The New Orleans Saints are for real, and they -- not Atlanta and not Carolina -- are the team to beat in the NFC South. Reason: They're winning games as they haven't since Bourbon Street was dry.
With defense and without Drew Brees.
With Sunday's beatdown of Buffalo, the Saints not only won their seventh straight game to run their record to a division-leading 7-2; they won their sixth by allowing 17 or fewer points, with the Saints surrendering an average of 10.3 points in those wins.
Nobody during that time is playing better defense. You heard me. Nobody.
But look more closely. They won their second game in three weeks without Brees throwing a touchdown pass, and why is that significant? Because prior to two weeks ago, the last time that happened was Oct. 4, 2009.
And that's my point: These aren't the Saints we thought we knew. In fact, this edition is so different from its predecessors that it ran 24 consecutive times Sunday -- with Brees ... yes, Drew Freakin' Brees ... scrambling for a score. Moreover, it won with two backs ... yes, two ... each running for 100 yards and with wide receiver Michael Thomas putting up 117.
So when's the last time that happened? It hasn't. Nope, never, ever, ever in franchise history.
You want more? OK, with three touchdowns Sunday, Mark Ingram has run for seven touchdowns the past five games ... or two more scores than Brees has thrown for over that period. But that's not all. Another reason to like these guys is that they can win anywhere. Not only are they're 4-1 on the road, but they just became the first team to beat the Bills in Buffalo this season.
So, let's see: They can run, they play defense, they win on the road and they have Drew Brees.
Sounds like a winner to me.
- So who's the second-best team in the NFC? We find out Nov. 26 when the Saints and Rams meet in L.A.
- Instead of wondering who replaces Zeke Elliott, we should've asked who replaces the injured Tyron Smith. Now we know: Nobody. Seven sacks over left tackle? Atrocious.
- The Chargers can change homes, but they can't change personalities. There's still no one better at blowing close games.
- Vontaze Burfict = Coach Killer.
- Since trading defensive tackle Marcel Dareus, Buffalo has surrendered 194 yards rushing to the Jets and 298 to New Orleans. Just sayin'.
- Yep, the Giants have a raft of problems, but Evan Engram isn't one of them.
- Memo to Doug Marrone: Time to call a team meeting on discipline, and invite Tom Coughlin as the guest speaker. Two taunting penalties down the stretch should tell you ... and Tom ... the Jags don't get it.
- Once upon a time, defense would save Denver. But defense can't cover the warts on this team, and they've all been there in the last two weeks when opponents outscored the Broncos, 92-39. The 92 points are more than Denver allowed in its previous four games this season and nearly twice its greatest two-game figure (53) of 2016. "I think we stink," said defensive lineman Derek Wolfe. "It's embarrassing. I'm tired of being embarrassed." He should be. It was Denver's fifth straight defeat, a streak where they've never been closer than 10 points and lost by an average ... an average ... of 19.4 points per.
- The good news for Cincinnati: A.J. Green is back. For the first time in four games, he exceeded 50 yards in catches. In fact, he had 115 -- the 31st time in his career he exceeded 100. The bad news? It didn't matter. The Bengals still lost and are on life support.
- I don't get it, either, but the numbers don't lie. That's 10 straight games opposing tight ends have scored on the New York Giants.
- Yeah, I know, that was an ugly win for Pittsburgh ... and the second straight week its rushing game contributed zippety-do-dah. But a win is a win is a win, and that was the fourth straight for Pittsburgh ... and, more importantly, the third straight on the road.
- Guess we find out next weekend who's best in the AFC North when Pittsburgh hosts Tennessee. The Titans are 3-0 vs. the division.
- One week it's Eli Apple who won't tackle. The next it's Janoris Jenkins who can't. When you wonder what went wrong with this year's Giants, start with an overpaid and underperforming defense -- and secondary -- that should have been better.
- Don't rule out Detroit from the playoff picture. The Lions have the second easiest schedule left, with five of their seven opponents having losing records.
- If I'm Andrew Luck, I stay in Europe. Indefinitely.
- Consider that a gut check for Atlanta, with the litmus test next Monday ... in Seattle.
- Don't kid yourself. This Jerry Jones feud with Roger Goodell IS personal, with Jerry assuming the role of Al Davis.
- Minnesota's Mike Zimmer says he has "a plan" for quarterback, but how can you sit down Case Keenum? You can't. You're winning with the guy. There is absolutely no reason to promote Teddy Bridgewater. Not now. Maybe not ever this season.
- The 49ers may have a plan, too, but the only thing that could keep C.J. Beathard from starting the next game (Nov. 26) isn't Jimmy Garoppolo; it's a thumb injury. Beathard did just about everything right Sunday in his first-ever NFL victory.
- The more I see of Tom Savage, the more I like Cleveland's chances of landing two high picks in the 2018 draft. Reason: They own the Texans' first-round draft choice. One problem: Then the Browns have to turn that choice into a player of consequence, and the record speaks for itself.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES. They didn't play, but the rest of the NFC East did. And the rest of the division went 0-3.
GREEN BAY QB BRETT HUNDLEY. He proved he can win a game. And he won in Chicago, where the Bears had been 2-2, outscoring opponents 74-63 and losing by a total of nine points.
NEW ENGLAND COACH BILL BELICHICK. With 270 career victories, he ties Tom Landry for third on the all-time list, behind only Don Shula and George Halas.
