NFL Surprise Teams

The National Football League is full of surprises and every year there are teams with high expectations that can’t replicate their success from the previous season and there are teams that have no expectations and they end up being one of the better teams in the NFL. This year is no different as there are six teams that are going beyond expectations or are letting down their fanbase so far this season.

Let’s start with the teams that are going above and beyond.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers, last season 8-9, playoffs: Wild Card Loss vs. Cowboys

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers are in their first season without Tom Brady and had a weird training camp in which the quarterback battle was between journeyman Baker Mayfield and young backup Kyle Trask. Mayfield won out but he looked unimpressive against preseason competition and people expected them to get creamed by the defending NFC North champion Minnesota Vikings on opening day. They did just the opposite beating the Vikings and then last week beating the Chicago Bears. The Bucs have proven that maybe Baker Mayfield backed by a strong defense may be able to surprise the NFC South and walk away with the division.

Washington Commanders, last season 8-8-1, playoffs: none

The Washington Commanders had a weird offseason in which they cut quarterbacks Taylor Heineke and Carson Wentz to name unproven backup Sam Howell at quarterback. That was only the 2nd biggest move of the offseason as the Commanders changed ownership from Dan Snyder to Josh Harris. The Washington fanbase responded by selling out training camp and their home opener vs. the Arizona Cardinals, which they won. They then went on the road and beat the Denver Broncos. The Commanders for the first time since the early 90’s have an owner that believes in them and a fanbase that is in full support of the team. Washington may finally be in a position to shock some people in the NFC East.

Now how about the teams that are letting their fans down.

Los Angeles Chargers, last season 10-7, playoffs: Wild Card Loss vs. Jacksonville Jaguars 

The Chargers came into 2023 with high expectations after a playoff appearance and almost advancing to the divisional round but like their second-half collapse against the Jags it’s gotten worse with back-to-back losses to the Dolphins and a stunning road loss to the Titans. The Chargers have struggled on defense and the o-line has been a concern as well as Austin Ekeler’s health. In order for the Chargers to get back on track they may have to put all their eggs in the basket of Justin Herbert.

Cincinnati Bengals, last season 12-4, playoffs: AFC Championship Loss vs. Kansas City Chiefs 

The Bengals come into 2023 with sky-high expectations after their last-second loss to the Chiefs in the AFC title game. Their offseason was eventful for one man, Joe Burrow. The new Joe Cool has never had a full training camp due to injury and that continued this year as he was carted off during camp with a calf strain which forced him to miss all of camp. He then got the largest contract extension in NFL history. I don’t know if all the money has gone to his head but it might have gotten to his arm as he has been off to start the campaign and the team reflects that as they started the season with losses to the Browns and Ravens. For the Bengals to get back in the race for the AFC North Joe Burrow has to return to the form that got him that massive extension.

Minnesota Vikings, last season 13-4, playoffs: Wild Card Loss vs. New York Giants

The Minnesota Vikings last season were the luckiest team in the NFL winning 11 games by one score, they also were one of the worst defenses in the league which is probably why a Giants team led by Daniel Jones beat the Vikings. The Vikings coming into this season were projected to be a contender in the NFC North but they are proving doubters right so far as the Vikings are 0-2 after losses to the Buccaneers and Eagles. The reason they lost those games, turnovers. The Vikings have turned the ball over seven times in two games which ties an NFL record for the most turnovers in two games, they now share the record with the 2005 Vikings. The Vikings can be a great team this year if they hold onto the football.

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