The 7 Biggest Surprises of the NFL Half-Season

So we’ve reached the midway point of the 2012 season, and the preseason prognostications can finally be assessed.

This has certainly been a surprising season so far – whether its the emergence of rookies, the late-career blossoming of certain defenders, and the outright collapse of some stalwarts.

And today is as good a time as any to assess what exactly has gone on during the first half of the 2012 season.

Surprise! Peyton Manning is back!

For a guy who looked so done that it was kind of a bummer for everyone, Manning has outplayed the expectations of fans, medical professionals, John Elway, and probably even Peyton himself.

Did anyone see this coming?

Eli knew – he actually had a dream that Peyton came back better than ever, and he ran out of the bedroom to his parents room, but he was wearing his jammies with the feet and he slipped on the hardwood floor and cried until he got to watch The Lion King on VHS while his mommy put ice on his boo-boo.

He quarterbacks my favorite team, PS. Nothing wrong with The Lion King, but still.


Peyton is a top contender for MVP, and the Broncos are top contenders for the AFC West and may even get a first-round bye. Seriously, they might win 11 games when it’s all said and done, and in a weak AFC that might be enough.

But will Peyton win the top player hardware? Not if this guy says anything about it…

Surprise! Matt Ryan is great at football!

It’s so weird when a Northeast guy from a Boston school becomes an NFL quarterback. It’s like Doug Flutie, Matt Ryan, and Ryan Fitzpatrick, and I can’t think of anyone else.

Anyway, this one isn’t so hard to figure out: he’s in a passing system, he’s got tons of weapons around (they do play in the South, after all) and he’s completing like 69% of his passes.

He’s made a big leap this year, in his fifth year, which should give hope to Jets fans worried about Mark Sanchez. Just kidding.

Surprise! Rookie QBs are Good! Or Bad. Or… Both?

The conventional wisdom with rookie QBs has swung back and forth like a pendulum in recent years.

At first, it was all: don’t let those youngins’ play! They gotta stand with a clipboard and ABSORB, like a millionaire sponge!

Then it was all: Throw ’em all in and let God sort ’em out! And now it’s all: We don’t know! We’re not Nate Silver!

But a defining storyline this season has been how the top two QBs from the 2012 draft have fared.

Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III have been excellent at times, and bad at others, and in general the scale on both tips toward “Hey, these guys are pretty good. Why can’t the Chiefs/Cardinals/Eagles figure this stuff out?”

It’s not that easy to just wind up with a top pick and draft a transcendent player. Ask the Rams – they got Sam Bradford with the top pick, saw him win Rookie of the Year, and are still floundering. They even had a shot to take RGIII this year and willingly gave the pick up.

Would they be that much better with Griffin over Bradford? Honestly, who knows. The Redskins are a mess at 3-6, and they’d be a bigger mess without the exciting Griffin.

The Colts, on the other hand, went from a dumpster fire to a reasonable, controlled fire with the addition of Andrew Luck and a new coaching staff.

Is it an exact science? No. Russell Wilson is good but short, Ryan Tannehill is mediocre but tall, Brandon Weeden fought in the Civil War, etc.

I think the surprise this year has been that teams can contend, seriously contend, with a rookie QB, given that it’s the right rookie QB.

Surprise! The Bears are real good!

I felt like this was an under-the-radar team coming into the season. They had a .500 record last year, and there was nothing sexy about them except the addition of Brandon Marshall (mental health issues are sexy) and a pouty QB who everyone just straight-up hates. He’s the anti-Tebow.

Now their fairly old defense is producing touchdowns at a record-setting rate, and they are cruising toward a playoff spot. They score points in bunches, on both sides of the ball – they’ve scored 41 twice, and 51 this past weekend.

This is a team no one should want to play in the post season – you have to be afraid of a big-play defense at all times. But they are also prone to injuries in the backfield and have a big ol’ meanie-pants QB in Jay Cutler.

Surprise! The other universally loathed QB is struggling!

Michael Vick has had just an abomination of a season. There’s part of me that feels he is physically washed up, and part of me that feels that the team he is playing for is being coached off a cliff.

This story has been done to death, but it doesn’t make it any less… surprising.

It’s weird to see athletes “lose it” in real time, but Vick is the anti-Manning this year. Maybe he’ll come back next year with a different team – he’s done it before – but won’t it be strange to see him in a Cardinals uniform or a Bills uniform or a Chiefs uniform?

Surprise! The Saints!

So this is weird.

In spite of their terrible, awful start, and terrible, awful defense, the Saints are 3-5. They’re technically just two games back of Seattle for the final Wild Card spot. It’s a long shot, and they have a tough schedule (two vs. ATL, @NYG, vs. 49ers) but they are still kinda in it.

I don’t know if there’s a sixth-best team in the NFC this year, unless you really like Minnesota or Detroit or think Tampa will come on at some point. Basically, it’s the Seahawks’ spot to lose, and the Saints can help their own cause by taking one from Atlanta and maybe surprising the all-of-a-sudden-vulnerable Giants. Nine wins might do it.

Surprise! The Dolphins!

The Dolphins are like the Nebraska of the NFL: you vaguely remember they were awesome at some point in the past, before cell phones or the chicken pox vaccine.

People definitely got chicken pox and used land lines and were like “Wow, have you seen the Dolphins/Cornhuskers this year? They’re great, but like, is that name supposed to be fearsome? I don’t get it. I gotta go watch The Cosby Show probably.”

Uninformed Picks

I missed last week’s Snapshots because of the Hurricane – and a hearty “Screw you!” to people who deny climate change – so let’s give this whole week’s slate a try. Winners in bold.

  • Colts vs Jags
  • Giants vs Bengals
  • Titans vs Dolphins
  • Lions vs Vikings
  • Bills vs Patriots
  • Falcons vs Saints
  • Chargers vs Bucs
  • Broncos vs Panthers
  • Raiders vs Ravens
  • Jets vs Seahawks
  • Cowboys vs Eagles
  • Rams vs 49ers
  • Texans vs Bears
  • Chiefs vs Steelers

That’s a lotta picks! Unless some are wrong, in which case ignore those ones.

About the Author

Evan Schwartz

New Yorker, ecstatic Giants fan, begrudging Mets fan, self-loathing Knicks fan.