Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

Take a deep breath before I reveal a stunning fact, it’s almost June. Some of you were just pulling out the trusty snow blower and now it’s swimsuit season — I hope your diet went better than mine.

With the sports calendar nearly halfway over, there has been a full year’s worth of activity. Take a look back at some of the most notable sports moments from the first half of the year.

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

Kirby Smart is sitting on top of the college football mountain in a way that no team has outside of Tuscaloosa. Well, at least since those two years with that team from Los Angeles that the NCAA has declared never happened. The Dawgs won their second-consecutive championship, and did so in dominating fashion.

Georgia lost 15 players to the NFL Draft in April 2022 and did not miss a beat. The Dawgs almost threw up that game in Missouri, but even with that loss, they would have gone to the SEC Championship Game. The rest of the schedule was a wash until New Year’s Eve. Ohio State put on its best performance of the season at Georgia’s second home in Atlanta, but hooked that 50-yard field goal right as the ball dropped in Times Square.

In the National Championship Game Georgia got back to kicking ass with a literal historic 65-7 shellacking of TCU in the title game.

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

An MVP candidate during the regular season, but outside of Philadelphia respect was grudgingly granted to him as a star. During the playoffs the Eagles plowed through its opposition using their dominance at the line of scrimmage — and the San Francisco 49ers not having a quarterback physically able to throw a football in the NFC Championship Game.

In the Super Bowl, Hurts went toe-to-toe against arguably the greatest player in the history of the NFL and stuck with him play-for-play. This player — pulled at halftime of a National Championship Game for a true freshman — put the exclamation point on a spectacular season.

Jalen Hurts was one of the two best players in the NFL last season.

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

The best player in the NFL. The MVP. While the Kansas City Chiefs were not doubted in the way that Travis Kelce wants the world to believe, there were certainly questions about Patrick Mahomes. Some defensive coordinator really wanted to get something off of his chest when he said that Mahomes played streetball, but also wasn’t chesty enough to put his name on it.

At one time the ABA was considered too playground, but modern NBA players have games much more reminiscent of Julius Erving and George Gervin than John Havlicek and Lou Hudson. The same way that Joe Burrow is far more like Patrick Mahomes than Peyton Manning.

Mahomes took it all last season. The MVP, the championship, and all of the grit points for playing two-and-a-half postseason games with that brutal high-ankle sprain. He is a player of the likes the NFL has never seen and deserves to be respected as such.

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

It was a seismic event when 16-seed UMBC defeated 1-seeded Virginia in the 2018 NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship. The moment that sports fans didn’t think would ever happen, but still waited for with bated breath. That loss was so embarrassing that it served as the ultimate redemption narrative for Virginia’s 2019 championship.

The unthinkable happened again when Purdue lost to Fairleigh Dickinson in the first round. With the transient nature of men’s college basketball, we have come to expect upsets, but this is still only the second time that a 16-seed has advanced. Upsets may be common, but not this one.

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

College basketball with actual star power. The National Championship Game was not as competitive throughout as the semifinal matchup between LSU and South Carolina. It was still able to give the sports-viewing public what is uncommon in the modern men’s game, true star collegiate basketball personalities in Angel Reese and Caitlin Clark. That is why this matchup was the highest-rated women’s college basketball game of all time.

Both stars fit hand-in-glove with their programs, and it was obvious the moment that the starters for Reese’s Tigers and Clark’s Hawkeyes were introduced. Clark fired away from behind the arc as best as she could to keep them in the game, but LSU was too much.

There was even a national dog whistle conversation about sportsmanship that followed. Reese and Clark brought the culture wars back to college basketball matchups. For those who pine for the 1980s and 1990s version of college basketball, the women have it for you.

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

Joe DiMaggio’s hitting streak might be the only record left that is considered unbreakable. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar played for 20 seasons and scored 38,325 points in his career. Who would even have the longevity to approach that mark?

Enter LeBron James. His constant greatness from Year 1 to Year 20 allowed him to break the NBA record that no one ever expected to fall. There will always be a debate over who is better between Michael Jordan and LeBron. That record won’t bump Lebron to No. 1 in the minds of most Jordan fans, but it is an undeniable win over His Airness.

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

From the Western Conference Finals to trading two starters and a first-round pick for Kyrie Irving and getting fined for tanking after missing the postseason entirely.

Watching the Mavericks struggle with last season’s team — sans Jalen Brunson — was one thing. However, a team unable to string together wins with both Irving and Luka Dončić was downright hilarious. Mark Cuban bet the farm on an unpredictable, undersized scoring guard who might not even re-sign with the Mavericks this offseason. Also, with the Mavericks’ depth weakened, their defense was atrocious. They struggled to stay in front of their own reflection.

The Mavericks got lucky last season when the top-seeded Phoenix Suns imploded during their second-round matchup. This season it was the Mavericks who put the spotlight on themselves with the Irving trade and melted.

