Point/counterpoint: Which NFL team has had a more surprising start?

BY DI STAFF | OCTOBER 04, 2011 7:20 AM

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Detroit Lions (4-0)

Three years ago, the Detroit Lions were the laughingstock of the NFL.

The Lions won the games that didn't matter (they went 4-0 in the preseason in 2008), then lost all the games that did and became the first team in NFL history to finish 0-16.

Now, the Lions are one of two unbeatens left in the NFL a quarter of the way through the year. While Detroit was the "sexy" pick to be a much-improved team before the season started, it seems improbable anyone could have legitimately thought the Lions would be tied with the defending Super Bowl champion Packers for the league's best record.

Much of their success is thanks to the players' health, namely that of Matthew Stafford. Detroit still has many of the same key players as it had last year, but those players are lining up at the line of scrimmage instead of sitting on the sidelines.

The team had its most impressive win this past weekend when it erased a 24-point second-half deficit against the Cowboys. Part of the comeback was thanks to three interceptions, an aspect of Gunther Cunningham's defense that is vastly improved over last year. Through four games, the unit has seven interceptions; it had 14 all of last season.

Surprising, for sure.

Offensively, Calvin Johnson is a beast. He has eight touchdowns so far and is on pace to challenge Randy Moss' single-season record of 23 scores.

Some may argue that Philadelphia's slow start is more surprising. After all, the Eagles signed several high-profile free agents, and they were picked by many to fight for the NFC title. But as their play on the field has shown, it's taking some time for that talent to mesh as a team. Spending sprees don't always equal wins and titles; the New York Yankees and Miami Heat are proof of that.

But it's been more than 30 years since Detroit fans saw their team get off to a 4-0 start. And now, Detroit is giving the entire country something to watch.

— by Ben Schuff

Philadelphia Eagles (1-3)

Entering the 2011 NFL season with newly acquired stars Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, some called the Philadelphia Eagles a dream team.

Instead, the Eagles' 1-3 start has been more like a nightmare.

The Eagles spent parts of two games without all-pro quarterback Mike Vick, leaving the Eagles in the hands of backup Mike Kafka. But Vick and his injuries haven't been the main reason for the Eagles' shockingly slow start — Kafka completed 11 of his 16 passes when Vick was on the sidelines.

Philadelphia's run defense ranks near the bottom of the 32 NFL teams, allowing such backs as Atlanta's Michael Turner and San Francisco's Frank Gore to run roughshod over the Eagles. After heavily bolstering the secondary in the off-season, the front seven has let the Eagles down defensively.

The Eagles' high-powered attack has still been able to put up points, but the key problem lies with a mostly new offensive line. Vick has been forced to run for his life on numerous occasions during the season's first four games. Even with his athleticism and mobility, he — or any other Eagle QB — won't be able to stay healthy for the whole season.

Many people thought the Detroit Lions would be a playoff team this season, but almost no one foresaw a 1-3 start from the Eagles. Only one team in NFL history — the 2001 New England Patriots — has made it to the Super Bowl after a 1-3 start.

If the Eagles are not able to right the ship quickly, they will crash to one of the most disappointing seasons in the history of the league.

— by Ryan Murphy

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