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10 biggest surprises and disappointments at NFL’s midway point

Jeremy Brevard, USA Today Sports

Disappointments and surprises abound every year as the NFL reaches its midpoint, and this season is no different.

Due to myriad of different factors, including injuries and level of talent, players and teams with extremely high expectations falter. And on the other side, players and teams come from out of nowhere to shock the league, in more ways than one.

This article details the 10 biggest surprises and disappointments of the 2016 season as we begin to reach the midpoint of the year. From Matt Ryan to the Arizona Cardinals, you can rest assured that just about every surprise and disappointment will be covered here.

Surprise: Marvin Jones, wide receiver, Detroit Lions

At the start of the season, there was very little expectation that Jones would make this much of an impact. After all, he currently boasts more touchdowns than the likes of A.J. Green, Antonio Brown and Odell Beckham Jr. It really is amazing just how much he’s been able to help offset the retirement of Calvin Johnson.

How about Jones having more receiving yards than stars such as Antonio Brown and Amari Cooper?

Combine the evolution of Matthew Stafford with a slow start to the season for Golden Tate, and it’s actually not too surprising Jones has been able to take advantage of the opportunities presented to him. It is, however, surprising that these other dynamics came into play.

A player who once relied on his above-average athletic ability, Jones has developed a savviness to his game that shows often, especially within his red-zone routes.

Expect Jones to make a case as the best wide receiver in the NFC North, all the while nabbing a Pro Bowl nod this season.

Disappointment: The Carolina Panthers

Oh how the mighty have fallen. From a berth in Super Bowl 50, propelled there by a dominant defense and a generational quarterback, Carolina currently sits at a paltry 1-5. It’s now more likely to pick at the top of the draft than earn a playoff spot.

While many expected the offense to take a step forward with the return of Kelvin Benjamin and progression of Devin Funchess, Cam Newton has continued to be pressured in the backfield. It led to a concussion earlier in the year, and could impact him moving forward on the season.

On top of that, a once dominant defense (ranked fourth overall in the league last season) has plummeted, being gashed both in the pass game as well as against the run. The one-time NFC favorites have seen a collapse of historic proportions. And as crazy as it may sound, Ron Rivera may be on the hot seat.

Surprise: Minnesota Vikings

Sam Bradford

When Teddy Bridgewater went down, many expected the Vikings to limp to a middling record on the back of Adrian Peterson as they had done so many times before.

With Adrian Peterson going down to start the season, the Vikings were considered by many a shoe-in for a top-10 pick in the 2017 NFL Draft.

Add in the fact that Vikings general manager Rick Spielman sent a first and fourth-round pick to the Philadelphia Eagles for Sam Bradford, and many thought this team was a sitting duck.

Instead, thanks to an utterly dominant defense and brilliant decision making by Bradford, the Vikings are 5-1 and alone at the top of the NFC North standings. No one could have predicted this at the beginning of the season.

Disappointment: Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense

Blake Bortles ranked second behind Tom Brady with 35 touchdown passes. Allen Robinson hauled in an absurd 1,400 receiving yards and finished with a league-leading 14 touchdown catches. Heck, Allen Hurns looked like he was going to be the league’s next great un-drafted free agent.

That was last season. Thus far in 2016, all this has come crashing down like a house of cards. Robinson has less than 300 receiving yards in six games, Hurns is just ahead of hm on the totem pole and Marqise Lee (of all people) is the only consistent receiving threat on the team.

For his part, Bortles has thrown as many touchdowns as interceptions with most of those scores coming in garbage time.

A season that started with so much promise has now been replaced by yet another disappointing performance from the Jaguars. This time, it’s been primarily due to an anemic offensive performance. That’s especially surprising considering Jacksonville added running back Chris Ivory and Kelvin Beachum in free agency.

At 2-4 on the season, fans in Jacksonville have fallen back into the routine of praying for a new head coach and researching ideal top-five draft prospects for the next season.

