We're nearly halfway through the 2015 NFL schedule and in some ways it has played out as expected while elsewhere it hasn't. A missive on what has - and hasn't - happened so far -
Hold the phone of the AFC and NFC Least - Neither division was expected to be that strong, especially the AFC East, mocked as a "tomato can division" by sports hacks ignorant of the game. The Patriots remains unbeaten at 6-0 while the NY Jets have been the surprise of the conference so far, showing far greater professionalism under Todd Bowles than we could have dreamed of after Geno Smith got hammered in preseason by his own teammate. The playoffs now look like a certainty for the Jets.
The Dolphins meanwhile have engineered the most striking turnaround so far; their players quit on Joe Philbin and got him fired; now they've scored 82 points in their last two games under Dan Campbell and have a plus-3 turnover differential in that same span, a sign Philbin was a bigger locker room cancer than anyone could have thought - though also a warning sign that these players are no-account bullies whose attitude of trying when they feel like it will cost them in the end.
The Bills meanwhile have faltered as we thought they would under Rex Ryan, the coach who refuses to be disciplined with his players and lets them freelance on and off the field.
The NFC East meanwhile is a logjam between the Giants, the Eagles after a dismal start, and the surprising Redskins, with the Cowboys collapsing under abysmal quarterback play since Tony Romo went down - and Romo is not good enough to warrant being considered close to elite. That the Deadskins are 3-4 is frankly surprising.
The Nooks of the North - Green Bay remains unbeaten but still show themselves to be frontrunning phonies, outlasting opponents rather than sealing the deal, on display in particular with the photo-finish escape from the Chargers. Still close behind remain the Vikings, quietly getting better, though not yet at the level to steal the division. The collapse of the Bears under Jay Cutler was a given; the collapse of the Lions has been downright shocking after last season's encouraging 11-5 run.
In the AFC the Bengals are not just unbeaten, they actually look to have stepped up their game, though shootout wins over the Ravens and the comeback over the Seahawks were seen before the last couple of years - 2013's comeback win over the Packers came to mind in the Seahawks game while Dalton has won six of his last seven meetings with Baltimore. The collapse of the Ravens has been surprising, though given the gross overpayment of Joe Flacco at the expense of cap depth may now be becoming a factor after not being so in 2014.
The wildcard remains the Steelers, without Ben Roethlisberger for several games but still 4-3 even with a loss to the lowly Kansas City Chiefs.
It's Carolina and Atlanta and then everyone else in the South - Forget last season's fiasco where no one from the NFC South finished above 7-8-1; the Panthers and Falcons look like 13-win teams apiece even after Atlanta escaped in Tennessee. The Bucs are going through the inevitable growing pains of having a rookie quarterback and blowing a big lead at Washington was another rough ride for Jameis Winston. The Saints meanwhile are all over the map with questionable play by Drew Brees and sudden uncertainty to Sean Payton's future.
While in the AFC the Colts are division champs pretty much by default. The rookie growing pains for the Titans have been on display before injury left Marcus Mariota off the field, yet another blow to an increasingly tortured franchise that has in Mariota a quarterback that one can confidently feel will become a force, having already displayed competitive fight this season - and they showed it again before winless Zach Mettenberger blew it in the final two minutes against the Falcons. The Jaguars and Texans are both 2-5 but going in opposite directions - Blake Bortles is slowly getting better while Bill O'Brien has his hands full with a worthless quarterbacking corps (lowlighted by Ryan Mallett's petulance) and inability to handle anyone on either side of the ball.
Curl of the Un-Golden West - Back in the 1990s the San Francisco 49ers were always rocked by huge controversy - will they fire George Seifert or not? Will they fire Steve Mariucci in his second year or not? - even in their 1994 Superbowl year; the 1996 controversy over Marc Trestman and Seifert illustrated there was a toxic environment there even when they were good. Now the toxicity looks to be worse with the collapse of Harbaugh in 2014 and the complete regression of Colin Kaepernick, to where it is impossible to visualize a Niners rebound.
The Seahawks for their part aren't much better even after an easy win at Santa Clara; suddenly the team looks undisciplined and incapable of handling anything, success or failure, and they face a dogfight with the Rams, clawing for more respectability, and the Cardinals, looking strong against everyone but AFC North teams.
While the NFC West is chaos, the AFC West is holding on by a thread. The Broncos are 6-0 yet having to hold on against pedestrian offenses and foes Peyton Manning has always owned (Baltimore, Cleveland, and Kansas City specifically), while the Chiefs have fallen fast with a fading Alex Smith and the Chargers falling apart amid widening speculation of a move to a pointless (and nonexistent) Los Angeles stadium. The surprise here is the Oakland Raiders, clearly becoming a real team with a genuine star in Derek Carr. Gone are the bad decisions and worse influence of Al Davis; in is the building of a real program.
The rest of the season thus awaits. Turnarounds can happen; given the surprises that have happened so far, we as fans certainly have reason to hope they do.