2013 record: 2-14
Why the optimism? The Texans should not have been a 2-14 team. The play of former quarterback Matt Schaub lost the team several games it should have won last season. The defense is stacked with talent, and that alone will help them rise. The question is whether they can score enough with Ryan Fitzpatrick under center.
2013 record: 4-12
Why the optimism? This is another team stacked with talent. The offensive line had some issues last season, but Atlanta has added bodies and should improve in this area. Getting receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White back to full health should make a world of difference, and the Falcons should compete in the NFC South.
2013 record: 3-13
Why the optimism? Robert Griffin III is another year removed from his knee injury and is now paired with Jay Gruden, who should find ways to better utilize Griffin’s unique talent. And with wide receiver DeSean Jackson in the fold, Griffin will now have a legitimate deep threat in his arsenal.
2013 record: 8-7-12
Why the optimism? Is it cheating putting the Packers on this list? They fought to make the playoffs last year, and the prediction here is that they’ll be in the hunt for the Super Bowl. Why the change? Aaron Rodgers should take all the snaps instead of guys like Seneca Wallace and Scott Tolzien.
2013 record: 10-6
Why the optimism? It won’t be easy with the 49ers and Seahawks still in what is probably the toughest division in pro football — the NFC West. But if the Cardinals can keep it up and San Francisco struggles early in the year while Aldon Smith is serving a suspension, it could be all they need to sneak into the playoffs.