Eleven weeks into the season, there are no less than five major surprise teams in the NFL: New England, Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Chicago and San Francisco.
Last year, those five teams posted a combined 28-52 record. None of the five made the playoffs and only one of them, Pittsburgh, had a winning record. A year later, those five teams are currently a combined 36-15.
What caused their sudden transformations? Let's start with Pittsburgh, Chicago and San Francisco, each of whom is 8-2 and tied for the league's best record.
Pittsburgh's rise isn't as startling, but no one predicted the Steelers would win five of their first six road games. How has it happened? Well, the Steelers finally have a passing attack to take pressure off Jerome Bettis. On defense, rookies Kendrell Bell and Casey Hampton have been major additions. In other words, the emergence of Kordell Stewart and a couple of draft choices have made the Steelers a Super Bowl contender.
Chicago's rise is confounding. Most figured Dick Jauron would lose his job before midseason. The Bears are third in the league against the run, but are dead last against the pass and rank in the bottom third of the league in total offense, run-offense and pass-offense. In other words, the Bears are winning because they've stopped the run and made a couple of big plays in overtime.
San Francisco is riding the arm of the NFL's second-ranked passer, Jeff Garcia, and the legs of Garrison Hearst and rookie Kevan Barlow. But most point to the schedule. Three of the 49ers' wins have come against Carolina (twice) and Detroit. The 49ers face a tough three-game stretch in December; at St. Louis, Miami and Philadelphia. Then, we'll know if the 49ers are for real.
Cleveland is an amazing story. The Browns were a pathetic lot at the end of last season, but they have already beaten the Super Bowl-champion Ravens twice this season. How has it happened? New head coach Butch Davis blew up the roster and pumped life into his players, and even though the Browns have the league's worst offense, they are winning. It only goes to show what raw energy can accomplish.
New England's rise is no less astonishing. The Patriots lost their franchise quarterback, Drew Bledsoe, then won five of their next seven games under Tom Brady. The defense is ranked a lowly 25th, so, apparently the switch at quarterback is the reason for the Pats' rise. Chalk this one up to chemistry.
How do these five teams relate to the Jaguars' plight? Well, they are living proof that a few changes here and there can create a major change everywhere.
Here's "10 things" the Jaguars have to do to beat the Packers Monday night.
- Play lots of zone--Sorry, but that's what the Falcons did in forcing Brett Favre into an interception frenzy.
- Change the routine--The Jaguars offense has developed a habit of playing its best football at about the same time the defense begins playing its worst.
- Go ahead, make their day--The fans want trick plays, attack-style defense, attack-style offense, all-out blitzes, press coverage, Marcus Stroud playing fullback in short yardage; what the heck, give it all a try.
- Tackle--It makes your defense better.
- Block--It makes your offense better.
- Go for it on fourth down--It's better than missing a field goal attempt.
- Remember the good old days--The last time the Packers played in Jacksonville, 1995, there were a lot of people in the seats.
- Eat a lot of cheese--I think that's what makes the Packers so mean.
- Play a recording of "Stand By Your Man"--Only if the Jaguars are leading with two minutes to play and the Packers have the ball.
- Go All Out--It may be the last Monday night football we see for a while.