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Eagles, Chargers fall flat; 49ers, Bengals surprise

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Recent posts by Eli Kaberon

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By Eli Kaberon

Even if Vince Young hadn't dubbed the Eagles the "Dream Team," expectations were extremely high for the most active organization in free agency.

The Eagles then went on to fall far short of what most had expected. Considering how popular a Super Bowl pick the Eagles were, they finished the 2011 season as one of the more disappointing teams in recent memory.

With the parity in the NFL come surprise teams and disappointments each and every season. It's one of the reasons we have seen so many teams go from worst to first in their division in the past decade. It's also why so many of us want to toss away our preseason predictions come Week Four.

In 2010, it was the Chiefs who surprised us, and the Cowboys who laid an egg.

The PFW staff was polled regarding the three biggest disappointments and the three biggest surprises of the 2011 season. Here are the results:

 

THREE DISAPPOINTMENTS

1. Philadelphia Eagles — A 31-13 Week One win over the Rams was followed by a four-game losing streak, punctuated by a 31-24 loss to the Bills. The Eagles' run defense was brutal, Michael Vick missed time with injury, and off-field drama with DeSean Jackson marked the league's most disappointing team. A four-game winning streak to end the season spared them the indignity of a losing season but proved to be too little, too late, as the Eagles were eliminated from playoff contention in Week 16.

2. San Diego Chargers — The thought was that this would be the season that Norv Turner's club finally would show up to start the season and not need a December rally to make the playoffs. Early on, it looked like that would be the case, as San Diego jumped out to a 4-1 start. But a six-game losing streak in the middle of the season, which included overtime losses to the Chiefs and Broncos, set the Chargers back. They rallied in December, like always, with three wins in a row before being eliminated from the AFC West race by losing to the Lions in Week 16.

3. Indianapolis Colts — The entire league knew that Peyton Manning was valuable, but nobody realized until this season how big of an impact No. 18 actually had on the Colts' success. The Colts, who, prior to this season, hadn't used a backup QB in meaningful action since before Manning was drafted in 1998, struggled to find a replacement. Their streak of nine consecutive playoff appearances ended with a thud, as they didn't win a game until Week 15 and earned the first overall pick in the '12 draft.

Others receiving votes: St. Louis Rams, New York Jets, Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Minnesota Vikings.

 

THREE SURPRISES

1. San Francisco 49ers — Most figured with the combination of former Stanford head coach Jim Harbaugh at the helm and career disappointment Alex Smith at quarterback, the 49ers were setting themselves up to finish with the NFL's worst record and a chance to draft Cardinal phenom Andrew Luck. Instead, the combination of Harbaugh and Smith — along with a punishing rushing attack, a physical defense and game-changing special teams — have turned the Niners into Super Bowl contenders.

2. Cincinnati Bengals — Carson Palmer held out. Chad Ochocinco was traded. Marvin Lewis seemed like a lame-duck head coach. All in all, it made perfect sense to have the Bengals ranked dead last in PFW's preseason power rankings. However, Cincinnati proved to be a surprise playoff contender, led by its top two 2011 draft choices: WR A.J. Green and QB Andy Dalton. Green is a Pro Bowler, and Dalton has been a great fit in the team's new West Coast offense.

3. Denver Broncos — Few batted an eye when the Broncos started the season with a 2-5 record. The team with the league's worst defense last season once again was having trouble stopping opponents, allowing more than 28 points per game through Week Eight. Then things changed, big time. From Weeks 9-14, the team allowed more than 28 points only once, and not surprisingly, the Broncos won all six games, moving them into first place in the AFC West. Inserting QB Tim Tebow into the lineup also played a factor, as the mobile lefty, along with RB Willis McGahee, sparked one of the NFL's top rushing attacks. 

Others receiving votes: Tennessee Titans, Detroit Lions and Oakland Raiders.

PFW associate editor Kevin Fishbain contributed to this article.

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