Garth Davis, Lion: While Garth Davis may only be making his feature film debut as he has only done television work prior to Lion, Harvey Weinstein may pull some strings. He did get Morten Tyldum in for The Imitation Game and David O. Russell for Silver Linings Playbook when people didn't expect them to get in.
Ang Lee, Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk: He is a previous two-time winner in this category tackling the war genre.
Jeff Nichols, Loving: While his previous feature Midnight Special hasn't been lighting the box office on fire (much to my dismay), it has still received critical raves. Also, he would be using the Spielberg model: Coming out with a genre film early in the year while collecting accolades for a more topical film that comes out at the end of the year.
Nate Parker, Birth Of A Nation: The film is likely to get in across the board, given that it deals with racism and it is a period drama which'll allow it to get in below-the-line categories. So it would make sense to nominate the man who made the whole thing come together.
Martin Scorsese, Silence: Scorsese is Scorsese and like Parker, he also has a passion project likely to get in across the board.
Amma Asante, A United Kingdom: Could she do what Ava DuVernay couldn't?
Damien Chazelle, La La Land: He had to have been 6th or 7th for Whiplash which was also about musical artists. Only this one is about Hollywood and showbiz.
Clint Eastwood, Sully: Eastwood is hit-or-miss these days. So I'd wait for the reviews.
Barry Jenkins, Moonlight: This year's Lenny Abrahamson, perhaps?
Morten Tyldum, Passengers: Previous nominee tackling what could be more than a tech contender.
Denis Villeneuve, The Day They Arrived: Too genre-y, though?
Denzel Washington, Fences: Is there room for two men of color directing and acting in their own pictures?