No two years the same in NFL

Barring injury, you can always count on Tom Brady or Peyton Manning to be at the top of the passing statistics, but the same cannot be said for NFL as a whole, as almost no team is the same every year.

The Miami Dolphins won the AFC East last year despite only winning one game in 2007. The Cleveland Browns finished 10-6 in 2007 but are perhaps one of the worst teams in football this season. This year, the standings show the league is full of surprises and disappointments.

Summer was a complete mess for the Denver Broncos. They fired long-time Head Coach Mike Shanahan and replaced him with Josh McDaniels. McDaniels made it clear he wanted his quarterback to be Matt Cassel, which angered then-quarterback Jay Cutler and the Pro Bowl quarterback demanded a trade. Chicago traded Cutler for two first-round draft picks and a third-round selection. Denver fans were irate and wanted McDaniels fired before his coaching career even started.

Fans are now singing the praises of McDaniels, as he has started the season 4-0. Denver has been on fire, defeating their opponents by a combined score of 67-19. The schedule gets significantly tougher, but for the time being, the Broncos are one of five undefeated teams.

The Cincinnati Bengals are another surprise team this year. They started off last year 0-8 and finished the season 4-11-1. People in Cincinnati thought it was time for Head Coach Marvin Lewis to be fired and they were upset at the team’s undisciplined play on the field and legal troubles off of it. Fans scoffed at star receiver Chad Ochocinco when he predicted a playoff appearance earlier this summer and wrote the team off completely.

Perhaps Ochocinco can predict the future. The Bengals are sitting at 3-1 and are one fluke play away from being undefeated. They were losing 20-9 against the Pittsburgh Steelers in the fourth quarter, but came back to shock the defending champs 23-20 in Week 3. They will face a tough test this week when they head to Baltimore to face the Ravens.

Predicting the Tennessee Titans to go 4-0 to start the season was easy, but they have yet to win a game. The Titans started off 10-0 last year and finished with a 13-3 record. They had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs, but the Ravens defeated them in the AFC Divisional Round. Expectations were fittingly high for the Titans entering this season.

The team must not have heard those expectations, though, as they are in the basement of the AFC. Their defense has given up an average of over 30 points in the past three games. Things are not much better on the offensive side of the ball. The team’s running game has been slid behind Chris Johnson, but the passing game leaves much to be desired. Kerry Collins’ seven interceptions have made many fans wonder if it is time for Vince Young to come back in and take control of the offense. The season seemed to hit rock bottom with last week’s 37-17 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, one of the league’s worst teams.

The Carolina Panthers entered this year fresh off an NFC South title. They had the second best record in the NFC in 2008, but fell to the streaking Arizona Cardinals in the second round of the playoffs. They were expected to be a Super Bowl contender this year.

After four weeks, the Panthers are winless with an 0-3 record. Jake Delhomme’s inconsistent play has been the main reason for Carolina’s struggles. It’s tough to win games when your quarterback is leading the league in interceptions. Running back DeAngelo Williams ranks behind Cleveland’s Jerome Harrison in rushing, in part because the passing game has not been able to get going.

The season is, of course, still very young, though. In the end, it is how a team finishes that is more important. There is a reason the season is 16 games long, and we are only one-fourth of the way through it.

You can reach this writer at sports@theeagleonline.com.

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