With only one preseason game left, The Sports Xchange tested the optimistic fortitude of each NFL team by asking insiders who covered all of training camp to offer a Best Case Scenario.
Although optimism usually trumps logic and math as a season approaches, the results were surprisingly timid.
Only six teams were rated with a Best Case Scenario that included a Super Bowl.
In the NFC, high hopes for a Super Bowl were submitted for four teams: Arizona, Carolina, Green Bay and Seattle. The defending NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings were thinking Super Bowl until quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down with a knee injury Tuesday.
In the AFC, rampant optimism was apparently squelched by the presence of New England and Denver, the only two teams listed with the Super Bowl as an attainable goal.
The 49ers' reporter claimed the NFC West is without a strong contender (hear that Arizona, Seattle?) so San Francisco could be sitting pretty, as it were, to make the playoffs.
The Chargers' reporter sees his team bouncing back from a 4-12 season to make the playoffs in the AFC West, arguably the most highly competitive division in the NFL.
In Dallas, there was a late preseason reality check when quarterback Tony Romo was injured -- again -- moving the Best Case Scenario there to 8-8 -- again.
And in Cleveland, the Browns' best hopes could be a ninth straight losing season.
Here is a close look at some of the insight, analysis and guesswork offered by TSX reporters with each team. (Teams listed alphabetically within each conference, first the NFC, then the AFC with snarky remarks added as deemed editorially appropriate):
--Super Bowl: All the pieces are in place for the Cardinals to have another shot at returning to the NFC Championship Game and this time, reaching the Super Bowl. Every single playmaker who touched the ball in 2015 for a unit that led the NFL in total offense is back, including veteran quarterback Carson Palmer and stalwart wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, both of whom are coming off career years. Another, running back David Johnson, is expected to set the league on fire after a breakout rookie season.
On defense, Arizona remains a top-five unit as well with returning stars such as cornerback Patrick Peterson, safety Tyrann Mathieu, defensive tackle Calais Campbell and two newcomers who should vastly help improve the pass rush: outside linebacker Chandler Jones and rookie defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. It would seem that only a significant injury to one or two of the stars could derail things in 2016, although head coach Bruce Arians' offense has looked sluggish throughout the preseason and the turnover ratio is seen as a concern.
--Contend for NFC South title: The Falcons have a chance to contend with the Panthers for the NFC South title, but will need the return of the precise and accurate Matt Ryan and the quick development of what will be a young defense. Ryan is trying to bounce back from a sub-par season in which he contributed to 24 of the team's 30 turnovers with 16 interceptions and eight fumbles. The hope is that center Alex Mack will help to stabilize the offensive line, running backs Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleamn can run the ball with authority and that Ryan can get the ball to dynamic wide receiver Julio Jones. If they can score 30 points a game, the defense won't be on the field much and can develop at its own pace.
--Super Bowl return: After a 15-1 season, the Panthers lost the Super Bowl to a team many felt they should beat. So there's no reason they can't get back. Well, there is the fact the last runner-up to return to the Super Bowl was the 1993 Bills. Regardless of that history, the Panthers' roster remains loaded with talent, including quarterback Cam Newton, the league's reigning MVP.
--Sub .500: An 8-8 record might be stretching it for a team with such a talent deficit on the offensive line. A 7-9 record might be topping out. Considering the team's two best players, guard Kyle Long and outside linebacker Pernell McPhee, are injured and missed extensive time in preseason, they're already facing a setback. An easy schedule doesn't mean much when the offensive line has been completely rebuilt in the offseason, and then rebuilt again in training camp due to injuries. With inexperienced players at running back and Kevin White looking very raw at wide receiver, the offense seems destined to struggle.
-- Another 8-8: The Cowboys averaged eight wins and eight losses over the last five full seasons under head coach Jason Garrett. Three straight 8-8 campaigns were followed by a 12-4 and a 4-12. This was the year the Cowboys were supposed to get over the hump.
But that was before quarterback Tony Romo suffered a broken bone in his back and will now probably miss the first six games at least. The Cowboys were 1-11 without Romo last year. The defense is suspect and the offense was expected to carry the team. The Cowboys will be lucky to get to 8-8 this year.
--NFC North title contender: The Lions haven't generated much buzz this preseason and it's easy to understand why. When wide receiver Calvin Johnson retired in March, they lost their only superstar-caliber player and now have a roster dotted with talent but devoid of household names. That doesn't necessarily doom them to failure, however.
