The NFC contenders are continuing to make statements, while the Patriots and Broncos continue to drift in different directions.

It was not so long ago that the Denver Broncos were among the most feared teams in the NFL. Then Peyton Manning retired and it’s been a mighty offensive struggle ever since. And when a team like that goes up against the NFL’s platinum standard for consistency like the New England Patriots, the warts cannot be ignored. The Patriots look polished and ready for a return push to the Super Bowl, but who might they have to face in Minneapolis? Week 10 suggested there are some good teams to reckon with in the NFC right now, and they are not all the ones you are accustomed to seeing. But which ones should you be taking seriously?

The Saints and Rams blew away their AFC opponents

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The Philadelphia Eagles may have the best record in the NFL, but the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams each took advantage of the Eagles’ bye week to put everybody on notice just how good they continue to be.

On the road in chilly Buffalo, Saints quarterback Drew Brees played the complementary role to an offensive attack that was fueled by a powerful running game. Mark Ingram rushed for 131 yards and three touchdowns and Alvin Kamara went off for 106 yards and a score. Brees was there to be more of a game manager of sorts for the most part with 184 passing yards and no touchdowns. It was odd, yet it proved to be incredibly successful against the Bills with 32 first downs. The Saints defense held the Bills to fewer than 200 yards of offense and just 10 first downs. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor was pulled from the game, but head coach Sean McDermott stuck by Taylor and said he will remain the starter moving forward after two rough losses.

Saints punter Thomas Morstead had some fun with how little he was needed after the game as well.

Things were so bad in Buffalo, a naked fan running on the field became the entertainment of the afternoon for the home fans.

The Saints have now won seven straight games after starting the season with a record of 0-2. That has put New Orleans atop the NFC South Division at mid-November, but the second leg of the season will be full of division games and a road trip to Los Angeles to play the Rams. And the Rams look quite good too.

The Rams have established themselves as being one of the more explosive offenses in the NFL so far this season, but it took a little time to open things up on Sunday afternoon against the Houston Texans. The Texans playing without Deshaun Watson is an obvious game-changer, but the visiting Texans showed some good fight for a half until the Rams got rolling in the second half. The Rams scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to turn a 9-7 lead into a 30-7 margin going to the fourth quarter.

Jared Goff passed for 355 yards and three touchdowns without an interception, with Robert Woods getting 171 receiving yards and two scores in the process on the big day for the Rams offense. But the Rams’ defense was taking care of business too, with four forced turnovers and holding the Texans to just 4-of-12 on third down and shutting the Texans out on three separate red zone trips.

The Saints and Rams are not fading away, and it looks as though both are going to be strong contenders in the NFC championship hunt.

The Dallas Cowboys without Ezekiel Elliott are no threat

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Well, perhaps the Cowboys will still be a problem for some teams without Ezekiel Elliott, but not the Atlanta Falcons. Not in Atlanta.

With Elliott missing the first of four games as his suspension by the NFL is back on amid a legal back-and-forth, the Cowboys looked okay early on, but the absence of Elliott was noticeable as the game continued. The Falcons picked up a much-needed 27-7 victory at home to get back in the win column after a couple of rough games, and the Cowboys slipped to 5-4 (and now lose a head-to-head tiebreaker with Atlanta, just in case that comes into play).

Without Elliott, the Dallas running game was handed off to Alfred Morris, and Dak Prescott was tasked with running for his life at times as well. Morris is a fine back to have in your backfield, but he’s not Elliott, and defenses are going to play with that in mind. That means bringing pressure on Prescott, which is a bit of a gamble at times but one you can get away with being burned on occasion if you stick with it. Prescott was sacked eight times (Adrian Clayborn had SIX of them!) and passed for just 176 yards, while rushing for 42 yards.

