The NFL season is already a fourth of the way through the schedule and there have been numerous surprises and disappoints that will affect the playoff race down the stretch.
AFC Biggest Surprise
Credits to Bleacher Report
The biggest surprise in the AFC is the play of Derek Carr and the Oakland Raiders. Over the past decade, the Raiders have been one of the worst franchises in the entire NFL. The Raiders have won 3 of their first 4 games and rank second in the AFC West. The Raiders’ luck changed two years ago when the Raiders selected Derek Carr in the second round and he has been one of the best young quarterbacks in football. Carr has been one of the most clutch quarterbacks and displayed his intangibles during their one point wins against the Saints and Ravens. Along with Carr, the Raiders offense has been dynamic because of the re-emergence of Michael Crabtree and the development of Amari Cooper. While the offense has been explosive, the defense has been led by All-Pro defensive end Khalil Mack. Although Mack has only one sack this season, the rest of the defense rose to the occasion and made the necessary stops to win the closest games. In the future, the Raiders should continue to compete for a playoff spot and potentially an AFC West championship.
NFC Biggest Surprise
Credits to Fox Sports
The Los Angeles Rams have been one of the great stories this season in the NFC. Coming into the season, the Rams were picked to not make the playoffs because they were suppose to start a rookie quarterback, Jared Goff. However, Goff has not played a down and they have relied on Case Keenum and Todd Gurley to lead the offense. Although Case Keenum does not have the ability to lead an offense, the Rams can rely on Todd Gurley and their offensive line to score points and limit the amount of time their defense needs to be on the field. The Rams’ potential looked even bleaker when they lost to the lowly 49ers 28-0 on the first Monday of the season. However, since the first game, the defense has been incredible and they are allowing only 16 points per game. The Rams’ defense is exceptionally talented with players such as Alec Olgetree, Aaron Donald, Mark Barron, Robert Quinn, and TJ McDonald. While the offense will be suspect the rest of the season, the Rams should rely on their defense and running game to win games and potentially compete for one of the Wild Card spots in the NFC.
AFC Biggest Disappointment
Credits to USA Today
For the second straight season, the Indianapolis Colts have fallen short of expectations. Even though Andrew Luck has been very good and the Colts are averaging over 25 points per game, the Indianapolis defense is in absolute shambles. The worse part of the defense has been their secondary, which is ravaged by injuries. Their inability to stop opposing quarterbacks is the main reason why opposing teams are averaging over 30 points per game. If the Colts are going to fully utilize Andrew Luck’s potential and skill, they need to give more touches to Frank Gore and acquire defense players that can become game changers as well as apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. Luckily for the Colts, they are in the worst division in football and have the opportunity to make the playoffs if they win 8 games. The Colts’ chances have increased due to JJ Watt’s season ending injury.
NFC Biggest Disappointment
Credits to ESPN.com
Even though the defending NFC Champions, Carolina Panthers, have been incredibly disappointing, the Arizona Cardinals are the biggest disappointments in the entire NFL. Many believed that the Cardinals were going to be Super Bowl contenders because they have an established starting quarterback, great weapons, and a veteran defense that made big plays and forced turnovers. However, little has gone right for Bruce Arians’ team and they have experienced disappointing losses to the Patriots, Bills, and Rams. After ranking second overall in points last season, the Cardinals have fallen all the way to twelfth because of their inability to score in the red zone. To make matters worse for the Cardinals, they may be without Carson Palmer for the near future as he attempts to recover from a concussion. In addition, they are already two games behind the Seahawks and the surprising Rams in the division, which leaves the Wild Card as their only chance to make the playoffs once again.
Credits to Post Gazette
The favorite to reach the Super Bowl from the AFC is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Even though the Steelers, 3-1, do not own the best record in the AFC (Broncos are 4-0), they have looked the most dynamic and they just returned the best running back in the league, Le’Veon Bell. Even though the Steelers have one of the worst losses of the season, 34-3 against the Eagles, they have defeated three quality teams, Redskins, Bengals, and Chiefs. The biggest reason why the Steelers will make the Super Bowl is their dynamic offense led by Roethlisberger, Bell, and Brown. While Roethlisberger is a top 5 quarterback, Brown and Bell are the best in the business as their respective positions. As seen against the Chiefs, it is nearly impossible to stop the threesome from taking over a game and scoring at least 30 points per game. In addition to their offense, the defense has been a pleasant surprise this season. The Steelers have top flight talent on their defensive depth chart, but the players are young and have needed time to develop. Outside of their loss to the Eagles, the Steelers have allowed only 15 points per game. As long as the Steelers remain healthy, which has been an issue in the past, they should be representing the AFC in the Super Bowl.
Credits to NFL Spin Zone
Thus far, one of the biggest surprises in the entire league has been the play of the Minnesota Vikings. Before the season started, they lost their starting quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, and lost their All-Pro running back, Adrian Peterson, during the second game of the season. However, they have still managed to look like the best team in the entire NFL because of their defense and the consistent play of Bridgewater and Peterson’s replacements, Bradford and McKinnon. Even though Bradford and McKinnon have been solid, the sole reason why the Vikings are 4-0 is due to their defense. Currently, their defense ranks second in the NFL in points allowed per game at a staggering 12.5 points per game. The number becomes even more impressive when one considers the quarterbacks that they faced during the first four weeks: Mariota, Rodgers, Newton, and Manning. The defense has been outstanding because they possess the pass rushers to apply pressure on opposing quarterbacks. This season, they already have 15 sacks and recorded 6 interceptions, mostly due to the pressure caused by the defensive line. On offense, they have been rather simplistic in their play calls and decision making. While Bradford has been consistent, no turnovers through his first three games, he has not been asked to throw the ball very frequently or down the field. Currently, he is averaging only 223 yards per game and has only 4 touchdown passes. The defense should continue to carry the team while the offense delivers just enough to win games.