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

The alleged incidents at first were head-scratching — the fight, the mall, the mysterious laser. All curious, but nothing that could fully be substantiated. Then Morant decided to provide evidence beyond reasonable doubt of him being a knucklehead on camera when he flashed a gun not once, but twice on Instagram.

That’s when his safety first started to become a concern, because if anyone is going to suffer the tragic consequences that can come with brandishing a firearm, probability and systemic racism says that it will most likely be a man of Morant’s age and ethnicity.

Now with a wellness check being called for Morant after his cryptic “Bye” social media post, safety is really the only concern for this young man at this point

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

In an NBA Playoffs lacking dominant teams, there is one playing 5,280 feet higher than everyone else. That sweep of the Lakers was hard fought, but also a moment when the Nuggets stuck their flag in the ground as the class of the NBA.

When healthy, their starting lineup has been as good as any in the NBA. On a true national stage against the NBA’s most recognizable franchise and face, the Nuggets put on a show. They dominated, they stumbled, they struggled, and through four games forced sports fans all over the world to acknowledge them as a special team.

Image for article titled Epic upsets, stellar QBs, and the most notable sports moments of the first half of 2023

That damn hockey. No. 8 seeds advancing is far more common in the NHL than MLB and most certainly the NBA. Still, the Panthers didn’t qualify for the playoffs until the final moments of the regular season.

They then launched the President’s Cup curse at the Boston Bruins like the stinger from Mortal Kombat’s Scorpion. Next up was Canada, and this squad out of South Florida melted the Toronto Maple Leafs.

Back to the states they came to play the Carolina Hurricanes. It took five combined overtimes, for the Panthers to take a 2-0 series. They won again at home 1-0 in Game 3, and the rink in Sunrise, Fla. was rocking on Wednesday night.

The game was another barnburner with the Hurricanes appearing to send the game into overtime by scoring with less than three minutes remaining in regulation. Then came the shot heard ‘round Broward County. The Panthers took the lead on a goal from Matthew Tkachuk with 4.3 seconds remaining in the game.

The Arizona Cardinals cut DeAndre Hopkins, so where does he end up?

Where does DeAndre Hopkins wind up?

With a rebuild well underway for the Arizona Cardinals, the expected move of moving on from star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins finally happened Friday, with the franchise officially announcing his release. Hopkins’ future in Arizona had been heavily speculated since the end of last season, mainly due to the direction of the franchise mixed with his $30.75 million cap hit, the highest for any receiver in the NFL and seventh overall among any player.

So where does that leave the five-time Pro Bowler? Here are the best fits for the soon-to-be-31-year-old Hopkins after a three-year stay in the desert. One team not appearing on this list is Houston. The Texans were the team that drafted Hopkins and where he played for the first seven years of his NFL career. With winning a Super Bowl in mind, I can’t think of a worse franchise to bet on. However, here are the best choices for D-Hop.

Image for article titled The Arizona Cardinals cut DeAndre Hopkins, so where does he end up?

When it comes to being so close, yet so far from winning a championship, no team exemplifies that more in recent years than Buffalo. Signing someone the caliber of Hopkins could finally put the Bills over the edge instead of losing in the playoffs again.

Lamar Jackson

Let’s keep Lamar Jackson happy! Even with a brand-new contract, drafting Zay Flowers in the first round of this year’s NFL Draft and the acquisition of Odell Beckham Jr., Baltimore’s wide receiving corps is still subpar. And here’s one spot where Hopkins can be the No. 1 guy.

Eric Bieniemy

In terms of winning a Super Bowl quickly, this absolutely isn’t the strongest fit. However, with Eric Bieniemy now installed as the team’s offensive coordinator and with a major point to prove around the league, Hopkins would be a major focal point and a major weapon for a younger offense.

Kirk Cousins (l.) and Justin Jefferson

Here’s a pipe dream. Justin Jefferson on one side, Hopkins on the other. What team is stopping that duo? Neither would be completely fulfilled in terms of workload, but it would be fun as heck to watch. Until Kirk Cousins somehow messes it up.

Patrick Mahomes

When it comes to being involved in anything in the NFL, Kansas City isn’t far behind. While the Chiefs don’t need Hopkins to win another Super Bowl, he’d be the best wide receiver on the team. This might be the only team he’d take a major pay cut to join with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. 

Joe Burrow

Why not give Joe Burrow another big-name target? The Bengals would be an interesting fit for Hopkins as they’re a combination of the situations for Buffalo and Kansas City. They need to get over the hump to win a Super Bowl, but not much more has to go right for Cincinnati to get there.

Jerry Jones

Every attractive NFL agent should be considered to go to Dallas because Jerry Jones can spend money. The team hasn’t truly lived up to its billing for an incredibly long time and Hopkins could be what sends Cowboys to the next level. 

Life after greatness: What happens when a sport loses its GOAT?

What do you do once the GOATs are gone?

