Through three weeks, the NFL season is very much up for grabs. Many teams are still figuring out their identities, with plenty of surprises and disappointments. We take a look today at each team’s biggest surprise and biggest dissapointment.
Buffalo Bills (1-2)
There haven’t been many bright spots for the Bills so far (a home win against the Cardinals aside), but their linebackers have been compiling impressive numbers. ILB Zach Brown is 2nd in the NFL in tackles with 34, and his counterpart Preston Brown isn’t too far behind with 29. Veteran free agent signing OLB Lorenzo Alexander has been posting the best numbers of his career in his 10th season, totaling 15 tackles, 3 sacks, and 2 forced fumbles in just 3 games.
Disappointment: Coaching Staff
QB Tyrod Taylor made his case for being the Bills’ biggest disappointment by spearheading the NFL’s worst passing attack after receiving a monster extension, but the fact that Sammy Watkins has been injured will spare him from this distinction. The dubious honor falls upon the coaching staff, as offensive coordinator Greg Roman was fired after Week 2 and head coach Rex Ryan could follow quickly.
Miami Dolphins (1-2)
Surprise: CB Xavien Howard
After missing the first three preseason games due to injury, the rookie out of Baylor stepped into a starting role immediately and has produced continuously. Howard has racked up 22 tackles, three passes defensed, and forced a fumble through the first three games, establishing himself as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate.
Disappointment: Running Backs
The Dolphins were expecting to have a threatening rushing attack after former rushing leader Arian Foster and 3rd-round pick Kenyan Drake were added to a backfield with promising lead back Jay Ajayi. Injuries have stunted the production of Foster and Ajayi, though their numbers were unspectacular to begin with. As a result, QB Ryan Tannehill is the team’s leading rusher with a measly 54 yards.
New England Patriots (3-0)
Surprise: RB LeGarrette Blount
There has been little continuity at running back over the last decade in New England, as Tom Terrific has minimized the need at the position with his aerial prowess. However, after Dion Lewis required a second offseason knee surgery, Blount has become the primary offensive weapon in New England, posting a league-leading 298 rushing yards and four scores.
Disappointment: TE Rob Gronkowski
There haven’t been any real disappointments thus far in New England, as the Patriots been dominant in all facets of the game without their future Hall-of-Fame QB. Having the best tight end in the game back would be an added bonus, as Gronkowski has only seen action in Week 3, where he didn’t receive a target. Also, the franchise brass would have liked to have seen how their superstar tight end would have connected with Brissett and Garoppolo as that could influence their decision about the QB of the future.
New York Jets (1-2)
Surprise: RB Matt Forte
A legend in Chicago, Forte was not supposed to have much gas left in the tank when he left for the Big Apple in his age-31 season. Instead, Forte has the 5th most scrimmage yards among running backs with 347, and has scored 3 touchdowns as well.
Disappointment: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick
Coming off the best season of his career, Fitzpatrick is looking closer to the Buffalo Bills version of himself now. After a long contract dispute, the journeyman passer has thrown only 3 touchdowns but has been picked off a league-leading 7 times. Fitzpatrick is currently the 41st-ranked quarterback in the league with a 59.3 passer rating.
Baltimore Ravens (3-0)
Despite a relatively starless defensive unit, this year’s Ravens squad is reminiscent of the 2001 Super Bowl champion team. CJ Mosley, Zachary Orr and company have let up 44 points (4th-least in the NFL), 763 yards (2nd), and a paltry 4.4 yards per play (2nd).
Disappointment: Running Backs
Usually in order for a defensively strong team to go far in the playoffs, they will need a strong rushing attack. Unfortunately for the Ravens, the run game is their biggest weakness, averaging just 3.25 yards per carry. Justin Forsett has looked far from his usual self, Terrance West has been mediocre, and Kenneth Dixon and Buck Allen have been sidelined with injuries.
