Surprises in the NFL

There are no certainties in the NFL, and so this season has been a roller coaster ride for anyone trying to predict the outcomes. This season has seen perennial losers become the class acts of their division and the “dream team” become the bottom of the crazy NFC East. Due to the lockout, many experts predicted offenses would be behind defenses in terms of readiness as a result of the lack of preparation. These experts are now eating their words as offenses like the Patriots are on a record setting pace. Tom Brady is on pace to throw for 5,996.8 yards this season which would crush the single season passing record Dan Marino set in 1984. Tom Brady’s favorite target Wes Welker is on pace to have 2,368 yards this season. That also would shatter the record of most receiving yards in a season set by Jerry Rice for 1,848 yards in 1995.


Buffalo Bills: There has been no team more surprising this year than the Buffalo Bills. Perhaps the most iconic play from the Buffalo Bills 2010 season was the Stevie Johnson drop against the Steelers week 12 in an overtime loss 19-16. However, this season’s 4-1 start shouldn’t be as surprising as everyone seems to think it is. The Bills had many games last year (including games against the Steelers and the Ravens) in which they should have won. The Bills’ offseason was marked by defensive additions like the number three overall pick in the 2011 draft DT Marcel Dareus. Free agent additions included Nick Barnett, Kirk Morrison, and 2010 midseason pickup Shawne “Lights Out” Merriman. Ultimately, however, it is the team’s continuous growth under head coach Chan Gailey’s system along with excellent play from Fred Jackson that has this young team vying for the AFC East title.


Detroit Lions: The Lions have been one of the league’s worst teams for the last decade. However, like the Tampa Bay Rays showed several years ago, continuous losing can lead to a surplus of high draft picks and thus talent. The combination of former number 1 overall pick Matthew Stafford and former number 2 overall pick Calvin Johnson has been historic so far this year combining for 9 touchdowns. The atmosphere during what many have called the “most important game in the history of Ford Field” against their division rival, the Bears, in a 24-13 win was evident even through the television screen. The Detroit Lions are 5-0 for the first time since 1956, so calling this start anything less than historic would be doing the Lions a disservice.


Philadelphia Eagles (the so-called “Dream Team”): The City of Brotherly Love was looking good only a few months ago. The Phillies were well on their way to having the best regular season record in the major leagues and the Eagles were having an outstanding offseason. Things quickly changed as the Phillies got knocked out of the playoffs by the Cardinals, and the Eagles are 1-4. This 1-4 start by the Eagles has sport talk shows around the country debating whether or not it’s time for head coach Andy Reid to go. The most controversial decision Andy Reid made in the offseason was to promote his offensive line coach Juan Castillo to defensive coordinator and bring in Jim Washburn to coach his defensive line. The additions of Dominique-Rodgers-Cromartie and Nnamdi Asomugha via trade and free agency to a team that hosted the defensive powerhouse Asante Samuel seemed to create one of the best cornerback groups in football. However, the main issue with the Eagles has been a lack of gap discipline and poor tackling, which have helped create the 30th ranked rushing defense in the league. The defensive deficiencies of the Eagles are being put squarely on the back of Juan Castillo and thus Andy Reid. In a “roller coaster” division their chances are still there, but they have to beat a surprisingly good Redskins team in a tough Sunday matchup in D.C.


Honorable Headlines


Washington Redskins: The Redskins came into the season considered by the “experts” one of the worst teams of the league. After starting the season 28th on ESPN’s power rankings they now find themselves 10th on the rankings and first in the NFC East at 3-1.


San Francisco 49ers: Jim Harbaugh has his team playing hard and currently finds himself atop of the NFC West at 4-1. The 49ers, like the Redskins, are winning with consistency starting with their defense, which currently ranks 4th against the run. Jim Harbaugh has helped Alex Smith play more consistently this year and has the 49ers vying for the NFC West title.


Pittsburg Steelers: The Steelers have historically been known for their defense, specifically against the run. The 3-2 Steelers rank 16th in the NFL against the run; and are giving up over 100 yards per game. The Steelers are one of the oldest teams in the NFL, and these recent struggles have led experts to believe that they are “too old”. The Steelers defense has to play better against the run for the remainder of the season in order to continue their dominant ways.


These few NFL teams have surprised so far this year and perhaps will continue to do so for the rest of the year. Will the Buffalo Bills remain contenders in the tough AFC East? Will the Eagles turn around their season starting this Sunday against the NFC East leading Redskins? All these questions are interesting and now, thanks to the resurgence of the Lions, the Thanksgiving game against the Packers looks like a classic matchup between two explosive offenses.