The Cowboys aren’t a bad team without Elliott, but they got off to a rough start during this four-game stretch without him, and it’s about to get tense as the Cowboys fall farther into the mix of teams competing for a spot in the playoffs. Next week, the Cowboys host the Eagles on Sunday night. Then it’s a short week to prepare for the Chargers, which is followed by another Sunday night game against Washington before Elliott’s next legal status update is confirmed. Going 2-2 during this stretch was probably the worst-case scenario, with three of the games being played at home. But if the Eagles can do what the Falcons just did, the Cowboys will be 5-5 with a road game against the Eagles and a game against the Seahawks looming at the end of the schedule.

Things could get a bit heated with the Cowboys if they don’t win next week.

Patriots continue to set the pace in the AFC, while Broncos NEED a QB

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These Patriots, man. They’re pretty good. The Broncos? Eh, not so much.

Sunday night football featured the class of the AFC going on the road and dismantling the Denver Broncos every way possible. It helps when the Patriots have Tom Brady and the Broncos… don’t. The highlight of the night for Tom Brady was tossing three touchdowns in a 41-16 victory, making him the NFL’s all-time leader with 86 road wins as a starting quarterback (I know, I know, counting wins for a QB is incredibly silly, even more so than in baseball).

The highlight of the night for Broncos starting quarterback Brock Osweiler was hitting someone on the sideline in the head with a pass. Yeah, these franchises have quite the different situation at quarterback right now.

The win by the Patriots moves them to 7-2 on the year and atop the AFC standings, tied with the Steelers. Things are once again looking pretty good for the Patriots, who seem to have solved their defensive issues and now look as complete as they have all season. The funny thing is this was not even a clean game for the Patriots, as it included a couple of empty red zone trips and just 4-of-11 on third down. Winning on the road by 25 and still having reasons to nitpick will keep Bill Belichick busy this week as the Patriots prepare for a home game with the Raiders.

The Broncos may have lost, but how about Derek Wolfe getting a chance to share this moment with his brother-in-law?

The Race For No. 1 (Draft Pick)

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The NFL is now with one fewer winless team. The San Francisco 49ers have placed one in the win column, at long last. The 49ers have had some close calls during the season, but it took a home game against the now equally lowly New York Giants to get the 49ers a win.

Once upon a time, when the 49ers and Giants met on the field, the stakes were high. This time, the script has been flipped from jockeying for playoff positioning to draft positioning. And after the 49ers sent the Giants home with a 31-21 defeat, they also moved the Giants into the No. 2 draft spot in the 2018 draft. The 49ers

And as if the pure joy of finally getting a win was not enough to recognize in San Francisco, there was this emotional moment for Marquise Goodwin. Just hours after losing a child due to complications during pregnancy, Goodwin scored this touchdown to give the 49ers a lead in the first half. If that doesn’t tug at your heartstrings, then you have no soul.

So the 49ers and Giants are now tied for the worst record in the NFC. Ben McAdoo is probably going to lose his job with the Giants. The final days of Eli Manning could potentially be upon us. But what about Cleveland? Oh, they’re still hilariously bad.

On the road in Detroit, the Browns did show some good fight for a while, to be fair. But the end of the first half sure seemed to be the foreshadowing needed for the ineptitude to come in the second half (although the Browns did tie the game on their first possession of the second half before the Lions got things together for a 38-24 win). This end-of-the-half sequence was a hot topic after the game. Hue Jackson didn’t put the blame on rookie quarterback Deshone Kizer for audibling out of the play, but it was later revealed that’s exactly what happened, for some reason.

The Browns remain the only team in the NFL without a win. At 0-9, there are seven more opportunities to get a win. Next up is a home game against the Jaguars.

NFL Blitz

A quick rundown on some other NFL headlines from the Sunday action around the National Football League.

Vikings 38, Redskins 30: Not to be lost in the shuffle of the big days NFC division leaders New Orleans and Los Angeles had was the result NFC North leader Minnesota had. The Vikings went on the road and capitalized against the Redskins.

One of the coolest scenes was witnessed before the game when Teddy Bridgewater let the moment sink in that he was once again on the active roster on an NFL sideline.

