If there’s one thing we can be certain about with the NFL is that nothing ever is really certain. The 2015 season has been loaded with surprises, so I thought about which have been the biggest. For the purpose of this I listed the four best and worst surprises of the year so far. Let’s start with the good stuff:
Todd Gurley impressing after ACL tear:
Gurley became a starter in the Rams’ fourth game of the season and it didn’t take him very long to make his mark. In his first four starts he rushed for over 140 yards on average. His rushing numbers were down a little in their last two games, but at the same time he is taking a bigger role as a receiver as well. He has outstanding vision, gives his O-line time to create space, hits the hole explosively and then has the speed to outrun defenses. No disrespect to all the other backs in the league, but with Le’Veon Bell out for the season and Chris Ivory looking not nearly as explosive in recent weeks as he did at the start of the season, Gurley has a strong argument for being a top-three back in the league already. The guy at number one had a pretty good season after a torn ACL as well.
Carson Palmer and Larry Fitzgerald with career years:
Palmer is coming off an ACL tear at the age of 35, Larry is in his 12th season and yet both might have their best years of their respective careers. With a 23-7 TD to interception ratio and a 108.0 passer rating, Palmer has been one of the top three quarterbacks in the NFL this year. On the other hand, Larry now understands coverages and defensive schemes better than ever before. That combined with unbelievable hands and a variety of ways the Cardinals use him on offense have already brought him 836 receiving yards and seven TDs. In addition to reaching new personal heights, they have helped the Birds to being one of the top three overall teams in the league.
Panthers keep pounding:
This year the Panthers have their first ever 9-0 start. Cam Newton might not be a great quarterback when you simply talk about reading defenses and being accurate with his throws, but he is one of the toughest runners in the league regardless of position, he does an outstanding job with a far below average receiving corp and he simply is a playmaker, who puts his team in positions to win. The guy he can always count on is tight-end Greg Olsen, who to me is the second best player at his position right behind Gronk. The defense has a top-three player at four different positions – Josh Norman at cornerback, Luke Kuechly at middle linebacker, Thomas Davis at outside linebacker and KaWann Short at defensive tackle. And they make the most of their talent, making offenses earn every single yard.
Devonta Freeman’s breakout sophomore campaign:
I watched Freeman in Florida State’s backfield rotation and thought to myself that this could be a back who excels at the next level if you give him the right amount of touches. I never thought he’d be anywhere close to leading the league in yards from scrimmage in his second year though – especially after drafting Tevin Coleman this year. This guy has been a weapon and a touchdown machine. After the first six games he had nine rushing TDs – more than a lot of teams had overall at that point. Having the defense focused on the monster on the outside named Julio Jones certainly gives Freeman more room, but he has established himself as one of the elite running backs in the league.
AFC South as the worst division by far:
I really don’t have to make an argument for this as this division has a combined record of 14-24. That’s crazy. But it’s even harder to believe that two of the most hyped teams in the offseason in the Colts and Texans have disappointed the way they have. The Texans were labeled as a team on the rise, but a season-ending injury to star running back Arian Foster and the quarterback controversy have haunted this team. The defense has just started to show what they can do, after not being able to stop anybody in their first seven games. On the other hand, the Colts were a Super Bowl favorite for most analysts, but injuries to Andrew Luck and the offensive struggles in general have kept this team from being able to get any separation from Houston. The Jaguars and Titans have shown improvement with their young promising signal callers and better defensive units, I’d be even more surprised if either one of them can take the division crown. The winner could easily be right at or below .500.
Seahawks seem to not be able to get it going:
Remember – this team has won two NFC Championships and a Super Bowl in the last two years and now they don’t look anything like this team. Sure, many of the pieces still work, like an ultra-disruptive Michael Bennett or a playmaker like Russell Wilson, but they have a lackluster offensive line, receivers who aren’t able to get any separation on their routes for large portions of the game and no number two cornerback, who can do the job Byron Maxwell and Brandon Browner have done in recent years. They don’t run the ball as consistently with Marshawn dealing with calf problems, Russell Wilson is being chased all day and opposing offenses find holes in their defense. They are not nearly as dominant on either side of the ball and the result is a 4-5 record. But as we saw last year – they can turn it around very quickly.
The Broncos offense struggling mightily:
No this is not just about Peyton. He might have the worst statistics among all starting QBs and he might not even be a top 20 quarterback this year. But the issues on the offensive side of the ball go far deeper than that. The Broncos running game has struggled mightily to find any consistency and C.J. Anderson, who was primed to be one of the leading rushers in the NFL, has picked up just over 300 yards. The other part is the pass protection for Peyton, which has been the worst he’s ever had and therefore he has also taken harder hits than ever before. Gary Kubiak has to find a way to get the ground game going and Peyton has to get healthy to help their outstanding defense. Sunday might have been the first time I’ve ever seen him really hurt his team. But yet again, he probably shouldn’t have played in that game.
Ravens have their worst start to the season ever:
The Ravens started the season at 0-3 – that is a #NevaEva. After that they found a way to win in Pittsburgh, which could have been their turnaround-point. Unfortunately they have only been able to win one of the next five games. They have had big problems from the very beginning as Terrell Suggs, the leader of this defense and to me the team overall, tore his Achilles in the season opener. Then in week eight they saw Steve Smith, who was having one heck of a season, suffer the same injury. Losing what might be their best players on offense and defense, certainly hurt them, but that’s not the only reason they are 2-7. The secondary has looked horrible at times with Jimmy Smith bound for a breakout year struggling most and the team’s inability to finish games. Every single game they’ve played was a one-score game. I don’t know if there’s ever been a team being so close in every contest while having a record like that after nine games. The season-lows must be the idiotic roughing the passer penalty Timmy Jernigan, which gave them a fresh set of downs instead of a fourth and long, and last week’s ending to the game against the Jaguars, where the game should have simply been over before Blake Bortles even took the snap.
Bonus: Bills D-line can’t get home – only 14 sacks with four Pro Bowlers from last year