Surprise: Dak Prescott, quarterback, Dallas Cowboys

Let’s be honest now, no one even expected Prescott to see meaningful snaps this season, as the Cowboys returned star quarterback Tony Romo from a back injury that sidelined him for the majority of the 2015 season.

That all changed as Romo again suffered a back injury in preseason, landing him on the sidelines for at least the first half of the season.

While many expected the rookie to struggle, that has been far from the case as the Cowboys have rattled off five straight wins following an opening game defeat.

To make matters even more interesting, the Cowboys have come out and stated that Prescott could be keeping his starting job upon Romo returning from IR (more on that here here).

Regardless, Prescott has played far and above anything that was expected of him coming out of college, and the Cowboys may have found their next franchise quarterback.

Disappointment: the Oakland Raiders’ defense

Led by the first player to be named All-Pro at two different defensive positions in Khalil Mack as well as a resurgent David Amerson, the Raiders’ defense seemed primed to take that next step in 2016. Add in the acquisitions of Sean Smith, Reggie Nelson and Bruce Irvin, and this was magnified even further.

Despite this, the Raiders’ defense has continually been torched week in and week out, leading many to wonder what is going on.

Be it Marqise Lee, Willie Snead or Tyrell Williams, Oakland seemingly has no answer against the pass. That’s evidenced by the fact that Oakland has yielded the most passing yards in the NFL heading into Week 8.

Surprise: Matt Ryan, quarterback, Atlanta Falcons

Following a very disappointing 2015 campaign, it was expected that Atlanta would be looking for a new franchise quarterback in the draft in the very near future. Fast forward eight months, and the Falcons’ quarterback has stunned many with his play.

With an elite receiving option in Julio Jones as well as a dual headed monster at running back, Matt Ryan seems to have regained the mojo he had played with early on in his career.

Despite this, there is cause for concern as Ryan hits the meat of his schedule, and fantasy owners would do well to keep an eye on him as the season progresses and Ryan begins to face stiffer pass defenses.

Disappointment: Brock Osweiler, quarterback, Houston Texans

Let’s get the obvious out of the way up front — Brock Osweiler has been playing very poorly this season.

It really isn’t even as borderline as some would think, Osweiler is performing historically poorly.

Brock Osweiler was given $72 million by the Texans in the hope that he would be their quarterback of the future, despite the fact that Osweiler had never spoken to the Texans beforehand. Truly amazing if you think about it.

Safe to say that, especially in regards to the expectations heaped on the team as well as the quarterback, Osweiler has been a major disappointment.

Surprise: Terrelle Pryor, wide receiver, Cleveland Browns

NFL Week 7, Terrelle Pryor

With the impending return of Josh Gordon as well as the selection of multiple wide receivers in this year’s draft, Pryor was an afterthought heading into the 2016 season for the Browns.

Fast forward seven weeks, and Pryor is now on the cusp of being considered one of the top wide receivers in the league. He continues to put up very good stats (35 receptions and 431 yards) despite having gone through five different quarterbacks and a hamstring injury of his own.

With Pryor even willing to play quarterback in a pinch when needed, he has become the emotional heart and soul for a Browns team struggling to find an identity under new head coach Hue Jackson.

Once the Browns find some stability at the quarterback position, you can fully expect Pryor to elevate his game into the upper echelon of wide receivers in the NFL.

Disappointment: Arizona Cardinals

The same team that pushed all the way to the NFC Championship game last season, the Cardinals have been by far one of the most disappointing teams of the 2016 season.

Be it a 6-6 tie against the Seattle Seahawks or a four interception game by Carson Palmer against the Bills, the Cardinals have been a disappointment on every level. Despite the defense playing its butt off, the Cardinals’ continued ineptitude has fans and analysts baffled.

It has gotten to the point that teammates are openly calling each other out, and one can only hope that the Cardinals right the ship before it is too late.