By Ray Hamill
As with any NFL season there have been an assortment of surprises and disappointments this fall, and one of each was on display Thursday night when the New Orleans Saints defeated the Atlanta Falcons 17-13.
With the win, the Saints opened up a two-win lead in the division, solidifying themselves as one of the best surprises in the NFL this season, while with the loss, the Falcons dropped deeper into turmoil, and are left wondering what happened to a season that began with such promise.
Neither, however, is alone.
Here then are the top four surprises and the four biggest disappointments so far this season …
1 – The Saints (9-2)
Most of us expected the Saints to be good on offense once again, but none of us saw this much improvement on a defense that was statistically the worst ever in NFL history a year ago. For my money the Saints are the second best team in the league right now.
2 – The Chiefs (9-1)
Unbeaten up until last Sunday, the Chiefs are surely one of the biggest surprises of 2013, turning around their fortunes under new coach Andy Reid from a league-worst record of 2-14 last fall. The Chiefs probably won’t win the Super Bowl this season, but it has been a remarkable year.
3 – The Panthers (7-3)
Winners of a league-best six straight (along with the Seahawks), the Panthers have a stellar defense (for my money the best in the league) and are not only pushing the Saints in the NFC South but are also the frontrunners in the conference wild card race. Carolina should be back in the playoffs for the first time since 2008.
4 – The Lions (6-4)
The Lions lost a tough one to the Steelers last Sunday and remain unpredictable, but they are top of a competitive NFC North and have a remaining schedule that should see them return to the playoffs as division champions. This is a far cry from the team that went 4-12 a year ago.
1 – The Falcons (2-9)
Atlanta has now lost five in a row and has the worst record in the NFC. Injuries have been a part of the problem for a team that was expected to contend for the Super Bowl, but only a part.
2 – The Texans (2-8)
The two-time defending AFC South division champions have lost eight straight and are on pace for their worst showing in almost a decade, falling well short of their Super Bowl ambitions.
3 – The Redskins (3-7)
It’s been a season of turmoil in DC. After making the playoffs as division champs a year ago, the 2013 Redskins will be remembered for their terrible defense, disappointment at quarterback (on and off the field), and finger pointing. Oh yeah, it might also be remembered as head coach Mike Shanahan’s final season in charge.
4 – The Ravens (4-6)
Thanks to a weak field of AFC playoff contenders, the Ravens are still alive for the postseason – barely – but so far they’ve shown little of the determination that won them the Super Bowl a year ago.