The Browns began a three game winning streak when they started Brian Hoyer… (David Richard / Associated…)
Sometimes, our expectations zig and the NFL zags.
Like a LeSean McCoy cutback, the league has taken some surprising turns in the first five weeks, with San Francisco stumbling (then regaining its footing), Atlanta doing a face plant, and Andrew Luck-led Indianapolis seamlessly transitioning from Chuckstrong — last season's mantra in honor of ill Coach Chuck Pagano — to Luckstrong.
Because it's Week 6, here are six eyebrow-raising developments so far:
When they traded running back Trent Richardson and gave the starting quarterback job to Brian Hoyer, the Browns looked like they were waving the white flag.
Turned out to be the green flag.
For once, the Browns aren't waiting until the end of the season to start their engine and step on the gas. They have won three in a row heading into Sunday's game against Detroit and are in a three-way tie for first in the AFC North.
Hoyer was largely responsible for the turnaround and showing Cleveland that it's capable of winning now and shouldn't be investing its hopes in some type of five-year plan. The question is, now that Hoyer is done for the season with a knee injury, can the strong-armed but plodding Brandon Weeden keep the franchise rolling?
In each of the last 10 NFL seasons, at least one team has gone from worst to first in its division from one year to the next. The undefeated Chiefs are in the best position to do that, considering they're coming off a two-win season. The biggest challenge for them, of course, is that Denver is in the AFC West too.
In looking at Kansas City's roster, it's more of a shock that the Chiefs went 2-14 last season than it is that they're 5-0 now. They have six Pro Bowl players and are in a division that's traditionally been among the weaker ones, top to bottom.
Yes, the addition of Coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith has made a big difference. But the most dramatic change is the Chiefs now force turnovers and hang onto the ball. Kansas City had a minus-24 turnover differential last season, tied with Philadelphia for worst in the league. The Chiefs now lead the league in that department at plus-10. That's how you win games.
It's not stunning that Peyton Manning is playing well. After all, last season he nearly won his fifth NFL most-valuable-player award. What's amazing is how phenomenally well he's playing.
Through the first five games, Manning is on pace to break the NFL record for passing touchdowns (he now has 20; the record is 50 by New England's Tom Brady), completion percentage (75.8) and average passer rating (136.4). He has thrown for 1,884 yards through five games, just behind the record-setting pace of Kurt Warner, who had thrown for 1,947 through five games for St. Louis in 2000.
Helpful factors in Manning's spectacular season so far have been the resurfacing of running back Knowshon Moreno — a lot of people had given up on him — and the emergence of tight end Julius Thomas, who is playing like a young Antonio Gates.
Happy new year
In 2012, New Orleans surrendered more yards than any defense in NFL history. Now, the undefeated Saints have a defense that's tied for 11th in yards allowed, and under defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has the type of aggressive confidence it had under Gregg Williams (minus the bounties, presumably).
The biggest change is the Saints finally have generated a strong pass rush, particularly from defensive end Cameron Jordan and outside linebacker Junior Galette. That's a welcome surprise because two players who were expected to start at outside linebacker, Victor Butler and Will Smith, both went down with injuries in training camp.
New Orleans is also getting productivity from its secondary, especially corners Jabari Greer and Keenan Lewis, and rookie safety Kenny Vaccarro, a first-round pick.
Even the losers
The normally respectable NFC East is a race to the bottom, with Philadelphia and Dallas tied atop the division at 2-3. With the shaky uncertainty of the New York Giants and Washington, the NFC East looks to be where the NFC West was three years ago, when it became the first division to send a team with a losing record to the playoffs.
And what about Pittsburgh? This looked like it might be a rebound year for the Steelers, who missed the playoffs last season. They are already 2 1/2 games behind the other three teams in the division, although safety Ryan Clark told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review he still expects the 0-4 Steelers to win the division.
"Looking at our schedule," Clark told the newspaper, "we're not playing world beaters, we're not playing gods. We're playing men."
Maybe the most startling collapse is Atlanta's. The Falcons, who lost to San Francisco in the NFC championship game last season, have dropped three in a row to fall to 1-4, and now have lost star receiver Julio Jones for the season with a foot injury.
Six, the other way
This was supposed to be the season the Houston Texans would take the next step in their development and become true Super Bowl contenders. Instead, they have lost three in a row and look to be falling apart.
In each of those losses, quarterback Matt Schaub has seen one of his passes intercepted and returned for a touchdown. His confidence has to be circling the drain. If that weren't bad enough, Houston police were called to his house this week after a couple of angry Texans fans dropped by to berate him.
A restaurant in Houston is even offering the "Pick Six Burger" in his honor, allowing customers to garnish it with six different toppings. Kind of turns the stomach.