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 AFC have showed that anything can happen during an NFL season.
The Bengals have been a pleasant 2018 surprise. They’re at 4-1 heading into Week 6. Their offense ranks in the top five in points per game and for good reason. Giovanni Bernard played well while Joe Mixon was out. AJ Green has been the elite receiver he always is, Tyler Boyd has also come into the picture as a talented, young player. If this team has any weak spot it lies in the defense, having given up 26 points per game but the offense is averaging 30.6 points per game so as long as they can keep up that pace, the wins should keep coming in in Cincinnati.
Switching gears to the negative side, we stay in the AFC North to talk about the Steelers. They’re at 2-2-1 after Week 5 and the team’s problem isn’t missing star running back Leveon Bell– second year running back James Conner has been sufficient in his absence- it’s more about the defense and the lack of talent and leadership there. Ever since Ryan Shazier got hurt, the defense hasn’t been able to recover. The offense has enjoyed over 400 yards from wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster and Antonio Brown is playing just as good as always. They need a boost on defense, and not offense.
The Titans are somehow 3-2 including an albeit ugly 9-6 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars and a 26-23 win in an overtime thriller over the defending champions, Philadelphia Eagles. Despite all of this, the Titans are 29th in points per game and 4th in points against which is a discrepancy that might suggest 2-3 rather than 3-2 but the Titans are making it work by winning in close games.
They don’t really have a formula which makes them even more surprising. There’s nothing that jumps off the stat sheet. Their two quarterbacks that have started games (Marcus Mariota and Blaine Gabbert) have three touchdown passes and five interceptions. They have two rushing touchdowns all year although they don’t have a single back with over 25 carries and an average over 3.5 yards per carry. (Henry: 3.4, Lewis: 3.2) If nothing else, they’re enjoying a breakout season from wide receiver Corey Davis. However, he’s at 361 yards and there is not another receiver over 200 yards.
The Titans are truly a surprise in the NFL because there’s not a single thing they do well but they are able to win football games and that’s all that matters.
The Dolphins are at 3-2, leading the AFC East but recently, they’ve been exposed for the team they really are. A team that barely squeezed out wins over easy opponents like the Tennessee Titans, New York Jets, and Oakland Raiders. They imploded in a 38-7 loss to the New England Patriots. They then self-destructed in a game against the Bengals as they lost 27-17, showing us the type of team they really are. An average team that can win over bad competition, but can’t beat good teams.
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.