We all thought it would be a few weeks before the Deshaun Watson era began in Houston. It took exactly one half of bad football to usher that in. Watson was a revelation, and then we were all shocked again -- and saddened — when he went down with a torn ACL.
The Saints’ rookies are tearing it up. The Bills and Jets aren’t actually tanking at all. Joe Flacco and the Ravens’ offense are definitely not elite this season. The Browns still haven’t won a dang game.
This NFL season has been full of surprises. Here at SB Nation, our team sites picked what one thing that happened this season that they never saw coming. Some have been good, some have been bad, and some have just been generally unexpected.
Atlanta Falcons: The defense has done more than just improve
The Falcons have been curiously inept at getting turnovers this year, and those they have gotten have frequently been overturned by ill-timed penalties. They’ve also had stretches where they’ve been unable to get off the field, which has kept them from resembling an elite unit. And yet by many measurements, they’ve been a top ten defense, and they’ve done a quietly impressive job of holding quality offenses in check. They have a long way to go before you’ll think of them as those prime Seahawks defenses, which Dan Quinn would be thrilled with, but they are very legitimately better than I anticipated.
For more, check out the entire entry at The Falcoholic.
Buffalo Bills: They’re not tanking
While the Bills have come back to Earth more recently, sitting currently at 6-5, the fact that they are even in the playoff discussion is most unexpected. If they can knock off the New England Patriots at home this Sunday, that would probably take the cake. But for now, the most unexpected thing about the Bills this season is that hot start which shook everyone’s season expectations to the core.
Jacksonville Jaguars: Jermey Parnell’s emergence on the offensive line
One thing that happened that most Jaguars fans didn’t expect in 2017, was that the offensive line ended up being a lot better than people gave it credit for, more specifically that right tackle Jermey Parnell would be such a key cog in the offense. There was a lot of talk about possibly cutting Parnell to save cap room, because he had a disappointing season in 2016.
Los Angeles Chargers: The Chargers excel at creating turnovers
Defensively, the Chargers are 3rd in interceptions per drive & 4th in turnovers per drive. Coming into the year I thought they’d be a bend but don’t break defense that would be pretty good in the red zone. They’re great at limiting teams in the red zone. How the Chargers have managed to take the ball away from teams has been more impressive.
Los Angeles Rams: Sean McVay’s first year has gone better than anyone hoped
Nobody expected Sean McVay to turn the Rams around to this degree this quickly.
It’s perhaps the most overwhelming turnaround in the history of the NFL. To be a 4-12 team with the NFL’s worst offense which happened to be one of the worst offenses of all time and fix the major personnel issues in a single offseason ahead of churning out one the league’s most prolific offenses? That’s unheard of. And for good reason. It’s just too difficult.
Minnesota Vikings: New LT Riley Reiff has made the entire OL better
We are through eleven games of the 2017 regular season, and Reiff has still not been credited as having given up a quarterback sack. The entire offensive line, for the season, has allowed twelve, but Reiff’s protection of Case Keenum’s blindside has been a huge part of why this offensive line is performing at a level far beyond what we could have expected after last season’s debacle.
For more, check out the entire entry at Daily Norseman.
New Orleans Saints: The rookies have made a huge impact
At 8-3, the New Orleans Saints have certainly been one of the NFL’s surprises of the 2017 season. Many things have attributed to the team’s successes this year, and while we’re far from over with the regular season, the biggest thing that has surprised us has been the stellar contributions from the rookie class.
New York Jets: Robby Anderson is giving the Jets hope at WR
In the name of positivity, I am going to pick the pace Robby Anderson is on. The second year receiver from Temple is on pace for over 1,000 yards. Heading into the season (and especially after the injury to Quincy Enunwa), this group of wide receivers was projected by many to be the worst in the NFL. The wide receiver position has largely lived up to that billing, but Anderson is a clear exception. The fact he has been able to succeed to this extent without much around him and with a quarterback who has frequently not looked in his direction when open is exciting when thinking about his future prospects.
Philadelphia Eagles: Everything — including Doug Pederson’s turnaround
It was hard to pick just one surprise, so Bleeding Green Nation didn’t. But here’s a sampling:
Doug Pederson — Pederson was ranked as THE worst coach in the NFL after being hired in 2016. Prior to this season, a former NFL general manager called him the least qualified head coach in the last 30 years of the NFL. Pederson has proved everyone wrong by becoming a legitimate Coach of the Year candidate and arguably one of the better play-callers in the league.
Pittsburgh Steelers: CB Mike Hilton came out of nowhere to contribute
Yes, Hilton has found his new home on the Steelers’ roster as the team’s nickel defensive back, or first cornerback on the field in sub packages. Throughout the season Hilton has played in all 11 games, tallied 46 combined tackles, 2 pass defenses, 2 interceptions, 5 tackles for a loss and one sack.
Not too shabby for a part-time player.
