No NFL season is complete without a few shockers. Some insane happenings that just make you fall out of your seat. Assuming that 2017 will be no different, here are my predictions for a few teams that are going to unexpectedly turn some heads this season.
1/ Tennessee Titans
This might not be much of a surprise pick, as the Titans have been gaining steam among Monday morning QBs nationwide. With that said, what’s not to like for this team that hasn’t been to the playoffs since 2008? I’ll tell you –a potent offense that could be one of the best the NFL has to offer. Marcus Mariota is coming into his own at quarterback, and he has a terrific arsenal to throw to. In the backfield, Tennessee boasts former Eagles great DeMarco Murray. When Murray is off the field, second-year back Derrick Henry will pound his way to first downs. A decent defense will help this team to the AFC South title –11 wins seems doable for this squad.
2/ San Diego Chargers
Oakland will lead the way in the AFC West, but the Chargers are primed for a serious improvement this season. Much like the Titans, the Chargers have some serious playmakers on offense. Philip Rivers returns for his fourteenth season, and veteran Antonio Gates is back at tight end. Couple this with young stud Mike Williams at wide receiver, throw in potent back Melvin Gordon, and you’ve got yourself a team that can consistently pile on points. It’s also important to remember that San Diego was almost laughably unlucky in close games last season. The Chargers lost eight games by a touchdown or less in 2016. That won’t happen two years in a row.
3/ Arizona Cardinals
Most experts are quick to peg the Seahawks as the class of the NFC West, but I see the Cardinals making a move to the top of the division this season. Sure, Arizona regressed last year after three consecutive years of improvement, but I see the Cards’ star rising in 2017, and it’s because of that defense. Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu are going to make life difficult on receivers all season long, and the addition of veteran linebacker Karlos Dansby will greatly help the front seven.
4/ Minnesota Vikings
It’s easy to forget that the Vikings started 5-0 last season, before losing 8 of 11 to miss the playoffs at 8-8. Minnesota suffered a complete breakdown of their offensive line, as several starters were lost to injury. The replacements were frankly not good, but I see an improvement coming up front. Renewed health will give Sam Bradford more time to throw, and to be honest, he didn’t look all that bad last year. Losing A.P. is tough, but this team boasts a formidable defense, particularly in the secondary. The Vikes are going to give Green Bay a serious fight for the NFC North title, and if you ask me, they’re looking like a team that can take home the division championship outright.
5/ Carolina Panthers
The NFC South is packed with talent, but I think the Panthers will take a big step forward in 2017. An already solid backfield has been bolstered with the addition of rookie sensation Christian McCaffrey, who figures to make an immediate impact for Carolina’s offense. On defense, the Panthers are blessed with the return of linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was lost for the last six games of 2016 with a severe concussion. A strong pass rush will keep pressure on opposing QBs, putting Carolina right smack into what figures to be a packed division race –along with the Panthers, Tampa Bay and Atlanta figure to pile on wins as well.