There’s no denying that GOATs are great for a sport when they’re still active. Michael Jordan, Tony Hawk, and other best-to-ever-do-its pushed their sports to popularity not seen since, but led to fans coming down off a trip so perfect that they were left fiending for the next fix of greatness personified.

We always want to know who’s next in line to take the throne, and more often than not the line of successors is filled with false idols. Sure, the NFL post-Tom Brady is doing fine, but that’s the Shield, and while it, like soccer, is probably immune to Post Traumatic GOAT Syndrome due to sports’ popularity, Patrick Mahomes helps (as does Kylian Mbappe).

If No. 15 wasn’t around, fans would be talking themselves into Josh Allen or Joe Burrow, and those two aren’t on Brady’s block let alone in his city. Mahomes is at least close, which is fortunate for the NFL. When the falloff following a GOAT is so striking, it can send fans into a malaise until a successor proves worthy.

After Jordan retired from the Chicago Bulls for good, the NBA dipped into a funk that only LeBron James could help them out of. Adam Silver is facing an oncoming reality without LeBron, and soon thereafter Steph Curry, and that should scare the shit out of him.

I find the post-GOAT dip fascinating for a variety of reasons, but the main one is can a player be too great? At what point does an athlete become so celebrated that they’re bigger than the game? In some instances, when a superstar moves on, so too does some of the fanbase. So with a number of GOATs recently retired, or on their way, now seems like a good time to look at life after greatness.

I don’t know if I’m onto something, or just on something, but indulge me. (Maybe take a gummy, too. I don’t know.)

What happens when a GOAT sets off for greener pastures?

The subsequent years after a GOAT retires are often filled with existential crises for their sports. There’s an inevitable dip in popularity because 20 years of storylines don’t accompany every playoff game, and we’re used to legacy-defining stakes. Think about the best meal you ever ate, sex you ever had, or party you’ve ever attended. Now think of your last meal, romp, and soiree. Congrats to you if one of them was the best, but also, I’m sorry, because now you will measure everything with that standard in mind.

It’s going to take a minimum of five more years for Mahomes to tie Brady’s Super Bowl mark, and that’s assuming he runs off the next five straight. That means we’re not going to get Super Bowls of GOAT-making proportions until 2028, but likely way beyond that because I doubt we get back-to-back 20-year dynasties.

Think about the distance that Brady and LeBron put between themselves and the next guy as far as the record books go. It’s wild. Luka Dončić and Mahomes only need another 15 to 17 healthy and prime or prime-adjacent seasons to get there.

Not every GOAT is created equal, and the level of impact determines the level of PTGD. Because I’m the foremost scientific mind in this made-up field, I separated the GOATs into three tiers — tier one being the entry-level and three being the Master Class — to illustrate the risks of perfection.

GOAT Tier 1

The first tier features players whose records are breakable, and honestly, there are not a lot of those still around for a number of reasons but mostly the lifespan of sports. The UFC has probably had the most GOATs this century, and that’s because MMA’s popularity is new relative to other sports.

Men’s tennis is the other sport this century where the GOAT belt has changed hands a few times. Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, and Novak Djokovic each have their own claim to a surface — clay, grass, hardcourt, respectively — and their collective dominance ushered in a Golden Era. Now, it’s on Carlos Alcaraz to follow their acts, but he’s already had a few health issues despite looking like a composite of the Three Musketeers.

There will definitely be a hole left when the last of that trio retires, yet three different guys were able to each hold the Grand Slam record over the span of a few years, so it’s reasonable that Alcaraz or a player to be named later could win more because they won’t be vying with two other peers for hardware. Thus the Tier 1 status for Rafa, Federer, and Djokovic, because their feats feel attainable despite being the standard.

GOAT Tier 2

This is Mount Olympus, with figures so untouchable their true believers will never disavow them. Jordan and LeBron are up here. So is Wayne Gretzky. Whoever tops the list of best baseball players ever is on here even though there isn’t a unanimous GOAT of MLB.

There are patron saints, and their devout followers worship them as if they were GOATs, so Hank Aaron, Nolan Ryan, etc. technically qualify. Be that as it may, baseball has such a complicated history with stats, and is so team-reliant, that there’s not a discernible path to the top. A lot of the most prestigious records are unbreakable, and all that shows why MLB is hustling backward. (More on that later.)

Tier 2 GOATs are titans of their sports, and leagues want to keep these athletes around for as long as possible. They rewrite the record books season after season, and are always a ratings draw. There’s a reason Brady and LeBron have been the faces of their league’s promos for the past five to 10 years. The sport is more popular when they’re in it, just like the NBA is more popular when the Lakers and Knicks are good.

The retirement of Tier 2 GOATs prompts panic attacks in commissioners, and often the response is to hype up the next logical challenger regardless of the meaning of “generational talent.” There aren’t many other exit strategies because there’s no dressing up “Our biggest name of the past 20 years, maybe ever, is retiring.”

