We’re over a third of the way through the NFL season, more than enough to call it a reasonable sample size, so I thought I’d take a look at the true surprises so far this year.
You won’t see the Dallas Cowboys on this list. Why? If I had told you before the season that they’d play the bulk of their season without Tony Romo or Dez Bryant you’d have quickly changed their status from “division favorite” to “dead meat.”
You won’t see the Seattle Seahawks either. Seattle is not having nearly as bad a season as the hysterical NFL media would have you believe. Before the season started, would you not have picked Green Bay in the matchup Seattle at Green Bay? You would. Would you have believed they would lose at division rival St. Louis, where they lost last year too? You would. Would you agree that they might lose to a particularly good team, on the road, who was undefeated? Probably. If not, you might have changed your tune had I told you that their season would be marred by a disruptive hold out by Kam Chancellor and an injury to Marshawn Lynch. So yeah. Seattle is, give or take a game, right where you would have put them had you really done your homework.
After some consideration, I also left the Atlanta Falcons off this list. I may not have guessed they would look as good as they do right off the bat, but I picked them to have a winning season, win their division and go the playoffs. Check, check and check.
So who are the real NFL surprise starts?
The Cincinnati Bengals were a consensus choice to miss their first playoffs in four years, and finish behind the feisty Ravens and resurgent Steelers, thus also mercifully ending their string of playoff futility. Well these Bengals ain’t those Bengals. They’ve already beaten Pittsburgh and Baltimore, not to mention Seattle, and Andy Dalton is a top 5 quarterback in the NFL. More than that, this guy looks like a different Andy Dalton, not the hapless schlub who lost playoff game after playoff game, but a competitive firebrand who wants to taste his enemies’ blood and hear the lamentations of their women. Yeah, surprising.
I decided I had to put the Denver Broncos on this list, even though you would not have blinked at the idea that they’d be in first place in a weak AFC West and probably not even that they’d get off to an undefeated start, but if I’d told you that Peyton Manning would be the 30th ranked quarterback by passer rating in the NFL, behind the likes of Kirk Cousins, Jameis Winston and Alex Smith, and further told you that the Broncos plan to be a run first offense would be an abysmal failure (like it’s quarterback, Denver’s run offense is ranked 30th in the NFL), you’d have surely thought they’d be in dire straits right now.
But instead, Denver stands 6-0 on the strength of the NFL’s third ranked defense.
Wouldn’t it be ironic if the “greatest regular season quarterback of all time” won his second Super Bowl in what was unquestionably his worst statistical season. That might put an end to the bullshit method of ranking quarterbacks by Super Bowl wins.
I would, of course, be remiss if I did not put the New York Jets on this list. Everyone knew about the Jets’ imposing defense, but the defense, while solid, hasn’t been necessarily spectacular. Instead, the Jets are winning through balance – defense plus an offense anchored by a solid running game thanks to Chris Ivory and a passing game being more than capably managed by Ryan Fitzpatrick, who suddenly has some first class weapons like Brandon Marshall to through to.
In any case, the Jets were a consensus preseason cellar dweller. Instead they’re 4-1, and could give the Patriots a run for their money.
Everyone knew the New Orleans Saints were no longer a legitimate Super Bowl team, but a 2-4 start that puts them last in the NFC South, behind even Jameis Winston? If I had told you Drew Brees would be posting a passer rating of 96 you’d have guessed the Saints, at worst, would be slightly above .500. Instead, Brees can move the chains but can’t get put up touchdowns (just seven in six games) and the defense stinks as bad as ever.
The Saints may not be statistically terrible, but just look at them on the field and tell me they have a snowball’s chance in hell of turning things around. No way.
Before this season started, the Baltimore Ravens was a fair number of people’s picks to go to the Super Bowl, including me. Instead, they are done, dead and buried, over. I don’t even want to get into the littany of things wrong with this team, only to observe that everyone was wrong about them.
Finally, there’s the poor Miami Dolphins, who have already fired their coach, and have gone from a team that most people had at around 8-8, finishing second or maybe third in the East, and who instead are off to such a horrid start they’ve already fired their coach. And some other people. No one saw this coming, least of all the coach.