The qualifier for this top 10 list is simple. Each of these teams did not make the playoffs in 2016, but has in some for shown promise to make a playoff run in 2017.
The Chargers have a lot of talent, but suffered greatly with injury last season. Unfortunately that trend appears to be carrying into 2017 as first round pick wide receiver Mike Williams suffered a herniated disc early in camp. Veteran quarterback Philip Rivers has plenty of talented players to throw to even with Mike Williams currently rehabbing injury including wide receivers Kennan Allen, Travis Benjamin, and Dontrelle Inman and tight ends Antonio Gates and Hunter Henry. The team also has a talented rusher in Melvin Gordan and has some top defenders such as Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The Chargers made a change at the head coaching position this off-season hoping that Anthony Lynn could take this talented roster and mold it into a winner.
While the unstable marriage between quarterback Kirk Cousins and the Redskins could cause problems for the team, it is an ongoing situation that hasn’t hindered Cousins in the past. Cousins need to be focused to perform at a high level realizing that it will lead to the contract he wants in Washington or elsewhere. Cousins lost his top receivers to free agency this off-season, but former Cleveland Brown Terrelle Pryor and 2016 first round pick Josh Doctson should fill that void nicely. The team also has a pair of talented receiving tight ends in Jordan Reed and Vernon Davis. In the 2017 draft the Redskins added defensive lineman Jonathan Allen who should be an upgrade for the team at that position. Late in the draft they added Samaje Perine who is a physical rusher who will likely help them in the red zone.
The Panthers are only a season removed from a Super Bowl appearance, but last year they took a major slide. The additions of running back Christian McCaffrey and receiver Curtis Samuel in the 2017 draft would appear to signal a shift to a more dynamic style of offense. While the team added veteran Matt Kalil and rookie Taylor Moton to their offensive line, the unit still may be in need of improvement in order to give Cam Newton enough time to throw the ball.
Although he threw more picks than you’d like, Jameis Winston was impressive in his sophomore season in the NFL. The Buccaneers’ offense could have easily sputtered with injuries to running back Doug Martin and wide receiver Vincent Jackson, but with Winston behind center and Mike Evans in front of many of his passes, they shined. The team has added offensive weapons in veteran wide receiver DeSean Jackson, rookie wide receiver Chris Godwin, and rookie tight end O.J. Howard. Will this be enough to push the Bucs to the top of a very competitive NFC South?
The Vikings have one of the top defenses in the NFL. They have made improvements to their offensive line, particularly by adding tackle Riley Reiff and drafting center Pat Elfein. This will be a great benefit to the team’s pair of new running backs, rookie Dalvin Cook and former Oakland Raider Latavius Murray. Sam Bradford is a solid quarterback who will hopefully be even more productive as second year receiver Laquon Treadwell develops. This would add another receiving threat to an offense that already features wide receivers Stefon Diggs and Adam Thielen and tight end Kyle Rudolph. The Vikings started last season 5-0 and looking like the team to beat in the NFC. Can they sustain that type of success in 2017?
The Broncos have consistently had a good running game and a very good defense. This makes them a solid contender year in and year out regardless of who is behind center. If either Trever Siemian or Paxton Lynch develops and takes a more firm grip of the offense, the Broncos could be even more threatening. John Elway was willing to make a big move to acquire Peyton Manning in the past. The fact that he is comfortable with these two moving forward tells you that he has a very high level of confidence in at least one of them.
Andrew Luck is one of the more polished quarterbacks to come out of college in recent years. While he has been relatively successful in the NFL, he has not led the Colts to the type of breakout season that would solidify him as an elite NFL quarterback and the Colts as a legitimate Super Bowl contender. Is this the year for Luck and the Colts? Luck has a variety of targets to throw the ball two and an underrated rusher in Frank Gore. The team has struggled with pass protection at times, but they have been very productive offensively. The Colts have made some major changes defensively this off-season. Up front that added free agents Jonathan Hankins, Margus Hunt, and Jabaal Sheard to their defensive line. With their first two picks in this year’s NFL Draft, they added two likely starters to their defensive backfield in safety Malik Hooker and corner Quincy Wilson. Will these defensive changes be enough to push the Colts into the playoffs in 2017?
The Bengals had a very productive draft this year. They added tools to their offense with speedy wide receiver John Ross in the first round and potential franchise running back Joe Mixon in the second. They also managed to address their pass rush with linebacker Carl Lawson and defensive end Jordan Willis. What could be the Bengals’ fatal flaw is their inability to address the offensive line position. Sure they added Andre Smith, but they lost their two best linemen in Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler. This group will need to step up in order for quarterback Andy Dalton to have enough time to distribute the ball to his skilled group of receivers. In addition to the aforementioned pass rushers, the Bengals added speed to their defense with the signing of free agent Kevin Minter. Can the Bengals get back to the playoffs in 2017?
One thing is for sure year in and year out, Drew Brees and the Saints will score a lot of points. Now they have added one of the best rushers of the century in Adrian Peterson. The Saints’ were so impressed with rookie receiver Michael Thomas last season that they traded Brandin Cooks to New England, a move which yielded rookie left tackle in Ryan Ramczyk. They also picked up two likely defensive starters on draft day in first round cornerback Marshon Lattimore and linebacker Alex Anzalone.
I know what you’re thinking. Didn’t the Titans make the playoffs last year? Actually at 9-7 the Titans lost the tiebreaker for a division championship and were left out of the playoffs in 2017. Quarterback Marcus Mariota has emerged as a strong leader of this offense which was consistently productive especially in the red zone in 2016. Now they have added a potential star in first round wide receiver Corey Davis. They have also made improvements to their secondary adding two cornerbacks vetran Logan Ryan and rookie Adoree’ Jackson. The Titans were definitely trending in the right direction in 2016, will these additions push them over the threshold in 2017?
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