Bridgewater may be active, but for now, the offense will continue to be run by Case Keenum, who had himself a 304-yard day with four touchdowns (and two interceptions) to lead the Vikings to a win. Washington quarterback Kirk Cousins may have thrown for 327 yards and a touchdown and run for two more touchdowns, but it was not enough to avoid seeing his team slip below .500. But Maurice Harris did have a catch of the year candidate fresh off the practice squad that deserves your attention…

The Vikings remain on top of the NFC North at 7-2. Not too bad. They get the Rams at home next week. That should be fun. (Side note: the Rams have games against each of the current NFC division leaders in the second half of the season.)

Steelers 20, Colts 17: Sometimes you just have to go on the road and win ugly. That’s the only way to describe what the Steelers did on the road in Indianapolis. But at least they still found a way to continue their superior display of touchdown celebration antics…

The Steelers trailed 17-3 in the second half before finally deciding enough was enough and going out to win the game with a game-winning field goal by Chris Boswell as time expired.

The Colts are under fire for continuing to play quarterback Jacoby Brissett despite what appeared to be concussion symptoms.

Meanwhile, Andrew Luck is seeking medical feedback on his shoulder in Europe.

Jaguars 20, Chargers 17 (OT): It was a game that nobody really seemed to want to win, yet it had a wild finish in the final minutes. What appeared at first to be a defensive touchdown to give the Jaguars a late lead was overturned and led to a comedy of miscues that should have cost the Jaguars the win anyway. But as Jeff Goldblum said in Jurassic Park, “Life finds a way” and the Jaguars were beneficiaries of that.

The Jaguars appeared to blow a chance at winning the game when Marqise Lee decided the appropriate time to do a hilarious yet ridiculous taunting dance in the end zone was after an incomplete pass drew a flag. His taunting penalty drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on himself and Blake Bortles was intercepted on the next play.

But the Jaguars got another chance and were able to push the game into overtime, where kicker Josh Lambo celebrated a game-winning field goal against his former team in style.

Packers 23, Bears 16: Here’s all you really need to know about this one. Bears head coach John Fox challenged a play he thought would turn into a touchdown. Upon review, that call on the field was overturned, but it was changed to a fumble by Bears running back Benny Cunningham and gave possession to the Packers.

Fire up those Jim Harbaugh rumors, Bears fans…

Titans 24, Bengals 20: You’ll never believe what happened in this game. Vontaze Burfict got himself ejected. After making contact with an official, contact that looked a tad iffy at best if I’m being honest, Burfict got tossed from the game.

I’m hardly a defender of Burfict, but you could see in that video the Titans egged him on, Burfict reacted to it, and his reputation led to a short fuse from an official who may have misinterpreted what Burfict was doing with his hands. But kudos to the Titans for knowing what buttons to press. It’s not that hard with this guy.

As for the game itself, Marcus Mariota completed a seven-yard pass to DeMarco Murray in the final minute to lift the Titans to victory after a back-and-forth game all afternoon. The Titans are off to their best start since 2008, while the Bengals fall to a woeful 3-6.

Buccaneers 15, Jets 10: Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Tampa Bay offense in the absence of Jameis Winston, so it was only fitting he’d lead his team to eating a “W” against the team he felt disrespected by. That’s really all I’m going to say about this one.

All your rowdy friends are coming over tonight

Get set for one more game to wrap up Week 10 of the NFL schedule. It just so happens to be a pretty important one. The Carolina Panthers host the Miami Dolphins and are in need of a win after Sunday’s results. With the Saints and Falcons each picking up a win, the Panthers need a victory to keep up the pace in the NFC South. The defense has been key for the Panthers this season and that should be the case once again tonight. Cam Newton’s shoulder has limited him in practice this past week, so keep an eye on that if the Dolphins can get to him and bring him down. The Panthers are a heavy favorite tonight. I’m skeptical about taking them to cover, though.

About Kevin McGuire

Contributor to Athlon Sports and The Comeback. Previously contributed to Host of the Locked On Nittany Lions Podcast. FWAA member and Philadelphia-area resident.