Every single season around the NFL there are a number of surprises. This past year saw the Dallas Cowboys shock the football world en route to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC. Over in the AFC, the Oakland Raiders proved to be Super Bowl contenders before Derek Carr went down with a season-ending injury.
The question heading into 2017 is not whether there will be teams that prove to be better than we think. Rather, the question is who these teams might be.
In Western New York, the Buffalo Bills decided to hang on to Tyrod Taylor under center. He’s been tremendous over the past two seasons and has a solid supporting cast on offense. Will that lead to the Bills’ first playoff appearance since 1999?
Over in the NFC, the Minnesota Vikings finally moved on from Adrian Peterson. They did so while replacing him with a potentially dynamic duo. Add in an elite-level defense and the Vikings could contend in the NFC North this season. These are among the six NFL teams that are better than you think.
Some wonder why Buffalo even considered moving on from Tyrod Taylor during the spring. And for good reason. Despite team-wide mediocrity, Taylor has more than proven himself to be starter-caliber in his two seasons in Western New York.
Taylor has compiled 47 total touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions. He’s also put up 7,200-plus total yards in 29 starts during that span. If Taylor is indeed the solution under center, Buffalo has what it takes to compete for a playoff spot this upcoming season.
LeSean McCoy put up over 1,600 total yards and 14 touchdowns last season. That’s a tremendous one-two punch to work with on offense. Add in Sammy Watkins being at 100 percent in 2017, and there’s a lot to look forward to from this unit.
We also must look at the addition of new head coach Sean McDermott and how he should improve Buffalo’s defense. Here’s a guy with eight years of defensive coordinator experience in the NFL, including the past six with the Carolina Panthers. He’s led some of the strongest units in the NFL. Hopefully for the Bills, this means improvement off last season’s No. 19 ranking.
The pieces are in place on defense to do just this. Marcell Dareus, Shaq Lawson, Jerry Hughes and Kyle Williams form a solid defensive line. Meanwhile, 2016 breakout star Lorenzo Alexander returns after recording a career-high 12.5 sacks this past season. Add in the presence of rookie Tre’Davious White to team up with free agent addition Micah Hyde in the secondary and there’s a lot to like there.
Buffalo likely won’t be competing with New England atop the AFC East in 2017. Though, there’s a good chance this team could make up some ground with Miami. If so, a playoff appearance for the first time since 1999 isn’t completely out of the question.