The Lions have one player who could be a difference-maker on every level of their defense. Ziggy Ansah quietly had 14.5 sacks last year, linebacker DeAndre Levy appears healthy after missing most of last season with a hip injury and Darius Slay is a rising star at cornerback. Those three, along with veterans like defensive tackle Haloti Ngata and safety Glover Quin, form the nucleus of a defense that should keep the Lions in every ballgame they play.
If quarterback Matthew Stafford can recapture the magic he had in the second half of last season, if the offensive line takes two steps forward, if Marvin Jones can somehow replicate Johnson's production, and most important, if they stay healthy, the Lions could be in the thick of the NFC North race.
GREEN BAY PACKERS
--Serious Super Bowl LI contender: Not since 1987, when Jordy Nelson was just two years old, had the Packers ranked as low as 25th in the NFL for passing yards to end a season. They tied for 25th to close the 2015 season, an astonishing drop after 11 straight years in the top 10. The decreased production of an average of nearly 50 net passing yards per game was a byproduct of numerous factors, but none as pronounced as the conspicuous absence of Nelson for the entire season.
Nelson needed almost a full year to get back on the field after suffering a torn ACL in his right knee in a preseason game last August and then incurring an injury to his left knee while working out before the start of training camp this summer. Nelson likely won't play a snap in the preseason, but he anticipates being ready for the Week 1 road matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sept. 11.
Getting the ninth-year playmaker and undeniable deep threat back in the fold will allow head coach Mike McCarthy to open the playbook back up and allow an Aaron Rodgers-led offense to try to reprise its explosiveness of 2014, when Nelson had personal bests of 98 receptions, 1,519 receiving yards and 13 touchdown catches and Rodgers earned his second NFL MVP award.
As usually is the case in Green Bay, the team's success is predicated on the potency of its offense. A healthy Nelson to lead a deep receiver corps for Rodgers, paired with a rededicated Eddie Lacy at running back, makes the Packers not only the favorites to reclaim the NFC North title that was abdicated to the Minnesota Vikings last season but also a serious contender for a spot in Super Bowl LI. Not that Nelson is looking ahead that far. "We'll see," he said. "Every year's different. That's what we probably thought going into last year, and things happen. So, you can't ever look too far down the road. Obviously, it's a very talented locker room, but we've got to put in the work."
LOS ANGELES RAMS
--Compete for playoff spot: The Rams are determined to move on from the 7-9 teams they've been recently to one that can compete for a playoff spot. The organization's goal after spending the last four years turning over the roster is to take a decisive step forward. There are pieces in place to make that happen, but a lot has to happen right.
First and foremost, the Rams must get better play from their quarterback -- looks like it will be Case Keenum to start the season -- and just be a more functional efficient team offensively.
They won seven games last year averaging 17.9 points per game, and to put that in perspective, the teams that averaged near that number finished in the four-win or less category. With Keenum stabilizing quarterback, and new weapons like tight end Tyler Higbee and wide receiver Pharoh Cooper operating alongside wide receiver Tavon Austin and running back Todd Gurley, the Rams believe they can be more efficient and effective, if not explosive. If that happens, and the defense maintains or exceeds last year's level, you can make a case they can win more than seven games.
--Bridgewater loss reduces chances: Before quarterback Teddy Bridgewater went down with a knee injury in Tuesday's practice, the Vikings had the bold goal to defend their NFC North title successfully and contend for the Super Bowl. But the siren on the ambulance that carried Bridgewater to the hospital not only shattered the peaceful area around Eden Prairie, Minn., but also the team's hopes of consistent success, let alone a Super Bowl.
A distraught coach Mike Zimmer confirmed that Bridgewater's injury is "significant." The team's only option on the roster is 36-year old Shaun Hill, who stepped in for an injured Sam Bradford while with the then St. Louis Rams. If the Vikings look for outside help, among those who might be available are Mark Sanchez (Denver), Mike Glennon (Tampa Bay) or Colin Kaepernick (San Francisco).
Only good news for Vikings is that their great running back, Adrian Peterson, is healthy and the team strengthened its offensive line.
Left guard Alex Boone leads a new-look line that will be better because it has more talent and a new, aggressive attitude and style of blocking. Peterson appears primed to defend his league rushing title at age 31 and improved blocking will help.
NEW ORLEANS SAINTS
--Ain't saying: It's still hard to tell based on their three losses to start the exhibition season. The Saints showed promise on the defensive side of the ball in the first two games until taking a step backward in a 27-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger shredded the secondary. A lack of a pass rush didn't help, either. On the other side of the ball, the offensive line has been suspect throughout training camp, which is another concern of head coach Sean Payton and his staff going into the final preseason game and the regular season.
