There's more surprises than just Indy and AtlantaPosted: Thursday December 05, 2002 2:33 PM
Sports Illustrated's Peter King and Don banks went Head2Head over which team has had the most surprising turnaround in 2002. Users weighed in with their opinions, too:
As a diehard Colts fan I am surprised at the defense. But that surprise is tempered by who they've played lately and the belief I held that as bad as the D was last year, it had promise (young secondary and great potential at LB). But I have to say that I find Atlanta more surprising. Other than Brooking and Buchanan D and Vick, Dunn, and Duckett, who's on that team? I've never been impressed by Dunn, and I didn't expect Vick to arrive so quickly.
I don't think the Falcons or Colts are surprising. I expected a lot from Vick and Dunn in Atlanta, and Manning, Harrison and James in Indianapolis. The biggest turnaround for me are the Ravens. They aren't really in the playoff picture right now, but to be where they are with everyone they lost says a lot for Brian Billick and what he can do.
Looking at the NFL in 2002, I believe the Bears have had the biggest turnaround. I want to present the contrarian view. Since both Atlanta and Indianapolis had talent last year, these teams are not as big as a surprise as the Bears. Since I grew up in C-town, the Bears were my first love. You never forget your first love. Last year, the Bears went 13-3 and lost to the Eagles in the playoffs. Very tough game for me to watch, but I oted for Chicago (very quietly). I admit that they had a softer schedule and won a lot of close games, but I figured that they would be more competitive this year. Hopefully, players will get healthy and they can turn it around again in 2003!
I'd have to say the most surprising turnaround would be St. Louis (though, certainly not a "turnaround" that any team would like to take). In the span of 12 games, they've gone from offensive deity to frail mortal. Honestly, what bigger surprise can one look at in this topsy-turvy NFL season? If someone mentioned in July that the Rams would be 5-7, that Kurt Warner, through six starts, would be winless, or that this Warner, Bruce, and Faulk equipped team would lose to a Philadelphia team led by its third-string quarterback, there'd be white-coated men rushing in with a strait jacket. Injuries or no injuries, the Rams had an aura of invincibility about them that has been erased in the span of the six games led by the man who, until this year, had been considered inhuman.
Most surprising turnaround for the season? Why such a long measuring stick? I am a lifelong Colts fan who thought our defense stunk five weeks ago. I was in Washington for the game against the Redskins last month and watched a horrible offensive football team run up and down the field against what appeared to be the same lame Colts defense I have been crying over for years. The next day, I thought Tony Dungy was just sticking with the company line when he assured us that the Colts defense was on course and still improving. As a lifelong tortured Colts fan, I can tell you there is not a more surprising or enjoyable thing to do on Sunday than watch my team play a football game for 60 minutes where every play is exciting and well-executed on both sides of the ball. I love Peter King's MMQB, but nobody living in Virginia is surprised by Alanta's success. We are all either Hokies, who loved Vick in college, or Wahoos, who frowned in awe. Is it surprising that Alanta is better this year with Vick at quarterback? Not in Virginia.
The Falcons have definitely had the greatest and most surprising turnaround this year. Who would have guessed the Falcons would have a winning record, let alone a chance to go to the playoffs and maybe win the division? Vick has single-handedly allowed this team to compete with the best teams in the league. He is the league MVP!
I think easiest way to settle this argument is to look at the preseason predictions for 2002. Tony Dungy, being a defensive whiz, was expected to improve a Colts defense that finished near the bottom in the AFC. In fact, that's why Mr. Irsay hired him in the first place. Nearly everyone thought that if Dungy could improve the Colts' defense just a little the Colts could make the playoffs. On the other hand, look at the Falcons with an inexperienced second-year quarterback and not a lot of talent around him. Who would have thought they would be challenging for the division lead and the best record in the conference? Answer: No one. At most, the so-called experts predicted the Falcons just ahead of Carolina with maybe a 6-10 record. Therefore, there is no contest as to which team has had the most surprising turnaround. It's the Falcons, hands down.
