Big surprises halfway through the NFL regular season

With half of the NFL season now complete, here are three of the biggest surprises that have taken place thus far:

1. Brett Favre and the Vikings implode.

Last season, Brett Favre and the Vikings were a perfect match. With Favre’s best season of his career in the books and the Vikings just a few plays away from reaching the Super Bowl, the team went to great lengths to convince Favre to return for one more season. Favre, rather than listening to his ailing ankle and shoulder, was tempted by the possibility of adding another Super Bowl ring.

The expectation that the Vikings would once again be a powerful force in 2010 was contingent on Favre regaining his exceptional form from the prior season. Through nine games, Favre has been abysmal and the result is that the Vikings’ Super Bowl hopes have all but vanished with a record of just 3-6. The blame ultimately falls on Favre, who looks nothing like the quarterback that almost took the Vikings to the promised land just a year ago.

Head coach Brad Childress feels the pressure that the lofty pre-season expectations have placed on the team. With his job on the line, Childress has been forced to scramble to find solutions to help Favre. The failed Randy Moss trade left the team in turmoil with many calling for the coach’s head. Nothing has worked and Favre has continued to struggle, crushing the Vikings’ playoffs hopes in the process.

With the losses and interceptions piling up, it’s becoming clear that he should have spent this fall mowing his lawn and caring for his grandson. Don’t let his weekly paycheque of over $1 million or his star status fool you; Brett Favre is no longer a capable NFL quarterback and the Vikings are paying the price for not anticipating this drastic decline.

2. Michael Vick is back.

For the last week, Michael Vick has been the most widely discussed topic among NFL fans. This is with good reason, as he put forth one of the greatest single game performances from a quarterback of all time last Monday night. Vick had a total of six touchdowns and passed for over 300 yards. Vick’s return to glory has been astonishing, especially considering few people expected him to ever hold the starting job this season.

Only a handful of teams were considering signing him last off-season before the Eagles decided to exercise his option. Vick was seen as an intriguing backup but he was visibly slower last season and hopes that the electrifying player he once was would ever return had diminished heading into this season. The Eagles planned to move on from the Donovan McNabb era with Kevin Kolb, a player the coaching staff had spent three seasons grooming to be McNabb’s successor.

That plan quickly changed when Kolb was injured in the Eagles’ first game and Vick was forced into action. Vick’s playing time has also been limited due to a rib injury but he has played in six games this season. In that limited time, Vick has managed to shock the football world, throwing for 11 touchdowns with no interceptions.

Vick is on pace to shatter his career highs for all of the major passing statistics. The old Michael Vick is back, and he is better than ever. His performance this season has sparked discussion of a possible Most Valuable Player award for him later this year. Not bad for a guy that was a backup quarterback heading into the season.

3.  Parity reigns supreme.

NFL fans have used the phrase “there’s always next year” far less frequently this season. Usually at the midway point in the season there are already many teams with no chance of making the playoffs. This season, 17 teams are within two games of the best record in the league.

Teams like the Buccaneers and Rams have gone from perennial punch lines to legitimate contenders this season. There is no obvious explanation for this sudden change. This season has simply been one in which the gap between the league’s best and worst teams seems to be shrinking. Take, for example, the AFC West division. In recent years the Chargers have consistently won the division with little resistance, due in large part to the extremely weak play of the Chiefs and Raiders. This year, the Chiefs and Raiders both sit at the top of the division with records of 5-4 with the Chargers behind at 4-5.

With so many playoff spots still up for grabs, the surprises likely won’t end at the halfway point. The unpredictable nature of this season has made the NFL even more fun to follow.

With so many surprises this year, the most powerful teams seem to be beatable this season. New Orleans is having a less-than-stellar first half to their season losing to the Arizona Cardinals, the Cleveland Browns, and their division rival, the Atlanta Falcons. This is an even bigger surprise when looking at how narrow a margin they defeated Carolina and San Francisco. New Orleans have yet to find their stride and last season’s form when they won the Super Bowl—but expect them to find it soon.

Other big names, such as the New England Patriots and Indianapolis Colts, have also lost games in which they have been heavy favourites. The Colts began the season 0-1 which had not occurred in many years with Peyton Manning at the helm. Tom Brady also got off to a slow start as they lost their second game to a division rival in the New York Jets.

This seems to be a continuing trend this season and with upsets happening every Sunday, the NFL has become more interesting and, without a doubt, unpredictable.

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