NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Surprise Teams That Won't Fall This Season

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 2:   Ryan Fitzpatrick #14 of the Buffalo Bills runs up field with the football during the game against the Cincinnati Bengals on October 2, 2011 at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Bengals defeated the Bills 23-20.  (Photo by John Grieshop/Getty Images)
John Grieshop/Getty Images
Joseph HealyCorrespondent IOctober 3, 2011

It has already been a year of surprises in the NFL, both good and bad. The elation felt by the fans of the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers has been matched by the despair felt by fans of the Philadelphia Eagles.

Not all early season surprises end up panning out, of course. Those teams that are off to a hot start are just as likely to fall on their collective faces as they are to continue their climb.

When it comes to the following teams, however, the solid play will only continue.

 

Buffalo Bills

To me, the Bills are the most "for real" of any of the surprise teams in the early going. They are much more than just a feel-good story at this point.

Their offense, which was so often a weak point for Buffalo, is among the best in the league. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a solid starting quarterback and Stevie Johnson is an elite receiver. They've also got a full complement of nice role players on that side of the ball, including Fred Jackson, David Nelson and Scott Chandler.

Their defense is still very much a work in progress, but they are getting there. Nick Barnett is a nice leader to have at linebacker and Marcell Dareus gives them a building block on the defensive line. The Bills are here to stay.

 

San Francisco 49ers

I'm not sold on the 49ers being a highly talented team that can make a long run through the postseason, but I am sold on the 49ers as a real contender in the NFC West.

PHILADELPHIA, PA - OCTOBER 02: Quarterback Alex Smith #11 of the San Francisco 49ers throws a pass against the Philadelphia Eagles during an NFL football game at Lincoln Financial Field on October 2, 2011 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. The 49ers defeated
Rich Schultz/Getty Images

No one else in that division seems interested in trying to win it. The Rams are off to an 0-4 start, the Seahawks are 1-3 and the Cardinals are 1-3. Why not the 49ers?

The offense isn't explosive, but they play within themselves. Alex Smith has kept his mistakes to a minimum for the most part, their receivers are all steady and they lean on the running game for better or worse. At the very least, a ball-control offense like that will keep the opposing offense off the field.

Given how weak their division is, the 49ers have a real shot at being in the postseason.

 

Oakland Raiders

It's a little hard to consider the Raiders a huge surprise because they went 8-8 last season, but I don't feel like the expectations for them were very high.

The Raiders will have a fight on their hands to make the postseason, but they have the potential to be one of those teams that wins a bunch of games in an ugly fashion and ends up with a good record when it's all said and done.

They will go as far as their running game will take them. Based on what we have seen so far from Darren McFadden, it can take them a long, long way. Quarterback Jason Campbell needs only to not lose games with turnovers.

The Raiders are sitting at 2-2, but their upcoming schedule is littered with games against weak teams. It wouldn't take much to get them to nine or 10 wins.

 

Joseph Healy's NFL Power Rankings Going into Week 5

OAKLAND, CA - SEPTEMBER 25:  Darren McFadden #20 of the Oakland Raiders celebrates with Jason Campbell #8 against the New York Jets at O.co Coliseum on September 25, 2011 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images)
Jed Jacobsohn/Getty Images

1. Green Bay Packers

2. New England Patriots

3. New Orleans Saints

4. Baltimore Ravens

5. San Diego Chargers

6. Detroit Lions

7. Houston Texans

8. Atlanta Falcons

9. New York Giants

10. Pittsburgh Steelers

11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers

12. New York Jets

13. Tennessee Titans

14. Buffalo Bills

15. Oakland Raiders

16. Chicago Bears

17. Dallas Cowboys

18. Washington Redskins

19. Philadelphia Eagles

20. San Francisco 49ers

21. Arizona Cardinals

22. Minnesota Vikings

23. Carolina Panthers

24. Cincinnati Bengals

25. Cleveland Browns

26. Seattle Seahawks

27. Jacksonville Jaguars

28. St. Louis Rams

29. Kansas City Chiefs

30. Denver Broncos

31. Indianapolis Colts

32. Miami Dolphins


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