--Better than 6-10: Although fans seem to be up in arms over the state of the Giants' offense, what many people fail to realize is that the Giants historically have never been a NFL powerhouse during the preseason, not that it would matter if they were.
Also, for all the attention the offensive line is getting, this is the very same line that helped propel the team into a top-10 offense and a top-10 passing offense while at the same time allowing the fourth fewest sacks in the league. This isn't to say that the Giants' offense doesn't have more work to do in order to look like a well-oiled machine, but the addition of rookie receiver Sterling Shepard and the anticipated return of Victor Cruz should give the team a few more options on offense than it had in 2015.
On the other side of the ball, the first-team defense has been everything people thought it would be and then some. If that unit can get off the field and keep opponents buried deep in their own end zone, there is no reason to believe that this Giants team won't be significantly better than last year's injury-plagued 6-10 club.
--Repeat 7-9: The Eagles have depth issues at a number of positions, including safety, linebacker, running back and wide receiver. If they can stay reasonably healthy, they have the capability to win nine games. But that's a big if. A second straight 7-9 finish seems more likely.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
--If NFC West implodes, then: As the 49ers and Seattle Seahawks slid down the NFL power rankings last season, the Cardinals took advantage to seize the NFC West title. Were they really that good? Or did they just take advantage of a division that was spiraling toward being one of the weakest in the NFL?
It is now a division without a true power (says here, anyway), which means sweeping the three home games within the division is within everyone's reach. If head coach Chip Kelly works his magic with an offense that ran pretty efficiently not all that long ago for Jim Harbaugh, the club could take advantage of a reasonable home schedule that begins with the Rams and a Cowboys team without Tony Romo.
You take care of business against the likes of the Buccaneers, Saints and Jets ... maybe you're sitting at 8-7 and playing for the division title on the final Sunday of the regular season against the Seahawks. All without being very good.
(Editors note: The 49ers TSX insider is not on a mandatory drug testing program, but his name and this prediction will be sent to the commissioner.)
Super Bowl goal: The Seahawks have Super Bowl aspirations again in 2016. A torrid second half of last season from Russell Wilson and Seattle's offense has set expectations high for what the unit can accomplish this year. The defense returns nine starters from a unit that has led the league in points allowed for four straight seasons. While replacing Marshawn Lynch will be a big task to accomplish, a seemingly improved offensive line and a deep stable of young running backs appear up to the task. There's little reason to believe Seattle isn't still among the league's best teams.
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS
--Ascends to wild-card spot: The Bucs have a chance to make the biggest improvement in the NFC South and close the gap a bit on three-time defending champion Carolina.
Quarterback Jameis Winston should thrive with continuity on offense after the Bucs elected to name offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter head coach. The offensive line is deep and versatile, they return the NFL's second-leading rusher in Doug Martin, and while the receiving corps is thin, starters Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are proven play-makers.
Defensively is where the Bucs should show the biggest improvement. Former Falcons head coach Mike Smith takes over a unit that has added talent to a base of three stars -- defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, outside linebacker Lavonte David and middle linebacker Kwon Alexander. Free-agent defensive end Robert Ayers and second-round pick Noah Spence add two edge rushers to help McCoy. The Bucs also have added a play-maker to the secondary in first-round pick Vernon Hargreaves and Dolphins free agent Brent Grimes may have another Pro Bowl year left in him.
A second-place finish in the NFC South, 9-7 record and wild-card spot are all within reach.
--Repeat as NFC East champs: Washington has weapons all over the field on offense and firepower in reserve. Few tight ends in the league can match Jordan Reed as a receiver. DeSean Jackson remains a pre-eminent deep threat and Pierre Garcon is a reliable target for quarterback Kirk Cousins, who set a franchise record for passing yards in 2015. Even second-year pro Jamison Crowder had 59 catches a year ago -- second among all NFL rookies. Tight end Derek Carrier will return from torn knee ligaments soon. Veteran Vernon Davis has looked rejuvenated this preseason. And that's not even counting rookie wide receiver Josh Doctson, the team's first-round pick in 2016 and a big target if he can return from a sore left Achilles. The Redskins need to find some balance with inexperience at running back and some questions on the offensive line.
