Five biggest surprises of the 2021 NFL season thus far

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
© Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports Derek Carr and the Raiders are one of the biggest surprises of the season.

The 2021 NFL regular season is now in Week 7 — boy, does it go by fast — and to say there have been a few surprises that stand out would be an understatement.

Things got off to a fast start league-wide and have not slowed down one bit. Whether it’s on the field or off of the field, the NFL is jam-packed with excitement, drama and theater.

Here is a look at the five biggest surprises of the 2021 season (so far).

5. Kansas City Chiefs being average

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
© Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

Everything that goes up must eventually come down. The Chiefs are currently living that reality. They’ve split their first six games this season. At 3-3, they find themselves in third place in the AFC West (more on that division to come). But beyond just the .500 record, several of their superstar players are underperforming. Case in point: quarterback Patrick Mahomes. The former league MVP already has nine turnovers on the season, three shy of his career high. He has four interceptions over the past two games combined (don’t tell his mom). The Chiefs’ -8 turnover ratio is the second-worst in football. Defensively, K.C. is also allowing more than 410 yards per game and an average of 29.3 points per game. Each of those marks are among the bottom five in the NFL.

4. Derek Carr an early MVP candidate

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
© Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

The Raiders decided to let Derek Carr air it out this season, and his aggression has gone through the roof. Yes, Carr has made some risky throws, and his accuracy is nothing to write home about, but he’s second in the NFL with 1,946 yards and 324.3 yards per game. Carr is also in the top half of the league in touchdown passes (10) and has tossed just four interceptions despite the new chuck-and-duck style. Perhaps more importantly, the Raiders are 4-2 under Carr, are tied for the AFC West lead, and three of their victories have come over teams who won 10-plus games in 2020. Whether or not Carr can keep up this pace remains to be seen, but few saw this start coming.

3. Myles Garrett gunning for all-time records

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
© Ken Blaze-USA TODAY Sports

Through seven weeks, Cleveland Browns edge rusher Myles Garrett has amassed a league-leading eight sacks and is on pace for 23.0, which would be an all-time single-season record. And considering how dominant Garrett has been this season, it’s entirely possible that Michael Strahan’s long-standing record finally falls. What makes Garrett’s early season performance so impressive is that he’s dominating as much against the run as he is the pass. And when he does get home, he finishes. His eight sacks come alongside 17 QB hits and seven hurries and are coupled with an equally impressive 24 tackles (nine for a loss).

2. Giants defense in shambles

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
© Robert Deutsch-USA TODAY Sports

Entering the 2021 regular season, most believed the Giants would be kept afloat by their defense, which surprised under Patrick Graham a year ago. That has not at all been the case. In fact, the offense has outplayed the defense thus far. Graham’s unit, which plays Cover 2 more than any other team in the league, has taken several steps back. The Giants have been unable to generate any natural pressure. Even when attempting to scheme in pressure, they haven’t hit home. The lack of pressure has allowed opposing quarterbacks to light up their secondary, including cornerback James Bradberry, who was a Pro Bowler in 2020. Not only will this regression take a toll on the organization, it might also cost Graham potential head-coaching interest in 2022.

1. Urban Meyer and Jon Gruden

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
© Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

The situations surrounding Urban Meyer and Jon Gruden are very different but equally shocking. Meyer, of course, drew heavy criticism for staying behind in Ohio after his team lost to the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 4, only to later be caught on video acting inappropriately with a woman who wasn’t his wife (more here). He survived being fired (or divorced) but it’s certainly an early stain on his NFL career. Gruden, on the other hand, did not survive comments he made in private emails years ago. During an investigation into the Washington Football Team, several Gruden emails containing some ugly comments were discovered. He was immediately canceled, resigned as Raiders head coach, and was removed from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Ring of Honor, where he had previously sat alongside Warren Sapp and others.

