We already looked at the biggest surprises early in the season in the AFC East and AFC North.
Using my weekly raft of illegible notes that I take while watching Game Rewind, here's something that surprised me about every squad in the NFC East and NFC North.
I'm surprised how often the Dallas Cowboys struggle to line up on both sides of the ball. That comes back to coaching. ... Quarterback Tony Romo played three and a half games very well this year. He has overcome a lot of problems, from his offensive line to his receivers like Jason Witten (tons of drops) and Dez Bryant (tons of Dezness.) ... Running back DeMarco Murray's inability to find holes or make them also has surprised me. The Cowboys have no patience with the running game. ... It's strange to see Nnamdi Asomugha look like just a guy in the Philadelphia Eagles' secondary. ... The Eagles' offense hasn't been that explosive. Quarterback Michael Vick either doesn't get the protection he needs or he's wayward with his deep throws. This Andy Reid offense has little rhythm; it ranks 31st in scoring.
There were questions about if quarterback Eli Manning could hold on to his gains he made with the New York Giants in 2011. Instead, he's better. Put a receiver in (Ramses Barden, Reuben Randle), and Eli will make him look like a starter. That's an old Peyton trait. ... Running back Ahmad Bradshaw looks like a different player than he was a month ago. He's much healthier and now is finishing runs again. Bradshaw can make a 3-yard run a work of art. ... Late in the preseason, we still were reading fantasy analysts who were advising not to draft running back Alfred Morris because he was slow in college. He's clearly the best back coach Mike Shanahan has had with the Washington Redskins. The Redskins' run-blocking opens up big holes, and Morris hits them hard. ... The speed of the game isn't too fast for rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III. He goes through his reads in the pocket like a veteran. Washington has more of a traditional attack than people think.
I'm surprised the Chicago Bears' defense is this good despite linebacker Brian Urlacher looking like a shell of his former self. The schedule has helped, but Chicago's defense has scored as many touchdowns as it has given up. Defensive end Julius Peppers is providing great pressure inside. Henry Melton is playing well to help anchor a deep defensive line that is similar to way the Cincinnati Bengals were a year ago. Cornerback Tim Jennings is having a career year. This could be the Bears' best defense since 2006.
Detroit Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford remains erratic. His final numbers often look decent, but he goes through bouts of wildness each week. The Lions do not have an efficient offense. I expected Titus Young to step up in a much more meaningful way and help Stafford in the passing game. ... After a season when Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers virtually was flawless, it's strange to see him struggling with decision making. He's holding the ball too long at times. He has missed a few more throws than usual. His offensive tackles are a major problem. And unlike the New England Patriots, the Packers don't often take advantage of the soft defensive dime packages they see. ... Tight end Jermichael Finley looks overpaid. Perhaps last year wasn't an anomaly.
It's remarkable to see Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson cutting and exploding through tacklers like his ACL injury never happened. He's probably at 80 percent and still better than most of the league. ... Minnesota's offensive game plans have been a pleasant surprise. Christian Ponder throws well on the run and has great movement inside the pocket. The team finally has figured how to use wide receiver Percy Harvin. The lack of weapons hasn't hurt them. Tight end Kyle Rudolph has made a big difference. ... Minnesota's defense also is vastly improved. It's hard to make a big play against them.Follow Gregg Rosenthal on Twitter @greggrosenthal.