By Ray Hamill
If there’s one thing the NFL has taught us in recent times, it’s to expect the unexpected, and that has certainly been the case once again this season.
In fact, through the opening five weeks of the campaign, there have been several examples of “I didn’t see that coming,” from the unbeaten Saints and Chiefs, to the winless Steelers and Giants, to the Jaguars actually selling out a home game.
And just like with Tony Romo in the fourth quarter of a tight game, who knows what the hell’s going to happen next.
Here then are the biggest surprises so far this season …
1 – Saints D steps up
When you’re considered the worst ever at something, there’s nowhere to go but up, but no one outside of New Orleans could have seen the Saints defense improving this much.
Last season, with head coach Sean Payton suspended, the Saints were statistically the worst defense ever in the NFL, breaking a 31-year record and becoming the first franchise in NFL history to allow more than 7,000 yards in a season, while posting a disappointing 7-9 record.
This fall, with the return of Payton and the addition of defensive coordinator Rob Ryan, the Saints defense is a very different prospect for opponents, and after five weeks is allowing a stingy 14.6 points a game, fourth best in the league, behind only the Chiefs (11.6), the Patriots (14.0) and the Panthers (14.5).
And with Drew Brees and Co. continuing to rank among the league leaders on offense, the Saints are 5-0 and one of only three remaining unbeaten teams.
2 – Chiefs standing tall
Continuing the theme of worst to best, how about the Chiefs, who are tied for the best record in the NFL at 5-0 after posting a league-worst 2-14 mark a year ago.
The difference? The addition of head coach Andy Reid (be careful what you wish for Philly fans) and quarterback Alex Smith, who have the Chiefs playing mistake-free ball on offense, as well as a stout defense that is allowing a league-best 11.6 points a game.
True, the Chiefs have played just one team with a winning record thus far — including matchups against the winless and somewhat pathetic Giants and Jaguars — but the schedule doesn’t get a whole lot more difficult the remainder of the way, with just four winning teams (Browns, Colts and Broncos twice) on the slate.
Right now, it appears as if the Chiefs are headed back to the playoffs.
3 – Division records
The two most surprising divisions so far have got to be the NFC East and AFC East, both for very different reasons.
The NFC East has a combined 2-11 record against the rest of the league, by far the worst among the eight divisions, with the Cowboys and Eagles top of the heap at just 2-3.
To sum up just how bad things are in this once dominant division — which has won a combined 12 Super Bowls, four more than any other division — the Giants are 0-5 and arguably one of the two worst teams in the league, yet they are only two games out of the lead in their division.
The AFC East, meanwhile, was expected to be the worst division this season, but through five weeks is a surprising 9-5 against the rest of the league, tied for the second best record of the eight divisions, with teams like the Jets, Bills and Dolphins all faring better than anticipated.
The AFC West, with the unbeaten Broncos and Chiefs, is a league-best 12-4 against other divisions.
4 – Powerhouses falter
While the Chiefs and Saints have been among the biggest surprises this season for all the right reasons, the New York Giants and Pittsburgh Steelers are here for exactly the opposite, with a combined record of 0-9.
Winners of four of the past eight Super Bowls, and two of the NFL’s traditional powerhouses — between them they have accounted for more than 20 percent of all Super Bowl wins — the Giants and Steelers are both off to their worst start in decades.
Who saw this coming?
5 – Believe it or not, Jags actually sell out a home game
The Jacksonville Jaguars have tried all sorts of gimmicks to attract fans this season — including offering free beer and the NFL Red Zone Channel in-stadium — but none of them appear to be working for the franchise that annually attracts among the fewest supporters in the league.
Who knew all they had to do to sell out a home game was to leave the country?
But believe it or not, this month’s “home” matchup with the 49ers, which is scheduled for London, is officially a sellout, the first in years for Jacksonville.
The Jags might be the worst team in the NFL — and perhaps even the worst we’ve seen in some time — but that doesn’t seem to matter much to English fans, who apparently aren’t as fussy about who they watch as fans in Florida.
How long do you think before the Jags move to London permanently?