Seattle. Denver. Kansas City. New Orleans. Maybe San Francisco. There are a handful of NFL teams that just have their sh*t figured out. Then there’s the next layer, brimming with teams trying to elbow their way into the group just listed. Sunday saw two teams headed exactly in that direction, with Detroit and Carolina both posting huge victories over quality opponents.
The Lions had been riding the league’s second-best passing attack to a 5-3 record heading into Sunday’s game in Chicago, a game that was supposed to see the triumphant return of Jay Cutler coincide with a Bears resurgence. But Cutler hurt his ankle in the second quarter, and his efforts combined with backup Josh McCown weren’t enough to match Matthew Stafford’s three-touchdown day, two of which went to Calvin Johnson.
First thing’s first: Detroit is far from perfect. Their defense is incomplete, and they benefitted from playing a Chicago team with obvious injury concerns. But at 6-3, they sit atop their division, and get to fatten up on the likes of Pittsburgh and Tampa Bay before Green Bay comes to town. Considering what’s sure to be a fired-up home crowd welcoming a Packers team that may not have Aaron Rodgers, Week 13 could see the Lions put their stamp on the division.
For as good as Detroit is on offense, the Carolina Panthers are proving to be incredibly tough defensively. A trip to Candlestick Park represents the kind of resume-building opportunity that teams on the cusp covet, and the Panthers made just enough plays defensively to be considered anything less than elite.
Carolina gets tested by New England next Sunday night (yay! for classic Super Bowl rematches!), then gets to humiliate the dumpster fire Florida twins Miami and Tampa Bay in back-to-back weeks. That’s a minimum of eight wins – and quite possibly nine – before an NFC South-packed final stretch of the season, which features two New Orleans bouts in three weeks. I’m going to say that the Saints are the best team in the South until proven otherwise, but at a low enough decibel so that the Panthers defense can’t hear me.
Quick Hits By David D.
— What is there to say about what most of America witnessed in the Super Dome last night. Monte Kiffin’s defense got demolished by a Saints team that also has the Cowboys’ former defensive coordinator on their sideline. At halftime, Drew Brees had as many touchdown passes as Tony Romo had completions.
By the end of the game, the Saints had an NFL-record 40 first downs and the Cowboys ran 43 total plays. This was as good as the Saints offense has ever looked and as bad as any defense in the league has looked. Things just haven’t been the same for Tins since he infamously picked against the Saints in every playoff game on their way to the Super Bowl win in the 2009 season.
— Nick Foles is the greatest quarterback of all time. Seneca Wallace is not. The hype machine is in full blast now that Foles has thrown 16 touchdowns and 0 interceptions for a team that’s not tied for first in the putrid NFC East.
— The only thing stopping Peyton Manning is the wear and tear of Peyton Manning. He threw for four TDs in a relatively easy 28-20 game against the Chargers but Manning took a hit that looks like it may have damaged his already hurt lower legs. It’ll be interesting to see how he holds up against a physical Chiefs on Sunday night.
— Don’t look now, but the Giants are just two games back of first place in the NFC East after a win against the sloppy Raiders. As the season wears on for Oakland, fans are wondering if Terrell Pryor is a sustainable QB going forward.
— Bat the ball down. That’s all you have to do. The Ravens secondary didn’t learn that lesson as a batted ball led to a Hail Mary touchdown by A. J. Green to send the game to overtime. The Ravens eventually won, leaving them still relevant in the AFC North. Also: Ray Rice is pretty much dead to Fantasy Football owners.
— Dumpster fire. That’s what Atlanta’s season has been relegated to. The preseason contenders for a Super Bowl spot got absolutely mollywhopped by a Seahawks team looking for revenge from last year’s playoff loss.
— Shocker of the day: St. Louis took it to the Colts with a 38-8 curb stomping. Zac Stacy is a legitimate starter in the league but this was the Tayvon Austin show. He’s the first rookie to score three TDs of 50 or more yards (two receiving and a crazy punt return TD) in a game. Meanwhile, the Colts are scrambling for answers without Reggie Wayne on the field.
— Pittsburgh beat Buffalo 23-10. Hi, Bria.
— Tennessee said goodbye to its season by losing to the Jaguars 29-27. The Titans just hang around long enough to disappoint their fans by the end of the season. Look for them to replicate the formula once again this year.
— From that Ravens game, Justin Tuck hits the game-winning field goal. Justin Tuck hits the Terio dance after.
Photos: Getty GIFs: Yahoo Sports