The Arizona Cardinals spent the summer locked in a quarterback controversy, which is usually a death knell for NFL teams. When it was over, they settled on a player who played collegiate ball at Fordham. And then he got hurt.
So, of course, they are one of only three 3-0 teams left in the NFL, right? Makes perfect sense.
It’s hard to believe anybody outside the Cardinals offices even imagined such a hot start was possible – especially since their first three games included a trip to New England and a home game against the supposedly dangerous Philadelphia Eagles. But after they hammered Philly 27-6 on Sunday, the NFL and its fans have no choice but to take notice. The Cardinals are the biggest surprise in the NFL, and they have everyone wondering if they’re for real.
We’ll all find that out soon enough, just like we’ll find out if any of the other surprises have staying power through the next 14 weeks. And there have been plenty of surprises in this wacky opening to the season. Here are the biggest five:
1. The 3-0 Arizona CardinalsAfter barely beating the Seattle Seahawks in their opener they shocked everyone with a win at New England and that thumping on Philly. Kevin Kolb, filling in for the injured John Skelton, has been everything the Cardinals thought he’d be when they acquired him from Philadelphia. And that’s really the key, because everyone knew he had weapons in receiver Larry Fitzgerald and a diverse rushing attack with Ryan Williams and Beanie Wells.
The real surprise? Their young defense has grown up and they play a hard-hitting, stingy style, much like the San Francisco 49ers did when they shocked everyone last season. Through three games they are ranked seventh in the NFL and are giving up a tiny 13.3 points per game.
2. Vikings QB Christian PonderSeriously, if you were going to bet on one quarterback from last year’s rookie class to be ranked fifth in the NFL through the first three games, how many would you have guessed before you got to Ponder? His 104.9 rating has him ahead of the likes of Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.
OK, sure it’s only three games and his rating is largely on the strength of his no interceptions. But he’s still been an impressive 68 of 97 (70.1 percent) for 713 yards and four touchdowns. The Vikings are also a somewhat surprising 2-1.
3. The 0-3 New Orleans Saints Maybe because of Bounty-Gate this shouldn’t have been such a surprise, but for all the Saints lost they still had a dangerous offense and a Top 5 quarterback in Drew Brees. But Brees has been uncharacteristically inaccurate this season, completing just 54.7 percent of his passes and throwing five interceptions to go with his seven touchdowns. Add in a terrible defense and the Saints are a bigger mess than anyone could have imagined.
4. Titans RB Chris Johnson Last year was a terrible one for Chris Johnson, and he still managed to top 1,000 rushing yards and catch 57 passes. It made it look like just a blip on his radar and that he’d be primed for a bounce back year. Instead, he smacked into rock bottom, rushing 33 times for 45 yards in the first three games. That’s not a misprint, it’s actually 1.4 yards per carry. He has no touchdowns either. That makes him the biggest fantasy football bust on the planet and one of the biggest busts of any kind in the entire league. Even if someone thought Johnson was on the downslope at age 27, no one thought his decline would be this steep.
5. The 1-2 Green Bay PackersForget about the replacement ref fiasco at the end of their game Monday night. They should never have been so close to the Seahawks anyway. No, 1-2 is not a disaster for this team, but it’s certainly a surprise considering they were 15-1 last season. Heading into this season, dating back to Christmas 2010 and including the postseason, the Packers had been on a 21-2 tear. Now they’ve lost two of three and their high-powered offense is ranked 25th in the league? Maybe they should be 2-1, but either way they don’t look like themselves at all.
—By RALPH VACCHIANO