Wade Phillips and the Biggest Surprises of the NFL in 2010
The seemingly infinite variability of the NFL is one of the sport's greatest draws. The team that wins one year isn't guaranteed to be great the next season, and vice versa.
There are a host of examples of this trend in 2010. Take the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins for instance.
While hosting their own Super Bowl might have been a tall order for Tony Romo and the 'Boys, underachieving like they have (even before Romo's injury) has been a shock, and not just to them. Things got so bad that a perfectly good and kind human being like Wade Phillips got the axe.
Also, with Mike Shanahan's coaching and recruiting pedigree combined with Donovan McNabb's certified greatness, the 'Skins are a surprising disappointment. The former Eagle lacked his typical array of weapons, but everything was supposed to change with a coach with two rings at the helm (no offense, Andy Reid).
These are just two examples that didn't make the list of surprises in another season of NFL football.
1. NFC South
The NFC South leader, at least currently, is not the New Orleans Saints. Winners of a game some fans still talk about, the opportunistic defense and prolific offense have had some setbacks this season, ceding their vaunted position to the Atlanta Falcons.
I live in Atlanta, and the outrageous success of the Dirty Birds (no, no one says that anymore) is a shock even to the local fan. We expect coach Mike Smith and Matt Ryan and Roddy White to do well, but not well enough to make very much noise.
We hardly ever fret because there's so much more to be invested in, but suddenly those terrible Samuel L. Jackson ads mean a little more.
2. AFC South
Suddenly the Indianapolis Colts' season doesn't automatically include the playoffs. You'd have to go some years back to find when that happened last.
Last year, Indy's success was hamstrung by Peyton Manning getting into the routine of things late, so this time he had everything going for him and was feeling prepared and focused. Then Bob Sanders got hurt, the beginning of an avalanche of injuries that led experts to argue over the cause of the Colts' recent struggles.
The only thing anyone knows is that the AFC regular season champs are looking up at Jacksonville, of all teams, not Vince Young's Titans (or is it Jeff Fisher's Titans?) and not the Texans (who were for many years thought of as Diet Colts).
3. Minnesota Vikings
I don't think anyone that didn't live in Minnesota expected Brett Favre to have as good a year as he did last season, but the exit he seems to be making to punctuate his entry into the history books is a bit shocking.
He might just be on pace to throw more interceptions in a season than ever before in his career, and ironically the only thing that might stop that from happening is him being knocked out of a game so completely that he misses the next few.
Even aside from the quarterbacking issue, the defense isn't the same from last year, nor really is the running game. The only thing that's unchanged about the defending NFC North champions is the roster—and up until very recently, the head coach.
The last hurrah is sounding a lot more like a boo.
4. AFC West
It's common for head coaches to get the boot in the midst of a season these days, with things like Twitter and Facebook putting constant, overt pressure on front offices (people want things faster, and that includes fans wanting wins).
So it was natural to assume that Tom Cable's tenure would be short, even before that "domestic dispute." But no, he kept his job, and what's more, the Raiders started winning. They even beat the Chargers. At home. In December.
The Bolts' predictable late-season push was stalled for the first time in forever, and the rest of their games aren't guaranteed either.
Kansas City is looking like a contender too.
5. AFC North
Finally, it was time again for the Ravens to look down on the Steelers.
Ray Lewis took his defense to the secret fountain for another offseason, and some savvy acquisitions found Joe Flacco with someone taller than 6'0" to finally throw to (not just one quality receiver in Anquan Boldin, but two counting T.J. Houshmandzadeh), not to mention Ben Roethlisberger's missing the first four games. It was time for celebration, right?
As it turns out, Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon were good enough to win games provided they had the Steel Curtain backing them. The surprise of the AFC North is that it isn't; the Ravens are still second fiddle, scrapping fiercely for that second playoff spot.