By: Brady Gardner
In any sport, fans can usually predict the results for certain teams, season by season. I realize this is a major generalization, but hear me out: we knew the Red Sox and Yankees would lead the AL East this season. We knew the Golden State Warriors would get to the NBA Finals again last June. We knew Alabama would challenge for another College Football Championship in 2017.
There are certain trends in sports that seem to never change, and for a long time, it looked like the NFL was following a similar path. Teams like the Patriots, Steelers, Packers and Saints have been notorious winners for years, to the point where it seemed silly not to include at least one of them in the conversation for a Super Bowl appearance.
But hold on to your hats, football fans. Because everything is changing.
Through three weeks, a new leader has emerged in more than half of the divisions across the NFL, with the team who finished first in 2017 now looking up at an unexpected frontrunner. In fact, the only two teams who haves maintained their status alone atop their respective divisions are the Los Angeles Rams and Kansas City Chiefs, both of whom are undefeated.
In the NFC, the Alex Smith’s Washington Redskins are giving the Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles a run for their money, with both teams holding record of 2-1. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers with journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm have climbed to the top of a potent NFC South, displacing recent Super Bowl participants in the Atlanta Falcons and Carolina Panthers, while sitting level at 2-1 with the New Orleans Saints.
Perhaps one of the most significant changes has come in the NFC North, where the Chicago Bears have taken control over two solid teams in the Green Bay Packers and Detroit Lions, as well as a club many fans had picked as their Super Bowl favorites, the Minnesota Vikings. Through the impressive efforts of rookie head coach Matt Nagy, second-year quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and recently acquired linebacker Khalil Mack, the Bears are 2-1 on the young season.
In the AFC, the 2-1 Jacksonville Jaguars are currently tied for first in the AFC South with the new-look Tennessee Titans under first-year head coach Mike Vrabel. Meanwhile, Bill O’Brien’s highly-projected Houston Texans, with their explosive offense and star-studded defense, are off to a disappointing 0-3 start.
The Cincinatti Bengals and Baltimore Ravens are level atop the AFC North at 2-1, with the Browns (yes, the Browns) close behind at 1-1-1, currently even in record with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Undoubtedly, the most notable power shift through three weeks has come in the AFC East. Returning from last year’s season-ending knee injury, quarterback Ryan Tannehill has his Miami Dolphins undefeated with a start that has surely surprised most fans across the league.
They have overthrown the New England Patriots, whose troubles deserve an article on their own, and look to extend their lead in the division against New England in Week 4. Coming off back-to-back losses against the Jaguars and Lions, the Patriots find themselves in an unusual spot in the standings, tied with the Buffalo Bills and New York Jets at 1-2.
While we all know that it’s about how you finish, not how you start, it’s safe to say that the NFL standings have experienced an unprecedented amount of changes in division leaders between the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018.
With how this season is going, there’s no way to predict how things will go the rest of the way.
But if this shake-up continues, we’re in for a wild ride.