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Myles Garrett has hilarious reaction to third PED test in weeksJon Gruden shares first message since resigning as Raiders coachThe ‘Highest-paid players in the NFL’ quiz

Related slideshow: Grading every NFL team at the quarter mark of the season (Provided by Yardbarker)

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
1/33 SLIDES © Billy Hardiman-USA TODAY Sports

Grading every NFL team at the quartermark of the season

We’re only through four weeks of an 18 week season, but the early part of the season already gives a glimpse of the contenders and pretenders. He’s a look at every team’s grade through four weeks.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
2/33 SLIDES © Michael Chow / USA Today Sports Images

Arizona Cardinals: A

As expected, Arizona has shown an elite offense in the third season together for Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray, and the defensive line tandem of Chandler Jones and J.J. Watt has been dominant. There isn’t much more we could hope for from the Cardinals, yet they have no time to celebrate in the brutal NFC West.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
3/33 SLIDES © Vincent Carchietta / USA Today Sports Images

Atlanta Falcons: D

We knew it would be a long year in Atlanta after the team moved on from several key veterans in the offseason, but the team has somehow looked even worse than expected. The Falcons were blown out by Philadelphia and Tampa Bay to start the season, and Matt Ryan hasn’t been able to get anything going on offense with almost no time to throw. First-round pick Kyle Pitts has also been a bit of a disappointment, though there were unfair rookie expectations.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
4/33 SLIDES © Raj Mehta / USA Today Sports Images

Baltimore Ravens: B

Baltimore started the season 2-1, but each game could have gone either way. Week 1 was an overtime loss in Vegas that the team probably should have won, while the following two games were won on a miracle fumble and a record-breaking 66-yard field goal from Justin Tucker. Lamar Jackson has continued to look inconsistent, though the injuries around him are a big reason. The cardiac health of Ravens fans could be in jeopardy if this continues.

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five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
5/33 SLIDES © Rich Barnes / USA Today Sports Images

Buffalo Bills: B+

After an embarrassing loss to Pittsburgh at home in Week 1, the Bills are back on track. Josh Allen looks like the MVP candidate that we saw last year, and the defense has righted the ship with some very easy matchups. The team’s Week 5 visit to Kansas City, a rematch of last year’s AFC Championship, will be a great measuring stick for Buffalo’s 2021 prospects.

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6/33 SLIDES © Bob Donnan / USA Today Sports Images

Carolina Panthers: B

There were big questions that came with Carolina’s acquisition of Sam Darnold, but he’s been solid to go along with an excellent defense. A very easy early schedule has helped, but a blowout 26-7 win over the Saints in Week 2 showed the team is legit. Unfortunately, Christian McCaffrey is having injury issues again, which could derail the team’s season.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
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Chicago Bears: D-

Bears fans entered 2021 with some optimism after the team drafted Justin Fields, but the optimism was wiped out by Fields’ performance in Week 3. Chicago’s offensive line has looked terrible, and the defense has been unable to do enough to support the team until a Week 4 win vs. Detroit. Head coach Matt Nagy’s days look numbered.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
8/33 SLIDES © Phillip G. Pavely / USA Today Sports Images

Cincinnati Bengals: B+

There were concerns about Cincinnati’s passing game entering the year with Joe Burrow returning from surgery and Ja’Marr Chase struggling in the preseason, but those questions have quickly been erased. An overtime win over Minnesota in Week 1 showed the team had something, and a dominant win at Pittsburgh showed the team was legit. It won’t be easy, but the Bengals have a legitimate shot at a playoff berth this season, which is more than any fan could ask for after their poor performance in recent seasons.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
9/33 SLIDES © Ken Blaze / USA Today Sports Images

Cleveland Browns: B

It hasn’t always been pretty, but Cleveland has matched expectations early in the year. They gave the Chiefs all they could handle in Week 1 on the road before beating Houston and Chicago easily, with Baker Mayfield playing through injuries to his receivers and the running game picking up the slack. There are still some questions about the defense that are about to be answered with upcoming games against the Chargers and Cardinals.

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Dallas Cowboys: B+

Dallas has managed to answer the big offseason questions with a quick start. Following a major ankle injury, Dak Prescott has picked up where he left off early last season and is an early MVP candidate. The defense has shown blemishes, but generally, it looks better organized under new coordinator Dan Quinn. It all adds up to a team that should win the NFC East easily if they stay healthy, and could have even bigger aspirations this season.

