This NFL season is different in a lot of ways, but where it isn't is easy to see. Every year in early November we rush to anoint certain teams as the best or one of the best heading into the second half of the season.
Then it happens. A blowout. A disgrace. A reality check. It shakes that belief to the core for fans, media and especially the team taking the beating.
That happened Sunday night. On their way to being named the best team in the NFC and a legitimate Super Bowl contender, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers showed they can be far worse than even ordinary on a given day.
The New Orleans Saints gave the Bucs a good, old-fashion butt-whooping in front of a national-television audience, serving notice that the Saints, not the Bucs, might be the best team in the NFC.
For now, the Saints are up to No. 4 in my Power Rankings, but just remember they had to go to overtime the week before to beat an average Chicago Bears team on the road.
That's the point. No NFL team right now is without flaws.
Even the top team in my rankings, the undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, has issues. How else can you explain their struggles on the road Sunday against a Dallas Cowboys team with a quarterback making his first NFL start?
For now, the Steelers and Kansas City Chiefs remain the top two in the rankings, but both were pushed to the limits Sunday by teams that almost certainly will not be in the playoffs. As we head to Week 10, remember that.
I still think the Chiefs and Packers will be in the Super Bowl — yes, my preseason pick — but the first nine weeks of the season haven't given us a true crystal clear picture just yet.
The way things are going, expect it to stay that way for a few more weeks before we have a true idea about the best team in each conference.
This week, it's the Saints taking over the NFC. But history makes us wonder for how long.
|It wasn't pretty against the Cowboys. But good teams find ways to win games like that, and they did. They are 8-0 for the first time in their history.||--||12-4-0|
|They haven't even hit their stride yet, which is scary for the rest of the league. They made it interesting against the Panthers with a defensive regression.||--||14-2-0|
|That team that showed up in the second half against the Colts is the one we expected to see this season. Maybe that will get the offense cranked up.||2||11-5-0|
|That beating of the Bucs shows what they are capable of when healthy. They are good on both lines - and that matters.||6||12-4-0|
|Josh Allen showed against the Seahawks that he wasn't an early-season fluke. He was special against Seattle, but the Bills defense still has issues.||1||13-3-0|
|They beat up on a depleted San Francisco team and hold a command of the division race. The offense has been special.||2||13-3-0|
|That was an embarrassing beatdown by the Saints. So much for being the favorite in the conference.||3||11-5-0|
|The defense is terrible right now. That puts way too much pressure on Russell Wilson and the offense.||5||12-4-0|
|The defense played a little better against the Bears, which is progress. That unit has to continue to grow with a key game against the Colts Thursday night.||2||11-5-0|
|Give Jon Gruden credit. They've won two straight road games to get to 5-3 and in the playoff hunt. The defense still needs to get better.||2||8-8-0|
|It's probably shocking to see them here. But they've earned it. Brian Flores has done a wonderful job with this team and Tua Tagovailoa gives them playoff hope.||2||10-6-0|
|The offense didn't do enough against the Ravens. But the defense continues to be a strong unit that is good enough to carry them to the postseason.||5||11-5-0|
|We know the offense can score. But the defense has to be better. Losing to Miami at home is not a good look, even if Miami is improved.||4||8-8-0|
|They come off their bye with Baker Mayfield on the COVID list. That's never a good thing.||--||11-5-0|
|They come off their bye with a huge division game against Seattle. Jared Goff was awful in his last game at Miami before the bye. He has to get it going.||--||10-6-0|
|They have crashed back to reality after the fast start. The offense struggled for most of the Tennessee game against a bad defense, which is an indictment of this offense.||--||8-8-0|
|It wasn't a thing of art against the Jets, but they broke their four-game losing streak. Now comes a home game against the Ravens.||6||7-9-0|
|They have really turned things around under Raheem Morris. Is he earning a real shot to keep the job? It looks that way.||8||4-12-0|
|They have won two straight games and at 3-5 they have a soft schedule the next few weeks. Can they get back into playoff contention?||5||7-9-0|
|Matt Rhule has this young team headed in the right direction for the future. It's too bad Christian McCaffrey is out again.||--||5-11-0|
|They come off their bye in first place and getting healthier. They are the clear favorites in the NFC East now.||2||4-11-1|
|So much for the idea they could push for playoff spot. Losing like they did against the Vikings is not a good thing for Matt Patricia's future.||4||5-11-0|
|They won at Jacksonville, but barely winning against a first-time rookie starter isn't something to brag about. They aren't good at all on defense.||6||4-12-0|
|The good news against Atlanta is that Drew Lock continued to make progress. The bad news is that it came in a loss.||3||5-11-0|
|Once again, they lost a close game. It never changes, only the script to get there.||3||7-9-0|
|They come off their bye with a tough game against the Steelers on the road. Joe Burrow was hot before the bye, but it will be tough going against that defense.||1||4-11-1|
|They just don't have enough good players anymore. As good as Kyle Shanahan is as coach, he can't fix this.||10||6-10-0|
|They showed well against the Steelers in a tough loss, but they are undermanned and it shows. Even so, Jerry Jones says Mike McCarthy will be back.||--||6-10-0|
|They are in the thick of the division race. Can you believe that's true? They are playing hard every week with a big game against the Eagles this week.||1||6-10-0|
|They will now have to play Alex Smith at quarterback. It's a great story, but it's probably not what they wanted.||3||7-9-0|
|Jake Luton did some good things to give them hope going forward. Now comes a stiff road test against the Packers.||--||1-15-0|
|They had the Patriots beat. But in typical Jets fashion they blew it. At least Trevor Lawrence is still waiting.||--||2-14-0|