Make a call on an NFL team. Who will surprise - either good or bad? Why?
Chris Feery: I like the Oakland Raiders to take a leap forward in 2016. In fact, I see a clear path for them to finish second in the AFC West and challenge for a Wild Card spot. The schedule sets up pretty well for them overall this season, and they showed plenty of promising signs in 2015. David Carr looks to be the real deal at QB, and I expect the defense to be vastly improved in year two of the Jack Del Rio era. On the division front, I’m envisioning a relatively challenging Super Bowl hangover type season for the Denver Broncos, which could push them into the neighborhood of 8-8. There’s too many question marks in the air to expect the San Diego Chargers to crack .500 when all is said and done. That leaves the Kansas City Chiefs to contend with, and we’ll assume they pick up where they left off in 2015 and take down the division crown. The Raiders can easily reside in second place with a mark of 10-6, and that record should also be enough to place them squarely in the mix for a playoff berth.
Chad Parsons: The Giants are one of my bets to improve for at least four games from 2015. They were 6-10 in a ho-hum NFC East where I see Eli Manning as easily the most bankable quarterback in the division. Manning has been a QB1 since Odell Beckham arrived and adding Sterling Shepard will be his best No.2 option in years. Their offensive live received a boost this offseason by Matt Bitonti's rankings and I like their stable of running backs overall between older efficient back Rashad Jennings, pass-catching specialist Shane Vereen, and incoming rookie Paul Perkins of note. Romo already has lingering back issues (to be kind) and Kirk Cousins is a regression candidate from his historic run to close 2015, which pushed Washington to nine wins and the playoffs.
Andy Hicks: I expect the Indianapolis Colts to struggle in 2016.
The AFC South has lacked depth for years with Tennessee and Jacksonville being also rans, while the Texans are the only other team that has offered quality. The Jaguars have been building slowly and are poised to challenge, while the Texans are improving as well. We'll forget about Tennessee for now as I expect nothing good from that unit this year. Essentially though, the Colts have been handed the division on a platter for years and last year Andrew Luck, the offense and defense all succumbed to pressure. What have they done in the offseason? They let Coby Fleener and 4 starting defenders leave. In return the only player of note signed was a 28 year old cornerback. The draft was heavy on offensive lineman, which is a good thing, but it will be highly unlikely this unit gels during the 2016 season. They need reps, experience and great coaching. Of course they did ensure that Andrew Luck stays with the franchise with a massive contract extension. but is this a good thing though? His play in 2015 hardly warranted it and unless he has learned how to protect himself and make better deci sions under pressure then we cannot assume all will be well. Opposing defenses know how to attack this unit and will be relentless until Luck or the lineman can improve protection. Scott Tolzien is now the backup and he is no Matt Hasselbeck. Ultimately if Andrew Luck hasn't improved and the Colts are stuck in status quo or worse regression, then we will see them go down the ladder and not up. Until I see something to the contrary the Colts look like a team on the way down.
Matt Waldman: The Minnesota Vikings will win the division and a playoff game this year. They will at least be within a game of a Super Bowl appearance. No matter what we say, we often overlook the importance of offensive line play. Teddy Bridgewater's adjusted stats reveal a quarterback who has made strides each year. This year we're going to see a quarterback who improves as a deep ball thrower, has more targets to deliver the ball and let them do most of the work, and Norv Turner will have the ability to open up the offense because the line won't be allowing pressure in the pocket on a league-leading 46 percent of Bridgewater's drops.
The defense is also a well-coached unit with talent in every zone. I expect Minnesota to go 11-5, edge Green Bay or Detroit for the title, and win a home playoff game.
Jason Wood: The Dallas Cowboys. As much as it pains me to admit this, I think the Cowboys will win the NFC East on the back of a major offensive resurgence. Tony Romo had surgery to make his collarbone a non-issue, and we know that when healthy he's an elite passer. Dez Bryant is also healthy again and has a huge chip on his shoulder. They still have the best offensive line in football and now have an uber-talented new bellcow in Ezekiel Elliott. The defense is still a train wreck but no more so than it was in 2014 when the Cowboys were a controversial play away from beating the Packers.