Defensively, the cornerbacks have a chance to be among the league's best with new addition Josh Norman pairing with Bashaud Breeland. This isn't a perfect team. It's hard to see how it stops the run consistently and there are questions at safety and inside linebacker. But the Redskins should be considered the favorite to repeat as NFC East champs.
--Wild card if healthy: If the Ravens can stay healthy, they should make a push for a wild-card berth. The team had 20 players on injured reserve last season and that played a key role in the 5-11 finish. The addition of wide receiver Mike Wallace and a healthy receiver Breshad Perriman will provide quarterback Joe Flacco with more downfield options and could change the dynamic of the offense. Wide receiver Steve Smith (Achilles) and running back Justin Forsett (arm) are also expected to make an impact after their 2015 seasons were cut short.
Finally, linebacker Terrell Suggs, who tore his Achilles in last season's opener, should boost a pass rush that suffered without him in the lineup. Head coach John Harbaugh has led Baltimore to the playoffs in six of the past eight seasons. The Ravens should be back in the hunt this season.
--Better passing, wild card: The Bills could be a wild-card contender if quarterback Tyrod Taylor takes a big step forward in his second season as a starter and provides a more consistent threat in the passing game. The Bills led the NFL in rushing last season, but their passing game was hit or miss.
The Bills had quick-strike ability as Taylor connected on several deep passes, but they struggled in the intermediate areas and that often killed drives. Also, the Bills defense, despite all the injuries it has suffered, should be more in tune with head coach Rex Ryan's scheme and all signs point to an improved performance at all three levels, particularly up front where the Bills were not strong in 2015.
--Depth earns playoff spot: The caveat for any prediction involving the Bengals is their overall health. The depth of talent on the roster, however, makes them a solid playoff contender, if not the AFC North champions. Quarterback Andy Dalton is coming off a career season that was cut short by a thumb injury. While there's been significant turnover among the wide receivers, Dalton still has veterans A.J. Green and Brandon LaFell and talented rookie Tyler Boyd.
The defense should be solid as well with dynamic pass rushers Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap. An injury-riddled preseason has cast a shadow over this team, however. Pro-Bowl tight end Tyler Eifert isn't expected back until at least the fourth week. The offensive line has taken an injury hit as well.
--Ninth consecutive losing season: All the evidence suggests the Browns are headed to their ninth straight losing season. A 6-10 record, dismal as it is, should be considered a success. The Browns have trouble protecting their quarterback and have difficulty getting to the opposing passer. That was reflected in eight sacks allowed and none recorded in the Week 3 preseason 30-13 loss to Tampa Bay. No Browns quarterback since Tim Couch in 2001 has played all 16 games. The chances of Robert Griffin III surviving all season are slim. The Browns are not a good tackling team -- their linebackers are too slow -- and they do not run well consistently.
--Literally defending SB title: The Broncos won Super Bowl 50 despite Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler combining for a 19-to-23 touchdown-to-interception ratio and a 76.3 passer rating. So, to write them off just because Trevor Siemian will be the Week-1 starter is shortsighted. They can be back in Super Bowl LI. But to do so, much must go right. They will need their defense to replicate its overwhelming 2015 performance, and for Siemian to avoid costly mistakes. For the most part, the roster remains championship worthy. At wide receiver, running back, outside linebacker, inside linebacker and cornerback, the Broncos have starting-caliber players in reserve.
But the offensive line is a work in progress, and the defensive line has been hindered by injuries and the free-agent departure of defensive tackle Malik Jackson. The impact of the departure of quarterback Osweiler will depend on how quickly Siemian settles in. Similar roster situations were good enough for teams like the 1977 Broncos, 1979 Rams, 1982 Dolphins, 1990 Giants, 1995 Steelers and 2000 Ravens to make Super Bowls. But can it work in 2016?
--Return to top of AFC South, y'all: The Texans have the potential to repeat as AFC South division champions. They return the bulk of the NFL's third-ranked defense and get defensive end J.J. Watt back in September, potentially for the first game of the season.
The offense has been upgraded with the additions of quarterback Brock Osweiler, running back Lamar Miller and wide receivers Will Fuller and Braxton Miller. The Texans won nine games last season, but were blown out in the playoffs. They could be significantly better this year.
--Could make playoffs: The jury is still out on just how good the 2016 Colts can be. Talent-wise, Indianapolis remains very much a work in progress. Injuries during training camp and the preseason have put a big dent in the team's overall depth at several key positions, including offensive line, defensive line, inside linebacker, cornerback, and safety. General manager Ryan Grigson continues to scan the NFL's waiver wire in an attempt to fortify the roster.