GOAT Tier 3

In niche sports, the star can burn so hot that it turns into a sun and sparks solar systems. When that star goes dark, the sport loses its gravitational pull on the mainstream. Has skateboarding ever been as popular since Tony Hawk’s 900? As much as he sucks, Shaun White’s gold medal runs at the Olympics were probably the peak for snowboarding. He’s retired (good riddance), but it’s challenging to name another pro snowboarder.

Golf and tennis will never fall out of the mainstream like extreme and/or Olympic-specific sports because too many rich people regularly pick up a racket or a driver. (They ski, too, but not as many.) I bring up those country club activities because Tiger Woods and Serena Williams are so incredibly popular that it’s going to take years, decades, maybe longer to replace the viewership those two routinely brought, and in Woods’ case kind of still brings, to major tournaments.

They were physically and mentally stronger than the field, and dominated in a way that made good players look like hacks in comparison. Combine that with their ability to cross racial barriers few, if any, Black athletes in tennis and golf did before them, and you get demigods that go by one name.

Tier 3 GOATs lead to golden ages, and if not golden ages, at least the most public and profitable eras of those sports. Muhammad Ali is a Tier 3 GOAT. There are a lot of reasons why boxing isn’t what it used to be, but one of the main factors in its downfall is that nobody fights each other when they should. It’s hard to have a pound-for-pound greatest when the gloves can’t speak for themselves.

You never want fans reminiscing over “When such-and-such sport was still great” like they talk about the Rumble in the Jungle, the Tiger Slam, or either Serena Slams. A lot of times it’s obvious when a sport is peaking, and that kind of high leaves leagues chasing something that will never be duplicated again.

When the greatest of all time isn’t replicable

Human empathy and emotion have thrust pitcher safety to the forefront of baseball’s mind, which is great. It’s also preventing guys from ever coming near the records that would vault them into GOAT territory. Statisticians can serve spin rate and exit velocity all they want, but records for complete games and wins, among others, make chasing history impossible. The pursuit of ultimate, unquestioned greatness is the most magnetic storyline in sports, and when that theater is eliminated, it’s hard to regain a hold over fans.

The GOAT-est of accomplishments is the home run record. Barry Bonds holds both the single-season and career marks, and his vilification has forever tarnished the record books for some. Hammerin’ Hank is still the greatest home run hitter to many baseball historians, and Yankees fans will tell you Aaron Judge is the true regular season home run king. As crotchety and stupid as it sounds to say that questionable bloodlines among certain home run kings have dampened MLB’s popularity and its potential for ever regaining the moniker, America’s Pastime, it’s true.

I’m a known Yankees hater, and even I think Judge’s 2022 season should’ve been a bigger deal and meant more. It didn’t take despite the live look-ins because everything that happened with Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Bonds turned fans into cynics.

Do you see the problem?

It’s fairly obvious, but I’ll say it anyway: No one cares about the race to be second (third, fourth, fifth, sixth, or seventh) best.

Longevity is great, but how entertaining is it?

The argument against GOATs is shorter careers, and constantly keeping the product fresh and new. It’s a dumbass argument, which is why leagues placate their GOATs, and we end up getting Roger Clemens and Brady holding franchises hostage while they figure out if it’s finally time to eschew the costumes. The way athletes/GOATs are extending their careers only serves to strengthen leagues’ reliance on them.

If I were Dana White, I’d be a raging lunatic, but I’d also want the UFC GOAT belt to change hands with regularity. Jon Jones’ problems outside of the octagon have left the door ajar for another fighter to reach and surpass his legend in a decade or so, and that’s a valuable asset not every governing body can boast about its sport. (Ditto for the WNBA as its inaugural season was in 1997.)

A lot of the qualifying stats and achievements to become GOAT eligible are so difficult to reach that challengers have a visible limp during the last days of their pursuit. If LeBron plays another three to four years, that’s basically a quarter-century pursuit.

It’s rare for Brady and LeBron to be title worthy at such advanced ages, but in other cases, we’re begging guys to retire for no reason other than letting the sports move on. This is the issue currently facing the PGA with Tiger. He’s still the biggest draw, but as soon as his tournament goes south because the lower half of his body is in shambles, fans tune out.

It’s impossible to move on in any facet of life if you’re still clinging to the past. Letting go is hard, but letting go knowing it will never be that good again is painful — and probably why a lot of athletes have such a difficult time stepping away.

The thirst for who’s next, and ways to juice the system

Alexander Ovechkin is going to break Gretzky’s career goals mark, which is legendary in its own right, and will be the storyline in the NHL’s regular season until it happens. Yet I don’t think he ever got the next Great One vibes like Connor McDavid. The NHL squandered Gretzky’s popularity before he retired, and should be very smart about how they handle the game while McDavid is active.

Brady became the undisputed best QB by his play, and with the help of adjustments to the passing game and player safety. I’m not saying it was a flawless move because there’s been some pushback on the preferential treatment of offenses. If you go by the ratings though, the NFL has never been stronger.

