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The NFL Season Arrives With Many Surprises
No teams in midseason form as of yet
The ideal situation for every NFL fan base, would be to get to see their favorite team take the field early in the season in midseason form. For the New Orleans Saints, that midseason form has yet to make any appearance at all for their talented defense, as they are currently without a win through two games of the season, even though their offense has averaged 29 points per game so far. On the other end of the spectrum, the Buffalo Bills started the season with an overtime win at Chicago, and followed it up with a dominating win at home over the Dolphins. The Browns have played competitive football in the first two games without playing great defense, as they sit at 1-1 through two weeks of play. Some of the top defenses have struggled early with the Patriots being unable to stop the Dolphins running game, and the Broncos surviving a late scare against the Colts. While team identities have yet to be established, after two weeks of play, some teams have established a somewhat surprising identity when compared to preseason expectations.
The Buffalo Bills at 2-0
After an up and down campaign as a rookie starting quarterback in the NFL last year, EJ Manuel has been able to consistently fill his role of being a game manager through two weeks of the 2014 season. With a strong defensive front, the Bills have been able to disrupt opposing offenses enough to keep their team in ballgames early in the season. The Bills have shown the toughness on both sides of the ball, to dominate the line of scrimmage. This has led to a consistent running game early in the season that has opened up play action passes for EJ Manuel and his big play threats on the perimeter. With CJ Spiller carrying most of the load in the running game for the Bills, rookie wide receiver Sammy Watkins was able to emerge in week two as the big play threat most expected him to be. Anchored up front defensively by Kyle and Mario Williams along the defensive line, the Bills have been getting consistent pressure on opposing passers this season. The Bills have enough athleticism from their playmakers in the secondary, that they will be able to pile up the takeaways when their defense gets pressure like they have been able to do in the first two weeks of the season. While the Bills may lose their early advantage as other teams round into midseason form, their early performance has given them something to build on in the coming weeks.
The New Orleans Saints at 0-2
The Saints are a great example of a team that has not been able to adjust quick enough to how defense has to be played at a successful level in the NFL with the change in the way rules are enforced. In week one the Saints faced some big play threats on the perimeter for the Falcons, but their week two matchup against the Browns figured to be a game where their defense would emerge and meet some of the early expectations. Drew Brees has yet to hit his stride that has become typical for him when he is in midseason form, which has contributed some to the Saints struggles in the first two games of the season. Against a stout Browns defense, Brees was able to give his team the lead late by going to his favorite target in Jimmy Graham, but the Saints defense was not able to stop the Browns offense in crunch time. Jimmy Graham's consistent play is what Saints fans have to lean on right now as the Saints try to find their identity this season. The Saints may have fallen behind the expectations early this season, but with one of the most talented rosters in the NFL, it would still be very surprising to see their struggles continue in the coming weeks.
The defenses for the Patriots and Broncos
After failing to meet expectations in the first week of the season, the defensive units for both the Patriots and Broncos played better in week two. Both teams entered the 2014 season expecting to have top 5 defenses in the NFL, but the Patriots were beaten in the trenches by the Dolphins in week one to lose that ballgame. The Broncos defense has had to come up with huge fourth down stops each of the past two weeks in order to hold 7 point late game leads on their way to a 2-0 start to the season. For the Broncos in both games, they were fighting to hold the lead late after previously having a double digit lead at some point in the fourth quarter. Overall the Broncos worst defensive performance was against a very good offensive team, and the Patriots were able to bounce back from their week one disappointment, but these struggles show that even the best defenses are not immune to some early season struggles. This gives hope to Browns and Buccaneers fans who may have been disappointed by their team's early season defensive performances. As defenses round into midseason form, the team tackling should be better along with the adjustments made in the secondary to cover receivers without flags flying for illegal contact.
The first two weeks of the NFL season have shown that it is very hard to predict what teams will do before they have found their midseason form. The coming weeks of the season after the early bye weeks for teams, is where the fans will start to see some of the best football from the teams that are going to be good this season. While an 0-2 hole is tough for a team to dig out of, and to end up in the playoffs, a team with top talent is not done even after an 0-2 start to the season. For the Buffalo Bills, their fans remember recent seasons where the Bills were off to a strong start but still found a way to finish the season with a 7-9 record. This year's Bills team has a completely different identity than those recent Bills teams though, with young impact talent leading the strong start. The Bills appear to have strengths in the key areas that are most important for ultimate success in the NFL. With these surprising storylines in place already this NFL season, the fans could be witnessing a changing of the guard throughout the various divisions in the NFL.