NFL season again filled with surprises, disappointments
The 2015 NFL season has had plenty of flops such as Jimmy Graham's move to the Northwest, the ''lose-lose'' LeSean McCoy-Kiko Alonso trade and the Ndamukong Suh-Miami Dolphins marriage.
It's also had tons of surprises.
The Chiefs diversified their offense and got better when superstar Jamaal Charles went on injured reserve.
The Carolina Panthers rolled right along after star receiver Kelvin Benjamin tore an ACL in training camp, and the Carr-Cooper-Crabtree trio provided hope for long-suffering Raiders fans who might lose their team to L.A. again.
The trendy notion heading into the season was that Indianapolis was ready to overtake New England as the AFC's top team.
But getting older through free agency has never been a good recipe for a championship and the Colts took a dive this season when Andrew Luck learned one big hit too late that it's always a good idea to slide when scrambling.
Denver defenders Danny Trevathan and Vance Walker sandwiched him in Week 9 and Luck suffered a lacerated kidney and torn abdominal muscle that's sidelined him ever since.
The Colts are in danger of missing the playoffs like the Dallas Cowboys, who also had championship aspirations but couldn't overcome injuries to Dez Bryant and Tony Romo.
Nobody was more ravaged by injuries than the Baltimore Ravens, who lost Joe Flacco, Justin Forsett, Terrell Suggs, Steve Smith Sr. and Matt Elam.
Yet, Baltimore's backups managed to sweep the Pittsburgh Steelers, which could keep one of the hottest teams out of the playoffs.
The Seahawks had high hopes for Graham but he proved to be an ill fit before blowing out a knee. It didn't derail the Seahawks, however, thanks to Russell Wilson and Doug Baldwin, whose franchise-record 14 TD catches has helped Seattle overcome a sputtering start to earn a chance at a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance.
The Chiefs have won nine in a row after a 1-5 stumble and actually clinched a playoff spot before the Broncos did. Denver started 7-0.
Oddly, the Broncos have a shot at the No. 1 seed in the playoffs heading into Week 17 but could also slip to the fifth seed, necessitating a road game in the wild-card round.
McCoy, Alonso and Suh also found themselves out of their comfort zones with new teams and have had disappointing seasons.
The Packers were 6-0 when Denver's dominant defense held Aaron Rodgers to 77 yards in the worst game of his career. The loss started a 1-4 slide for the Packers. Arizona used the same blueprint last weekend to hand Rodgers another rout.
Rodgers did have his good fortune in Detroit in Week 13 when his untimed near-the-rafters heave beat the hard-luck Lions. Detroit has won five of seven after a 1-7 start, potentially saving coach Jim Caldwell's job.
The Titans firing Ken Whisenhunt after a 1-6 start was not a huge surprise for a guy who was 3-20 overall in Tennessee. Whisenhunt was part of the decision to draft Marcus Mariota at No. 2 overall in the spring and he was in the second year of a five-year contract.
Here are some other notable surprises and stumbles from another entertaining season:
-Jacksonville Jaguars. They're still bad at 5-10, but they have budding stars and a seemingly bright future.
Quarterback Blake Bortles set the franchise record for TD passes with 35. Fellow second-year pros Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns gave the team its first pair of 1,000-yard receivers since Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell in 2001.
Throw in 27-year-old tight end Julius Thomas, rookie running back T.J. Yeldon and shifty receivers Marqise Lee and Rashad Greene, and the Jaguars have amassed one of the best collections of young offensive talent in the league.
-Brandon Marshall. Both of them.
The Jets' wide receiver said this would be his last season and then went out and put together one of his best years ever, teaming with Eric Decker and Ryan Fitzpatrick to restore some luster to the Jets' offense.
The Broncos' middle linebacker by the same name returned from offseason foot surgery and had another great season. He's the No. 1 tackler on the No. 1 defense in the league, one that's ranked first against the pass and the run.
No team has had the Broncos' rare balance since the Philadelphia Eagles led the league in run defense and pass defense in 1991.
-Kirk Cousins – one bizarre kneel-down aside. Washington's QB led the Redskins to the NFC East title, validating coach Jay Gruden's bold move of choosing him over Robert Griffin III in the summer. After six last-place finishes in seven seasons, the Redskins went from worst to first and will host a playoff game in the wild-card round.
Gruden joined Mike Zimmer of the Vikings as former Bengals assistants in the postseason party as Marvin Lewis' coaching tree is starting to bear fruit.
-Miami's latest loss prompted the wife of cornerback Brent Grimes to blast quarterback Ryan Tannehill on Twitter, further souring a disappointing season.
Miko Grimes blasted Tannehill after Sunday's 18-12 loss to the Colts in a rant that was reminiscent of Gisele Bundchen's famous defense of her husband, Tom Brady, after a loss to the Giants in the Super Bowl.
''How many people does ryan tannehill have to get fired before you realize he's the problem,'' she wrote. ''Yall do realize no legitimate coach will come here if he's our qb, right? we're screwed as long as he's under center! just admit it!''
The rant is one more sign this season can't end soon enough for the Dolphins (5-10), who are assured of finishing last in the AFC East for the first time since 2007.
-Rex Ryan had a good defense in Buffalo but the Bills (7-8) failed to reach the playoffs.
Ryan can still exact some revenge on his former employer Sunday. The Jets (10-5), in their first season under coach Todd Bowles, are facing a win-and-in scenario against Buffalo and their former coach. Ryan was fired after failing to lead New York to the postseason in each of the last four of his six seasons.
Ryan is already 1-0 against his former team after a 22-17 victory over the Jets in a Thursday night game.
AP Pro Football Writers Teresa M. Walker and Howard Fendrich and AP Sports Writers Steven Wine, Dennis Waszak Jr. and Mark Long contributed.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL
- Aaron Rodgers
- Allen Hurns
- Allen Robinson
- Andrew Luck
- Baltimore Ravens
- Blake Bortles
- Brent Grimes
- Buffalo Bills
- Carolina Panthers
- Dallas Cowboys
- Danny Trevathan
- Denver Broncos
- Dez Bryant
- Doug Baldwin
- Eric Decker
- Green Bay Packers
- Indianapolis Colts
- Jacksonville Jaguars
- Jamaal Charles
- Jimmy Smith
- Joe Flacco
- Julius Thomas
- Justin Forsett
- Kansas City Chiefs
- Kelvin Benjamin
- Kiko Alonso
- Kirk Cousins
- LeSean McCoy
- Marcus Mariota
- Marqise Lee
- Matt Elam
- Miami Dolphins
- Mike Zimmer
- Ndamukong Suh
- New York Jets
- Philadelphia Eagles
- Rashad Greene
- Robert Griffin
- Russell Wilson
- Ryan Fitzpatrick
- Ryan Tannehill
- Seattle Seahawks
- Steve Smith Sr.
- T.J. Yeldon
- Tennessee Titans
- Terrell Suggs
- Tom Brady
- Tony Romo
- Vance Walker
- Washington Redskins