Cincinnati Bengals (1-2)
Surprise: CB Adam Jones
The leader of a Bengals defense that has held quarterbacks to a completion percentage of just 57%, the volatile veteran who typically makes his biggest impact on special teams has been a revelation at corner. Pacman has compiled 17 tackles, three passes defensed, an interception, and a fumble recovery thus far.
Disappointment: Defensive Line
While the Bengals have a strong stable of cornerbacks, the defensive line has to create more pressure. Though they have established stars such as Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins, Cincinnati has amassed only four sacks on the season, a weakness that could get exposed later in the season.
Cleveland Browns (0-3)
Surprise: Wide Receivers
While Isaiah Crowell has undoubtedly been one of the best rushers in the NFL, he has been known to go on spurts throughout his career. The young receiver corps of Terrelle Pryor and Corey Coleman has been giving defenders fits, and if Josh Gordon returns to his 2014 form, Cleveland would be a tough team to defend in the air.
It is a shame that the Browns don’t have an adequate QB to get the ball to their stud receivers. Robert Griffin III showed flashes of brilliance in the presence, but in typical RG3 fashion, injured his shoulder Week 1. Backup quarterback Josh McCown promptly fractured his clavicle, placing Cleveland’s hopes on the rookie Cody Kessler, who was mediocre against Miami.
Pittsburgh Steelers (2-1)
Surprise: LB Ryan Shazier
In his 3rd season in the NFL, Shazier has emerged as the player the Steelers envisioned when they took him in the first round of the 2014 Draft. The linebacker who beat Antonio Brown and all his teammates in the 40 yard dash during Steelers training camp is always around the ball. Shazier has totaled 20 tackles, picked off a pass, and forced a fumble.
Disappointment: Passing Defense
The Steelers currently rank 31st in the NFL in passing defense, having let up 996 yards passing and an average quarterback rating of 105.8. The Steelers tried to address their weak secondary by taking CB Artie Burns in the first round of the draft, but still rely too heavily on aging William Gay.
Houston Texans (2-1)
Surprise: Passing Defense
Even with JJ Watt’s struggles (see below), the Texans have been manhandling opponents through the air. They are leading or near the top of almost every defensive category against the pass, such as completions (1st), completion percentage (1st), yards (1st), touchdowns (3rd), and sacks (4th). Despite these impressive stats, the Texans biggest surprise could still be rookie WR Will Fuller, who is out-gaining resident All-Pro DeAndre Hopkins.
Disappointment: DE JJ Watt
It turns out JJ Watt is mortal after all, as he is reportedly heading to the IR. Despite an offseason spent recovering from surgery, Watt insisted on playing Week 1, and hurt himself even more.
Indianapolis Colts (1-2)
Surprise: TE Jack Doyle
After the departure of Coby Fleener, the Colts turned to Doyle to take their TE2 spot. The Western Kentucky product has been a reliable target for Andrew Luck, catching 13 of his 15 targets, as well as gaining 137 yards and scoring twice.
It was well-known entering the season that the Colts would have to score a lot of points in order to win games, but this defense might be worse than previously thought. They have conceded 95 points (31st), 1,207 yards (26th), 69 first downs (26th) despite a relatively easy schedule. Outside of ILB Sio Moore, opposing offenses have little fear when they travel to LucasOil Stadium.
Jacksonville Jaguars (0-3)
Surprise: WR Marqise Lee
The Jaguars were thought to be an up-and-coming team on the cusp of the playoffs prior to the start of the season, but find themselves in the cellar of a weak AFC South. The improvement of the formerly underwhelming Lee, who is already close to his yardage total from last year, has been one of the few bright spots and gives the Jags a strong #3 wideout.
Disappointment: Running Backs
When the Jags added former 1,000 yard power rusher Chris Ivory, they looked to balance out an offensive attack that relied too heavily on Blake Bortles. However, Ivory has played sparsely due to injury, and incumbent TJ Yeldon has averaged just 2.5 yards per carry. As a team, they have averaged just 2.8 yards per rush, 31st in the league.