If the Colts get healthy and the problem areas can be shored up, there is still enough offensive skill talent with quarterback Andrew Luck, running back Frank Gore and receivers T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief to make a playoff run.
--7-9: Why? Because there are still too many unanswered questions with the team. Keep in mind, 7-9, while disappointing for a lot of teams, is a vast improvement for Jacksonville, which has won just 12 games in the last three years. There are some who think this could be a .500 team and possibly even a playoff contender.
But while the Jaguars have taken big steps to improve the offense (last year) and the defense (this season), it has all yet to come together. The offensive concern rests with the line. Kelvin Beachum will enter the regular season with just 23 snaps in preseason games. How well he and Luke Joeckel play on the left side of the line will be key to the offense's success. Joeckel has been the starting left tackle for three years. He's now moving to guard where he's never played a snap in a regular-season game. Brandon Linder has never played a snap at center and sat out most of last year with an injury. So there remain too many question marks along the line for this team to be much better than 7-9.
Defensively, on paper, this is a much improved team. With the free-agency additions of tackle Malik Jackson, safety Tashaun Gipson and cornerback Prince Amukamara along with newcomers end Dante Fowler Jr., corner Jalen Ramsey and linebacker Myles Jack, the defense has to be improved over a year ago when it ranked near the lower third in too many key categories. If the veterans can blend with the rookies to make this an above average defense, it will be a pleasant surprise. But things don't happen overnight. The future is promising with this team, but for this season, 7-9 looks to be the best the Jaguars can ask for or expect.
KANSAS CITY CHIEFS
--Return to playoffs: For the first time in more than 20 years, the Chiefs should be good enough to end the season with a second consecutive trip to the playoffs. The last time Kansas City was able to reach the playoffs in consecutive seasons was 1994 and 1995. In those two appearances, the Chiefs were not able to win a game in the postseason. They've already bettered that with their 1-1 record in last year's playoffs.
For the first time in 20 years, the Chiefs appear to have a balanced team, with a consistent and productive offense led by quarterback Alex Smith and a growing collection of weapons in running back Jamaal Charles, wide receiver Jeremy Maclin and tight end Travis Kelce, and a solid line. Although pass-rusher Justin Houston's contribution remains unclear after knee surgery, the defense is the most talented unit on head coach Andy Reid's roster. Special teams are solid, and sometimes explosive.
With Chiefs-killer Peyton Manning gone from the division, there appears no clear preseason favorite in the AFC West. With a minimal level of injuries, the Chiefs should be able to win 10 to 12 games. The high end of that projection should give them a divisional title, their first since 2010; Denver won the last five, averaging 11.6 victories in those seasons. A 10-win season does not guarantee a trip to the tournament, as at least one 10-6 team has missed the playoffs in the past four years.
--Stars, moon align for 10-6: Miami could be as good as 10-6 and earn a wild-card spot. But it would require a lot of things going its way, and health is atop the list because the Dolphins' depth is very thin.
Most likely, the Dolphins are staring at seven or eight wins this season. However, if quarterback Ryan Tannehill forms a reliable combination with wide receiver DeVante Parker, they could be lethal. Throw in good health and productivity from running back Arian Foster, and good health and a good performance by the offensive line, and you've got no worries there.
Defensively, if the front four of tackles Ndamukong Suh and Jordan Phillips, and ends Cameron Wake and Mario Williams can lead the way, the defense has a chance.
There's a small chance of all of those things happening this season, however.
NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS
--Tom, Bill, Super Bowl: Despite the fact that quarterback Tom Brady will miss the first four weeks of the 2016 season to a league suspension, the expectations in New England remain almost as high as ever. Las Vegas has anointed the Patriots the favorite to head to Houston next February and win Super Bowl LI. Theoretically, the Patriots have a very balanced team that could produce both a top-five unit on both sides of the ball. Fill-in starter Jimmy Garoppolo has a slew of weapons to work with, led by tight ends Rob Gronkowski and newcomer Martellus Bennett as well as reliable slot option Julian Edelman.
Defensively, New England has a core of young, versatile playmakers led by the likes of linebackers Dont'a Hightower and Jamie Collins as well as Pro-Bowl cornerback Malcolm Butler. While there is concern that Garoppolo could struggle out of the gate in his first four career starts (at Houston, vs. Miami, vs. Houston and vs. Buffalo) and that a list of injuries could derail New England's chances of advancing to a record sixth straight AFC title game and beyond, the Patriots are a Super Bowl favorite until proven otherwise.
