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#pounditTuesday, December 7, 2021

5 biggest surprises of the 2021 NFL season thus far

Jon Gruden

The 2021 NFL regular season is now in Week 7 — boy, does it go by fast — and to say there have been a few surprises that stand out would be an understatement.

Things got off to a fast start league-wide and have not slowed down one bit. Whether it’s on the field or off of the field, the NFL is jam-packed with excitement, drama, and theater.

Here is a look at the five biggest surprises of the 2021 season (so far).

5. Kansas City Chiefs being average

Everything that goes up must eventually come down. The Chiefs are currently living that reality. They’ve split their first six games this season. At 3-3, they find themselves in third place in the AFC West (more on that division to come). But beyond just the .500 record, several of their superstar players are underperforming. Case in point: quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The former league MVP already has nine turnovers on the season, three shy of his career high. He has four interceptions over the past two games combined (don’t tell his mom). The Chiefs’ -8 turnover ratio is the second-worst in football. Defensively, KC is also allowing over 410 yards per game and an average of 29.3 points per game. Each of those marks are among the bottom five in the NFL.

4. Derek Carr an early MVP candidate

The Raiders decided to let Derek Carr air it out this season, and his aggression has gone through the roof. Yes, Carr has made some risky throws, and his accuracy is nothing to write home about, but he’s second in the NFL with 1,946 yards and 324.3 yards per game. Carr is also in the top half of the league in touchdown passes (10) and has tossed just four interceptions despite the new chuck-and-duck style. Perhaps more importantly, the Raiders are 4-2 under Carr, are tied for the AFC West lead, and three of their victories have come over teams who won 10-plus games in 2020. Whether or not Carr can keep up this pace remains to be seen, but few saw this start coming.

3. Myles Garrett gunning for all-time records

Through seven weeks, Cleveland Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett has amassed a league-leading eight sacks and is on pace for 23.0, which would be an all-time single-season record. And given how dominant Garrett has been this season, it’s entirely possible that Michael Strahan’s long-standing record finally falls. What makes Garrett’s early-season performance so impressive is that he’s dominating as much against the run as he is the pass. And when he does get home, he finishes. His eight sacks come alongside 17 QB hits and seven hurries, and are coupled with an equally impressive 24 tackles (nine for a loss).

2. Giants defense in shambles

Entering the 2021 regular-season, most believed the Giants would be kept afloat by their defense, which surprised under Patrick Graham a year ago. That has not at all been the case. In fact, the offense has outplayed the defense thus far. Graham’s unit, which plays Cover 2 more than any other team in the league, has taken several steps back. They have been unable to generate any natural pressure. Even when attempting to scheme in pressure, they haven’t hit home. The lack of pressure has allowed opposing quarterbacks to light up their secondary, including cornerback James Bradberry, who was a Pro Bowler in 2020. Not only will this regression take a toll on the organization, it might also cost Graham potential head coaching interest in 2022.

1. Urban Meyer and Jon Gruden

The situations surrounding Urban Meyer and Jon Gruden are very different but equally shocking. Meyer, of course, drew heavy criticism for staying behind in Ohio after his team lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4, only to later be caught on video acting inappropriately with a woman who wasn’t his wife (more here). He survived being fired (or divorced) but it’s certainly an early stain on his NFL career. Gruden, on the other hand, did not survive comments he made in private emails years ago. During an investigation into the Washington Football Team, several Gruden emails containing some ugly comments were discovered. He was immediately canceled, resigned as Raiders head coach, and was removed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ring of Honor, where he had previously sat alongside Warren Sapp and others.

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