Midyear NFL Status Report: the pleasant and not-so pleasant surprises
An adage in sports, attributed to legendary basketball coach, Adolph Rupp of the University of Kentucky says, “That’s why we play the game: to see who’ll win,” according to an article from grammarphobia.com reminds us that in sports, we should not be surprised by results contrary to our expectations. With that in mind, at the midpoint of the 2019 National Football League season, I present the teams that have surprised us, based on the pre-season predictions by John Breech, according to a September 2019 article by CBS Sports.
The Bills were expected to be a .500 team. However, they exploded out of the starting gate. With a 5–2 record, they are positioned to make the playoffs as a wild card and have an outside chance of challenging the red-hot New England Patriots for the American Football Conference East. The Bills are winning with a stout defense, ranked fifth in overall scoring and third in passing defense.
A losing season was predicted for the Texans who have earned a respectable 5–3 record and are positioned to ultimately win the AFC South Division, as they are neck and neck with the Indianapolis Colts, following recent victories over the powerhouse Kansas City Chiefs and the improved Oakland Raiders. Their resurgence is believed to be largely due to the emergence of the great scoring combination of the third year rising star quarterback Deshaun Watson and his fellow Clemson Tiger, receiver DeAndre Hopkins. According to battleredblog.com, this tandem has been a highly effective scoring weapon.
Both teams from the AFC North are early disappointments despite winning seasons predicted for both. The Steelers, perennial winners and considered one of the flagship franchises in the National Football League, are languishing with a 3–4 record with preseason playoff expectations. With their great starting quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, out due to injury, and a fall-off in talent among the receivers, the offense has been impaired, especially now that opposing defenses can concentrate more on their running game, rendering it less effective as well, according to NBC Sports.
As for the Browns, the expectations were high after a resurgent 2018 season and the addition of star receiver Odell Beckham Junior to an already very talented team. However, the Brown’s losing record of 2–5 has been attributed to the underachieving but talented receivers, the inconsistent play of quarterback Baker Mayfield and the loss of the great left tackle, Joe Thomas, according to sbnation.com.
Los Angeles Chargers
The Chargers, a 2018 playoff team, are enduring a 3–5 season although they were expected to compete with the Chiefs for the AFC West title. The team’s disappointing season has been largely attributed to a poor offense, as evidenced by their inability to score more than 20 points in the past four games and the dismal running game, with the team rushing for an alarming 40 or fewer yards in each of those games. This offensive ineptitude cost Offensive Coordinator Ken Whisenhunt his job; he was fired this week.
The Falcons were expected to compete with the New Orleans Saints for the National Football Conference South Division title. They are currently mired in the midst of a 1–7 record. The record has led to questions regarding the performance of the head coach, Dan Quinn, and has led the owner of the team, Arthur Blank, to say that he was “extraordinarily disappointed” with the Falcons’ season.
San Francisco Forty-Niners
The Niners were expected to have a rebuilding year and are currently undefeated with a 7-0 record. Their rise is summed up well by Pete Prisco of CBS Sports, who put it succinctly, saying, “They are the real deal. The defense is special and they run the heck out of the ball. That’s a good combination.”
If the first half of the 2019 NFL season is a good indicator, we are likely to be in for more surprises and excitement in the second half of the season. Stay tuned.