--Upstart AFC East titlist: The Jets could be good enough to finally knock the New England Patriots out of the top spot in the AFC East. Almost all the key pieces are back from last year's team that went 10-6 and missed the playoffs on the final day of the season.
The big three on offense -- quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Eric Decker -- have been joined by former Chicago Bears star running back Matt Forte, while defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson signed a long-term deal to ensure continuity within the Jets' strongest unit.
But the schedule, which begins with the Jets playing five 2015 playoff teams in the first six weeks, is a monster. Fitzpatrick, Marshall and Forte are all on the wrong side of 30, as is cornerback Darrelle Revis, who showed serious signs of slippage last season. The first-team offense looked sluggish during the little time it spent together on the field during the first three preseason games. And Fitzpatrick, who had a career year at age 32, would seem to be a prime candidate for regression. The AFC East might be there for the taking with Patriots quarterback Tom Brady suspended for the first four games and the Patriots battling a spate of injuries, but it's not very likely the Jets' best-case scenario ends up happening.
--Just win (10-6), baby: A difficult road schedule with five games in the eastern time zone will make things difficult, but the Raiders have evolved over the past three drafts and free agency periods into a team without a major weakness in any position group on their roster. Injuries to key players -- quarterback Derek Carr or edge rusher Khalil Mack in particular -- could change things, but the Raiders look poised to make their first playoff run since 2002 and anything less than 10-6 will be a disappointment.
--Improve on 10-6: The Steelers finished last season 10-6 and played in a divisional round playoff game, and there are plenty of reasons to believe they should surpass both this season. For one, they were bitten by the injury bug last season and overcame a slew of them to star players.
Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell form the best quarterback-receiver-running back combination in the league. Bell missed eight games due to injury, Roethlisberger four and Brown the divisional-round playoff game in Denver. Unless they have terrible luck again, their stars should carry them to greater heights.
The Steelers are dealing with injuries to tight end Ladarius Green and cornerback Senquez Golson. Golson is out at least until the second half of the season and Green's status is unknown, but as long as Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell are healthy, the Steelers should be in contention for the best record in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.
SAN DIEGO CHARGERS
--Big Bordertown expectations: Joey Bosa finally signed his contract and just maybe that gives the uneven defense a boost as it puts a cap on the preseason on Thursday before the opener on Sept. 11. If Bosa can get into football shape after missing 31 days of work, just maybe the Chargers' tepid pass rush will become a strength rather than a liability.
But there's more to the Chargers' upside than an unproven rookie defensive end.
The offensive line, which used 24 different combinations because of injuries last year, added center Matt Slauson from the Bears. Also, speedy wide receiver Travis Benjamin was added to stretch the field and take the heat off Keenan Allen, an emerging star.
Defensive tackle Brandon Mebane came over after being the anchor of Seattle's tough unit. His work up front could pay dividends to inside linebackers Manti Te'o and Denzel Perryman. It's great to have Bosa, but other additions were made to potentially lift the Chargers. If running back Melvin Gordon performs as he was expected in his rookie season, the Chargers could compete for a playoff spot.
(Editor's note: While this intrepid TSX insider gets a plus for guts with his optimistic prediction, he will get a note from the boss for failing to mention that in the competitive AFC West, the Chargers have the best quarterback -- Philip Rivers, proof he is perhaps the most overlooked QB in the NFL).
--Postponing post-season until 2017 season: The Titans look much improved thus far over the past couple of years. That much is evident with only preseason games to go on. The offense, with quarterback Marcus Mariota a year older and more experienced, plus the additions of running backs DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, and wide receiver Tajae Sharpe has been upgraded. The offensive line looks more cohesive as well with a new position coach in Russ Grimm and a new smash-mouth attitude approach being instilled.
Defensively, the Titans still have major questions in the secondary. Those issues might keep this group from taking a big step forward. Still, the Titans could take advantage of a weak AFC South where all four teams still have major question marks.
It sounds crazy, but a best-case scenario for Tennessee is that everything comes together, the Colts, Texans and Jaguars don't fix their weaknesses, and the Titans finish the season with about nine wins with a shot at the playoffs. More realistic is that Tennessee makes a substantial leap and wins about seven games with an eye on the postseason in 2017.
--Frank Cooney, founder and publisher of The Sports Xchange and NFLDraftScout.com, is in his sixth decade covering football and 26th year on the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee.