A version of this story appears in ESPN The Magazine's September 19 NFL Preview II Issue. Subscribe today!
Not every team has Super Bowl aspirations to start the season. The Browns just want to develop their young talent and get something out of Robert Griffin III. The Cowboys, meanwhile, need rookie signal-caller Dak Prescott to hold his own and steady the team until Tony Romo returns, and maybe -- just maybe -- they can get into the playoffs in a seemingly weak NFC East. And anything less than a deep playoff run for the talent-rich Cardinals would be a failure.
Those are the things I had in mind when I tried to figure out what constitutes a realistic success and failure for every team in 2016. Here are my best- and worst-case scenarios by division.
Best case: Ryan brothers Rex and Rob nudge the defense into the top 10, and QB Tyrod Taylor continues to evolve. The D, which disappointed in '15 (22.4 points per game allowed) after the team spent heavily in free agency and with trades, figures out how to play together. Rookie DT Adolphus Washington fills in for the suspended Marcell Dareus, and the Bills survive against three top-10 offenses in the first four weeks.
Worst case: After cutting troubled big back Karlos Williams, Buffalo can't match 2015's ground attack (NFL-best 2,432 yards). Taylor (104 carries, second most among QBs) doesn't hold up and cedes the reins to EJ Manuel as the Bills miss the playoffs. Rex rides his hot seat.
Best case: Coach Adam Gase makes good on giving Ryan Tannehill more authority at the line of scrimmage, and the QB returns to completing 66 percent of his passes and throws 30 TDs for the first time. Second-year RB Jay Ajayi makes the most of his chance, 30-year-old Arian Foster proves resurgent and the Fins compete for a postseason spot.
Worst case: DT Ndamukong Suh still doesn't earn his QB money, and new LB Kiko Alonso's twice-injured left ACL prevents him from returning to his stellar rookie form of 2013. The Dolphins are sunk by a defense that can't improve on last season (376.2 yards and 24.3 points allowed per game).