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11/33 SLIDES © Nathan Ray Seebeck / USA Today Sports Images

Denver Broncos: B

If anyone was skeptical of Teddy Bridgewater as Denver’s starting quarterback entering the year, the Broncos have successfully pushed back. They have an extremely easy schedule to start the year, but Denver put together three very easy wins while Bridgewater was solid and Von Miller showed he was healthy. The bigger tests are coming, but the Broncos are looking like contenders in the AFC West following KC’s slow start.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
12/33 SLIDES © Raj Mehta / USA Today Sports Images

Detroit Lions: C-

With an odd head coaching hire in Dan Campbell and almost no offseason spending, the Lions were predicted to be the laughingstock of the league. The brutal early schedule led to an 0-3 start, but the team has been fairly competitive and lost to Baltimore in Week 3 on a miracle field goal. Jared Goff has played like he has a chip on his shoulder with his new team, and the running game looks formidable. Detroit could be on the start of the right track.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
13/33 SLIDES © Darren Yamashita / USA Today Sports Images

Green Bay Packers: B

Aaron Rodgers’ unhappy offseason was at the forefront when Green Bay was blown out by the Saints in Week 1, but the team and Rodgers have looked like their old selves since then. Once again, Rodgers is playing like an MVP candidate, and his heroics were on full display when the team beat the 49ers in Week 3. There remain questions about the defense, but it looks like the Packers will be in the thick of things in the NFC again this year.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
14/33 SLIDES © Troy Taormina / USA Today Sports Images

Houston Texans: C

Nothing good was expected of the Texans this season after the team was left in disarray by Bill O’Brien. Yet, Houston shocked the Jaguars in Week 1, and has been competitive since then despite losing Tyrod Taylor to injury. It seems new head coach David Culley is getting the most out of his team, and we couldn’t expect anything more from this squad lacking the talent of their opponents.

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Indianapolis Colts: D

Much of the reason Carson Wentz’s play went south in Philadelphia was due to injuries, and that trend has continued in Indianapolis. He underwent foot surgery in the preseason and sprained both ankles early in the year. His poor play and a brutal early schedule have already put the team in a tailspin, with fans brainstorming possibilities for the team’s next quarterback. The good news is that the AFC South remains weak, giving the Colts a chance at some easy wins and possible playoff contention later in the year.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
16/33 SLIDES © Joseph Maiorana / USA Today Sports Images

Jacksonville Jaguars: D

The Jaguars offseason was a mess under new head coach Urban Meyer, so no one should be surprised by their slow start. The offense has been inept despite a few promising signs from rookie quarterback Trevor Lawrence, including a close loss in Week 4 at Cincinnati. The team remains on a historic losing streak after losing 15 straight to end 2020, but no one should have expected this rebuild to be easy.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
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Kansas City Chiefs: C

The Chiefs defense has looked like the 2018 version to start the year (not a good thing), and the team suffered two frustrating losses against the Ravens and Chargers. Still, some unlucky turnovers have been the culprit, so we shouldn’t sour on the Chiefs just yet. Patrick Mahomes and company have continued to look spectacular when they’ve been able to hold onto the ball, and the team has the defensive talent to turn things around. There’s a reason they remain the favorites in Vegas to win the Super Bowl.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
18/33 SLIDES © Charles LeClaire / USA Today Sports Images

Las Vegas Raiders: B+

The early chapter of Allegiant Stadium with fans has been spectacular for the Raiders, with two overtime victories and a great road win at Pittsburgh in between. Derek Carr has been a legitimate MVP candidate early in the year as the team’s young wideouts have started to deliver, and the defense at least looks adequate with the addition of coordinator Gus Bradley.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
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Los Angeles Chargers: B

The hiring of Brandon Staley after one year as a coordinator seemed somewhat risky, but the Chargers are looking like geniuses so far. The team picked up big early wins on the road at Washington and Kansas City, with the defense showing significant improvement. Justin Herbert has also continued to build on his great rookie season. The Chargers are in the thick of it in the AFC West, which is all they could ask for entering the year.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
20/33 SLIDES © Jayne Kamin-Oncea / USA Today Sports Images

Los Angeles Rams: A

The Rams went big with the acquisition of Matthew Stafford this offseason, yet he’s been everything the team could have hoped for and more in the first quarter of the season. The team’s offense looks elite with Stafford, Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods, and the addition of DeSean Jackson, while the defense has looked formidable again. After a big win vs. Tampa Bay in Week 3, the Super Bowl whispers are getting louder.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
21/33 SLIDES © Bill Ingram / USA Today Sports Images

