This is the first weekend this season that I have had the opportunity to sit down and watch NFL games. A few surprises hit me; the winless Rams complete and utter domination of the Saints tops my list, I thought that the Giants and the Ravens would have walk-overs at home ... not so fast, (both should have lost), Dick LeBeau completely going to a different strategy against Tom Brady turned out to be genius ... great job coach!! The Bills easy win over the Redskins in Toronto caught me by surprise. I thought that Dallas would put up a better fight against the Eagles after all of the testosterone yak during the week, and finally, Philip Rivers fumbling away a center snap on the Chiefs +15 yd line with 48 seconds remaining in a tied game was well ... surprising to say the least, that doesn't happen in the NFL. All of this got me thinking about the first half of the season, there are some surprising storylines and some not what I expected storylines going on.
Top/Best Storylines of First Half
1. Mike Brown - I never thought that Mike Brown would pull off the coup of the first half and probably the season. Getting a 1st round draft pick next year and a 2nd (possibly first in 2013) for Carson Palmer was genius. Bengals fans have a pulse again, the future looks so bright ... I need to wear shades. Don't kill the momentum Mike, keep it going. It's great to see Bengals fans excited about football again! Nice job Mike!!
2. Jim Harbaugh and his 49ers - What a story. A college coach coming into the NFL and taking a fractured team to a division title and becoming a Super Bowl contender. He has instilled a bravado attitude throughout the locker room. His defense is ranked #1 in fewest points allowed, the team is 6th in points scored, his special teams are playing ... special, his run game is power-ful, and his once turnover laden QB is not turning the ball over. Oh, did I mention that he can get under an opposing HC's skin as well?
3. Cam Newton - I was completely wrong about Cam going into the season. He has been sensational on a bad team. He has brought excitement and hope back to Panthers fans. If Cam stays healthy, he will shatter the record of most passing yards in a season by a rookie QB. He is completing 61% of his passes, thrown for 2,393 yds, has 11 TD passes and has run for 7 more TD's. If the Panthers defense wasn't so bad, the Panthers would have 4 wins. Landslide rookie of the year winner!
4. Buffalo Bills chip on their shoulder story - Talk about a bunch of men who were shunned, devalued, or told they couldn't make it. This story permeates throughout the Buffalo Bills team, starting with their GM Buddy Nix and HC Chan Gailey. The offense (3rd in pts scored,10th in yds) is full of low or undrafted players led by 7th round draftee QB Ryan Fitzpatrick. Throw in Pro Bowl bound undrafted RB Fred Jackson, a slew of low to no draft choice WR's and TE's, some unheralded offensive lineman and you have one exciting offense to watch. On defense, a former undrafted WR, now a safety, George Wilson leads this unit, as well as the locker room ... a great teammate! Oh, I forgot to mention that they lead the AFC East and broke a 15 game losing streak to the Patriots?
5. Cincinnati Bengals - Who would have predicted that this team would be 5-2 after week 8 with a rookie QB? Not me. Cam Newton is heads above the rookie QB class but Andy Dalton is next in line. The defense ranks 4th in total yds (2nd vs the run) and 4th in fewest points given up. The offense is ok but they aren't turning it over, and Dalton to AJ Green is going to be a formidable combo for years to come.
6. Detroit Lions - Not a surprise that they are a good team but the 5-0 start was a bit of a surprise. All of those 1st round draft picks are finally paying off. I'm glad Lions fans have a lot to cheer about, like Bills fans ... they have been down for too long.
7. Eli Manning - The Giants have been hit hard by injuries. Their secondary has been decimated by injuries, their receiving corp has been a mash unit, RB Brandon Jacobs has been out and their O-line has been banged up. Throughout all of this Eli is carrying this team. The Giants are in first place in the NFC East because Eli is playing the best football of his career. Eli has always had talent, but he would make bonehead mistakes that would cost his team games. He often played reckless and threw too many Int's because of it. This year Eli is playing much smarter (only 5 Int's), his decision making has been superior to any other season he has played, and because of that, he is giving his injury riddled team a chance to win. If it weren't for A. Rodgers, I would put Eli in the running for MVP right now.
8. KC Re-emergence - I thought that the Chiefs were the worst team in the NFL after the first couple of weeks. I would never have predicted that they would be tied for first after week 8, I thought that this young team would collapse ... boy was I wrong. Todd Haley has done a masterful job getting this team turned around, I don't know if he changed his ways or not, but there was talk of friction between Todd and some players. Whatever he did, he pushed the right button!
Not So Fast
5. "Dream Team" - I don't think that Philly fans, NFL fans, and especially the organization, coaches, and players thought that this team would be 3-4 after week 8. They looked great this past weekend but 1 game does not make a season. A lot to prove still!!
4. Interception Bug - With playoff and Super Bowl aspirations dancing in their heads before the season started, Philip Rivers (11), Josh Freeman (10), and Drew Brees (10) have thrown more Int's than any other QB's in the league. If this trend continues, none of these teams will make the playoffs. Time for these "Stars" to stop making bad decisions and throws.
3. St Louis Rams - Many people thought that this was a playoff contending team going into the season. I know that they have had injuries but up until this past week, this team has looked and played awful. Will this past weeks team show up for the 2nd half of the season or are they headed for a top 5 draft position again?
2. Chris Johnson - Did somebody kidknap the real Chris Johnson and put on his Jersey? Can someone that talented really shut it down like that after getting a "lottery ticket" contract? What a ginormous bust Johnson has been for new HC Mike Munchak. Not to mention all of you fantasy footballers. Cam Newton has more rushing yards than Johnson. Can he really sleep comfortably at night?
1. Indy Colts - I knew that it wouldn't be easy with Peyton Manning out, but an 0-16 season is staring this team and organization right in the face. Has the coaching staff been exposed in all of this? the organization? or both. The Patriots won 11 games without Tom Brady, I am surprised that this perennial division winner and Super Bowl contender can't win a game just because their QB is out. I am also surprised that they still run Peyton's no huddle offense without Peyton taking the snaps.
What's caught your eye in a surprising way ... good or bad.