While Gary Bettman might be willing to trade integrity for rules changes and has a veil of safety to hide behind if he made the game more scoring-friendly, he doesn’t have the vision, or the backbone to stand up to puck fanatics. I also don’t know enough about hockey to know if what I’m proposing is even possible, but I think my thought process is sound.

The next best thing rarely pans out to be the best, and is more likely to kick off a spell of mundane or average things that simply happened to follow the best. So, when there’s a candidate for the next GOAT, the powers that be should Americanize the shit of them — be unapologetically capitalistic about marketing, bend the rules to hit the numbers, and rig the system for people who won the genetic lottery.

Fans look for any excuse to dub 16-year-olds the next Jordan — and usually, the excuse is so they can tear them down when they fall short — but the other reason is that they know what it’s like to be a “Witness,” or at least want to be privy to one in their lifetime. Watching history is an incredible feeling, and the more you can pitch that to your fans, and have it be true, the better.

The future of GOAT chasing

Seeing as fans won’t have legit challengers to the unified GOAT belt in any major American sports for another decade-plus, morning shows looking for hot takes have made the arguments more specific. In addition to talking about every 12-0 NFL team’s chances of going undefeated, there’s no shortage of hyperbolic conversations as soon as a stat juxtaposes Friday night’s OT thriller with Game 4 of the 1987 NBA Finals.

Sports fans will entertain debates like the clutch GOAT, the comeback GOAT, or GOAT dunk contests because of recency bias, but also because they’re within the realm of possibilities. An argument has to be realistic because people only tolerate so much blasphemy, and that’s what it’s like to speak ill of the GOATs. (That doesn’t mean ESPN and league marketers won’t make the case however hollow.)

Judging by the record books, and the length of time it took to write them, sports are about to enter a long, GOATless winter, and I’m fascinated to see what happens in the five to 10 years after Lionel Messi, Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena, Brady, LeBron, Tiger, Djokovic, Federer, and Nadal.

Athletes are always getting bigger, stronger, and faster, and as much as that boosts sports’ entertainment value, it also levels the playing field. While fans say they want parity, the public loves greatness almost to a fault. Look at all the idiots who jump from team to team following Lebron. What are they going to do when he retires? Latch onto the next guy? Get together and drink Kool-Aid laced with arsenic in a display of devotion?

I’m not saying sports, as a whole, have peaked — that’s a think piece for a different sativa — but we’re a long way away from another wave of athletes approaching certified GOAT-dom, and it’ll be compelling to see how each league moves forward without its North Star.

Patrick Mahomes, arguably the NFL’s top QB, fine with not being paid accordingly

Image for article titled Patrick Mahomes, arguably the NFL's top QB, fine with not being paid accordingly

Being the best quarterback in the NFL is always going to pay handsomely. That player will have one of the highest salaries in professional sports and also be able to cash in on prime endorsements. Whether the contracts are with Subway, State Farm Insurance, or the Kansas City Chiefs, Patrick Mahomes will always be greatly compensated.

When Mahomes signed his first contract extension prior to the 2020 season not only did he take a small, team-friendly discount, but he also inked it before the NFL agreed to new television deals in 2021. Three years after receiving that 10-year, $503 million contract, by average yearly salary Mahomes is the seventh-highest-paid quarterback in the league.

By the start of the 2023 season, Mahomes will likely be the NFL’s ninth-highest-paid quarterback. Rookie quarterbacks who turn into stars generally get their mega-contracts in the offseason prior to Week 1 of Year 4. That means Joe Burrow and Justin Herbert will likely soon be $50 million per year players. At Chiefs’ OTAs, Mahomes was asked about his current contract situation.

“You just want to do whatever to not hurt other quarterbacks whenever their contracts come up,” Mahomes told the media. “You wanna keep the bar pushing. It’s not about being the highest-paid guy. It’s not about making a ton of money.

“I’ve made enough money where I’ll be set for the rest of my life. At the same time, you gotta find that line where you’re making a good amount of money, but you’re still keeping a lot of great players around you so you can win these Super Bowls and you’re able to compete in these games.”

Patrick Mahomes has earned his money by winning the Super Bowl, MVPs

Keeping the Chiefs competitive and under the salary cap is not Mahomes’ responsibility. The franchise pays people good money to do that math. If the problem of assembling a roster becomes too great, then Clark Hunt can say at the next owners’ meetings that the league shouldn’t be placing restrictive limits on how much the franchises are allowed to spend on players.

Mahomes’ responsibility is to take care of his family. Financially, he doesn’t have to lift a finger to accomplish that for the rest of his life. That is a wonderful place to be in as a professional. He can choose to accept less money to be happier at work and the sacrifice will not impact his lifestyle.

A lovely Disney film, but Mahomes does live in the U.S.A. Being the best laborer in his industry does come with responsibility. Not only must he lead his team, but he has to demand a salary that maximizes the bargaining power of the rest of the NFLPA.

