With the midway point of the NFL season having just passed, I figured it was only justifiable to discuss the teams that have been surprising sports fans the most. Not just those that are overachieving, but also those that can’t seem to complete a pass this year.
5. Cleveland Browns
Cleveland fans haven’t had anything to seriously cheer about since the Cavaliers were making runs at an NBA title, but then The Decision happened and well… the rest is history. Two months ago however, there was definitely hope in the Browns this year. Eight games in to the season, the Browns are 3-5, have only 12 total touchdowns, and look like they’re getting worse. Colt McCoy looked like the emerging quarterback they were hoping for when he was drafted in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft out of Texas, but his ego seems to be the only thing that is growing. His numbers aren’t horrible, although they are far from dazzling – he has a +4 TD/INT ratio, and is averaging 220 yards through the air per game; however, he has moments where he looks like he shouldn’t even be starting in a high school game. Bad reads, bad throws, and a talentless receiving core are all issues that have plagued him this year. Perhaps the biggest disappointment this year has been Peyton Hillis, who was the break out player in the NFL just a year ago. He has only played in four games (hes been dealing with a hamstring injury), and even in the games he played he was far from stellar.
He has only 3.5 yards per carry this season, and Cleveland recently announced that they would allow him to shop around the free agency market due to his plea for more money. He had one good year, but after claims he turned down a 3 year/15+ million dollar contract from Cleveland, it seems fairly unlikely that any team is going to fork up more than that to receive an injury prone running back who has hardly proved himself – the Madden Curse has struck once again. The browns defense had shined until yesterday, when the Houston Texans offense ran all over them on route to what seemed like a fairly easy 30-12 victory, but their offense has been absolutely brutal. They are ranked 30th in total offense, 25th in passing yards, 31st in rushing yards, and have the 2nd most fumbles. It is hard to fathom that they would have gotten out of a division that contains AFC powerhouses Pittsburgh and Baltimore… but as this fan puts it, “We don’t even expect you to be good, we just want you to be watchable. DO YOU HAVE ANY IDEA HOW LOW OUR EXPECTATIONS ARE?”
4. Detroit Lions
I honestly wish I could put this at number one, but it was honestly only a matter of time. After having a top 5 draft pick in every draft since I can remember Detroit was bound to have a breakout season. The Detroit Lions are 6-2 heading into their bye in week 9. Let me say that again, the DETROIT LIONS are 6 and 2! The equation was simple, get Matt Millen the hell out of office! Ever since he has departed, the Lions have made great draft picks, and have finally implemented a coaching staff and a system that is firing on all cylinders. Their defensive front may be the toughest in the NFL, Matthew Stafford is finally working his way into being a notable quarterback in this league, Calvin Johnson is proving he might be the best wide receiver in the game, and Jim Schwartz has been the roman candle that Detroit needed to spark them into their winning ways.
They aren’t beating bottom tier teams either. They destroyed Tampa Bay 48-3 in week two. Came back from huge second half deficits to beat Minnesota and Dallas, and after losing two straight, showed their resiliency by defeating Denver by 35. A team that once couldn’t buy a win on the road is now 4-0 on the road this season! Hockeytown finally has another sport that can help feed that dying economy, and help spread hope throughout the city. However, don’t get too excited yet, remember when John Kitna predicted a 10 win season? Then they started 6-2, and ended 8-8 and missed the playoffs… like the little kid in Angels in the Outfield said, “It can happen.”
3. San Diego Chargers
This seems to happen every year. The Chargers are without a doubt one of the most terrifying teams on paper. Rivers, Gates, Jackson, Matthews – their offense is absolutely stacked, and their offensive line is one of the more stable ones in the NFL. They’re still the 6th best offense in the league, averaging over 400 yards of total offense per game; however, Rivers has made way too many mistakes this season and is basically costing them games by himself. Do I even have to mention the fumbled snap with a minute left last week against KC? ALL he had to do was hand the ball off and the game is over.
Yesterday against Green Bay, he threw consecutive interceptions that were both taken back to the house – they would go on to only lose by 6. The Chargers are now 4-4 and are still tied for first because they are in perhaps the weakest division in the NFC. It just doesn’t make a lot of sense when you look at the statistics, they have the 6th highest rated offense, and the 7th highest rated defense, yet they keep finding ways to lose. The elite teams out there like the Packers always find ways to win, even when they aren’t playing at their highest level. The Chargers keep finding ways to lose even when they’re playing well. If it keeps up, they’ll be watching the playoffs from their recliners once again.
2. San Francisco 49ers
Remember all the pressure that was on Alex Smith? About how he was going to be put in the same sentence as Ryan Leaf when talking about QB busts in the NFL draft? Remember when Mike Singletary got fired and the entire sporting world counted out the Niners and urged them to trade Frank Gore in order to help rebuild the entire program?
Well with all the doubts aside, the 49ers are somehow 7-1. They’ve won six straight games, and it is very possible that they could receive home field advantage in the playoffs. They are easily going to win to their division, which they could clinch in as soon as two weeks, which shows how poor that division is (Seattle, Arizona, and St. Louis have 5 wins combined). The biggest different thus far has been their defense, which is currently ranked 9th overall in the league. Frank Gore has continued to shine and has five consecutive 100-yard games. Alex Smith hasn’t had to be amazing, but he’s been good enough for them to win ball games. The 49ers remind me of the Ravens team that won the superbowl back when Trent Dilfer was QB. Don’t be surprised if they make a deep run come playoff time.
1. Cincinnati Bengals
Who dey? Dey are somehow 6-2 behind the arm of highly criticized Andy Dalton. I was the biggest skeptic when it came to the Bengals in the beginning of the season. If you would have said at week 9 the Bengals would be tied for first atop probably the hardest division in football, I would have said you were nuts. Their offense hasn’t been stellar, but they’re only giving up 300 yards per game on defense, which is good enough for a top five slot in the NFL. They were hardly a top-15 defense last year so that has definitely been the largest improvement. They’ve won five straight, and the 4th overall pick in last years draft A.J. Green has filled every expectation that organization could have ever asked from him in his rookie campaign.
Are they a playoff bound team? I still say no. If you look at their remaining schedule, they still have to play Pittsburgh and Baltimore twice, and they’ll play the Texans at home. There offense is going to have to improve if they want to make a serious run toward the wild card. I think they’ll finish at 10-6, but will fall short when Pittsburgh and Baltimore both finish at 11-5 or better.
Honorable Mention: Indianapolis Colts
Everyone knew that Peyton Manning was good, but the fact that he turns a Super bowl contender into a team that’s 0-9 is nothing short of incredible.