The NFL regular season has (sort of) reached the halfway mark, and the sheer number of surprises have made the action fun. Certain performances will never qualify as a surprise. For example, you could give Tom Brady a cast of octogenarian receivers, and an offensive line stocked with mummies and the Patriots would still average 27 points a game and go 12-4.
To this stage of the schedule, here are my favorite surprises of the 2019 NFL season:
I’m surprised — baffled and even frustrated — that New Orleans Saints’ quarterback Drew Brees is so frequently excluded from the “best quarterback” discussion. (Current quarterbacks). But the conversation always evolves around Brady or Aaron Rodgers. Brady has five Super Bowl rings, so that separates him. But isn’t Brees, at minimum, equal to Rodgers? Isn’t he better than Rodgers? I mean, Brees has passed for more yards than any quarterback in NFL history (72,781), has thrown 506 touchdown passes (third all-time), has the best completion percentage (67.2%) in league history, has averaged more yards passing per game (283.2) than any QB in league history, has engineered 45 game-winning drives (third) and … I could go on, but won’t.
Brees has amazing stats, historically prominent. And, like Rodgers, he’s won a Super Bowl. The other day I was listening to a popular national sports-talk show, and heard the host say this: “Brady and Rodgers are at the top, then you move down to the second tier where there’s Brees (and others).” Huh? Why would Brees be considered second tier? This season Brees leads the league in completion percentage — 76.8%! — passer rating (120.6) and QBR (86.6.) Second tier? Simply absurd. Brees, 39, is actually getting better.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes. Remarkable in every way, including his 29 TD passes, 2,900 passing yards and remarkable poise through nine games. So young, so gifted, and what a future.
The Chargers (6-2) are a sleeper AFC contender. The Bolts have won five in a row and are off to their best start since 2006 despite a blitz of injuries and the absence of a true home field advantage. Running back Melvin Gordon is the league’s best offensive player that no one talks about. Philip Rivers has been the best QB in the NFL for his performance under pass-rush pressure: A league-best passer rating of 112.7 with six touchdowns and no interceptions.
Adrian Peterson, age 33, is a prime factor in Washington’s 5-3 start. He didn’t sign with the Redskins until Aug. 20, and many assumed that his fuel tank was empty. But “AP” has 604 yards, four touchdowns rushing + 167 receiving yards with a TD catch.
Weren’t the new “targeting” rules supposed to wreak havoc, cause mass confusion, ruin the game of football, and trigger a Justice Department investigation — or something like that? Whatever happened to all of those dire predictions?
Raiders coach Jon Gruden. Bad. So, so, bad. Many thought he would lead the Silver & Black on a journey to their glorious past. Instead he’s already a leading candidate for the worst contract in NFL history: 10 years, $100 million.
The Jacksonville Jaguars are 3-5 after being a trendy preseason pick to reach the Super Bowl. There’s more to this than the usual Blake Bortles messiness. The supposedly ferocious Jacksonville defense is weakening, having allowed an average of 28.0 points over the last three games. Last season the Jaguars ranked third in the league by giving up only 17.7 points per game. This year that average is 21.2 points allowed per game (8th) and is rising. Jax has surrendered an average of 27 points in road games this season.
The Bears are 5-3 and hold a slight lead over the Vikings (5-3-1) in the NFC North. The teams will play twice in the remaining weeks. Bears have other tough games (Packers, Rams. But instead of the expected Vikings-Packers race, it’s Bears-Vikings. The Bears have the third-easiest remaining schedule among NFC teams.
If you go back and check; there was considerable preseason hype over the NY Giants. Well, the Giants are 1-7 including 0-4 at home. They are 27th in points per game (18.8.) Eli Manning is toast.
Le’Veon Bell’s misguided holdout from the Steelers. SI’s Andrew Brandt explains the foolishness of the missing running back: “Bell has forfeited $7.7 million and counting of his purported $14.5 million salary. That money is not going to others in the locker room; it is pure savings—cash and cap—for the Steelers. And it makes no sense.”
Speaking of the Steelers, running back John Conner has been an excellent replacement for Bell, ranking second in the NFL in rushing yards (707), second in total yards from scrimmage (1,085) and second among the league’s backs with 10 touchdowns.
Um, what happened to the national anthem controversy? After so much hot air, faux outrage and grandstanding hypocrisy — thank goodness this phony issue faded away. Hope it stays faded.
After his long layoff following shoulder surgery, I didn’t expect Indianapolis quarterback Andrew Luck to come back as strong as he has. Only Mahomes has more TD passes than Luck’s 23. And Luck’s rating on deep passes is 115.5.
Josh Gordon? Damn. He’s good. Another successful (so far) reclamation by Bill Belichick.
The Saints won 11 games last season, so their 7-1 start isn’t shocking. But after three consecutive 7-9 seasons, coach Sean Payton is 18-6 since the start of last season. Usually when a coach who has been in a place for a long time gets into an extended rut of losing seasons — the trend is irreversible. But not with Payton.
I didn’t see Carolina cruising at 6-2, with five wins in its last six games. But a 17-point comeback in the fourth quarter to beat Philadelphia was a season-changing moment. And I didn’t see Cam Newton completing 67.3 percent of his passes for 15 touchdowns and four interceptions. New offensive coordinator Norv Turner has done a great job of getting Newton back to form.
I didn’t see Houston winning six straight games after going 0-3 to open the season. But the Texans’ defense is raising hell again, and quarterback Deshaun Watson keeps making play after play.
I assumed the Atlanta Falcons were doomed after losing four of their first five games and having the defense ripped apart by injuries. But ATL has won its last three to get level at 4-4. And quarterback Matt Ryan, who is having an exceptional season, has carried the Falcons during the three-game winning streak by completing 74.5% of his throws for 1,084 yards, 9.19 yards per attempt, eight touchdowns and one interception and a passer rating of 121.6.
Thanks for reading …