Assuming that he stays healthy, a one-of-a-kind talent like that not renegotiating his contract before it expires — especially after winning another MVP and Super Bowl — would harm negotiations for the rest of his NFL brethren. Without guaranteed contracts, players have to stuff every dollar they can into their pockets from their limited time inside the league’s money machine.

While Mahomes will probably enter the 2023 season as the ninth-highest-paid quarterback, don’t expect that to last too many more years. He certainly enjoys the strong roster that he goes to battle with on Sundays, however, he is a professional football player. This is not a health club league.

Not his teammates in the locker room, but also his teammates in the union depend on the guy with the bath bombs in the State Farm commercial to lead the way. The NFL is about more than touchdown passes, it’s about financial security.

Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

New York Jets head coach Robert Saleh

The 2023 NFL season is set up to be a doozy. The schedule was released on Thursday night to much fanfare, and the best games of the season have already been picked out. However, the 2023 season is set to be impactful in a variety of ways. The narrative lovers will have a field day and the implications of some of these games could be wide-ranging and potentially change the way we view the league for 2023 and beyond. What are the most impactful games of the 2023 NFL season, though? Let’s dig in.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

This is what the New York Jets dreamed of when Aaron Rodgers declared his intent to play for the team all those months ago. Rodgers makes his long-awaited Gang Green debut against the Buffalo Bills on Monday Night Football. Is there a more fitting place to start?

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

The Bills are the current bar in the AFC East. They’ve won three consecutive division titles with relative ease. It might not have led to profound playoff success, but the East runs through Buffalo until proven otherwise. The Bills are looking to be more than just an excellent regular team. Sean McDermott isn’t on the hot seat, but this Bills team is too good to be bounced out of the playoffs in the Divisional Round for the third year. But the competition in the AFC is heating up.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

It’s a real opportunity for the Jets to send an early message on day one: there’s a seismic shift coming. The roster is good enough to compete with the Bills, and while the goal for New York is now the Super Bowl, they have to start somewhere. The Aaron Rodgers era begins against the Jets’ stiffest in-division rivals. Can the former MVP lead them to the promised land?

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

This one slides in for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’ll be the first time in NFL history that a team will play two overseas games in one season. The Jacksonville Jaguars have been playing one home game a year in London for a while now, they’re essentially the UK’s team, but an extra game there is unprecedented.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

The Jaguars play their routine home game at Wembley Stadium in Week 4 against the Atlanta Falcons and, rather than heading back home, will spend the next week in London prepping to take on the Buffalo Bills at Tottenham Stadium as the defacto road team. Could this be a stepping stone for the NFL’s first international team? Probably not. But you never know.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

However, what really catches the eye here is that the Jaguars and Bills are both legitimate contenders. UK fans haven’t necessarily been subjected to bad games, but the fixtures have been short of marquee games. This one probably only exists because it’s the Jaguars are international regulars. But giving die-hard UK fans a real game between two of the most competitive teams in the NFL should be the norm moving forward. If it goes down well, we could see more big games overseas in the not-so-distant future. This could act as a catalyst.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

At first glance, this might not have the allure that one would expect when talking about the most impactful games on an NFL schedule. It’s been four years since the Texans had a winning record, and even longer (six years) for the Panthers. These aren’t two teams that are generally used to winning in recent times but that could all change in the next few years.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

This is the battle between the top two quarterbacks in the 2023 NFL Draft: Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud (pictured). Young went No. 1 overall to the Panthers, while Stroud followed by going No. 2 to the Texans. Both quarterbacks will be hoping to change the fortunes of their franchises, and while this game won’t necessarily give us a good indication of who got the better end of the stick – we won’t fully know that for a couple of years – it’ll be a fun matchup between two talented quarterbacks and two teams looking to head in the right direction.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

In its totality, we could be looking at two of the future stars in the NFL going head-to-head for the first time. Young and Stroud (pictured) will likely be tied to each other in one way or another for their whole careers and the bragging rights start early. Could this potentially be a Super Bowl matchup one day? We won’t get ahead of ourselves, but Young and Stroud are stars in the making.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

Thanksgiving is synonymous with football. The two go hand-in-hand. The NFL has had three Thanksgiving games since the dawn of man, but the prospect of a Black Friday game has massive financial implications for the league. Amazon has exclusive rights to the game but will provide free access for all fans, with the broadcast streaming on Prime Video.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

It’s another opportunity for the NFL to put its stamp over another holiday and aligning with Amazon and Black Friday, a holiday that’s exclusively catered to buying items makes complete sense. The fact that no other pro sports have really grabbed the spotlight on Black Friday leaves a gaping hole to exploit too. Ratings will be through the roof, especially since the game is a supposed 3 p.m. Eastern start.

