Halfway through the NFL season and some things are exactly as they’re supposed to be. The Broncos and Patriots are in first place. The 49ers and Seahawks are locked in a battle in the NFC West. Peyton Manning, Adrian Peterson and Calvin Johnson are still among the best at their positions.
Yes, there are some surprises – like the still undefeated Kansas City Chiefs – but there are also some major disappointments. There are plenty of players and teams that were supposed to be at the top of their positions and divisions, but instead suffered an unexpected fall.
At just about the halfway point of the NFL season, here’s a look at 10 of the biggest disappointments. And none of these would’ve been easy for anyone to project back before the season began:
Atlanta Falcons – A year ago they came within inches of reaching the Super Bowl and they had just about everybody coming back. They even lured Hall of Fame-bound tight end Tony Gonzalez out of his very brief retirement for one last Super Bowl run. But that all collapsed in an injury-plagued first half that saw them lose receiver Julio Jones and deal with health issues with receiver Roddy White and running back Steven Jackson. Their playoff chase just about over and the only thing keeping them out of last is the 0-8 Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Matt Schaub – The Houston Texans have been a disappointment for years, never quite fulfilling their potential. But despite his detractors, their quarterback had been a relatively consistent performer when healthy. But this year, coming off a 4,000-yard season in which he had a 22-12 touchdown-to-interception ratio, he's struggled with eight touchdowns and nine interceptions. The poor performance led him to lose his job after he suffered a leg injury. And with the Texans season over and his replacement, Case Keenum, showing promise, he might not get it back.
Mike Wallace – The Dolphins raised a few eyebrows in the offseason when they signed Wallace to a five-year, $60 million contract, even though he was coming off a 64-catch, 836-yard season in Pittsburgh. But his speed and potential and the way he was expected to transform the Miami offense seemed to justify it. Now? He’s got 36 catches for 480 yards and one lousy touchdown for an offense that ranks 28th in the NFL. That does not seem at all like money well spent.
New York Giants – The season began with GM Jerry Reese putting everyone “on notice” and putting up a Super Bowl clock in the locker room. The clock, though, would’ve worked better as a countdown to their first win. It took until Week 7 and an 0-6 start stunned the Giants and would’ve doomed them completely if they didn’t play in the worst division in football. But even now, just 2.5 games back in the NFC East, they’ll need a miracle to still have a chance in December.
Joe Philbin – Aside from the fact that he was supposed to be an offensive whiz that would turn Ryan Tannehill into a star (and figure out how to use Wallace), the recent bullying scandal shows him to be a man not in control of his own locker room. Even if you dismiss allegations that he – or his staff – ordered Richie Incognito to “toughen up” the since departed Jonathan Martin, how can something get as far and as ugly as it did under his watch? He’ll likely soon pay for this with his own job.
Chip Kelly’s offense – Remember when Kelly’s offense was going to shock the NFL and transform the way teams play in the future. Well, that lasted until the second half of Week 1. They do put up a lot of yards (they rank fourth in the NFL) and they did just rip through the Oakland Raiders in a 49-20 victory. But turnovers and inconsistent quarterback play has Kelly’s offense looking slow and weak at times. Eventually his offense might be scary, especially when he finds a quarterback. But it’s not there yet.
Julius Peppers – In four of the last five seasons, Peppers had double-digit sacks and the one year he didn’t he still had eight. He may not have been one of the most feared defenders in football anymore, but he was still a premiere pass rusher. Now? Not so much. He’s got just two sacks and after restructuring his contract a year ago he’s looking like a cap casualty next year when he’ll be an old 34.
Washington Redskins – The NFC East stinks and is there for the taking, which should really bother the defending division champs. As Robert Griffin III struggled to find his early form, and the once-strong defense completely collapsed, the Redskins are off to a 3-6 start. With the Cowboys ahead of them at 5-4 their season is hardly over. But this is a division they probably should’ve been running away with by now.
Leslie Frazier/Vikings – The Vikings were a playoff team a year ago and still have Adrian Peterson, the best running back in football, and that alone should be good enough for them to be better than 2-7. Yeah, they have a mess at quarterback where Christian Ponder has never been the answer, but Frazier can take the blame for some of that lack of development. It’s his switch to Josh Freeman and handling of that situation that has raised the most eyebrows, though, especially his decision to let Freeman throw 53 times in a loss to the Giants just days after he was signed, rather than put the game in the capable Peterson’s hands.
Greg Schiano – He was going to be the man who saved the Bucs and after a 7-9 season last year it looked like the program was headed in the right direction. But the collapse to 0-8 has been overshadowed by the controversies that have gone on under his watch, from the way his team handled their MRSA health scare to the way he handled Freeman before he was released. Somehow Schiano managed to enable, alienate and eventually lose his starting quarterback. It seems only a matter of time before he loses the entire team.
By Ralph Vacchiano, @RVacchianoNYDN