Once Week 8 of the season arrives, the biggest NFL surprises are finally established trends and no longer merely outliers.
Although some surprises are good, however, others aren’t as satisfying. Super Bowl and playoff contenders have come up short, while a couple teams expected to be somewhere in the mix are actually leading the charge.
5. Detroit Lions (1-6)
Regression was expected. A return to the playoffs was certainly not a lock, but this is bad. This is bad. Through seven weeks, the Lions have surrendered an NFC-high 200 points, Matthew Stafford has thrown nine interceptions and the rush offense is by far the league’s worst unit.
After multiple claims from opponents that they knew what plays were coming combined with poor overall performances, Detroit fired offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi. Hopes of another postseason run are all but officially gone, and the Lions will trudge to a finish that’s destined to “earn” a top-10 draft pick.
4. Cincinnati Bengals (6-0)
A team that has made the postseason in four consecutive years can hardly shock the world, but the Bengals have reached a different level. Andy Dalton looks like a legitimately elite quarterback, and the offense is loaded with weapons at running back, wide receiver and tight end.
Fresh off a bye week, Cincinnati travels to face the Pittsburgh Steelers, who are hoping to have Ben Roethlisberger back behind center. If the Bengals knock off Pittsburgh, the only teams standing in the way of a 10-0 start are the Cleveland Browns, Houston Texans and Arizona Cardinals. Maybe you’re not sold on Cincinnati yet, but if the Bengals are 9-0 against Arizona and compete—or even in—on the road, they can’t prove anything else.
3. Carolina Panthers (6-0)
Even without No. 1 receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the Panthers have emerged as the most surprising team with a winning record. To be clear, it’s not a shock Carolina is a competent team, since it started the year against four lackluster opponents. But after dispatching the Seattle Seahawks and Philadelphia Eagles, the Panthers are 6-0.
The defense has put Carolina in position to win, and Cam Newton has not only finished the job but played like an MVP in the process. Should Newton and Co. topple the Indianapolis Colts on Monday Night Football, the Panthers will need just three wins over the final nine to lock up a playoff spot.
2. Kansas City Chiefs (2-5)
Kansas City knocked off the Texans in the season opener, as it should’ve. The Chiefs lost to the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and upstart Bengals, fine. But then, star running back Jamaal Charles tore his ACL against the Chicago Bears, and Kansas City allowed a last-minute touchdown drive.
Suddenly, one of the seemingly safe picks to reach the playoffs was in serious trouble. After a loss to the Minnesota Vikings and win over the Steelers, the Chiefs sit at 2-5. Kansas City has two games remaining against both of the San Diego Chargers and Oakland Raiders as well as a matchup with each of the Denver Broncos and Buffalo Bills. The Chiefs must finish 7-2 to even have a fighting chance at the postseason, and that’s a rather unlikely reality.
1. Baltimore Ravens (1-6)
The Ravens weren’t just a playoff contender. Rather, they were a trendy Super Bowl pick, especially if the New England Patriots wouldn’t have Tom Brady until Week 5 and Baltimore could steal home-field advantage. Nearly two months into the season, the Ravens are looking at different kind of No. 1: the first overall pick in the draft.
Baltimore has fallen to the upstart Raiders, middling Browns and horrible San Fransisco 49ers, while the Chargers, resurgent Miami Dolphins, Seattle Seahawks, Steelers and Bengals all remain on the schedule. It’s not often you can write off a preseason Super Bowl contender before Week 8 even arrives, but that’s the case with the Ravens.