Tennessee Titans (1-2)
Surprise: RB DeMarco Murray
Despite lots of preseason hype surrounding 2nd round pick Derrick Henry, Murray has been the bell cow back in Nashville. Murray is third in the NFL with 377 scrimmage yards, as he is being involved in the passing game like never before. The free agent signee by way of Philadelphia has also hit paydirt three times, twice through the air.
Disappointment: DT Jurrell Casey
The linchpin of the Titans defense, Casey is not putting up the numbers he has in the past. The big nose tackle out of Southern Cal has just five solo tackles and half a sack through the first 3 games. While nose tackles can make a significant impact without posting tremendous statistics, Casey is Tennessee’s best pass rusher and needs to get to the quarterback.
Denver Broncos (3-0)
Surprise: QB Trevor Siemian
Many pundits (myself included) did not give the Broncos much of a chance entering this season after losing Peyton Manning and Brock Osweiler. However, the former 7th-rounder has beaten the Panthers, Colts, and Bengals, and has looked more than capable of keeping Denver in the championship mix. Siemian was flawless in a 312 yard, four touchdown performance in Cincinnati.
Disappointment: Defensive Penalties
There isn’t much wrong up in Mile High, but sloppiness can mean the difference when the playoffs roll around. Denver has committed 25 penalties (4th in NFL) for 248 yards (2nd), which is not something one would expect out of a Super Bowl champion. Giving away yards is never good, but that bad habit must be cut out before the postseason if the Broncos wish to contend.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-1)
Surprise: RB Spencer Ware
Over a large portion of the past decade, the Chiefs have run a ground-and-pound attack behind the offensive force named Jamaal Charles. With Charles still on the mend from a torn ACL, Ware won the temporary starting job over Charcandrick West and never looked back. Ware has totaled a league-leading 387 scrimmage yards thus far, which could spell an expanded role for him even when Charles returns.
Disappointment: Wide Receivers
After an improvement last year, the Chiefs receivers this year are more reminiscent of the 2014 group that failed to catch a touchdown. Kansas City’s leading receivers at this writing are tight end Travis Kelce and Ware, though ageless veteran Jeremy Maclin isn’t too far behind. Chris Conley has been serviceable so far, but the Chiefs have next to nothing in the vertical threat department.
Oakland Raiders (2-1)
Surprise: Rushing Attack
Prior to the start of the season, Oakland was perceived to be a pass-first team and that the front office doesn’t see Latavius Murray as a legitimate starting running back. Murray still may not be receiving his due, but from top to bottom the Raiders are running the football at a ridiculous clip. The Silver and Black are rushing for nearly 6 yards per rush, and have found diamonds in the rough in Jalen Richard (163 scrimmage yards, 8.6 ypc) and DeAndre Washington (138 scrimmage yards, 6.5 ypc).
Disappointment: Pass Rush
With the league’s most promising pass rusher in Khalil Mack and the addition of specialist Bruce Irvin, O.co Coliseum should be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. Somehow, the Raiders have managed just three sacks, with none coming from Mack, the first player in NFL history to be named All-Pro at two positions in one year. The Raiders were exposed by Drew Brees and Matt Ryan in the first two weeks, and will need to generate pressure if they want to contend.
San Diego Chargers (1-2)
Surprise: WR Tyrell Williams
An unknown prior to this season, the Western Oregon alum established himself as a serious threat in an offense that has been surprisingly effective after losing Keenan Allen. Williams has gained 201 receiving yards and hit paydirt once, but the statistic that best displays his status as an emerging star is his 108 yards after the catch, tops among receivers.
Disappointment: TE Antonio Gates
While Gates is entering the twilight of his career, solid production was still expected from the surefire Hall-of-Famer. Inactive against the Colts in Week 3 due to a hamstring injury, Gates amassed just 35 yards over the first two games, though he did score. Despite a costly fumble against Indianapolis, rookie Hunter Henry has stepped up as Philip Rivers 3rd option.
Image courtesy of Texas Monthly