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Instant Debate

NFL's most vulnerable reigning division champions in 2023: Bills, Buccaneers facing biggest challenge?

The Jacksonville Jaguars went from worst to first in the AFC South last season, claiming their first division title since 2017. Meanwhile, three NFC divisions had a different champion in 2022 than in '21: the East (Philadelphia Eagles), North (Minnesota Vikings) and West (San Francisco 49ers).

However, four divisions did feature repeat champs: the AFC East (Buffalo Bills), AFC North (Cincinnati Bengals), AFC West (Kansas City Chiefs) and NFC South (Tampa Bay Buccaneers).

With all of that in mind, we ask a simple question about the coming campaign:

Which reigning division champ is most vulnerable heading into the 2023 NFL season?

Judy Battista

PICK: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Bucs barely won the NFC South at 8-9 last season, just one game better than the rest of the division, and the biggest reason for their success -- Tom Brady -- is now retired. Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask will compete to replace the G.O.A.T. (good luck), but the Saints have upgraded their QB situation with Derek Carr, the Panthers have the top draft pick in QB Bryce Young, and the Falcons, who were better than expected last season, drafted dynamic weapon Bijan Robinson. This division is wide open.

Emmanuel Sanders

PICK: Buffalo Bills

It's not about the Bills taking a step back this offseason -- it's about everyone else in the division taking a step forward. The Jets scored an infusion of talent, including four-time MVP Aaron Rodgers, while the Dolphins made some big additions of their own, including trading for Jalen Ramsey, one of the best cornerbacks in the league. The Patriots made significant changes, too, with the major one being hiring back offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien. Plus, I'm never counting out Bill Belichick.  

Kevin Patra

PICK: Minnesota Vikings

After winning 11 games by eight or fewer points in 2022, including five by three, Minnesota could organically see regression in close games. Then there are the roster questions, with a defense sporting holes, particularly in a young secondary. The Vikes are counting on new coordinator Brian Flores to work magic on one of the league's worst units from last season. The uncertain Dalvin Cook situation could take a chunk out of the offense if the club ultimately moves on. Minnesota boasts offensive weapons and a solid O-line that should put up points in a weaker division, but duplicating last season's performance appears iffy at best.

Jeffri Chadiha

PICK: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

The Buccaneers’ first problem is at quarterback. Tom Brady finally has called it a career, which opens the door for every other NFC South team to make a run at the title. Carolina and Atlanta upgraded their rosters through free agency and the draft, while the Saints signed quarterback Derek Carr. Let’s also not forget the Bucs won the division with an 8-9 record last year. With Baker Mayfield as their best option at quarterback, they won’t be so lucky this time around.

Maurice Jones-Drew

PICK: San Francisco 49ers

It's hard to deny Kyle Shanahan's brilliance, given what he can do with an offense, no matter who is under center. But the 49ers have real concerns at the quarterback position. Brock Purdy is coming off elbow surgery, Trey Lance has played in just eight NFL games, and Sam Darnold is on his third team since he was drafted in 2018. This uncertainty at the game's most important position keeps the door open for the rest of the division. 

David Carr

PICK: Buffalo Bills

The Jets were a quarterback away from being a playoff contender last season. Now they have Aaron Rodgers spearheading the charge. A playoff team in 2022, the Dolphins enter the upcoming season with a healthy Tua Tagovailoa and an upgraded defense. Not to be outdone are the Patriots, who have a guy named Bill Belichick running the show. This will be one of the most competitive divisions in the NFL this fall, and I'm here for it. 

Eric Edholm

PICK: Tampa Bay Buccaneers

I’ll take the low-hanging fruit and go with the Tom Brady-less Bucs, as they frankly weren’t that good with him last season. Perhaps the Panthers are a year (or more) away, but the Saints and Falcons look like better contender candidates right now to me. The Saints are hardly perfect, but the upgrade at QB to Derek Carr can’t be overlooked. He’s arguably the best passer in the division right now. Consider me a bit underwhelmed by the Bucs’ QB choices, along with their flawed roster. They’re more likely to finish last than first in the division.

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