The most surprising teams in the NFL

With the NFL season more than halfway over, it can so far be defined as one of surprises. Here are the biggest surprise teams.

Kansas City Chiefs
After holding the worst record last season, the Chiefs, at 9–0, currently hold the best record in the NFL. While their success may be attributed to the steady hand of quarterback Alex Smith, the Chiefs’ main strength has been their defense.

Defensive tackle Tamba Hali and outside linebacker Justin Houston, with 9 and 11 sacks respectively, have led the Kansas City defense that allows a league-best 12.3 points per game. With two games remaining against the formidable Denver Broncos led by Peyton Manning, the second half of the Chiefs’ schedule will show whether the Chiefs are legitimate contenders.

But with an offense that is overly reliant on running back Jamaal Charles, it is difficult to predict whether the Chiefs can score enough points to win against more offensively potent teams.

New York Giants
The 2012 Super Bowl winners got off to a terrible start, losing their first six games in ugly fashion. Quarterback Eli Manning caught the interception bug, with 15 for the season, and has a pedestrian 55.7 completion percentage.

Not all of the blame falls on Manning, however. His offensive line has been shaky, and the running game has been very weak. Wide receiver Hakeem Nicks has also dropped too many passes.

On the defensive side, the former strength of the team has weakened. Defensive lineman Jason Pierre-Paul has only one sack, while captain Justin Tuck only has 1.5.

The offensive line needs retooling, but more importantly, if key contributors can’t rediscover their game, the Giants will be in serious trouble.

New York Jets
Before the season, ESPN predicted the Jets to be the worst team in the league. But with a 5–4 record and victories against the New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints, the Jets look like playoff contenders.

Defensive end Muhammad Wilkerson and tackle Damon Harrison have teamed up with rookie Sheldon Richardson to lead a formidable defensive front line that is consistent in stuffing opponent’s rushing attack.

The Jets have very few offensive playmakers, which makes their mediocre offensive production actually seem quite impressive. Running back Chris Ivory has emerged as the leading workhorse, while rookie quarterback Geno Smith is slowly cutting down on his turnover rate.

With a strong defense and an offense that does just enough, the Jets can sneak into the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Steelers
The Steelers have long been known as a team with a suffocating defense and a power running attack.

This year, however, their defense has allowed 131.3 rushing yards per game, which is second worst in the league. Their own rushing attack hasn’t been much better, averaging a meager 73.6 yards per game.

Safety Troy Polamalu has been a step slower this season, and nobody has stepped up as the defensive leader. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has been under constant pressure and has no one to throw to, with the exception of receiver Antonio Brown.

After years of dominating the AFC North, the Steelers are on the decline.

Cleveland Browns
After trading away former first-round pick Trent Richardson, the Browns were expected to tank.

Instead, they are 4–5, with impressive wins against the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens, and just one game out of the second wild card spot.

On defense, they have quality starters in the secondary, linebackers, and defensive line positions.

They have offensive playmakers in tight end Jordan Cameron and wide receiver Josh Gordon, but have no one to throw to them. The Browns have had three different starting quarterbacks who have all had varying levels of success.

The Browns won’t make the playoffs this season, but have proven they are no longer the laughing stock of the league. A decent quarterback can take them to the next level.

Atlanta Falcons
Quarterback Matt Ryan signed a $103.75 million contract extension in the off-season after leading the Falcons to the NFC Championships last year.

While he is on pace to throw 20 interceptions this year, the numbers don’t tell the entire story. Ryan lost his favorite receiver Julio Jones to a season-ending injury in week five and has a porous offensive line in front of him.

With no rushing attack, the Atlanta offense is too dependent on their passing game. Running back Steven Jackson has been beset by injuries as well as wide receiver Roddy White.

They can still score points, but opposing teams have scored more on their weak defense, which allows 27.3 points per game.

The Falcons are out of the playoff picture this season and will be so for the foreseeable future unless they can revamp their defense and offensive line.