It's hard to believe that we're a quarter (or almost) of the way into the NFL season. This season has lent us to plenty of surprises, both good and bad. Which teams have gone above and beyond and which teams have wallowed in sheer incompetence?
Pleasant Surprise: Los Angeles Rams: Guess which team is tied for first in the NFC West with the Seattle Seahawks? If you guessed the Arizona Cardinals, you'd be dead wrong. Instead, it is the Los Angeles Fightin' [Jeff] Fishers, who have actually beaten two playoff teams from last season. They're tied for fourth in Give/Take (plus-four) and are tied for the most takeaways in fumbles (nine). They're also one of the best punting teams in the NFL, amassing 1,201 yards on 27 punts.
Pleasant Surprise: Minnesota Vikings: Consider this: You lose BOTH your starting quarterback and your starting running back. What the hell do you do? You record the second-most sacks in the NFL (15) and lead the NFL in Give/Take (plus-eight). They've also yield the third-fewest first downs (57) and have been the most disciplined team in the NFL (147 total penalty yards, first in the NFL). Like the Rams, the Vikings have already beaten two playoff teams from last season.
Pleasant Surprise: New England Patriots: It's odd that I'm putting New England in the "pleasant surprise" ranks considering their recent success. However, you have to give Bill Belichick props given the circumstances. Two of your quarterbacks are injured and one of them--your starting quarterback [Brady]--is serving a four-game suspension, leaving one of your receivers [Edelman] to serve as a backup. Throw in your starting tight end [Gronk] missing a couple games and your team should be at least 2-1 headed into the Buffalo game. Instead, New England has pulled off a 3-0 start thanks to Belichick's brilliance and have found ways to win tough games. Also, LaGarrette Blount is third (surprise!!!) in the NFL in rushing yards with 352.
Pleasant Surprise: Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles seemed to have no qualms about trading Sam Bradford to make way for new quarterback Carson Wentz. It has certainly paid off for them. Wentz has completed 64.7% of his passes, compiling 769 passing yards and five touchdowns in the process. Philadelphia has also gotten help on defense, particularly from safety Rodney McLeod. McLeod has 14 tackles, two interceptions, and three pass deflections in three games to start the season. Philadelphia has the largest point differential in the NFL, outscoring opponents by 65 points so far in the season. The Eagles are also tied for first in committing the fewest penalties (18).
Utter Disappointment: Arizona Cardinals: What was supposed to be a Super Bowl-contending team has come out flat to start the season. Carson Palmer left Sunday's game to be evaluated for a concussion. Another problem that has plagued Arizona is turning over the ball. Cardinal quarterbacks have thrown seven interceptions to start the season (five from Palmer, two from Drew Stanton). Their point differential shows that they've been competitive in their games. It's just a matter of being able to seal the deal in close games (0-2 in games decided by less than a touchdown).
Utter Disappointment: Carolina Panthers: Three games into the season and the defending NFC champions already had more losses than they did a season ago. The schedule has been rather unforgiving for Carolina, starting them off with an season-opening game at Denver. Part of Carolina's problem has surprisingly been Cam Newton. The reigning NFL MVP has a 57.9% completion rate while throwing for six touchdowns and five interceptions. The Panthers have also shown that they're depleted at the corner position (hello, Josh Norman), which is evident by the 300 receiving yards that they yielded to Atlanta Falcons receiver Julio Jones. The Panthers do play in a fairly weak division, but their non-divisional schedule is rather grueling. They still have a game at home against the Chiefs and road games against the Rams, Seahawks, and Raiders.
Utter Disappointment: Jacksonville Jaguars: How can the Jaguars be an utter disappointment if they're the Jaguars? Well, this season was supposed to be the year Jacksonville took that next step and contend for the playoffs. Instead, they started the season 0-3. Blake Bortles has been sacked 12 times to start the season, a worrisome sign showing the offensive line might have some leaks. The Jags did have a good win defensively over the Colts on Sunday, sacking Andrew Luck six times in a 30-27 victory in London. Luckily for the Jaguars, the AFC South is very soft. So getting back into the thick of things in their division shouldn't be an issue.