The NFL hasn’t traditionally played games on a Friday, but opportunities to expand the brand and tap into new markets like this don’t come often, and the league could reap the rewards.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

The Bengals and the Chiefs have faced off four times in the last two seasons, with two of those games being back-to-back AFC Championship Game bouts, with both teams winning one game apiece. This is the rivalry of all rivalries in the NFL right now. Patrick Mahomes vs Joe Burrow, Kansas City vs Cincinnati. The hottest rivalry between two of the best teams in the AFC and the NFL.

Image for article titled Bengals-Chiefs, Jets-Bills, and the most impactful 2023 NFL matchups

The implications of this game this late in the season are bound to be huge. Both teams will surely be contending for the top seed in the AFC and unless one team dominates the regular season, the Chiefs and Bengals are bound to have close-to-identical records. If they do, this game could be for all of the marbles. A potential rubber match in the AFC Championship is on the cards, but how they get to that spot could really be impacted by this late-season matchup.

Everything in the AFC, who gets the first-round bye, who has a tougher route to the big dance, could be decided by this game.

Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs will face the Eagles in Week 11

The NFL schedule is here. All 17 games for your favorite teams now have a when, as opposed to the who and where that was decided months ago. This all really could’ve been an email, Roger. But we have to draw this out like American Idol in the mid-2000s, releasing more parts of the schedule … after the break.

Sifting through the 272 regular-season games, here are the top matchups. While everyone has the potential to be exciting, some are guaranteed to be duds. And we’re listing the ones with the least chance of being disappointing. Why not start where the league left off, two quarters after Rihanna’s brilliant halftime performance?

Image for article titled Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

Instead of in Arizona, the two teams who played in last season’s Super Bowl will do battle again from the home of the last five AFC Championship games, Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City. It’ll take place on Nov. 20, the Monday before Thanksgiving, kicking off a stacked week for the NFL with its trio of Thanksgiving games. And one matchup with the usual Detroit and Dallas duo stands out.

Image for article titled Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

The NFL’s biggest rivalry in a prime spot on a holiday should draw a huge audience for the NFL. These teams play in the NFL’s best division and this will be a critical showdown for positioning late in the season. The last time the teams played on Thanksgiving was in 2020, when the then-Washington Football Team dominated “America’s Team” 41-16.

Image for article titled Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

This will be a matchup that’ll be more important for off-the-field reasons than anything that will get determined by an early-season AFC East showdown. It’ll be Tom Brady’s return to Gillette Stadium to be celebrated by New England for his decades of devotion to the franchise. It’ll skip over him leaving though I’m sure. Those years in Tampa never happened.

Image for article titled Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

How does the Aaron Rodgers era officially start in East Rutherford, New Jersey? By welcoming Super Bowl contender Buffalo to MetLife Stadium. After last year’s disappointing finish to the season for the Bills, ruining the coronation of King Rodgers of Northern New Jersey is first on the to-do list.

Image for article titled Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

Another Super Bowl rematch here of teams that have gone in completely opposite directions since that day at SoFi Stadium. It looks like it’s a matter of when, not if, the Bengals win the franchise’s first Super Bowl since losing to the Rams two seasons ago. L.A., on the other hand, has looked like anything since Super after becoming NFL champions. This will be a fun early-season Monday Night Football game.

Image for article titled Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

Arguably the top two picks to represent the AFC in next year’s Super Bowl will have a regular-season showdown at Arrowhead on New Year’s Eve, with positioning for home-field advantage likely hanging in the balance for this one. Anytime Joe Burrow and Patrick Mahomes are playing against each other, it’s must-see television.

Image for article titled Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

The two winners of NFL Draft week face off to begin the season in Baltimore. After Lamar Jackson’s offseason filled with drama led him to get exactly what he wanted, a huge contract with the Ravens, he’ll start the next chapter of his career against C.J. Stroud, Will Anderson, and an oddly hopeful Houston team.

Image for article titled Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

The biggest losers of NFL Draft weekend were Detroit and we’ll have an early indication of how those moves worked out for them by the fourth weekend of the NFL season. Not to be lost in all the Aaron Rodgers mess was the team he left behind, and a big in-division test for Jordan Love will be a great sign of whether he’ll be the third Packers’ QB in a row to have a Hall of Fame career. Hopefully he’s not as much of a whack job as the other two.

Image for article titled Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

This NFC West matchup got drawn into the late-game slot on Thanksgiving Day. If Philadelphia isn’t the favorite to win the NFC, it’s San Francisco. And the 49ers toughest-division test this season will come from Seattle. These two will play twice over the span of three weeks, making both showdowns critical for hopeful playoff positioning.

Image for article titled Aaron Rodgers in primetime, a Super Bowl LVII rematch, and the best 2023 NFL regular season games

I’m calling it now; this game will decide who wins the NFC South and the other team won’t make the postseason. In a post-Tom Brady era in Tampa, how the franchise moves on from the near-geriatric quarterback against the No. 1 overall draft pick in Bryce Young will be scintillating for those in the stadium in Charlotte.

