NFL Predictions: 5 Most Shocking Teams at the Season's Quarter Mark

Mike Nelson@Mike_E_NelsonCorrespondent IOctober 5, 2011

NFL Predictions: 5 Most Shocking Teams at the Season's Quarter Mark

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    It's one-quarter of the way through the NFL season, and there's much that can be said and analyzed.

    Is your team finished?

    Is your team a Super Bowl contender?

    Is your team a contender for the services of Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck yet?

    But the purpose of this slideshow is to assess the five most shocking teams at the end of the first quarter. Shocking can go one of two ways: It can be shockingly impressive or shockingly unimpressive.

    There is a good mixture of both in this top five.

5. Pittsburgh Steelers

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers were the final notch on the Green Bay Packers’ championship belt in the 2011 Super Bowl. With much of the same team back, this group was supposed to be among the best the AFC had to offer.

    The 2011 season hasn’t lived up to that hype yet. The Steelers are a very unimpressive 2-2 and were destroyed 35-7 in Week 1 to their No. 1 rival, the Baltimore Ravens.

    Then they barely beat a Colts team (23-20) that has struggled severely without quarterback Peyton Manning.

    Without linebacker James Harrison, who will miss a few weeks after surgery on his right eye, the defense will lose a major defensive presence. The defense still has plenty of talent around it to be successful, but it doesn’t help.

    The Steelers' season is far from over, as they still have games against the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals to look forward to, but it’s not off to a great start.

4. Detroit Lions

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    Everyone believed the Detroit Lions would be better than their 6-10 2010 campaign.

    The Lions finished the 2010 season on a four-game winning streak. They got their franchise quarterback, Matthew Stafford, back from injury. The defensive line was one of the best in football before it added defensive tackle Nick Fairley, the 13th overall pick in 2011.

    However, the Lions are 4-0. They have overcome back-to-back deficits of 20-plus point to keep their perfect record intact. And both of those games were on the road.

    The big question, for the offense, was whether Stafford could stay healthy. He had yet to play a full NFL season. It was given that wide receiver Calvin Johnson was one of the best in the game—and that was without a quarterback of Stafford’s quality under center. Now that Stafford’s healthy, Johnson looks even better.

    The Lions, with a healthy Stafford, should continue to put up big points—their season low is 26 points and their average is 33.75 points per game—and should compete for the NFC North crown.


3. Washington Redskins

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    Rex Grossman at quarterback? Really?

    The Redskins were supposed to be a joke in 2011. Grossman had proven that since the 2006 season, when he led the Bears to the Super Bowl, that he didn’t have what it took to be a quarterback in the NFL.

    That’s not to say that Grossman is a savior—he’s far from it—but he has his team off to a 3-1 record, and that has to be worth something.

    Coach Mike Shanahan said at the beginning of the season that he was truly comfortable with Grossman or his backup John Beck starting for the Redskins. He believed either would give the team an opportunity to win. I know I laughed in his face, but now he’s laughing in mine.

    The Redskins defense has been impressive thus far, ranking fifth in the league in total defense. It’s sixth against the run (338 yards, 84.5 yards per game) and tied for seventh against the pass (848 yards, 212 yards per game).

    If the offense can continue to put up 17 points per game or more, as it has through the first four games of the year, the Redskins could compete for the NFC East crown.

2. Philadelphia Eagles

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    The “Dream Team.”

    Before the season started many people already crowned the Philadelphia Eagles as the NFC champions.  With the additions of cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, receiver Steve Smith, running back Ronnie Brown and the team the Eagles had returning, the thought was that this team would be invincible.

    Not so fast.

    The Eagles are 1-3 after they blew a 21-3 lead over the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday.

    Quarterback Michael Vick hasn’t lived up to the hype of his new six-year, $100 million contract, though he played well Sunday (416 yards passing, two touchdowns, one interception and rushed for 75 yards).

    However, the offensive line has shown itself as weak and vulnerable.

    The defense, which should have been a top-10 defense in 2011 on paper, is the 16th-ranked defense (11th against the pass and 30th against the run).

    It’s not panic mode yet, but if Vick continues to get hit at the rate he has and the defense continues to struggle (it has yet to allow fewer than 24 points), the Eagles aren’t the team we thought they were.

1. Buffalo Bills

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    Despite the loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4, this team has been the biggest surprise in football.

    This team was supposed to be in the running to draft Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck with the No. 1 pick in the 2012 NFL Draft. To put it lightly, the Buffalo Bills were supposed to be putrid in 2011.

    Instead, they’ve started out 3-1 and toppled the likes of the New England Patriots 34-31—after being down 21-7.

    Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is fifth in passing touchdowns (nine), has the ninth-highest passer rating (96.9) and has the 13th-most passing yards (1,040) through the first four games. Fitzpatrick had never had a passer rating over 81.8 in six previous NFL seasons nor has he had more than 23 touchdown passes—he’s on pace for 36.

    Running back Fred Jackson is fourth in the NFL in rushing (369 yards) and second in rushing touchdowns (four).

    The offense can play, but the defense has struggled. It’s 28th in overall defense (25th against the run and 24th against the pass).

    It’s been a hot start for Buffalo; it’ll be interesting to see if it lasts.