2011 NFL Playoffs logo2011 NFL Playoffs

Bills, Lions and Raiders Emerge as Playoff Contenders

Two surprising playoff contenders battle it out
Two surprising playoff contenders battle it outTom Szczerbowski/Getty Images
Mitch FortnerContributor IIISeptember 28, 2011

Three weeks into the NFL season, only one team remains undefeated in the AFC and, as expected, it is the Buffalo Bills.

Wait, What?

The Bills intercepted Tom Brady four times, and Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 369 yards and two scores as the Bills overcame a 21-0 first-half deficit to defeat the Patriots, 34-31.

With the upset victory over Brady and the Patriots, the Bills, along with the Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders, have once again proven that if there is one thing we know about the NFL entering each season, it's that we have no idea what will happen.

2011 is no different.

The Buffalo Bills, behind the arm of former Harvard standout Fitzpatrick and the legs of running back Fred Jackson, have developed a high-powered offense, averaging almost 38 points a game in its three victories over Kansas City, Oakland and New England.

While the defense hasn't been able to keep teams from scoring points and racking up yards, it has been able to force timely turnovers, currently ranking second in the NFL behind the Ravens with nine takeaways (6 INT, 3 FR).

The Bills have gone from obscurity to first in the AFC, and they have all the makings of a playoff team no one, except maybe its fans and people within the organization, saw coming.

And while the Bills are an impressive story, they aren't the only team that has emerged from the 2010 basement into the 2011 playoff hunt.

The Detroit Lions, after a 23-20 comeback win of their own on Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings in overtime, have developed into one of the most talented young teams in the NFL. A team that no longer has the look of a doormat, but, instead, of a perennial playoff team, loaded with elite talent like Calvin Johson, Ndamukong Suh and Matthew Stafford.

The Oakland Raiders have proven to have plenty of talent in their own right, led by the NFL's leading rusher Darren McFadden (393 yards) and big-play wide receiver Denarius Moore. The Raiders ran roughshod over the Jets on Sunday, winning 34-24. A win that, on any other Sunday that doesn't include a Patriots loss, would likely be the top story.

While these three teams stand out as the biggest surprises to start the NFL season, they aren't the only teams who missed the playoffs in 2010 with a legitimate shot at the playoffs this season.

The Texans, Buccaneers and Redskins have emerged as well. Both the Texans and Bucs were on the verge last year and have performed even better to start 2011, while the Redskins have surprised with their play on the way to a 2-1 record. 

Every year, prognosticators make their preseason playoff and Super Bowl picks, fans look over the schedule to determine wins and losses and everyone feels like they have a pretty good idea as to which teams will be playoff contenders.

...And then the season starts. 


Mitch Fortner is a Sports Data Analyst and writer for Statsheet.com. Follow him on twitter @MitchFortner21

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