The Biggest Surprises (Good & Bad) of the 2019 NFL Season

Heading into the 2019 NFL season, everyone knew the Patriots were going to be very good and the Dolphins were going to be very bad.

Outscored 102-10 through two games, Miami wasn’t expected to be quite this bad, but it’s far from shocking to see the Fins near the bottom of almost every meaningful offensive and defensive category.

Not every team has performed according to preseason expectations. Through two weeks, there are two that stand out … for very different reasons.

Baltimore is an AFC Contender 

The league was sleeping on the Baltimore Ravens, despite the team winning the AFC North last year with a 10-6 record. The “gimmicky,” ground-centric offense that John Harbaugh was (literally) running with Lamar Jackson at QB was supposed to regress as opponents caught on to its vulnerabilities, vulnerabilities which were put on full display in Baltimore’s playoff loss to the Chargers last January.

The defense, which ranked second in the NFL in points against last year (287), was also supposed to get worse with the likes of CJ Mosley, Terrell Suggs, Eric Weddle, and Za’Darius Smith all out the door.

Oddsmakers were so down on the Ravens that they situated them a distant third in the preseason odds to win the AFC North, according to the odds tracker at sportsbettingdime.com. The Browns and Steelers were deemed co-favorites at +150, with the Ravens at +320.

Two games into the year, the Ravens are the only undefeated team in the North, and they’re also the only one with a positive point differential (+55).

Lamar Jackson no longer looks like the one-dimensional scrambler he was as a rookie. He’s completed 71.9% of his passes, is averaging nearly 300 yards per game, and has a 7-to-0 TD-to-INT ratio. His newest receivers, in particular rookie Marquise “Hollywood” Brown, look leagues more dangerous than anything he had to work with last year.

Meanwhile, the defense has surrendered just 27 points in two games, and new addition Earl Thomas is playing close to the All Pro-level he always showed (when healthy) in Seattle.

Of course, all of this comes with one huge caveat: Baltimore’s first two games came against Miami (59-10 win) and Arizona (23-17 win). There’s a real chance that Miami goes 0-16 this year. There’s an equally good chance Arizona picks right behind them in the 2020 draft.

The Ravens’ Week 3 matchup with reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes and the mighty Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium will tell us a lot more about how strong Baltimore actually is, especially on defense. 

Pittsburgh Is a Dumpster Fire

The team that is “surprising” in a negative way is the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh lost its first two games in concerning fashion, getting routed 33-3 in New England and then dropping a home date with the Seahawks (28-26) as four-point favorites.

The big news coming out of the Seattle game was the season-ending elbow injury to starting QB and two-time Super Bowl champion Ben Roethlisberger. Already in an 0-2 hole, Mike Tomlin will now hand the reins to second-year QB Mason Rudolph, who looked decent in relief in Week 2 (12/19, 112 yards, 2 TD, 1 INT), but is also attempting to fill the shoes of last season’s passing-yards leader.

There may be some hope that the Steelers could turn it around if they were playing well in certain areas of the game, but they rank 30th in DVOA after two weeks, only ahead of Cincinnati and Miami. They are 25th on offense (with six quarters from Big Ben) and 29th on defense.

This team is doing nothing well.

The Over/Under on wins for the Steelers would extremely low at this point, but for the schedule featuring some cupcake games. Of their 14 remaining games, they play the Bengals twice, the Dolphins, the Cardinals, and the Jets. Even with Rudolph at QB, the Steelers are likely to be favored in all five of those. That won’t be enough wins to make the playoffs, but it will keep them out of the depths of the NFL cellar.

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