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#pounditSunday, September 25, 2022

10 biggest surprises midway through the NFL season

Jon Gruden

The 2018 NFL regular season has now officially hit the midway point, and it’s been a very adventurous ride through the first eight weeks, with things getting even uglier for a struggling Raiders team. Here’s a look at the NFL’s 10 biggest mid-season surprises.

10. Giants’ offense is still pure comedy

With a new general manager, new head coach, new offensive coordinator, revamped offensive line and the addition of rookie running back Saquon Barkley, many expected the Giants to feature one of the league’s best offenses a year removed from being on of the worst. Instead, things have remarkably gone the other way with the Giants consistently struggling despite a roster of big names. Through eight games, they average just 18.8 points per game and just 7.2 points in the first half. They are converting just 35% of their third-down attempts and have a success rate of just 40% in the red zone. It all amounts to a team 28th in the league in points scored this season.

9. NFL officials still taking center stage

A year ago, the NFL hired full-time referees for the first time, which many had hoped would fix some of their issues on the field. However, through eight weeks of the season, it’s been anything but the case. Officials have come under fire from players and coaches alike, with Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin drawing a fine for criticizing them. Meanwhile, for the first time ever, the NFL also fired a down judge — Hugo Cruz — during the season after he missed an obvious false start. There have also been continued problems in regard to what is/is not a catch, what is/is not roughing the passer and what hits are/are not legal.

8. Los Angeles Rams are absolutely dominating

It was evident in 2017 that the Los Angeles Rams were a team on the rise, but few could have predicted their level of dominance in 2018. Currently, the Rams are the only unbeaten team in the league at 8-0, including victories over the Los Angeles Chargers, Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks in Seattle. They’re second in the league in scoring (264 points), first in point differential (+109) and sport a strong defense to boot. There are still some hurdles to clear, but even when facing some adversity, the confident Rams have held together and established themselves as one of the best, if not the best team in the NFL.

7. Adam Thielen has emerged as NFL’s best receiver

In a league filled with talented wide receivers such as Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and Julio Jones, who could have imagined that Adam Thielen would outshine them all? Through eight weeks, Thielen has not only done exactly that, but arguably cemented himself as the most talented and productive receiver in the league, tallying 74 receptions for 925 yards and six touchdowns. His 925 yards are 113 yards more than the next closest receiver (Julio Jones), while his six touchdowns have him just two off the pace of the league-leading Antonio Brown. Add in his 12 plays of 20-or-more yards and his 268 yards after the catch, and it’s easy to see just how quickly Thielen has ascended.

6. Philadelphia Eagles have a heavy Super Bowl hangover

A year ago, the Eagles dominated the NFL, breezed through the playoffs and knocked off the New England Patriots to win their first-ever Super Bowl title. And even with quarterback Carson Wentz overcoming a torn ACL, many expected Philadelphia, who seemed to further bolster their defense, to come back even stronger. Instead, the Eagles have looked wildly inconsistent en route to a 4-4 record at the midway point, which already eclipsed their loss total from a season ago. Additionally, their struggles have them chasing the Washington Redskins for the NFC East lead and on the outside of the playoff picture looking in if the season ended today.

5. Fitzmagic, baby

With Jameis Winston suspended to start the season, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers turned to veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick to hold them together. Through the first three games, he did just that, throwing for over 400 yards in each contest and going 2-1. However, with Winston back under center, the Bucs fell apart, going 1-2 since Fitzpatrick was put back on clipboard duty. It got so bad that Tampa Bay turned back to Fitzpatrick in Week 7. He entered the game late, down 34-16 in the fourth quarter, and rallied the Buccaneers, putting 18 points on the board in the final frame before losing on a last-second field goal. It was another magic moment for Fitzpatrick, who has now taken over as the team’s full-time starter.

4. Patrick Mahomes an MVP out of the gate

Expectations were understandably high for Patrick Mahomes entering the season, but no one could have foreseen his sheer dominance as a first-time starter. From the get go, Mahomes has been unstoppable, leading the Chiefs to a 7-1 record while leading the league in yards (2,526) and touchdowns (26), and checking in fourth overall in QB rating (115.3). The number of records he’s broken through eight weeks could fill a book, including the most touchdowns through eight games to start a career in NFL history and the most consecutive 300-yard passing games in Kansas City history. Needless to say, Mahomes, who spends his off time helping to build houses for US veterans, is well on his way to the MVP award.

3. Everything Jon Gruden does

When the Raiders signed Gruden to a 10-year, $100 million deal, they expected immediate results. Instead, Oakland finds itself with a record of 1-7 at the midway point with a point-differential of -111, which is second-worst in the NFL. Beyond that, Gruden has made several puzzling decisions like trading a draft pick for the troubled Martavis Bryant, commenting about the lack of a pass rush after trading Khalil Mack, and criticizing a cornerback. It’s been one curious decision after another, and while Gruden wants everyone to believe “players are dying to come to Oakland,” it seems like most want out. And none of that even touches on the odd up-and-down commitment to quarterback Derek Carr.

2. Le’Veon Bell continuing his holdout

The fact that Le’Veon Bell refused to sign his franchise tender and holdout to start the year wasn’t exactly a surprise. The fact that he’s still holding out going into Week 9 of the season is a bit more eye-opening, however. But the shock here is two-fold. Yes, Bell sticking it to the Steelers while also costing himself $852,000 a week is a worthy note, but compounding the entire situation has been the unexpected success of sophomore running back James Conner, who was thrust into the starting roll and has tallied over 920 yards from scrimmage and scored nine touchdowns in Bell’s absence. Conner’s success has allowed the Steelers to essentially forget about Bell, while he now has to consider an eventual return. If he doesn’t, he loses an accrued season and can be franchised again in 2019.

1. Trades, trades and more trades

For years — decades even — the NFL trade deadline was treated like any other day. Occasionally there would be one or two small trades, but generally, things were quiet. This year, that all changed dramatically. The NFL trade deadline became more like the MLB trade deadline as players were shipped all over the country. And not small names, either. Rather, stars like Damon Harrison, Golden Tate, Demaryius Thomas, Eli Apple, Dante Fowler and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix were just some of the players who were sent packing. It was a thrilling ride filled with wildly unexpected moves, and the rumors only added to the excitement. All in all, it was a very good thing for the NFL.


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