NFL Power Rankings: The Top 10 Surprises of the 2011 Season
NFL fans love our preseason predictions.
From watching our favorite NFL shows, to watching the pregame, to reading preseason publications, we are always hoping to get an inside look at what is going to happen.
However, it seems that every year there are a few teams and a few players that serve as exceptions to the standard opinions.
Here are the top 10 surprises of the NFL season so far.
10. Cam Newton Is Better Than Anyone Expected
Cam Newton was taken with the first overall pick in the 2011 NFL draft by the Carolina Panthers.
Newton had to have some promise, or he wouldn't have been taken so high.
But Cam had more than a few critics when he began the season. He had only played one real season in college, and he did a lot of his damage with his legs—not his arm. His game probably won't translate to the NFL.
Cam Newton has already thrown for 1,847 yards this season and accounted for 13 touchdowns.
Newton has completed more than 58 percent of his passes and is averaging nearly 300 yards (297.8) per game. He has already thrown for more than 400 yards twice this year.
The Panthers are just 2-5, but Cam Newton looks like he may be a fun quarterback to watch for a long time.
9. The Eagles Aren't Exactly a "Dream Team"
The Philadelphia Eagles went 10-6 in 2010, losing in the NFC Wild Card game to the eventual Super Bowl Champion Green Bay Packers.
In the offseason, the Eagles were very active in an effort to improve for 2011.
First, they re-signed quarterback Michael Vick. Then they traded quarterback Kevin Kolb to Arizona for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.
The Eagles then added free agents Nnamdi Asomugha, Vince Young, Jason Babin and Steve Smith.
The Eagles will be even better in 2011!
Except that they aren't.
The Eagles have started out 2-4 with losses to the Giants and 49ers at home.
The offensive line has struggled at times. The defense is giving up 24 points per game. The special teams have been only average.
We thought the Eagles may win the NFC East.
Right now they are in last place.
8. The Packers May Be Even Better Than Last Year
The Green Bay Packers went 10-6 last season and won Super Bowl XLV as a Wild Card team.
Unlike the Eagles, the Packers stood pat in the offseason and kept their returning team intact.
So how are they even better?
Start with their quarterback Aaron Rodgers. While leading the pack to an undefeated season so far, Rodgers has been simply incredible.
Rodgers has thrown for more than 2,000 yards already and 17 touchdowns with only three interceptions.
The Packers' entire offense is clicking right now, scoring nearly 33 points per game so far this season—up from 24 last year.
The defense is allowing 19 points per game—which is up from 15 last season—but come playoff time, the Packers will be very tough to beat.
7. Chad Ochocinco Has Been a Non-Factor for the Patriots
When the New England Patriots traded for wide receiver Chad Ochocinco in the offseason, it was thought that he may help Tom Brady stretch the field and keep teams from loading up the box.
It hasn't happened.
Through the first six games, Ochocinco has just nine catches and no touchdowns. Whether it has been failure of the Patriots to involve him or whether he has failed to pick up the system may be in question.
What isn't in question is the fact that Chad isn't producing.
To be fair, the Patriots are still having success. They are using their tight ends and arguably the best wide receiver in the NFL, Wes Welker, to stretch the field.
But I think we expected much more from Ochocinco this season.
6. The Detroit Lions Are in 2nd Place in the NFC North
The Detroit Lions may have been higher on this list, but they actually became a popular dark-horse pick to make the playoffs.
With a defense that already has 14 sacks, eight interceptions and five fumble recoveries, the Lions have caused many more people to take notice.
The offense is improving as well.
Quarterback Matt Stafford has thrown for 15 touchdowns, and Calvin Johnson (pictured) has caught nine of them.
For a team that won only six games all of last season, the 5-2 Lions are still a surprise.
5. The San Francisco 49ers Under Jim Harbaugh Aren't Bad
The 49ers went 6-10 in 2010, and head coach Mike Singletary was fired as a result.
Enter former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh.
The 49ers may play in what is arguably the weakest division in the NFL, but they are doing some very fundamental things well.
For starters, they are stopping the run, allowing only 74.7 yards rushing per game.
They are also running the ball pretty well themselves (131.5 yards per game) and putting less pressure on much-criticized quarterback Alex Smith.
As a result, these 49ers aren't just surprising us.
At 5-1, they are surprising some of the other teams in the NFL as well.
4. Some Big-Name Quarterbacks Are Struggling
The NFL is going out of its way to protect their quarterbacks.
So far this season, NFL quarterbacks have already thrown for more than 300 yards 33 times.
Yet, in spite of this, there are a number of big-name quarterbacks who are struggling.
Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers has just seven touchdowns while throwing nine interceptions.
Josh Freeman of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has also struggled with interceptions, throwing 10.
Starting quarterbacks Kyle Orton, Donovan McNabb, Kerry Collins and Rex Grossman have all been benched. Okay, so those four aren't much of a surprise.
But some quarterbacks are struggling this season. And we didn't expect all of them.
3. The Bengals Actually Traded Carson Palmer
The Bengals have had a number of players forced to stay in Cincinnati when they didn't want to be there.
When Carson Palmer said he'd retire rather than return to play, most of us assumed his career was over.
Bengals owner Mike Brown has held a few players hostage in Cincy before—Carl Pickens, Corey Dillon and Chad Johnson come to mind.
So when the Bengals traded Carson Palmer to the Oakland Raiders on October 18, 2011, it surprised more than a few of us.
Especially when Brown had said it would NOT happen.
2. The Buffalo Bills Are a Solid Football Team
While there were a few so-called experts that may have picked the Lions, Raiders, Minnesota or even the Titans as their "dark-horse" playoff pick, I don't know of anyone who picked the Bills.
Buffalo went 4-12 last year. Then they traded away what was arguably their best player in wide receiver Lee Evans.
How have they responded? By opening the season with a 4-2 record, including a win over division rival New England.
Running back Fred Jackson (pictured) is a dark-horse MVP candidate. Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is the No. 7-rated quarterback in the NFL, with 12 touchdowns through just six games.
I still have some questions about their defense, but the Buffalo Bills have a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.
1. The Cincinnati Bengals
The Cincinnati Bengals?
So they started 4-2! They are still only in third place in their division!
Hold on—hear me out.
The Bengals, behind rookie quarterback Andy Dalton, have managed to go 4-2 against some weaker teams. I know.
But let's look at their remaining schedule. There are still some winnable games left.
Seattle, Tennessee, Cleveland, St. Louis and Arizona all remain for the Bengals. They have a chance to win three or four of those games.
Add Pittsburgh twice, Baltimore twice, and Houston in there. Win one or two of those games, and you're looking at a Bengals team that may win 8-10 games this season.
There were experts picking the Bengals to be the worst team in the league.
The Bengals are definitely a surprise.
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