It’s sometimes comforting to know that we don’t know it all. For all the power rankings, big data analytics and science-based coaching techniques, sport can still take us completely by surprise. Just look at last year’s Super Bowl combatants. OK so the Rams were always going to be a good shout as playoff candidates, although few tipped them for the Super Bowl. But the Bengals? Sport really does have a sprinkle of magic about it from time to time.  

Here, we’re mixing magic with science, using a combination of gut feel, crystal ball gazing  and maybe a little look back over events of the off season, to single out the teams that could surprise us all during the season ahead.  

Miami Dolphins 

The Dolphins have spent too long in the shadows. Rebuilding will continue this year, but expect it to be combined with some real results, too, following the shopping spree they have been on during the off season. The arrival of Tyreek Hill from San Francisco plus the addition of a brace of running backs in free agency will give Tua Tagovailoa a chance to prove his worth.  

Do we expect the Dolphins to do a Cincinnati and be surprise Super Bowl contenders? No, we don’t, and we can’t see them challenging the Bills for AFC East supremacy either, although if you like to bet online, you might find the current odds of +450 too good to turn down. Either way, they could definitely challenge the established order and push the Patriots deeper into the wilderness.  

Minnesota Vikings 

In much the same way as few can see beyond Buffalo likely dominating the AFC East, Green Bay seem all but assured to maintain their stranglehold on the NFC North. But we’re interested in peering deeper into those muddy waters. The Vikings are one of those teams that has a tendency to make the playoffs without anyone really noticing.  

This year, a new head coach with a reputation for innovation could be just what’s needed to ignite what is already a capable team with no glaring weaknesses. These guys could create some genuine surprises at the sharp end of the season.  

New Orleans Saints 

It’s been a painful couple of years for Saints fans but – you heard it here first – an end to the pain could be around the corner. Jameis Winston is showing signs that maybe, just maybe, he could be the real deal after all, and those who criticized the Saints for showing faith in him might just have egg on their faces by the time we are midway through the regular season.  

An all new wide receiving unit will give him the opportunity to silence the detractors once and for all. With Tampa Bay inevitably getting the bulk of the media attention, New Orleans look seriously good value at +400 to beat them to the NFC South title in what is clearly going to be a two horse race.