Seattle Seahawks: The tight ends can’t stop scoring
Did you know that the Seattle Seahawks tight ends have caught at least one touchdown in nine straight games? Jimmy Graham has been the main headline here, leading all TEs in receiving touchdowns with an impressive eight, but the Seahawks as a whole have 12, with three from Luke Willson and one from Nick Vannett. That means more than half of Russell Wilson’s 23 TD tosses have gone to a TE. For perspective, Seahawks TEs caught 31 TDs total in the regular season from 2012-2016, which averages out to roughly a half-dozen.
For more, check out the entire entry at Field Gulls.
Arizona Cardinals: The defense could end up as one of the worst in franchise history
What I didn't expect from the 2017 Arizona Cardinals was to be such a bad defensive team.
They rank 26th in points allowed per game at 25.3, they rank 19th in touchdown passes allowed, 28th in touchdown runs allowed and are only 18th in turnovers forced.
In fact, there are only two categories where the defense is ranked in the top ten, rushing yards allowed (10th) and yards per carry (6th).
Baltimore Ravens: Joe Flacco and the passing game have nosedived
The offense is dead in the water, and there’s no coast guard coming to save the team. Joe Flacco regressed, and the receivers aren’t suddenly going to break loose. It’s crazy to be writing such negativity after a win in primetime, but turning a blind eye to the problems due to the success of the punter, kicker and defense isn’t going to change anything.
Chicago Bears: The Bears could end up worse than they were a year ago
So far they aren't as bad as the three win, 2016 version of the team, but just wait...
They could go winless these next five games, and I think another 3-13 season would qualify as worse than last season. Especially when considering most pundits predicted this years team to be better than last year’s team.
Cleveland Browns: They’re winless entering December ... again
For the Cleveland Browns, it’s cut-and-dry: I thought there was zero chance the team would be winless in 2017. There are still five games to go, but when I say I didn’t expect them to be winless, I didn’t even think 0-5 would be a possibility, let alone 0-11.
Dallas Cowboys: Jason Garrett’s job is in jeopardy
This has led to one thing almost no one expected from this team at the beginning of the year, a season so bad that head coach Jason Garrett would actually end up on the hot seat.
There are fans and media focused on firing Garrett and starting over; that would satisfy the need for change for some. However, would that be an easy move? No. More importantly, is it the right move? Change isn’t always good for change’s sake.
Denver Broncos: They have the second-worst record in the AFC behind the Browns
In February of 2016, the Broncos and their fans were celebrating an amazing Super Bowl championship run. And by November of 2017, the franchise has completely unraveled facing on of their worst regular season records of the century.
I expected mediocrity - maybe. I did not expect this.
Detroit Lions: Ezekiel Ansah’s future in Detroit is anything but certain now
But the one thing that blindsided me—and almost every Lions fan—was the lack of improvement for Ezekiel Ansah. Ansah is just two years removed from his Pro Bowl year in which he finished with a career-high 14.5 sacks. His 2016 season was a big disappointment, but we all excused it as a season lost to a nagging ankle injury that limited his explosiveness.
Green Bay Packers: What happened to the tight ends?
The injury to Aaron Rogers is the obvious answer, but the staff at Acme Packing Company discussed a few more unexpected surprises in Green Bay this season:
I thought Martellus Bennett would be the answer for the Packers at the tight end position this year, as well as a fun personality to have on the team. I thought Lance Kendricks would be a fantastic complementary piece. I thought the tight ends would stretch the middle of the field, open things up for the receivers outside and underneath, and generally make the offense function better while contributing an average of 70 receiving yards per game or so.
What I didn’t expect was for Bennett to catch one of the worst cases of the dropsies that we’ve ever seen. Once Aaron Rodgers broke his collarbone, I expected him to become a productive safety valve for Brett Hundley, not to see his production dip even further before quitting on the team midway through the season. I didn’t expect to have Kendricks and Richard Rodgers suddenly become co-number ones, a role for which neither is well-suited.
Miami Dolphins: The entire team has collapsed
The Miami Dolphins have not been good this year. it is not an offense, a defense, a player, or a coach issue. It is a team issue. Everything and everyone is at fault for the 4-6 Dolphins.
And that is the most unexpected part of this season.
For more, check out the entire entry at The Phinsider.
New York Giants: Almost everything that has happened this season
Big Blue View couldn’t limit it to just one, but the most recent — the Giants benching Eli Manning — certainly sent shockwaves throughout the NFL.
The Giants just benched a 14-year veteran and two-time Super Bowl MVP quarterback. We knew that was going to happen. Right?
For more, check out the entire entry at Big Blue View.
Oakland Raiders: Derek Carr hasn’t taken the next step
Silver and Black Pride didn’t even know where to begin, but Carr’s regression is one thing they didn’t expect to see:
With Derek Carr’s progress from his second to third season, it was expected to continue this season. Much was made of his having the same coaching staff in those years, but with Todd Downing being a promotion rather than an outside hire, the momentum was largely expected to continue. It has not. The Raiders went from the 6 ranked offense in 2016 (373.3 yards per game) to 19th in 2017 (328.5).
