We are through the first six weeks of the NFL season at this point, and as per usual with the sport, some of the teams we thought would be contenders this year are not and vice versa. Some of the players that we were barely thinking about in August are now being hailed as heroes for franchises and must-see television. The league has always had a fun, yet unsettling way of turning every narrative that you’ve kept up with into meaningless dust by the time the season begins and once again, we have plenty of surprises to talk about.
The Teams That Have Stunned Us
Many viewed the Kansas City Chiefs as a team set for a rebuild year, with an abysmal defense and a quarterback no one knew about. What we didn’t realize was how good Patrick Mahomes would end up becoming. He’s the do-it-all quarterback that the Chiefs just didn’t have with Alex Smith; a guy that can run around, throw the ball deep, and hit receivers in the tightest of windows. The team has gone from a middle-of-the-pack, question mark of a team to Super Bowl contender that can’t be stopped.
It’s not just the Chiefs. The Cincinnati Bengals and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, two dud teams last year, have also started out hot on offense, and the Chiefs and Bengals are sitting comfortably on top of their divisions, which was not widely expected entering this year. In fact, the league as a whole has been very offensively heavy, with 2018 already considered to be among the highest-scoring seasons we have seen. However, that hasn’t stop surprisingly defensive-heavy teams like the Chicago Bears and the Tennessee Titans from slowing them down.
What was also unexpected are the teams that are off to rough starts. The Phildelphia Eagles, the reigning Super Bowl champions, have already matched their loss total from last year and are struggling moreso on defense than they did last year. The Atlanta Falcons, who many thought had a great shot at playing in the Super Bowl in their own stadium, are climbing out a deep hole of a record after losing many defensive starters and quarterback Matt Ryan having disappointing showings on the road.
The Players We Didn’t Expect To Shine
As initially stated, no one thought Mahomes would be a huge part of the NFL season, yet he is the most talked about player through now. Other quarterbacks have impressed, like Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff and his high flying offense, but the rookies who people thought would have to wait are in action and playing well. The top pick of the 2018 draft Baker Mayfield led a magnificent comeback against the Jets on Thursday Night Football and has now led a turnaround for the Cleveland Browns that they’ve been waiting for since the turn of the millennium. New York Jets quarterback Sam Darnold has also impressed in a few games, throwing deep to receivers and showing poise in tough situations. Even Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen, who was among the most scrutinized picks in this year’s draft, has led two big upset wins over the Titans and Minnesota Vikings with his insane escapability and playmaking.
Among those shocking many at other positions is James Connor, a cancer survivor who currently starts at running back for the Pittsburgh Steelers as the replacement for Le’Veon Bell, who has been an angry runner that is tough to bring down, getting extra yardage that other backs may not get. Defensively, the Indianapolis Colts have played better than they have in the past, and that’s mostly to outstanding play by linebacker Darius Leonard and lineman Margus Hunt, especially with their ability to get after the quarterback. The Dallas Cowboys also have a star in the making with linebacker Jaylon Smith, who many thought might not come back from his injuries in college. He has been dominant in coverage and has brought pressure that Dallas has been looking to get for years.
The Most Talked About Referee Calls
Prior to Week 3 of the preseason, everyone was worried about how the new helmet rules would impact the season and the sport as a whole. The new rules initially penalized all hits on a player that led with the helmet. After a committee phone call, however, the league added that it must be a blatant, intentional hitting with the helmet. Those penalties that were through the roof were tamed in the final weeks of the preseason and have not been a huge talking point all season long.
However, there was another rule change no one talked about entering the year that has had a big impact on the results of games. Defenders are now being asked to not lay their entire body weight on a quarterback when sacking them, and try not to lift the quarterback off the ground while doing so. The rule was put on display most significantly in Weeks 2 & 3 when Clay Matthews of the Green Bay Packers took down the quarterback and was penalized in both weeks. The frustrating aspect of the rule is not just that it makes it harder for defenders to sack quarterbacks, but the sacks by Matthews that were penalized didn’t seem to be a violation of the rule. Yet, NFL Officiating now wants to use those sacks as examples of what not to do when bringing down a quarterback.
The rule no one talked about has now taken the league by storm, and no one, except maybe the quarterbacks, is happy about it.