Anthony Richardson should be the anchor of Pete Carroll’s Legion of Sonic Boom

Anthony Richardson at the NFL combine in February.

Anthony Richardson should be off the board in a blur whether he goes number one to the Carolina Panthers, third to whoever trades up with Arizona, or fourth to the Colts. However, the Seahawks drafting Richardson as the anchor of their budding offensive track team is the best fit.

Why Anthony Richardson?

Richardson is far from a sure thing. During his sophomore year at Florida, Richardson bounced from Superman to offensive kryptonite to Clark Kent and into the Gators’ Superboy (Caleb Williams’ Heisman already earned him full rights to college football’s Superman moniker). 

Various mock drafts have Seattle selecting Will Anderson or Texas Tech defensive end Tyree Wilson with their fifth pick. Fundamentally that makes sense, but quarterbacks are the foundation of contenders and the Seahawks are a bit wobbly at the NFL’s most important position. Locking Geno Smith into a reasonable contract for the next three years removed the need to draft a quarterback, but there’s always the potential that Smith could turn back into a pumpkin. Like Kyle Shanahan in San Fran, Carroll is one of the few proven coaches who have the clout to drag two quarterbacks along on a twin track.

Pete Carroll typically drafts and constructs rosters with a theme. A decade ago, he was obsessed with tall, rangy defensive backs for his single-high coverages. That philosophy produced the Legion of Boom. In the mid-2010s, he developed a penchant for pinching mobile athletes whom former offensive line coach Tom Cable could nurture into effective blockers. The results were mixed, but that hasn’t been the case with Carroll’s Legion of Sonic Boom athletes, who are rivaled in pure gridiron speed by only Philadelphia or Miami.

The Legion of Sonic Boom

Remarkably, the Seahawks have accumulated speed without compromising their size. Two seasons ago, ESPN studied all 32 rosters and identified Seattle as the third fastest team in the NFL. That was before they plucked 6-foot-4 cornerback Tariq Woolen out of the fifth round. The 23-year-old addition to the Speedhawks showcased breakneck recovery speed in coverage, en route to establishing himself as a potential shutdown corner in the making, finishing third in Defensive Rookie of the Year voting.

The speed theme has been even more conspicuous on the offensive end. Tight end Noah Fant’s field-stretching quickness is enough of a threat to puncture defense after the catch. Kenneth Walker’s 4.38 40 time was the third-fastest among 35 running backs in 2022, while his Relative Athletic Score ranked sixth.

D.K. Metcalf’s RAS ranked second among all receivers in the 2019 class, but he fell due to the perception of him as as an unrefined route runner. Carroll took a chance on his runaway train speed in a defensive end’s frame. Even diminutive receiver Tyler Lockett retains his sprinter’s speed nearly a decade into his Seahawks career. Philadelphia’s NFC Championship laid out the blueprint for Seattle to follow as long as they secure one missing puzzle piece.

A chiseled 6-foot-4, 244-pound quarterback — whose physical tools are a composite of Woolen and Metcalf — oozes the type of splash play ability Philly nearly rode to a Super Bowl. At February’s NFL combine, Richardson set new records in the combine broad jump, the vertical leap, and ran the fourth fastest electronically-timed 40 for a quarterback since 2000. Richardson’s perfect RAS score of 10.00 out of 10.00 ranked first out of 890 quarterbacks measured since 1987.

Where Richardson fits in

He looks like Derrick Henry, cruises at the pace of Bo Jackson, and throws like Jamarcus Russell. The last comp is a concern. Richardson’s speed could be wasted on him chasing down defensive backs after another misfire. If he can harness those skills, Richardson could be the flagship player for the NFL’s most explosive offense. Therein lies the Richardson conundrum. Richardson is a Rorschach Test quarterback. Carroll and general manager John Schneider’s true evaluations of Richardson are kept close to the vest, but there is reportedly a bevy of interest on the Seahawks’ end.

Seattle’s need for a pass rusher is obvious. After all, the aforementioned Eagles wouldn’t be where they are without Haason Reddick’s outside pressure, but pass rushers are in abundance compared to the dearth of viable Super Bowl-caliber quarterbacks. Besides, how much good has Chase Young been for Washington without a franchise quarterback after they passed on Tua Tagovailoa and Justin Herbert three years ago?

Nobody expects Richardson to develop the canny awareness of Patrick Mahomes or Joe Burrow in the pocket, but Jalen Hurts, Josh Allen, and even Justin Fields have demonstrated the heights raw passers can reach through modern NFL tutelage. Carroll’s revitalization of Smith’s career galvanized the Seahawks for a surprising playoff berth, but there’s a ceiling with him under center. Richardson’s bad habits can be tamed, but his athletic gifts can’t be taught. His floor is 10,000 leagues below the sea, but in Seattle’s case, Anthony Richardson is worth the gamble.

Follow DJ Dunson on Twitter: @cerebralsportex