- Tennessee Titans – Record:9-7
Not much was expected from the Tennessee Titans after they were the worst team in the NFL in 2015 with a 2-14 record. However, Marcus Mariota became pro-bowl caliber quarterback in 2016 and the Titans improved their win total to 9-7. Mariota threw for 26 touchdowns and only 9 interceptions this season. DeMarco Murray was once again a top running back in the NFL again and they had quite the duo along with talented rookie Derrick Henry. The defense for Tennessee was able to get after the quarterback often and make some big plays as well. This Titans team narrowly missed out on the playoffs, but if they add some secondary help and some more wide receiver help then this team could definitely be a playoff contender in 2017.
2. Miami Dolphins – Record: 10-6
Many people thought this would be a transition year for the Miami Dolphins as they were getting adjusted to 1st-year head coach Adam Gase. However, the Dolphins exceeded expectations with a lot of help from running back Jay Ajayi. He had 3 games of over 200 rushing yards and he carried the Dolphins offense most of the season. Miami appeared done after a 1-3 start to the season, but they remarkably won 6 straight games in order to help themselves get into the playoffs. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill wasn’t great, but he played well enough in order to win games before he was injured late in the season. Miami’s defense was too inconsistent throughout the season, but it was amazing that they won 10 games this season when there were basically no expectations.
3. Dallas Cowboys – Record: 13-3
Everybody pretty much knew that the Cowboys would be better than their 4-12 record during the 2015 season. However, a long-term injury to quarterback Tony Romo in the preseason made it seem as if the Cowboys were doomed this season. That didn’t end up being the case as rookie 4th round quarterback Dak Prescott had an MVP caliber season. Prescott ended up taking over the Cowboys starting QB job even when Romo became healthy and he somehow led the Cowboys to the number 1 seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record. Also, rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott had an MVP caliber season as he led the league in rushing. Dallas’ defense wasn’t great, but it was good enough to hold leads and help the Cowboys go on an improbable 11 game winning streak this season. Prescott wasn’t expected to even make the Cowboys a playoff contender, but he surprisingly made them a super bowl contender.