It has to be the Broncos. Sometime back, they were the best team in the NFL. Now, they have a horrible defense that can't tackle, can't stop offenses from converting third downs, can't get any turnovers. You have an offense that can't convert third downs, that can't score in the red zone, that gives away turnovers at the most critical parts of the game. And, yes, a team that gives so many deadly penalities that completely finish their chances of winning. Lastly, the worst special teams in the entire world. What is surprising is that they still have a chance of making the playoffs.
Bravo! Finally, someone outside of the state of Indiana giving these boys the credit they deserve for their defensive turnaround. I was beginning to think that no one in the media watches the Colts except for Indy sportswriters.
If a player in Dungy's defensive system goes down, they still have a formidable defense. Yet if and when Vick gets plastered while he's trying to play running back instead of quarterback, the Falcons will turn into a .500 team at best. You don't see Gannon or Bledsoe running around looking like a chicken with its head cut off. They know their job, which is to throw the ball to their receivers. Unless Vick can change his ways, I don't see his career lasting more than five years, especially with Headhunter Sapp prowling the league. In other words, what the Colts have done as a team is much more impressive than the "Run, Forest, Run" Atlanta Vicks.
Absolutely correct on the Colts. The defense gets better each game (ask Philly and a healthy Donovan McNabb). When they realize that they can use more of the offense than James and Harrison, you'll see points to match defense. This team can be a serious Super Bowl contender.
As bad as I hate to say it, the Falcons. Being a Panthers season-ticket holder, I had to watch both shutouts! Being outscored 71-0 is not the way I like to spend my Sundays. Vick is awesome, but most everbody overlooks the awesome D that Wade Phillips puts on the field every week. Looking foward to next season to see what the Panthers can do to stop the maddess. I hope this year's Super Bowl champion comes from the most underated divison in football -- the NFC South!
It would have to be the Titans. After starting the season 1-4, and turning it around to 7-5 and possibly win the AFC South, no team has turned it around more. And did I mention that Steve McNair has three different injuries that haven't slowed him?
Colts and Falcons? What about those Bills? They might have been worse than Cincy last year, and now they are in contention. Trade for Drew was huge, but signing and drafting of O-line was genius. This is a team that is good today and will be even better each of the next few years.
I agree with both points of view, but I will have to weigh in on Indy's turn around. I don't want to get on a soap box, but I will, about Tony Dungy as a coach. The Bucs fired him because he couldn't get them over the hump. Right now, they are in no better shape than they were last year, winning with the same style. With the Falcons up next, they'll lose and be in danger of going to Green Bay for a playoff game. All Sapp jokes aside, the Bucs have never won in cold weather and won't start this year. Gruden is supposed to be an offensive genius. Isn't Oakland's offense better this year without him? Dungy has worked his magic and turned a team who didn't make the playoffs to the AFC's top seed. You tell me who has made the bigger turn around?
After being slammed 44-7, 30-3 and 28-3 in three consecutive games early this season, who could have ever thought the Jets would be 6-6 and back in the thick of the AFC playoff race? First-year starter Chad Pennington has come in and revitalized a struggling Jets offense and is one of the NFL's top rated passers. The Jets' defense, porous in its first five games, has turned things around, allowing just 15 points per game over their last seven. While the playoffs may be a reach unless they manage to win out against a tough schedule (Denver, Chicago, New England and Green Bay), the revival of the team gives Jets fans a reason for hope in the future.
If you believe that an offense lives and dies by the offensive line, then it would be hard to deny the Chargers as this year's surprise team. John Butler scored a major coup by getting Hudson Houck to coach their line, which features rookies at guard and center; they're playing like 10-year vets. And overall, Marty Schottenheimer has this team focused and loving the game again. The 1-15 season two years ago seems like a distant memory.