With one week of regular season play remaining, here is a a look back at the 10 most shocking things that have happened during the 2015 NFL season up to this point:
1. Packers offense struggles
While Green Bay lost Pro Bowl receiver Jordy Nelson during the preseason, no one predicted an offense led by two-time MVP Aaron Rodgers to struggle as mightily as the Packers have in 2015. Through 15 games, Green Bay ranks 24th in total yards, 26th in passing yards, 29th in yards per play and 28th in yards per attempt.
Rodgers has thrown 30 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, but he’s also in the process of setting new career lows in completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating. The Packers will participate in the postseason, but a deep run appears unlikely without a huge and sudden turnaround from Green Bay’s once dominant offense.
2. Chiefs rebound to make postseason
Most counted out the Chiefs after a 1-5 start, especially after running back Jamaal Charles was lost to a season-ending knee injury in early October. Kansas City wrote a different script. The Chiefs have won nine straight games to get to 10-5, a record that has already clinched a playoff berth in the AFC.
Kansas City has rebounded with a balanced, protective offense and a harassing defense, which is clearly seen in the Chiefs’ plus-17 turnover margin during the winning streak. A team with just one win entering Week 7 could actually clinch the AFC West with an 11th victory and a Denver Broncos’ loss on Sunday.
3. Panthers start 14-0
Many believed the Panthers would be good in 2015, but few were convinced they’d be this good. Carolina fired off 14 straight wins to start the season, including victories over playoff teams such as the Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and Washington Redskins.
With 41 touchdowns and over 4,000 total yards, quarterback Cam Newton has established himself as the clear front runner to win the NFL’s MVP, while the Panthers defense ranks in the top 10 for points, yards and takeaways. The quest for a perfect season ended last Sunday, but a chance at 15-1—a record achieved by only five teams before 2015—is still available.
4. Peyton Manning’s slide
The sharp regression of a 39-year-old quarterback isn’t exactly shocking, especially after Manning played so poorly down the stretch last season. But still, this is Peyton Freakin’ Manning we’re talking about here. Few predicted him to fall completely off the map like he has in 2015.
With one game remaining, Manning ranks last in the NFL (among 35 quarterbacks) in passer rating, and he’s thrown just nine touchdowns. His 17 interceptions are the most in the league, despite him missing six games. The Broncos have a better chance of winning a Super Bowl with Brock Osweiler under center, which is a sad commentary for what could be Manning’s last professional season.
5. Ravens lose double-digit games
Baltimore was a sexy Super Bowl pick entering the 2015 season. The Ravens will exit the year with at least 10 losses and a potential top-5 pick in the 2016 NFL draft. The season was all but lost after a 1-6 start, which saw Baltimore lose all six games by eight points or less. The team’s bad luck never turned around, and the final dagger was delivered when quarterback Joe Flacco tore his ACL during a game-winning drive against the St. Louis Rams in Week 11.
A clean sweep of the rival Pittsburgh Steelers represents a lone bright spot, especially after last Sunday’s win made it infinitely more difficult for the Steelers to make the postseason. But in the end, the Ravens will still have 10 or more losses for just the fifth time in the team’s history.
6. Kirk Cousins leads Washington to the postseason
The Redskins were a hot mess in 2014 and into this past offseason, mostly due to the drama surrounding the present and future of quarterback Robert Griffin III. Head coach Jay Gruden took a stand and turned over the keys to backup Kirk Cousins, who has made good on his opportunity.
The Redskins are 8-7 and champions of the NFC East, while Cousins has completed almost 70 percent of his passes with 26 touchdowns and just 11 interceptions. He has a passer rating of over 100.0 in six of his last seven games, a stretch in which Washington possesses a 5-2 record. With a hot quarterback under the center, the Redskins might be capable of making some real noise in the NFC playoffs.
7. Offseason backfires on Chip Kelly
Finally handed control of personnel decisions in Philadelphia, Kelly retooled his roster this past offseason—letting several key pieces go and bringing in a host of new faces. The moves have mostly gone south for the Eagles in 2015.
Signed for big money to replace LeSean McCoy, DeMarco Murray has just 633 rushing yards and a 3.5-yard average through 15 games. Quarterback Sam Bradford has been mediocre, while departed receivers Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson are having big seasons elsewhere. The acquisition of linebacker Kiko Alonso and cornerback Byron Maxwell have been mostly busts. Add it all up, and the Eagles are just 6-9 and out of the postseason hunt entering Week 17. The seat is getting hot for Kelly.
8. Cowboys start four different QBs
The fragile collarbone of Tony Romo killed the Cowboys once promising season. After 12 wins in 2014, Dallas is now on the verge of losing 12 games this season. The quarterback position has been a major reason why, as the Cowboys have tried and failed with three different backups behind Romo. Brandon Weeden made three starts but failed to keep Dallas competitive on offense, Matt Cassel started seven games but produced a passer rating of just 70.3, and Kellen Moore was mostly a disaster in his one and only start last Sunday.
Overall, the Cowboys are 3-1 in games started by Romo and 1-10 with backups under center. Who knows where Dallas would be had Romo avoided two different fractured collarbones.
9. Allen Robinson, Doug Baldwin lead NFL in TDs
Just as everyone expected. In a league with so many touchdown producers, Robinson and Baldwin enter Week 17 with the most scores in football. Robinson became just the third player age 22 or younger to catch 14 touchdowns in a single season, while Baldwin tied Jerry Rice’s record four touchdown receptions over a four-game span (10, Weeks 12-15). Amazingly, both players were left off the initial Pro Bowl rosters.
This is also a good excuse to mention Cardinals rookie David Johnson, who has 12 total touchdowns despite fewer than 150 touches from scrimmage. He’s scored eight times on runs, six times on catches and once on a kickoff return. Johnson is one of the game’s emerging stars.
10. Eric Berry beats cancer, makes Pro Bowl
Beyond any shadow of a doubt, the best story of the 2015 season is and always will be Eric Berry. Diagnosed with Hodgkins’ lymphoma late last year, Berry beat the wicked disease, returned to the football field and then put together one of the most inspirational seasons in recent NFL history.
He has started 14 games, tallying 61 tackles, 10 passes defensed and two interceptions. Berry’s been so good in his return that the NFL is sending him to the Pro Bowl. From chemotherapy to Hawaii, all in the span of one year. Rock on, Eric Berry. Rock on.