Through the first ten weeks of the NFL season, there have been many interesting storylines and surprises. Many teams, such as the Packers and Vikings, that looked dominant through the first few weeks are now struggling and may not make the playoffs. On the other side of the spectrum, teams, such as the Cardinals and Giants, have rebounded and are making a push toward the top of their respective divisions.
Biggest AFC Surprise
The Oakland Raiders have been the biggest surprise in the AFC through the first half of the season because of their great offense. The key to the Raiders’ offense has been the emergence of star quarterback David Carr. Carr has been one of the best quarterbacks in the league this season and he will compete for league MVP and potentially Offensive Player of the Year. In addition to Carr, the Raiders have a stacked offense with Amari Cooper, Michael Crabtree, and Latavius Murray. The Raiders have been in multiple close games this season, but have been able to pull out the wins, which is the main reason for their 7-2 record. The Raiders came away with a huge statement win against the Broncos in their most recent showdown on Sunday Night Football. Over the past few weeks, the Raiders’ defense has been constantly improving, which makes them a true contender in the AFC. The Raiders’ defense is led by multiple All-Pro Khalil Mack and pass rushing specialist Bruce Irvin.
Biggest NFC Surprise
The Dallas Cowboys have been a major surprise in the NFC because of the emergence of their young stars. After losing their first game against the Giants, the Boys have not looked back and have won 8 straight games. The biggest reason for their success is Dak Prescott and Ezekiel Elliot. Dak was drafted in the fourth round of the 2016 draft, but has displayed leadership and poise of a veteran. While Dak has been more of a game manager, Ezekiel Elliot is stating his claim as the best running back in the league. Elliot has already broke many rookie records and is on pace to break even more records before the end of the season. A significant reason why they have been able to succeed is due to their offensive line. The Cowboys possess the best offensive line in the league, which has given Dak a clean pocket and Elliot huge lanes to run through.
Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the biggest disappointments through the first half of the season. Throughout points of the season, the Steelers have looked like one of the best teams in football, while looking like a non-playoff team in other games. Although they have incredible talent with Brown, Big Ben, and Bell, the offensive line has frequently let the offense not reach their full potential. In addition, the defense has been gashed by opposing offenses. The defense is young and has not reached its potential. Many teams have been able to slow down the game with their rushing attacks because the Steelers are not physical enough to bully opposing offensive lines and win at the line of scrimmage.
The Green Bay Packers and Aaron Rodgers have disappointed their fans throughout the season. Although many claim that Rodgers is one of the top three quarterbacks in the league, he has not displayed that talent through the team’s first nine games. This year, Rodgers is having one of his worst seasons of his career because of his poor accuracy. This season, Rodgers is completing only 63% of his passes, which is a few point below his career average. In addition, he only has a passer rating of 93, while he has been consistently over 100 throughout his career. This has been disastrous for the Packers because they cannot establish an effective running game. Along with Rodgers’ less than stellar play, the defense has been dreadful. The defense has allowed over 3o points in four of their last five games and is a major reason why they have lost each of those games. Unless the defense begins to add pressure onto the quarterback, the Packers will miss the playoffs and disappoint their fanbase once again.
The Patriots are the absolute favorite in the AFC. Since Tom Brady returned from his suspension, he has dominated the entire league and have gone 4-1 during the five games. The combination of Blount, Brady, Gronkowski, and their entire set of offensive weapons make the Patriots nearly impossible to defend. In addition, they are incredibly difficult to defend because they do not turnover the football. Through the first 10 weeks, they only threw one interception. Along with their explosive offense, the defense has been solid throughout the season. Led by Belichek, they have allowed only 30 points once this season and have held teams under 20 points five times this year. In addition, they have championship experience and will likely have home field advantage throughout the playoffs.
The favorite in the NFC is the team that just beat the New England Patriots during Sunday Night Football at Foxborough. The Seahawks have not been the most consistent team in the league, but they have most talent in the NFC. Over the past few weeks, the Seahawks’ offense has succeeded because of the emergence of Jimmy Graham and the improved play of Russell Wilson. During the first year and half in Seattle, Graham has not looked like the star tight end that dominated the league in New Orleans. However, this year, he has successfully returned from a nasty injury and displayed the talent that made him an All-Pro. Along with the improved defense, the Seahawks still have the best defense in the league. Although they have lost members, the Legion of Doom is still dominant and the rest of the defense still has the ability to cause pressure on opposing quarterbacks. If the Seahawks are able to pass the Cowboys and claim home field advantage, they will be nearly impossible to beat a CenturyLink Field.