Alright, so technically it is not "halfway through the NFL season" for all teams, And unless byes are done away with there never will be a week when all teams have played half their season at the same time. In fact, as of the end of tonight's action, 22 teams will have played seven games and only ten will have played eight.
Even so, as the old saying was, it is close enough for government work. With that being said, this week I will take a look at what I consider the five most surprising teams as the season gets ready to head into its second half.
As always, I do welcome your input, and if you disagree with any of my choices, I welcome your own choices and, if you would like, your reasons for those choices.
#5 -- Seattle Seahawks (4-3)
The Seahawks are coming off of a 5-11 season in 2009, and with one game left until their halfway point, are only one victory shy of their total from last year.
After a decisive victory over the 49ers at home in their first game, Seattle lost the following week at Denver. A victory at home against San Diego came next, but that was followed up with a loss at St.Louis.
After the Seahawks' bye, consecutive victories followed at Chicago and at home against Arizona before a defeat yesterday in Oakland.
The Seawhawks are undefeated at home and currently lead the NFC West over one of my other surprise teams -- the St.Louis Rams.
Can Seattle be a factor for a playoff berth or even a division title? Yes, apparently they can, especially in a watered-down division. One sign of worry though would be the fact that Seattle has been outscored by 17 points on the season. Another worrisome sign is that they were demolished by Oakland yesterday. Even so, not bad at all for a team that lost more than twice as many games as they won last year; not bad for a team that finished with the same record as the Browns.
#4 -- Oakland Raiders (4-4)
The Raiders finished 2009 with a 5-11 record, the same as Seattle, and at this stage have as many victories as the Seahawks, but are -- in my mind -- a bit more of a surprise. After all, the Seahawks have had a proven quarterback, and the Raiders, to this point, have not, although Jason Campbell, if he continues to perform as he has the past couple of weeks, might enter Hasselbeck territory quickly.
The Raiders began the season getting soundly beaten at Tennessee, then bounced back for a narrow win over St,Louis. Two very close losses followed, a one-point defeat at Arizona and then a seven-point loss at home against Houston.
Then the Raiders picked up a signature win, taking down the Chargers, before going in reverse and giving San Francisco its first win of the year in a Battle of the Bay Area that dropped Oakland to 2-4.
But the past two weeks, the Raiders have exploded. First they went into Denver and beat the Broncos by 45 points, and then yesterday shellacked Seattle at home by 30. In the last two games, Oakland has outscored their opponents 92-17.
I can see the Raiders using the momentum they have built and being in the AFC West race the rest of the way. The way the past couple of weeks have gone, they certainly can be considered a surprise, even after a slow start. A game and a half behind Kansas City and in second place, Oakland is right there going into the second half of their season.
#3 -- Kansas City Chiefs (5-2)
The Kansas City Chiefs have already exceeded their four-win victory total from last year, and the Chiefs don't look to be a flash in the pan.
The Chiefs made a statement in their first game with a win at home against San Diego, and followed that up, as we all know, with a victory over the Browns.
Kansas City then beat the 49ers before a two-game losing streak that could have sent their season spiraling -- especially coming directly following their bye week. What was key in the losses though were that the games were close -- first on the road in Indianapolis, and then at Houston. A team learning how to win can also learn a lot by losing close games and not imploding with some adversity.
After falling to 3-2. Kansas City has put a little two-game streak together with a victory over Jacksonville at home and then, yesterday, with a tense overtime win over Buffalo in Kansas City.
The Chiefs lead Oakland by a game and a half in the AFC West. San Diego is showing signs of coming to like, while Denver looks as if they have thrown in the towel on 2010. Kan Kansas City do a worst-to-first in their division?
Oh yes they can.
#2 -- Tampa Bay Buccaneers (5-2)
Tampa Bay has used the momentum gained in their season-opening victory over the Browns to jump out to a 5-2 start which gives the Bucs -- already -- two more wins than they had all of last year.
After the Browns' game, Tampa Bay won in Carolina before losing at home to the Steelers in their last game before their bye.
After the week off, the Bucs won narrowly in Cincinnati before being thrashed at home by New Orleans, dropping to 3-2.
Since that loss, Tampa Bay has won back-to-back close games, first at home against St.Louis and then on the road in Carolina, and as of this moment, the Buccaneers are tied with Atlanta atop the NFC South, a half-game ahead of New Orleans.
Would I be surprised if they can maintain this pace? Yes I would be surprised, especially in the teeth of that duo of the Saints and the Falcons in the same division. But this column is about surprise teams to date in 2010, and I would say that a three-win team from last year already having five wins in seven games a major surprise.
#1 -- St.Louis Rams (4-4)
Here is a team that is coming off of a 1-15 record in 2009, and with a rookie quarterback. Put those two elements together and you have the recipe for another long, long season.
Yet here the Rams are, halfway through, at .500, and rookie QB Sam Bradford is showing poise and resiliency, which of course add to his confidence, which in turn lead to more and more impressive performances.
The season began for the Rams with a familiar refrain -- losing. A four-point loss at home to the "old" St.Louis team -- the Arizona Cardinals -- was followed by a two-point loss in Oakland and the Rams were exactly where they were "supposed" to be at 0-2.
But then they surprised Washington at home, and followed that up with a home win over Seattle to reach the break-even point.
Then the Rams were obliterated in Detroit for the Lions' first win and the feeling was "Ah, here we go". But St.Louis bounced right back the next week and shocked San Diego at home.
A one-point loss followed in Tampa Bay before the Rams took down the Panthers in Carolina yesterday to once again reach the break-even point.
Besides the blow-out loss in Detroit, St.Louis, in their other three losses, has been outscored by a mere seven point total. With a little luck, this one-win team in 2009 could be 7-1 right now.
A half-game behind Seattle going into their bye week, the Rams must feel in some pretty heady territory right now, with a chance to win a division a year removed from 15 losses. Can they sustain what they have started?
We will see.
And there you have it, five teams who, like the Browns, struggled mightily last year and yet are right in the thick of things this year. All of them might miss the post-season. There is a long way to go, and as Denver showed last year, a strong start guarantees nothing. You must finish what you start. But even so, such "success stories" as these five teams should give hope to Cleveland, especially with the Browns seemingly headed in the right direction.
Next week I will take a look at the five most disappointing teams in the first half.
The Browns will not be one of the five.