 (including playoffs). The Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers survived the losses of Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady and won playoff games in their first seasons without them.
Which teams are poised to rise in 2024? These teams could be in for a turnaround as a division title contender with the potential of making a deep playoff run all the way to the Super Bowl.
Here are five teams to keep an eye out for next season:
The Texans took the biggest leap in 2023 thanks to the emergence of C.J. Stroud and a remarkable turnaround spearheaded by first-year head coach DeMeco Ryans. Stroud had arguably the greatest rookie season for a quarterback in NFL history, transforming the Texans offense into a force to be reckoned with around the NFL (offense went from 31st in points per possession to 14th), accompanied with the emergence of Nico Collins and rookie Tank Dell.
Stroud gets his top two pass catchers back next season, along with Dalton Schultz. Defensive Rookie of the Year Will Anderson Jr. now has a full year in the NFL under his belt and rising corner Derek Stingley Jr. will only get better on a defense that went from 25th in yards allowed per possession to 13th.
A first-place schedule will be the Texans’ biggest challenge, as they won’t swoop under the radar anymore. Stroud having a full offseason to hone his craft is dangerous for the rest of the league. Remember, the Texans went to the divisional round in Year 1 with Ryans and Stroud.
The AFC South certainly was the most improved division last season, as Shane Steichen took the Colts to a game away from the division title and a playoff berth — with a backup quarterback for the majority of the season. Who knows how good the Colts would have been if Anthony Richardson would have been able to remain healthy for the majority of 2023? Steichen is getting the No. 4 overall pick back as his starting signal-caller for 2024.
The Jonathan Taylor contract drama is in the past, so the Colts will have him around for a full offseason. They’ll have to re-sign Michael Pittman and add help at tight end, but Steichen did improve the Colts’ points per possession from 32nd to 20th in Year 1. How much better will this be with Richardson?
The defense needs some retooling, but that’s the benefit of a quarterback on a rookie contract. Indianapolis should be a playoff team if Richardson develops in Year 2 under Steichen, just like Jalen Hurts with the Philadelphia Eagles. Steichen gets the most out of his quarterbacks, which is massive for the Colts.
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The Packers were arguably the most-improved team in the NFC thanks to the emergence of Jordan Love, who threw for 23 touchdowns to three interceptions in his final seven games (including playoffs). Not only did the Packers make the divisional round of the playoffs (first No. 7 seed to beat a No. 2 seed), Green Bay was the youngest team to win a playoff game (average age of 25 years, 214 days).
Green Bay had 302 catches for 3,642 yards and 31 touchdowns from first- or second-year players, the most in a season in NFL history. Love has plenty of young pass catchers to grow with, starting with Jayden Reed. The Packers also have Christian Watson, Dontayvion Wicks, Romeo Doubs, Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft. This offense went from 15th in points per possession to ninth thanks to Love and Co. — this was with a banged-up offensive line for the majority of the year.
Green Bay’s defense will need to be retooled under new defensive coordinator Jeff Hafley, but having five top 100 picks in the draft should help. The Packers have a bright future if Love plays like he did over those final seven games more consistently.
The Rams were one of the surprises of the league last season, emerging back into a playoff team thanks to having Matthew Stafford healthy for the majority of the year. Not only did Stafford’s health play a role in their reemergence, but Puka Nacua setting NFL records for rookies in receptions and receiving yards was a major boost for Los Angeles. Kyren Williams also leading the league in rushing yards per game gave head coach Sean McVay the running back he’s been craving since Todd Gurley was in his prime.
Los Angeles nailed the 2023 draft with Nacua, along with Kobie Turner and Byron Young on a revamped defensive line. General manager Les Snead has made the most of his draft picks over the last two seasons, and the Rams own six picks in the first five rounds this year (first-round pick for first time since 2016).
There’s still some retooling in the secondary for the Rams and they need to see if Carson Wentz can be salvaged in case Stafford goes down. If Stafford stays healthy, the Rams have a shot at the NFC West title for the first time in three years.
Sure the Bengals were a disappointment in 2023, but they also dealt with Joe Burrow injuries across the board, beginning with the star quarterback’s calf injury in training camp that affected his early-season performance to the wrist injury in November that ended his season. The Bengals finished last in the AFC North, yet finished over .500 with Jake Browning starting seven games.
Cincinnati has to decide whether it wishes to retain Tee Higgins and get younger and deeper on the defensive line. Adding help in the secondary wouldn’t hurt either, but having $59.4 million in available salary cap space is massive. There will be a roster revamp in Cincinnati, yet this franchise wins when Burrow is on the field.
When Burrow plays more than 10 games, the Bengals have reached (at least) the AFC Championship. They’ll have a last-place schedule in 2024 after finishing in the basement of the loaded AFC North. Cincinnati could be in store for another deep playoff run.