Every year in the NFL, there are teams that surprise and exceed expectations. Whether it’s teams everyone expected to be good that end up being bad or teams that were expected to be bad that end up being good.
Time and time again, it feels like the NFL just wants to gently remind its fans that they really don’t know as much as they think we do. These teams in the NFC have showed that anything can happen during an NFL season.
The biggest surprise of the 2018 season has been the Vikings. This defense is packed with stars at each level like Xavier Rhodes and Harrison Smith in the secondary, Anthony Barr at linebacker, and Danielle Hunter with Everson Griffen up front. It looks lethal on paper.
Yet, the defense ranks 22nd in points allowed per game and 21st in total yards allowed per game. And the offense, with the addition of Kirk Cousins has looked like the better of the two sides of the ball, ranking 12th in total yards per game and 20th in points per game. That’s still not very good. The Vikings simply have regressed and it’s hard to explain why, but a 1-2-1 record including a 27-6 loss to the Buffalo Bills speaks for itself.
Staying in the NFC North, a team that has been a very pleasant surprise is the Bears. Over the first four weeks of the season, the Bears defense, led by pass rusher Khalil Mack whom they received in a trade weeks before the season started, now leads the league in sacks, is placed 2nd in turnovers and 4th in yards allowed per game. They’ve quickly emerged as one of the best defenses in the league.
However, the offense has been telling a different story. The offense had been benefiting a whole lot from optimal field position on turnovers and scoring just enough points to get the win. That changed in Week 4 when the Bears showed what it can look like when both sides of the ball are on their A-game and it resulted in a 48-10 win. The expectation isn’t for young quarterback Mitch Trubisky to throw 6 touchdowns every week, but he sure showed upside that suggests that he’s ready to take the next step and help his team compete.
The Falcons, who were supposed to be a contender, in a tough NFC South, are 1-3. Their losses have all been by one possession and the offense hasn’t been an issue. The Falcons have scored more than 30 points in three of their four games this season. However, despite how explosive that offense is, the defense is unable to keep up allowing 43 points to the New Orleans Saints and 37 points to the Cincinnati Bengals. Losing safeties Keanu Neal and Ricardo Allen and linebacker Deion Jones for the season is definitely a detriment and shouldn’t be overlooked but those three crucial pieces being lost really hurts the team and their fourth place 1-3 start definitely exemplifies their importance.
If you were asked who was on top of the NFC East, Redskins would probably be your third guess (right before the Giants) but it’s also the correct answer. The standings aren’t really a compelling argument though considering there are two 2-2 teams right behind them and the Redskins benefit from an early bye and sit at 2-1. However, it may not be as fluky as it looks.
The defense across their first three games has given up six points to the Arizona Cardinals, nine points to the Indianapolis Colts, and only 17 points to the Green Bay Packers led by Aaron Rodgers. Alex Smith isn’t exactly giving this passing game a huge burst but he’s limiting turnovers and scoring points. Adrian Peterson who the team signed in August to replace injured running back Derrius Guice has been exactly the guy they’ve wanted him to be, scoring three touchdowns and averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
If you had made these predictions at the beginning of the season, you’d likely be laughed at and called crazy but that’s the beauty of the NFL.