NASHVILLE'S NISSAN STADIUM. The Titans are 8-1 in their last nine games there.
JACKSONVILLE PK JOSH LAMBO. He got his revenge, beating the team that cut him with a field goal in overtime.
TAMPA BAY QB RYAN FITZPATRICK. So he didn't light up the scoreboard. Doesn't matter. He won, breaking a five-game Bucs' losing streak. And he won over the team that gave up on him.
SAN FRANCISCO COACH KYLE SHANAHAN. Now he's only 346 wins behind Don Shula.
CINCINNATI COACH MARVIN LEWIS. He's in the last year of his contract. He was 6-9-1 a year ago. He's 3-7 this season. Connect the dots.
INDIANAPOLIS QB JACOBY BRISSETT. First, he throws a game-changing interception. Then he loses where the Colts led. Now he's evaluated for a possible concussion. All in all ... a lost weekend.
NEW ENGLAND DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR MATT PATRICIA. Over the last five games -- all wins -- no opponent scored more than 17 points (and that happened once), with the Patriots allowing an average of 13.4 points per. Over their first four starts, two of which they lost, they allowed an average of 32. Biggest beneficiary: Brady. Where he had to outscore his own defense two months ago, he doesn't now.
CHARGERS' DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR GUS BRADLEY. He still can't win in Jacksonville.
CLEVELAND COACH HUE JACKSON. That makes him 1-24 with Cleveland. But that mind-boggling call at the end of the first half -- when quarterback DeShone Kizer tried a quarterback sneak from the 2 with 15 seconds remaining and NO TIMEOUTS left -- might be one of the worst of anyone's career. Should have gotten something there. Instead, got nothing. Welcome to Cleveland.
GIANTS' COACH BEN McADOO. Now the question: Can he last the season?
SUNDAY'S REPORT CARD
NEW ENGLAND QB TOM BRADY. He conquered his personal House of Horrors by winning in Denver where he's now 4-7. However, in his last six regular-season starts there -- dating back to 2005 -- Brady has 11 touchdown passes and no interceptions.
SAINTS' RUNNING GAME. It not only produced a franchise-high 298 yards; it produced six touchdowns and 100-plus yards each by Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, as well as a score by ... yep, Drew Brees.
MINNESOTA WR ADAM THIELEN. He's the only guy with at least five catches in every game this season, and he just ran circles around the Redskins -- with eight catches for 166 yards and a score.
TENNESSEE RB DEMARCO MURRAY. He had one more touchdown (3) Sunday than he had all season ... and the third was the game-winner.
DETROIT QB MATT STAFFORD. After throwing for 57 first-half yards, he turns into Matthew Stafford again and rallies the Lions to a come-from-behind win with three second-half TD passes.
WASHINGTON QB KIRK COUSINS. There's only so much one guy can do. He threw for one touchdown. He ran for two. But he couldn't pull off another come-from-behind win ... not with that defense.
CHARGERS' RB AUSTIN EKELER. He aced the mid-term with 119 yards from scrimmage and two scores. But he blew the final late in the fourth quarter by fumbling away what should have been a victory.
JACKSONVILLE QB BLAKE BORTLES. His biggest contribution to the OT victory was taking a roughing-the-passer penalty, courtesy of Joey Bosa, that led to a game-tying field goal. The more I see of this guy, the more I'm convinced the Jags can't turn to him to win.
N.Y. JETS' QB JOSH McCOWN. Just when you're ready to crown him Comeback Player of the Year, he produces a stinker like this.
DALLAS LT CHAZ GREEN. Subbing for the injured Tyron Smith, he was supposed to protect Dak Prescott. Instead, he served as a speed bump for Adrian Clayborn. "I feel like I let the team down," said Green. He did, but he won't shoulder all the blame. The Cowboys almost never gave the poor guy help.
BUFFALO QB TYROD TAYLOR. Stink. Stank. Stunk.
BRONCOS' SPECIAL TEAMS. How did they screw up? Let us count the ways: 1) A punt return is fumbled away; 2) a kickoff is returned 103 yards for a New England touchdown; 3) a punt is blocked and 4) a penalty for too many men on the field leads to another Patriots' score. Brock Olivo, report to the principal's office.
CHARGERS' SPECIAL TEAMS. They get beaten by the kicker they cut to sign a kicker they later cut. You can't make this stuff up. So they deflect the game-winning field goal ... yet it barely makes it over the crossbar. Why? Because the Chargers committed a penalty prior to the snap, costing them valuable real estate. Oh, yeah, almost forgot: They also surrendered the Jags' first TD on a fake punt. As someone so aptly pointed out, you can take the Chargers out of San Diego ... but you can't take the Chargers out of the Chargers.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF FAMER
ATLANTA DE ADRIAN CLAYBORN. He had more sacks Sunday (6) than he had all last year (4-1/2) and three times as many as he had this fall. In fact, he had more sacks Sunday than all but one of his NFL seasons. Oh, yeah, he also set a franchise record and had two forced fumbles. When you wonder what went wrong with Dallas Sunday, start here.
SUNDAY'S HALL OF SHAMER
DALLAS COWBOYS' LEFT TACKLES. It didn't matter who tried to replace Tyron Smith. Chaz Green ... Byron Bell ... it didn't matter. They looked more like open windows than pass protectors, and the Cowboys better solve this before next weekend's game with the first-place Eagles. Dak Prescott can survive the loss of Zeke Elliott. He cannot survive the loss of his starting left tackle.