Andrew Luck drops back to pass in Colts minicamp.
Last year, there were a lot of surprises in football.
And this year, there should be more.
A lot of talented young players have been welcomed into the NFL, and a lot of talented players are gaining experience and getting ready to make a championship run. Every team can make the playoffs and surprise you, but some teams have more talent than others.
Here are four teams that could surprise you in 2012.
Peyton Manning drops back to pass in team OTAs.
I know, I know. The Broncos signed four-time MVP Peyton Manning over the offseason.
However, no one is picking the Broncos to win the AFC. So far, the Patriots have emerged as AFC favorites, and a lot of people are expecting the Broncos to fail to win the AFC West.
As a Broncos fan, I may be a little bit biased here. However, I think Manning can definitely return to his old form and continue to pick apart defenses with short, accurate passes.
In fact, I think the Broncos have a great chance at winning the Super Bowl.
Denver has a good defense anchored by Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil, and the Broncos can apply pressure to the opposing quarterback and force bad throws. They have a great veteran cornerback in Champ Bailey, and the Broncos have a great defense that dominates weak quarterbacks.
Although the Broncos defense is inconsistent, they are good enough. On offense, they have young receivers who will get a lot better under Manning. Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas have good hands, they can break tackles and they'll only get better with Manning.
At running back, the Broncos drafted Ronnie Hillman. He should get the bulk of the carries by the end of the season, and he has incredible speed and vision. Hillman can break tackles, and he can catch passes (although he doesn't have great hands).
Overall, Denver has a great team. Don't be surprised if they make Super Bowl XLVII.
Chicago's defense tries to stop Ryan Grant in the Bears' Christmas Day loss to Green Bay.
Hey, I never said surprises had to be good.
Chicago has a good quarterback in Jay Cutler, a good running back in Matt Forte and a solid receiving core of Brandon Marshall, Devin Hester, Earl Bennett and Alshon Jeffery. They have a good offense, and the offense has proven that they know what to do.
The Bears have an average defense, although they aren't good against the pass. Chicago ranked 28th in pass defense, and they got picked apart by elite quarterbacks in their division, such as Aaron Rodgers and Matthew Stafford.
Chicago will play Detroit and Green Bay twice and San Francisco, Houston, Indianapolis, Seattle and Carolina once. The Bears face a lot of elite quarterbacks, such as Stafford, Rodgers, Andrew Luck, Matt Schaub, Cam Newton and more.
They have a good team, but Forte and Cutler both got injured last year, and they could go down again. Alshon Jeffery is a great receiver, but he may take time to become elite. Brandon Marshall has had issues off the field, and he could hurt the team chemistry.
Overall, the Bears seem to be a good team. However, I think Cutler will throw interceptions, the pass defense will struggle, Marshall will hurt the team chemistry and the team will struggle.
Cam Newton shakes off a tackler in Carolina's 48-16 win over Tampa Bay on Christmas Eve 2011.
The Panthers may be expected to make the playoffs, but I think they can be a serious contender in 2012.
This slide is similar to the Broncos' slide. People are expecting the Panthers to make the playoffs, and under Cam Newton, I think they will. However, I think they could go all the way to the Super Bowl.
Newton made some rookie mistakes in 2011, but he threw and ran for a lot of touchdowns. Carolina had a bad defense, but they should be better this year. With Newton improving, the Panthers should be ready to contend.
Newton threw 17 interceptions, but most of those were at the beginning of the year. With a year of experience, Newton should cut down on his interceptions and throw more touchdowns.
DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart are both capable running backs, and Newton can also run the ball well (5.6 yards per carry, 14 rushing touchdowns). Oh, and Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell and Greg Olsen can catch passes.
Carolina was 28th in total defense, but they played much better on defense at the end of the season. Expect the young team to rapidly improve and be ready for a long playoff run by the end of 2012.
Andrew Luck celebrates during the 2012 Fiesta Bowl between Stanford and Oklahoma State.
This one may surprise you—or, it may not.
Most people either expect the Colts to build a dynasty and compete in the long run or completely fold and fail to contend with Andrew Luck. However, I think the Colts can start strong right away.
Peyton Manning's Colts went 3-13 in their first year, but then, they made the playoffs in 10 of Manning's next 12 years. However, I think the Colts will start strong. Luck is never fazed by any stage, and he should be ready to start right away.
Indianapolis starts the season against Chicago, Minnesota and Jacksonville. All of those games are winnable, and Luck should get settled into the NFL with those games. Then, he'll be ready to compete against the Packers and Jets—Indy's next two opponents.
Luck is an accurate quarterback who rarely throws interceptions. He should keep his rookie mistakes to a minimum, and he should be able to read defenses well and make the adjustments needed. Luck likely won't miss open receivers, and he should have a good rookie campaign.
Oh, and Indianapolis drafted fellow Stanford tight end Coby Fleener. That should help Luck get used to the NFL, and having Fleener should help him, as he will know what route Fleener will be running.
Indianapolis ranked 25th in total defense, but they played well on D at the end of the year. The Colts, who are rebuilding, should be able to come together and make the necessary plays to win games.
The Colts will shock you and compete for a playoff spot.