Miami Dolphins: D

The Dolphins allowed Ryan Fitzpatrick to walk after last season, and the biggest fears remained Tua Tagovailoa’s injury history. It only took until Week 2 for the fears to be realized, with Tagovailoa set to miss multiple weeks due to a rib injury. The team’s defense has taken a big slide, on top of the quarterback injury, allowing over 30 points to Buffalo and the Raiders. Despite what looks like another down year for the AFC East, the Dolphins are quickly heading toward a lost season.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
22/33 SLIDES © Katie Stratman / USA Today Sports Images

Minnesota Vikings: C-

After a disappointing 2020 season, the Vikings desperately needed a rebound. Early road losses to Cincinnati and Arizona didn’t get the job done, but the Vikings were able to beat the Seahawks with their backs against the wall in Week 3. An early injury to Dalvin Cook has threatened the team, and the defense has continued to look inconsistent. It’s shaping up to be another up and down season for the Vikings.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
23/33 SLIDES © Vincent Carchietta / USA Today Sports Images

New England Patriots: C-

Starting a rookie quarterback is never easy, even with Bill Belichick on the sideline. Frankly, Mac Jones has looked like a rookie at times, but manageable game plans like what he had vs. Tampa Bay has helped. As expected, the team is off to a slow start, but they could be on the right track.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
24/33 SLIDES © David Butler II / USA Today Sports Images

New Orleans Saints: C

There were huge questions about the Saints offense after losing Drew Brees, along with the early-season absence of Michael Thomas. Jameis Winston has been more than adequate early in the year, though he did have duds in Week 2 at Carolina and Week 4 vs. the Giants. Like last year, it’s the defense that has held the Saints up so far and should make them a formidable competitor for the Bucs in the division.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
25/33 SLIDES © Danielle Parhizkaran / USA Today Sports Images

New York Giants: D

The Giants had an eventful training camp with several surprise retirements, and the team has looked in disarray early this season. A late offsides all but handed Washington a win in Week 2, and a home loss vs. Atlanta in Week 3 was no less embarrassing. The hiring of head coach Joe Judge last year looks more and more like a mistake, and Daniel Jones has been given no favors by his offensive line. A shocking Week 4 win at New Orleans does give the team hope.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
26/33 SLIDES © Isaiah J. Downing / USA Today Sports Images

New York Jets: D

It’s difficult for an offense to look much worse than the Jets have early this season, with rookie Zach Wilson look in over his head. Fans just hope the organization hasn’t ruined Wilson already as they seemed to do with their last quarterback, Sam Darnold. A shocking Week 4 win against a banged-up Titans squad is reason for fans to stay engaged.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
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Philadelphia Eagles: D+

Major offseason skepticism for the Eagles was briefly halted in Week 1 when the team blew out the Falcons on the road, but the team hasn’t looked good since then. The jury is still out on Jalen Hurts as an NFL starter, and the defense has been embarrassed after a great start. The hope is that the offense will still make progress the rest of the way under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
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Pittsburgh Steelers: F

The Steelers haven’t had a losing season since Mike Tomlin was hired in 2007, but this squad looks well on their way. Ben Roethlisberger has looked inept at quarterback behind a bad offensive line, and defensive injuries have prevented that side of the ball from remaining dominant. After a great Week 1 win at Buffalo, the Steelers have been out of sorts. This isn’t the way that Big Ben wanted to go out.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
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San Francisco 49ers: C

The 49ers have been inconsistent in all facets early in the year, with injuries taking a toll on the team again. Jimmy Garoppolo has managed with banged-up weapons and now he could miss multiple weeks again, while the defense has been leakier than expected. So far, San Francisco has failed to match expectations of a full rebound.

five biggest surprises of the 2021 nfl season thus far
30/33 SLIDES © Brace Hemmelgarn / USA Today Sports Images

Seattle Seahawks: C+

Seattle isn’t off to a great start, with the defense having major early issues against the Titans and Vikings. A heart-breaking Week 2 loss at home vs. Tennessee could haunt the team in a tough NFC West division, though the hiring of offensive coordinator Shane Waldron has already shown to be a positive. The Seahawks rough schedule remains a concern, but Russell Wilson’s strong play should continue to make this team a contender.

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