It happens every year, like clockwork. Parity allows for a team to surprise us all, like a club that goes from worst to first. There are also the teams predicted to finish in first in August, only to be planning for the draft in December.
For every upstart team that surprises us, there’s a disappointing franchise that failed to meet expectations, which oftentimes can result in front-office changes in the offseason.
This year, though, we seem to have more disappointments than surprises. The old guard of the Packers, Giants, Patriots, Ravens and Steelers are all back, keeping teams from jumping into the playoff conversation.
The PFW staff voted and here are our three most disappointing and surprising teams of 2012.
1. Philadelphia Eagles — With a full offseason for the talent-laden defense to work with Juan Castillo, and the return of a high-powered offense, many thought Philly would pick up where it left off at the end of last season. The Eagles started off 3-1, albeit in unimpressive fashion, before the losing skid began in Week Five. The “D” struggled, leading to the firings of Castillo and D-line coach Jim Washburn. Vick suffered a concussion in Week 10, and rookie Nick Foles has improved in the past two weeks. Andy Reid is likely coaching his final month with the Eagles.
2. Kansas City Chiefs — The Broncos got all the preseason attention in the AFC West, but free-agent additions like Peyton Hillis and Eric Winston combined with the return of S Eric Berry and RB Jamaal Charles had the Chiefs as the sexy sleeper team. Like the Eagles, the Chiefs finished strong in 2011, but couldn’t get things going in 2012. Turnovers have been a huge problem, the offense has been one of the league’s worst and the quarterback position has been an ongoing issue, with Matt Cassel showing he is not the long-term answer.
3. San Diego Chargers — Similar to the Chiefs, the Chargers flew under the radar in the AFC West thanks to the Peyton Manning hoopla in the Rockies. A.J. Smith made a slew of moves in free agency to increase depth across the board. San Diego got off to a 3-1 start, before the losing began — and these were bad losses, including blown leads and fourth-quarter turnovers, most notably blowing a 24-point lead on “Monday Night Football” in Week Six. Smith and head coach Norv Turner are reportedly done after the season, and this marks three consecutive disappointments in San Diego.
Also receiving votes: Jets, Bills, Lions, Panthers, Saints.
1. Indianapolis Colts — Without Peyton Manning, the Colts had the league’s worst record last season. Things were expected to be better with Andrew Luck, but not this much better. With head coach Chuck Pagano off the sideline as he received treatment for leukemia, the inspired Colts went on a roll, starting with a comeback win against the Packers. A four-game win streak put them right in the playoff hunt. Luck and fellow rookies WR T.Y. Hilton and RB Vick Ballard have done well, and WR Reggie Wayne has been exceptional.
2. Tampa Bay Buccaneers — One of last year’s disappointing teams, expectations were low for the Bucs in 2012. They had a new coach, Greg Schiano, who was coming from the college ranks. The NFC South was considered one of the NFL’s toughest divisions, but the young Bucs have impressed this season after a 1-3 start. Doug Martin and Lavonte David are two of the NFL’s top rookies, and QB Josh Freeman has led an explosive offense. Tampa needs a strong finish to make a playoff run, but Schiano’s club exceeded expectations this season.
3. St. Louis Rams — With plenty of roster turnover, a new coach and GM, the Rams were generally a consensus last-place pick in the NFC West, coming off a 2-14 season in 2011 — their fourth season with three wins or fewer in a five-year stretch. Sam Bradford hasn’t had a great season, necessarily, but he has been more efficient on offense. The defense has made great strides, with DEs Chris Long and Robert Quinn wreaking havoc up front, and rookie CB Janoris Jenkins turning into a playmaker in the secondary. Cortland Finnegan has been one of the better free-agent pickups, and the Rams surprisingly are 4-0-1 in the NFC West.
Also receiving votes: Redskins, Broncos.