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NFL coaching predictions 2023: Projecting next Indianapolis Colts, Denver Broncos head coaches

There were five NFL coaches fired this season, kicking off an active coaching carousel as teams hope to find the next Brian Daboll or Kevin O’Connell. With a new crop of first-year coaches poised to enter the league, it’s time for NFL coaching predictions.

Sean Payton and Jim Harbaugh are among the best NFL coaching candidates in 2023, with clubs lining them up for face-to-face interviews. The cost of landing either Payton or Harbaugh is staggering, with both seeking to become among the highest-paid NFL coaches.

While Harbaugh and Payton are the most recognized names, there are other fantastic options available. San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator DeMeco Ryans is in high demand, while offensive coordinators like Ben Johnson and Shane Steichen are generating a ton of buzz.

Let’s dive into our NFL coaching predictions, projecting hirings for all five teams with vacancies.

NFL coaching predictions: Who will be hired in 2023?

Denver Broncos: Dan Quinn, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator

NFL: Dallas Cowboys at New York Giants
Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos’ ownership made it clear that cost won’t be a deterrent in their head-coaching search. It makes the franchise a legitimate threat to land either Payton or Harbaugh because money sways minds. However, this situation feels like Denver might ultimately be left at the altar.

Related: Denver Broncos, Jim Harbaugh share a strong interest

Payton is ‘50-50‘ and that was before reports surfaced that neither the Dallas Cowboys nor the Los Angeles Chargers will have head-coaching vacancies. If his top options are off the table, it’s reasonable to think Payton might pass on his last coaching job being tied to Russell Wilson. As for Harbaugh, it wouldn’t be surprising if he uses Denver for leverage to land a big contract extension from the Michigan Wolverines.

While that might disappoint Broncos fans, Dan Quinn isn’t a consolation prize. He is one of the best defensive coordinators in the NFL and he is beloved in multiple locker rooms by players. He could utilize Denver’s defensive talent to make it a top-10 unit in 2023. As for all of the money ownership wants to spend, it can be used to build one of the best offensive coaching staffs in football to support Quinn.

Carolina Panthers: Ben Johnson, Detroit Lions offensive coordinator

Syndication: Detroit Free Press
Junfu Han / USA TODAY NETWORK

Carolina Panthers interim coach Steve Wilks deserves the full-time gig. Unfortunately for him, owner David Tepper wants to make a splash and desperately wants the offense to take a step forward. Even if Wilks has a viable plan for his offensive coordinator, Carolina seems destined to name one of the NFL’s best play-callers as its head coach.

Related: NFL offense rankings

Detroit Lions offensive coordinator Ben Johnson would be an outstanding hire for the Panthers. There’s a reason he emerged as Carolina’s front-runner. Everyone thought Jared Goff was a stop-ga quarterback entering the 2022 season, someone who needs a Sean McVay-caliber coach to consistently produce and execute a top-10 offense.

Detroit finished sixth in scoring (26.6 PPG) and fourth in total yardage (380 ypg) this season. With Johnson calling plays and designing the game plan, the Lions ranked third in second-half scoring (13.1 PPG), sixth in points per play (0.415), fourth in red-zone touchdown rate (66.2%) and finished as the No. 6 offense Football Outsiders’ DVOA. If Johnson can do that with Goff, imagine what could be accomplished with a C.J. Stroud or Bryce Young.

Indianapolis Colts: Jeff Saturday, interim coach

Syndication: The Indianapolis Star
Robert Scheer/IndyStar / USA TODAY NETWORK

It’s rare to have NFL coaching predictions have the interim coach keeping the gig. Then again, the Indianapolis Colts aren’t run like most stable franchises. When owner Jim Irsay fired head coach Frank Reich, he overruled strong objections from team executives and named Jeff Saturday as the interim coach. Saturday’s only coaching experience came at the high school level (20-16), but his close relationship with Irsay is all that mattered.

It might be what determines who becomes the next Colts’ coach. Irsay gets the final say in the coaching search and all the signs point toward Saturday. He went 1-7 as interim coach and the Colts finished last in point differential, but Irsay kept talking up Saturday as a legitimate candidate to keep the job. Even general manager Chris Ballard, who seems to be on thin ice, can’t stop it.

The Colts will face criticism if Saturday is named head coach. Just months after Brian Flores sued the NFL for discriminatory hiring practices, Irsay could prove his point. Saturday showed nothing to demonstrate he can be an NFL head coach, but he jumped over coordinators and position coaches with far better resumes. Yet, friendly relationships with owners and general mangers influence hirings more often than not.

Houston Texans: DeMeco Ryans, San Francisco 49ers defensive coordinator

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at San Francisco 49ers
Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

The Houston Texans are in a terrible position right now. Consecutive one-and-done coaches are an awful look for the organization, especially when there is the perception that David Culley and Lovie Smith were “hired to be fired” by a rebuilding team. If general manager Nick Caserio gets his next hire wrong and Houston can’t pull itself out from the bottom, there will be stronger calls for Cal McNair to sell the team.

Under any other circumstance, DeMeco Ryans shouldn’t consider this job. The Texans are a poorly-run franchise with a checkered history of treatment toward its players and coaches. Yet, Ryans knows what stability can do and his ties to the team would make for an incredible story.

Opp. PPGOpp. YPGPressure RateYards per PlayDVOA Rank
202121.5 (10th)310 (3rd)24.1% (20th)5.1 (4th)-7.4% (7th)
202216.7 (1st)302.3 (2n)22.8% (11th)5.0 (4th)-14.1% (1st)
2022 defensive stats through Week 13 via Football Outsiders and Pro Football Reference

Related: Houston Texans mock draft

If Ryans grants an interview to the Texans, they need to offer him whatever he wants. He deserves to become one of the highest-paid first-year coaches ever with the financial backing to build his dream coaching staff. Failing to hire Ryans and settling for a worse option is something Houston must avoid. Otherwise, it might be time for the NFL to step in with applied pressure for a sale.

Arizona Cardinals: Brian Flores, Pittsburgh Steelers linebackers coach

NFL: New England Patriots at Miami Dolphins
Sam Navarro-USA TODAY Sports

After cleaning house following a disappointing 2022 season, the Arizona Cardinals are moving g quickly with their search for a general manager. If former safety Adrian Wilson earns the promotion, his ties could heavily influence who replaces Kliff Kingsbury.

As first noted by Cardinals’ reporter Mike Jurecki, Wilson played for the New England Patriots in 2013 when Brian Flores coached the team’s safeties. Years later, Wilson remains impressed by Flores’ football IQ and his unique ability to coach a variety of different players and positions.

  • Brian Flores coaching record: 24-25

When the Miami Dolphins began their rebuild in 2019, Flores won five games with a team that few expected even two victories from. The following year, Miami went 10-6 led by a top-10 defense and they posted a 9-8 record in 2021 despite Tua Tagovailoa missing time.

Flores would be given time in Arizona, allowed to implement his culture in 2023 as Kyler Murray recovers from a torn ACL. When the Cardinals’ franchise quarterback is fully healthy the following season, Arizona should have the offense and defense to be a playoff contender.