Carr was approaching his first 4000-yard passing season when he was injured last season. His numbers are down across the board, putting him on pace for around 400 fewer passing yards (3600), 5 fewer touchdowns (21), twice as many interceptions (12), and over 5 points lower passer rating (91.5). Those are pedestrian numbers when most expected another step up into elite company for Carr.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: The Bucs failed miserably to live up to expectations
I expected many things this season, but I didn’t expect the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to be downright terrible. But that’s what we got this year: the Bucs are 4-7, have basically no chance of making the playoffs, and are the 24th-ranked team in the league in Football Outsiders’ rankings.
The Bucs are a bad team, but they should have been playoff contenders. Or at least, that was much of the narrative this offseason, and certainly one the Bucs themselves promoted: after going 9-7 last year, they were here to take the next step. To win that extra game, and finally get into the postseason.
For more, check out the entire entry at Bucs Nation.
Tennessee Titans: Something is wrong with the OL
Last year the Titans offensive line was the strength of the team. They had a rookie All-Pro right tackle and a Pro Bowl left tackle. With everyone coming back it seemed like they would be even better, maybe even in the conversation as the best o-line in the league. That hasn’t been the case this year.
Something in between
Carolina Panthers: The defense isn’t forcing many turnovers
While the defense has been good this season, there’s one thing that stands out to me as almost unbelievable - the Panthers defense isn’t generating turnovers. Through their first 11 games, Carolina has just five interceptions and five fumble recoveries. Yes, that’s ten total turnovers for those of you scoring at home.
Cincinnati Bengals: Just how unprepared they were coming into the season
Coaching and not knowing their own rosters strengths and weaknesses. Seriously though, it is like these coaches came out the first few weeks and were shocked by the outcome after having a full offseason of seeing all of this unfold.
That is the big reason you are seeing this slow turnaround. They are slowly but surely playing the players they need to play, and putting in the play that optimize what they do best. A competent coaching staff wouldn’t have a 5-6 record with this roster. It will be a shame if we end up with more of the same next season.
For more, check out the entire entry at Cincy Jungle.
Houston Texans: The Deshaun Watson era began earlier than expected
I thought the most unexpected thing to happen this season was Bill O’Brien’s decision to bench Tom Savage after a mere half of football in the regular season opener. After listening to O’Brien repeatedly proclaim that Savage was the QB1 in Houston, the Texans’ head coach promptly changed course while in the locker room at NRG Stadium after the Jaguars embarrassed the home team for thirty minutes. I never thought Savage would keep the job for long, but I didn’t think O’Brien would play a reprise of the Brian Hoyer and Ryan Mallett debacle from the 2015 season opener. In other words, I totally expected Savage to get benched this season; I just never thought it would happen as quickly as it did.
Indianapolis Colts: The defense is keeping the Colts a little competitive
Despite all of the reasons why the defense should have been a huge weakness, including injuries to key players and limited contributions from three defensive rookies for various reasons, this group has kept the Indianapolis Colts in games. The secondary has held Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and A.J. Green in check with Rashaan Melvin and Pierre Desir. The defensive line has stifled running games, particularly in the first half. Le’Veon Bell had one of his most pedestrian games against the Colts. The Titans have DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry and managed 11 net yards rushing through three quarters last week. “Exotic smashmouth” is contingent upon pounding the ball on the ground and it could do nothing with the Colts starting group.
For more, check out the entire entry at Stampede Blue.
Kansas City Chiefs: Kareem Hunt fell back to earth
A mere two weeks ago, KC Chiefs RB Kareem Hunt was the front runner for the rookie of the year award. He was among the league leaders (not just rookies) in rushing yards and his team was on their way to the playoffs. It seemed like a shoo-in that Hunt would win the award.
Not anymore. With Hunt not hitting the 100-yard rushing mark since Week 5 and not getting in the end zone since Week 3, his rookie of the year odds have dropped and he is no longer the frontrunner for the award. I didn’t expect that to happen after the way he started.
New England Patriots: The Patriots’ slow (and forgotten) start to the season
The New England Patriots started the season 2-2 and on rocky footing. They had the worst defense in the league and one of the best offenses. For a team that was projected to go undefeated, an opening week loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and the ensuing defensive struggles felt like a weight holding down the franchise.
It didn’t make sense on paper and I had expected the team to come out at a high level on both sides of the football.
For more, check out the entire entry at Pats Pulpit.
San Francisco 49ers: The Jimmy Garoppolo trade is one of many surprises
The San Francisco 49ers currently sit at 1-10, getting ready to start Jimmy Garoppolo on Sunday against the Chicago Bears. The record is not all that shocking, but the quarterback is certainly something nobody expected prior to the unexpected trade deadline deal.
For more, check out the entire entry at Niners Nation.
Washington: The front office is still deciding on Kirk Cousins’ future
The list goes on (great beard, loves turkey legs, etc.) but I am kind of at my wit’s end wondering what Kirk Cousins STILL has to do for Dan Snyder to recognize that he has his franchise quarterback....and please don’t say “win a playoff game.” By that logic, a lot of very good quarterbacks would not be getting paid jack squat.
For more, check out the entire entry at Hogs Haven.