Realistic case: It’s another middling year for the Dolphins with a revamped offensive line struggling in front of Tannehill. The Dolphins will fall just outside the race for the AFC wild cards.
New York Jets:
Best case: Geno Smith grows into the role of Jets leader by engineering several late-game comebacks that allow the Jets to claim one of the AFC wild cards.
Best case: Receiver Sammy Watkins heats up the Bills offense and leads them to a Week 17 win at Gillette Stadium (first in franchise history) to claim the final wild card and their first playoff spot since 1999.
Projection: 10-6. Beats Pittsburgh in wild-card round, loses at Denver in divisional playoffs.
Projection: 9-7. Wild card, loses at Baltimore in first round.
Projection: 11-5. Beats San Diego in wild-card round, loses at New England in divisional playoffs.
Best case: Ryan Fitzpatrick becomes a smart game-manager who limits his mistakes. Then the defense, with J.J. Watt and top overall pick Jadeveon Clowney menacing quarterbacks, points the way to a wild card.
Best case: New coach Ken Whisenhunt injects confidence and accuracy into QB Jake Locker, whose rapport with breakout receiver Justin Hunter powers the offense, and the Titans make a bid for a wild card.
San Diego Chargers:
Best case: Philip Rivers thrives in new coordinator Frank Reich’s no-huddle and the Chargers’ offense carries them to a 10-win campaign that gives them a wild card behind the Broncos.
Projection: 9-7. Wild card. Loses at Indianapolis in first round.
Best case: Quarterback Tony Romo has a career year at the center of a talented offense that makes up for a defense that can’t put opponents away. The offense wins enough slugfests to earn a wild card.
Projection: 10-6. Wild card. Wins at Philadelphia in first round, then loses at New Orleans in divisional playoffs.
Best case: Adrian Peterson finishes the job he started two years ago and surpasses Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record (2,105). New coach Mike Zimmer’s defense is vastly improved and Peterson’s record-clinching day helps the Vikings lock up a wild card in Week 17.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers:
Best case: Logan Mankins helps turn Josh McCown into a Pro Bowl QB who makes Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans 1,000-yard receivers as new coach Lovie Smith leads the Bucs, 4-12 a year ago, to a wild card.
Projection: 9-7. Wild card. Loses at Seattle in first round.
Best case: The Panthers ride the defense back to the postseason as Cam Newton, working with an unheralded corps of receivers, puts the offense on his back and churns out a 10-6 record that claims a wild card.
Realistic case: Ryan and his receivers are too talented not to compete if they all remain healthy. They are not as deep as the teams that went 36-12 from 2010-12, but these Falcons should contend for a wild card.
Realistic case: The defensive subtractions hurt, but the Cardinals have the depth and a good coach in Bruce Arians to weather those on their top-10 unit. The Cardinals have an impressive receiving corps, headed by Larry Fitzgerald, that makes it easy for Palmer to thrive. They’ll be in the hunt for a wild card.