NFL's Five Biggest Surprises So Far: They're NOT Who We Thought They Were

James ReesAnalyst IOctober 15, 2008

With apologizes to Denny Green, I’ve compiled a list of the five most surprising teams in the NFL so far this season. There are a whole handful of candidates to choose from, some from the where-did-these-guys-come-from category, and others from the where-did-it-all-go-wrong category.

I decided to include an even distribution from both categories, and a wildcard for flavor.

So without further ado…

The two best where-did-these-guys-come-from teams:


Before the season started, I sat down with the NFL schedule (as all we devoted NFL fans do) and tried to derive a rough estimate of how many games my team (Saints) could win this year.

I began with the division and immediately counted Atlanta home and away as two automatic wins. After all, they were sporting a rookie quarterback and coach, and a defense with less name recognition than the Los Angeles Sparks.

Now it’s six games into the season and the Falcons are 4-2 with two quality wins (Bears, Packers). Not only that, Matt Ryan is playing like a six-time Pro Bowler after only six career starts. The guy has been unflappable.

Of course Ryan has been aided by the success of the Falcons running game, jumpstarted by Charger expatriate Michael Turner. (Yes, I passed on him in my fantasy league too, and yes I regret it.)

So presently the Falcons are legitimate.  Whether or not Ryan hits the rookie brick wall still remains to be seen, but until he does, the dirty birds are far from being an easy win.


Analyze the preseason Titans and see what you’ve got: A moody, inaccurate quarterback, no proof of a running game, zero talent at wide receiver and a highly competitive division.

Now take a look at the Titans, but ignore their record: They’ve got a 36-year-old quarterback, a rookie tailback, still no talent at wide receiver, and are only scoring 22 points a game.

But they’re 5-0.  How’s that for perception vs. reality.

Of course, the Titans are undefeated because they are the best defense in the league. Not only do they not let you score, they also take away your will to live. That’s the type of team that can go places in the NFL.

Now on to the two worst where-did-it-all-go-wrong teams:


The Vikings were a trendy Super Bowl pick in the preseason. On paper, they had enough talent on the offensive and defensive lines to overcome whatever shortcomings existed at the quarterback position. Plus they had the mighty Adrian Peterson.

Now they’re 3-3 (they should be 2-4) and struggling to win against the woeful Lions. So where did the wheels fall off?

I blame it on the coach and GM who refused to address their quarterback situation in the off-season. How can you seriously consider yourself a contender with Tavaris Jackson as your starter?

I also think the Vikings run an offense about as complicated as three-word crossword puzzle. Run right, run left, and then throw it deep on third down. That’s not keeping any defensive coordinators up at night.


Not that the Seahawks were picked to be a serious playoff contender or anything, but c’mon. Seattle is never this bad.

I understand the injury situation at wide receiver. When almost half of the guys on ESPN Sunday NFL countdown could start for you at wide receiver, you know you’re in trouble.

But still, everyone’s got injury problems and nobody’s underachieving worse than Seattle.

Where is the supposed best defense in the league? The Seahawks have a lot of big name players giving up big time points. Patrick Kerney, Julian Peterson, Lofa Tatupu, Marcus Trufant—all Pro Bowlers not getting the job done.

What a tough way to end a decade in Seattle, Mike Holmgren.

Finally, the these-guys-are-who-we-thought-they-were-but-not-really team:


The Dolphins are pretty bad at 2-3 just as we expected them to be. But don’t you get the feeling that things are turning around in South Beach?

I won’t lie, that wildcat offense has got me intrigued. I want to watch every Dolphins game now just to see what new wrinkle they’ve come up with. They seem like they’ve got a good thing going with this offense. It’s something they can buy into as they attempt to formulate a team identity.

Miami is in the midst of a rebuilding year.  It’s the Tuna’s first season calling the shots, so expectations aren’t high at all.  But I think this team can win six or seven games.

So for that reason, the Dolphins aren’t who we thought they were. They’re still not a very good team like we thought they’d be, but they’re getting better.