Who is Surprising Up?
Eagles – When the Eagles traded away starting QB Sam Bradford, it looked like they were heading towards a transitional season to bed in rookie Carson Wentz. However, as they head towards the 2nd half of the season, they’re looking good for a post season slot, and have just thoroughly beaten the last remaining perfect team. That trade is not looking too shabby for the Eagles now!
Broncos – Amazingly there were a lot of people writing off the reigning champs at the start of the season. Many thought the handling of the Brock Osweiler situation in the summer would cost the Broncos a real chance at retaining their title, especially with the underwhelming battle for starting QB between Mark Sanchez and Trevor Siemian. However, you need to be brave to question John Elway these days (as one fan on Twitter recently found out), while Siemian looks to be an able replacement for Peyton Manning. The Broncos have continued where they left off.
Cowboys – Another example of a team written off due to a QB situation. When Tony Romo shocked nobody with a serious injury in the pre-season, up stepped 3rd round draft pick Dak Prescott, an untested rookie who would surely stink the place up, right? Wrong – Prescott, aided by another rookie in Ezekiel Elliott, has blown the league away with some fearless play. The Cowboys sit atop a very competitive NFC East, and look to be powering their way to the post-season. Tony Rom-who?
Falcons – You have to go back to the days of Tony Gonzalez to find a decent Falcons team, yet there are a couple of guys who remain from that playoff-relevant roster – Matt Ryan & Julio Jones. Both have been on fire so far this season, aided by some well coached young talent. Dan Quinn, along with Kyle Shanahan, has made this side one of the most exciting offences in the league (an amazing turnaround from the weary final seasons under Mike Smith). Along with Ryan and Jones leading the league in passing and receiving, a fearsome ground game with Tevin Coleman and Devonta Freeman has reignited this franchise.
Who is Surprising Down?
Jags – Everyone in the UK has been rooting for the Jags to finally turn the corner towards relevance. Ever since they took up their annual residency at Wembley, we’ve been witness to the slow rebuilding project under Gus Bradley and David Caldwell. The roster is littered with picks from around the top of the draft, but still the mediocrity continues. If Bradley and Coleman are to get this team back to competitiveness, it won’t be this season.
Bengals – For the first time in years, the Bengals might actually struggle to lose in the first game of the playoffs; they might struggle to make the playoffs entirely. The whole roster seems to be a bit banged up, but the bigger problem might be the annual decimation of their coaching staff. In recent years Mike Zimmer, Jay Gruden and Hugh Jackman have all enhanced their CVs to get HC roles elsewhere, leading the Bengals to some sort of revolving door of coordinators. This season the Bengals are definitely missing the consistency on both sides of the ball that they’ve enjoyed in previous years.
Packers – It seems we’re 1 or 2 weeks away from Aaron Rodgers telling Packers fans and media to R-E-L-A-X. While they remain on the edge of playoff contention with a 4-2 record, again there are questions about Rodgers form (the fact that he sits behind the likes of Case Keenum and Ryan Tannehill in passing yards this season is no joke). Most of the Packers problems comes from having a stagnant running game, with both Eddie Lacy and James Starks missing through injury. Until an answer is found on the ground, it looks as though Rodgers will continue to push the ball into difficult situations for Randall Cobb and Jordy Nelson, both of whom have shown indifferent form and speed this season.
Panthers – If people were talking down the prospects of the Broncos, the same people were talking about a potential dynasty in Carolina. It’s been the complete opposite, as the Panthers defence has crumbled with the loss of Josh Norman as a lynchpin in the secondary. Cam Newton may have got favourite target Kelvin Benjamin back, but he looks a shadow of himself compared to the MVP run of 2015. It’s not easy to go from worst to 1st, as the Panthers did over a couple of seasons following the selection of Newton in 2011, but the Panthers are proving that the fall from 1st to worst can be an awful lot quicker.