Another NFL Sunday, another series of takeaways -- some positive, some negative, some depressing.
Here's what moved the meter for me, Schein Nine style: The good, the bad and the ugly of Week 7.
1) New Orleans Saints
Or should I say, the first-placeNew Orleans Saints? That's where the Saints stand -- alone atop the NFC South -- after their 26-17 win over the Packers at Lambeau. And don't dwell on the fact that Green Bay had Brett Hundley under center. Riding a four-game win streak, these Saints (4-2) are on the rise in 2017, a pleasant surprise in the first half of this season. New Orleans' defense was absolutely shredded by Sam Bradford and Tom Brady over the first two weeks of the season. Since then? Well, it's quite a different story ...
Saints' defense, Weeks 1-2: 32.5 ppg allowed, 512.5 ypg allowed, 0 takeaways, 0 defensive touchdowns.
Saints' defense, Weeks 3-7: 17.0 ppg allowed, 270.3 ypg allowed, 10 takeaways, 3 defensive touchdowns.
Dennis Allen's group is pressuring the quarterback, making plays and getting the ball back to Drew Brees and the offense.
I was enthused by so much of what I saw from Sean Payton's team on Sunday -- including the offense's ugly start. Yes, you read that right. You see, typically, New Orleans is a front-running team. But the Saints looked out of whack early on Sunday, with Brees throwing picks in each of his first two possessions and the Saints trailing 14-7 at halftime. No matter: Brees and Co. scored on each of their four full possessions of the second half. The 38-year-old QB spread the ball around brilliantly, while Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara gashed the Packers' run defense. Like seeing this kind of resilience from the Saints.
A complete New Orleans team is a scary New Orleans team. I'm not ready to anoint this defense yet, but the past four games have provided legit hope.
2) Dallas Cowboys
We needed to see a 2016 performance from Ezekiel Elliott, and we got it. Zeke was sensational in racking up a career-high 219 total yards from scrimmage and three touchdowns, while showing off his perfect blend of power and speed. And while Dak Prescott has been more consistent than Elliott this season, the second-year signal caller still clearly benefits when his running back is applying such stress on a defense. The reigning NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year finished with four total touchdowns and truly shined in the second half, completing 87.5 percent of his throws and posting a perfect passer rating (158.3) after the break.
Now, Philadelphia (5-1) is going to win the NFC East. And while I'm still skeptical about Dallas making the playoffs this year, Sunday's effort calls for increased optimism. After that display, a Cowboys fan can look at the landscape of average teams fighting for wild-card slots in the NFC and say, "Why not us?"
3) Buffalo Bills
One particular player who deserves some love: Tyrod Taylor. What a fine all-around performance (268 passing yards, 53 rushing yards) by a quarterback who rarely gets his due.
4) Carolina Panthers
I anticipated Chicago would win this game, given how the Bears run the ball and the fact that Carolina would be without all-world linebacker Luke Kuechly (concussion). Well, Chicago did indeed win, 17-3, but it wasn't because of the ground attack, as the Bears managed just 68 yards on 26 carries (2.6 yards per attempt). It wasn't the aerial attack, either: Mitchell Trubisky attempted a grand total of seven passes (completing four, for 107 yards).
Newton's throwing was erratic all day long -- no coincidence he had two picks, one of which was returned for a touchdown. Granted, the offensive line didn't help: Newton was sacked five times and hit 11, facing pressure on an absurd number of dropbacks.
The Panthers (4-3) barely spent any time on Chicago's side of the field in the second half and went three-and-out in their final three drives of the game. Completely flat performance by Cam and Co.
5) Denver Broncos
For the second straight Sunday, the Broncos (3-3) just failed to show up. In the wake of Week 6's "Sunday Night Football" debacle against the Giants, Denver was shut out, 21-0, by the Chargers in Los Angeles. First time the Broncos were shut out since 1992, bringing a 394-game streak to an end.
While Denver's defense remains stout (the Bolts had just 242 yards of offense), the offense is a serious problem. Trevor Siemian isn't a legit NFL starter. The O-line got shoved around by Joey Bosa and company. Denver's attack just cannot function on a consistent level. I think it will cost the Broncos a playoff spot. Again.
6) Atlanta Falcons
I thought Atlanta (3-3) would show some life one week after blowing a 17-0 lead at home to Jay Cutler, something that's illegal in the state of Georgia. Wrong. I thought Atlanta would be motivated in facing the team that overcame a 28-3 deficit to shock the Falcons in Super Bowl LI. Nah. Wrong again.
7) Arizona Cardinals
8) Baltimore Ravens
These are not your older brother's Baltimore Ravens. This version is banged up and beaten down. It's easy and accurate to cite the injuries at running back and along the offensive line (especially Marshal Yanda), but my guy Joe Flacco has been flat-out dreadful this year. The receivers haven't helped, either. The popgun, inept offense was on display again in another loss -- this time to the Vikings, 24-16.
Baltimore is tough to watch. And not very good.
9) Indianapolis Colts
Now, I've written before that I think the Jaguars are for real. But Jacksonville pounded the stuffing out of the Colts in Indy -- sans an injured Leonard Fournette. Blake Bortles was making plays. Blake Bortles!
After the game, T.Y. Hilton rightly called out the Colts' offensive line for giving up 10 sacks. It was a mess. And now rookie safety Malik Hooker -- one of the lone bright spots in Indianapolis this season -- is done for the year with a serious knee injury.
It's a total disaster in Indy. And getting blown out 27-0 at home to Bortles' Jaguars feels like the unofficial end of the Chuck Pagano era.