The five biggest surprises through the NFL’s first quarter

Buffalo Bills’ head coach Chan Gailey looks on in the fourth quarter against the New England Patriots in their NFL football game in Foxborough, Massachusetts September 26, 2010. REUTERS/Adam Hunger (UNITED STATES – Tags: SPORT FOOTBALL)

The first quarter of the 2011 NFL season is in the books and as usual, there have been a handful of surprises thus far. Here are the five biggest.

5. Jim Harbaugh’s 49ers
Everyone knew the NFC West was going to be a crapshoot this season, just like it was a year ago. While many people thought that the Rams would emerge as division champs, it was easy to predict their horrid start given the difficulty of their schedule. The true surprise is the San Francisco 49ers, who are led by a head coach that was serving in the college ranks last year. What Jim Harbaugh has been able to do so far in San Francisco is impressive. The lockout should have caused teams like the 49ers to struggle early on because they didn’t have enough offseason preparation. But instead of floundering, the Niners have flourished. They’re one bad quarter against the Cowboys from being 4-0 and their come-from-behind victory against the Eagles last Sunday will give this team confidence heading forward. While the offensive line is still a major work in progress, the defense has really performed well thanks to guys like Justin Smith, Ray McDonald, Patrick Willis and rookie Aldon Smith. With how poorly the rest of the division is, the Niners may finally claim the top spot in the NFC West again.

4. The high-flying Bills
I happen to think last week’s loss to the Bengals was an aberration and that the Bills will continue to be competitive all season. This team was due for a letdown. They were coming off an emotional win against a divisional opponent (the Patriots, no less) the week prior and had to go on the road to face a Cincinnati team that is better than people think. The loss will prove to be a valuable lesson for the Bills, who aren’t good enough yet to take any team for granted. This is still a squad that has practically done everything right to this point. Their passing attack is solid, their young offensive line is overachieving and their defense has been opportunistic and solid against the run. While they may not make the playoffs this season, Chan Gailey has this team headed in the right direction.

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