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Six things that could happen in 2024 NFL season that would’ve seemed preposterous entering 2023

Things change quickly in the NFL, not only in the standings but in the foundations of all 32 teams. Players and coaches come and go. Expectations are lowered and raised. And sometimes the sheer speed, volume and consistency of league-wide activity robs us of the opportunity to reflect on how drastically things have shifted. As we look ahead to the 2024 season, for example, there are a number of plausible scenarios that might’ve been deemed preposterous just a year ago.

Here are six examples of things that could realistically happen in 2024, but would’ve been mildly outrageous to entertain going into the 2023 campaign:

1. Justin Fields replaces Russell Wilson … on the Steelers

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Russell Wilson, Justin Fields Getty Images

Going into 2023, Fields was fresh off his first full year as a Chicago Bears starter, in which he became just the third quarterback to ever top 1,000 rushing yards. Wilson, meanwhile, was just getting to know new Denver Broncos coach Sean Payton, primed to rebound from a disastrous Mile High debut. A year later, both veterans are competing in Pittsburgh following the abrupt exit of former first-round pick Kenny Pickett. Wilson is the safer bet to open the year under center due to his experience, but Fields’ upside could eventually convince Mike Tomlin and Co. to roll the dice.

2. Jordan Love becomes the NFL’s highest-paid QB

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Jordan Love USATSI

The Green Bay Packers prospect certainly had some believers going into 2023. The team moved up to draft him 26th overall back in 2020, after all. But Love went into last season, his first as the full-timer in place of the departed Aaron Rodgers, with just a single NFL start under his belt. A year later, fresh off an inspiring and explosive playoff run, the 25-year-old has a case to clock in above Joe Burrow, Jared Goff, Justin Herbert in terms of annual earnings thanks to the perpetually growing quarterback market.

3. The Detroit Lions advance to a second straight NFC title game

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Jared Goff Getty Images

The Lions were an NFL darling to close 2022, disrupting a potential Aaron Rodgers retirement tour in Green Bay with a spirited Week 18 victory to keep the Packers from the playoffs. But few could’ve predicted how far that momentum would carry them to this day. Jared Goff reached new career heights as the gutsy signal-caller for their ultra-balanced setup in 2023, pulling Detroit within one win of a Super Bowl appearance. And now, going into 2024, with Goff and other core pieces locked up, it’s hard not to call the Lions one of the few total packages primed for another championship bid.

4. The Los Angeles Chargers return to form … under Jim Harbaugh

Introductory press conference of Chargers Head Coach Jim Harbaugh at YouTube Theater in Inglewood

Jim Harbaugh Getty Images

Brandon Staley didn’t exactly have a ringing endorsement from fans or local analysts when the Chargers wrapped 2022 by blowing a 27-point lead in the opening round of the playoffs. Even his in-season exit last December wasn’t all too surprising. But few could’ve pegged Harbaugh as a legitimate option to take over. Repeatedly downplaying NFL interest, the former San Francisco 49ers coach was coming off his best season at Michigan to date going into 2023, still eyeing a national title for the Wolverines. A year later, having secured that ultimate prize for his school, Harbaugh is back to retool Justin Herbert’s squad.

5. Kick returners become some of the NFL’s most valuable players

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Marvin Mims Jr. USATSI

It wasn’t long ago that NFL executives openly admitted the kickoff, with its incentivized touchbacks and emphasis on reducing high-speed contact, was on its way to becoming a “dead, ceremonial play.” Going into 2023, in fact, the introduction of a kick-return fair catch went on to produce the lowest number of total run-backs since 1959. Suddenly, just one year later, return specialists have rediscovered a place on NFL rosters, with the league completely overhauling the play for 2024. The new rules establish setup and return “zones,” encouraging more, albeit slower-developing returns behind revised formations.

6. The Houston Texans advance to the Super Bowl

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C.J. Stroud USATSI

Plenty anticipated the Texans would be better in 2023, finally addressing both quarterback and head coach by drafting C.J. Stroud and hiring DeMeco Ryans. But no one could’ve predicted just how quickly — and drastically — the new power duo would elevate Houston’s title hopes. Stroud bordered on MVP-level production for much of his poised debut, single-handedly raising the production of his good-not-great supporting cast, while Ryans oversaw a resilient defense en route to an instant playoff run. A year later, with big names like Stefon Diggs and Danielle Hunter onboard, a Lombardi Trophy seems within reach.

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