With Halloween and the NFL’s halfway point both upon us, what better time to identify three teams that have pulled tricks on us this season and three teams that have treated us to the biggest surprises?
The unrelenting fans in Philly were left no choice but to offer their “dream team” a mulligan for the 2011 season, after an offseason spending spree equated to just an 8-8 finish. The Eagles provided cause for optimism in 2012 down the stretch, though, finishing '11 on a four-game winning streak, with the “D” markedly improved after the moving parts began to connect.
With an offseason to promote chemistry, paired with a few more important acquisitions, Andy Reid’s crew appeared poised to finally fly like Eagles this season. Loaded with star power, it was "New Orleans or Bust" for this group.
But after falling to 3-4 Sunday, with the firing of Juan Castillo only sending the defensive spiraling further, only Hurricane Sandy can take the heat off the embattled Reid and QB Michael Vick.
Much like the Eagles heading into 2011, the Bills were a popular pick to get over the hump this season, largely because they simply outspent the opposition in the offseason, netting the Nnamdi Asomugha of the 2012 free-agent class, Mario Williams, among others.
Adding Williams and DE Mark Anderson to a defensive front that already included Marcell Dareus and Kyle Williams was supposed to give new coordinator Dave Wannstedt all the ammunition needed to field one of the league’s most havoc-wreaking stop-units.
But Williams has buckled under the pressure of $50 million guaranteed and the Bills’ run defense is the worst in the NFL, ramping up speculation that Wanny could be in trouble.
If that wasn’t bad enough, Ryan Fitzpatrick, identified as the “franchise QB” by GM Buddy Nix a season ago, can’t seem to get out of his own way. The Patriots have appeared mortal at times this season, yet the Bills have shown no signs of being ready to enact a changing of the guard in the AFC East.
New Orleans Saints
The Saints would, of course, argue that they were the victims of trickery at the hands of commissioner Roger Goodell, who put a serious dent in their 2012 plans with the “Bountygate” disciplining.
Yet, the fingers should be pointed as much at the New Orleans “D,” which has been equally atrocious versus the run and pass, as Goodell.
Even Drew Brees and the mighty Saints offense doesn’t have enough firepower to compensate for 30.9 points per game allowed by the defense each week.
Owner Steven Ross’ team was the league's laughingstock in the offseason, a club that mishandled more coaching and quarterback calls in the span of a few months than most teams do in a number of years.
Appearing on HBO's Hard Knocks, with timid first-year head coach Joe Philbin uncomfortably releasing Chad Johnson and CB Vontae Davis infamously wanting to call his grandmother after being informed he was being traded, didn’t help.
I’ll tell you what has helped, though: Ryan Tannehill looking like the first man capable of potentially filling the massive shoes of Dan Marino, and one of the league’s most underrated defenses stymieing offenses with regularity. Don’t sleep on the 4-3 Dolphins, a team that has no quit and no concern for what others think.
The Colts turned over more than half of a 2-14 roster in the offseason. Their two best defensive players, Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, have played less than a half of football together. Their projected starting offensive line before the season has yet to all play a snap together. Their new head coach, Chuck Pagano, was diagnosed with leukemia during the team’s Week Four bye and has been away from the Colts' complex since.
All interim head coach Bruce Arians' group has done to respond is rattle off three wins in the last four weeks, with rookie QB Andrew Luck making one clutch play after the next and the Colts suddenly playing with a physicality we haven’t seen in years.
In an odd conference in an odd year, who says the Colts can’t rebuild and contend simultaneously?
Yes, the Broncos made the playoffs a year ago. Indeed, the offseason addition of Peyton Manning had some pundits predicting a Super Bowl appearance for Denver.
Is there anyone out there who hasn’t been treated by the return of vintage Manning? As prepared, focused and fiery as ever, Manning has the Broncos rolling, with a ridiculous 14:1 touchdown-to-interception ratio over the past five games and five consecutive 300-yard passing outputs, tying a personal-best. Willis McGahee continues to defy the odds, and Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker are blossoming under Manning into one of the league’s more formidable one-two wideout punches.
Perhaps some of you saw that coming. But what about the Broncos’ defense, led by Jack Del Rio, which has surrendered just 13 points in the fourth quarter all season? Von Miller, Elvis Dumervil and Co. are a force to be reckoned with, and the 4-3 Broncos will be awfully tough to beat if Manning can build some early leads.