NFL Predictions 2017: Projecting Teams with Most Improved Win Totals

Maurice Moton@@MoeMotonFeatured ColumnistJuly 24, 2017

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints signals to his team during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on January 1, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Kevin C.  Cox/Getty Images)
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

You can count on teams rising from division cellars to the penthouses every season. In 2016, the Dallas Cowboys won the NFC East title after winning just four games in the year prior due to significant injuries to prominent players. In 2015, the Miami Dolphins flipped their 6-10 record to 10-6 in the following year en route to a wild-card berth. The previous season, the Oakland Raiders turned a 7-9 campaign into a 12-4 finish. 

When predicting these surprises, it's best to look for clubs that underachieved due to injury or significantly improved through offseason acquisitions. 

Typically, franchises that win free agency don't pan out to climb the ranks as quickly as expected, but the New York Giants changed that narrative in the past year with high-impact free-agent acquisitions for the defense. Additionally, front offices that put together impressive draft classes deserve consideration for a boost in the win total.

Which teams will progress the most in the win column for the upcoming season? Will we see a former division champion return to playoff contention?

        

Arizona Cardinals 

LOS ANGELES, CA - JANUARY 01:  Quarterback Carson Palmer #3 of the Arizona Cardinals throws a pass against the Los Angeles Rams at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum on January 1, 2017 in Los Angeles, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

Quarterback Carson Palmer will turn 38 years old in December, and many have already put him out to pasture after a down season. 

In an interview on the NFL Network's Rich Eisen Show, head coach Bruce Arians admitted to mishandling Palmer in the previous campaign and mentioned a new regimen, introduced in November, that would preserve his body for the duration of the season.

It's worth noting, Palmer graded as the No. 4 overall passer from Weeks 8-17 in the previous season, per Pro Football Focus (via Evan Silva of Rotoworld). Nonetheless, it's more important for the offensive line to keep its quarterback off the ground. The Cardinals hope to see third-year tackle D.J. Humphries make strides and guard Mike Iupati strengthen protection on the left side.

GLENDALE, AZ - DECEMBER 18:  Running back David Johnson #31 of the Arizona Cardinals smiles while sitting on the bench during the NFL game against the New Orleans Saints at the University of Phoenix Stadium on December 18, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona. The S
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Running back David Johnson's willingness to handle a heavier workload should help keep defenders away from the quarterback. On Sirius XM NFL Radio, the 25-year-old tailback talked about touching the ball 30 times as a ball-carrier and receiver. Though he may fall slightly short of the mark, it's a good bar to set in order to alleviate pressure off Palmer's right arm. 

The Cardinals still play in a division with only one other legitimate contender in the Seattle Seahawks. Expect Palmer to get the ball to his speedy playmakers who will do the heavy lifting.

It's important for defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche to contribute to the run defense, specifically near the goal line. With a stronger push up front in the red zone, the Cardinals should finish as a solid team on all levels. They'll once again battle the Seahawks for the NFC West crown.

Prediction: 11-5

2016 record: 7-8-1

         

New Orleans Saints

ATLANTA, GA - JANUARY 01: Drew Brees #9 of the New Orleans Saints looks on during the second half against the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on January 1, 2017 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
Maddie Meyer/Getty Images

This is another club with an aging quarterback and dynamic weapons around him. The New Orleans Saints have been Jeff Fisher-like for three consecutive seasons at 7-9. Unlike Palmer with the Cardinals, Drew Brees hasn't hit a speed bump in recent years. In fact, he's led the league in passing yards each season since 2014.

The Saints can put up 35 points on the scoreboard on any given Sunday. Now, they've added running back Adrian Peterson to the mix. Unfortunately, the defensive unit has ranked close to the bottom in yards and points allowed over the last three seasons. 

Gerald Herbert/Associated Press

New Orleans hopes to see cornerback Delvin Breaux play an entire season that resembles his standout rookie campaign in 2015. Cornerback P.J. Williams, a 2016 third-round pick, will return after missing all but two games last year. The front office also added first-rounder Marshon Lattimore at cornerback and safety Marcus Williams in the following round for their playmaking abilities in the secondary.

According to ESPN's Adam Schefter, defensive tackle Nick Fairley's career-threatening heart condition will likely force him to miss the 2017 season. It's an early blow to the front four, but second-year pro Sheldon Rankins has the ability to add some bite to the interior in the trenches.

Despite playing in a tough division, pencil the Saints in for 11 wins and a much-improved secondary. 

Prediction: 11-5

2016 record: 7-9

       

Jacksonville Jaguars

May 26, 2017; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Jacksonville Jaguars running back Leonard Fournette (27) runs as offensive guard Patrick Omameh (77) blocks during organized team activities at Everbank Field. Mandatory Credit: Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports
Logan Bowles-USA TODAY Sports

We go through this every year, right? The Jacksonville Jaguars win free agency or acquire a solid draft class, but it never pans out into anything substantial. Why will this year differ from previous seasons?

For starters, the Jaguars don't have to solely rely on quarterback Blake Bortles' arm for better overall results. He'll hand off to running back Leonard Fournette, who can move the chains with an old-school physical running style behind a stronger offensive line.

Cornerback A.J. Bouye joins a stingy secondary that still needs playmakers to force turnovers. The Jaguars only logged seven interceptions in total. Defensive linemen Calais Campbell, Malik Jackson and Yannick Ngakoue will bring tremendous pressure near the pocket. 

On Bleacher Report's Simms and Lefkoe Podcast, Jackson aimed high with Super Bowl aspirations. In reality, the Jaguars won't make the postseason, but they'll reach .500 at 8-8. 

Prediction: 8-8

2016 record: 3-13

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