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Saturday, April 20, 2024
The Observer

Zwiller: New NFL powers emerge after Week 9

Going into Week 9, it felt like I had a solid feel for the NFL season. The Seattle Seahawks and Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the top-tier teams in the NFC. The AFC had the Kansas City Chiefs and the Pittsburgh Steelers as their two top-tier teams. However, coming out of Week 9, I feel awfully less confident in those four teams. I’m going to break down Week 9 of the NFL season and who I think has proven to be the best.


Kansas City Chiefs:

Current record: 8-1

Projected record: 13-3

Let’s start with the one thing all NFL fans know to be true: The Chiefs are a Superbowl caliber team. The team added former Jets running back Le’Veon Bell, and he is only their second-best running back behind breakout star Clyde Edwards-Helaire. FiveThirtyEight expects them to go 13-3, due to them playing the Saints and Buccaneers (but based on the Buccaneers’ latest showing, I think they could easily be 14-2, and I expect them to get the No. 1 seed in the AFC). Even if they don’t get the No. 1 seed, I think their floor is the AFC Championship game.


Pittsburgh Steelers:

Current record: 8-0

Projected record: 14-2

The Pittsburgh Steelers have the most dominant defense in the NFL. They lead the league in sacks with 32 and are second in takeaways with 15. The Steelers are below average offensively in both passing yards and rushing yards per game. The lacking Steelers offense is exactly why I kind of lost faith in them. They beat the Cowboys 24-19, and while their defense performed well, their offense didn’t really get going until the second half when they overcame a 19-9 fourth-quarter deficit. That’s honestly going to be their downfall in the postseason. If the defense can’t stop Patrick Mahomes (which they can’t, they can only slow him) and the offense can’t keep up, it’ll be game over for the Steelers. They also perform significantly worse on the road, just like they did in the Cowboys game, so they really need to get home-field advantage. The good news is that the Steelers are undefeated at 8-0, and FiveThirtyEight gives them a 50% chance of getting that first-round bye.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Current record: 6-3

Projected record: 10-6

After Tom Brady signed with Tampa Bay, they instantly became a Super Bowl contender, on paper at least. In Week 1, the Saints beat them soundly 34-23 and the Bucs looked confused and unprepared. However, they were able to rattle off three good wins until they played the Bears, a game in which Tom Brady had his now-infamous fourth-down incident. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers looked like a solid team after that fourth-down mishap against the Bears, winning another three games. I had thought they could earn the first-round bye, until Week 9. Tampa Bay played the Saints again and lost 38-3. The Saints simply shut down the Bucs, forcing them into error after error. The Bucs were favored to win the NFC South headed into the game, at 59%, but after it now trail the Saints 20% to 79%. The Bucs looked like a solid team, but the Saints exposed a key weakness: If you can pressure Tom Brady, the Bucs have nothing. I think Tampa Tom and his Buccaneers will make the postseason as a wildcard team and will be lucky to make the second round.


Seattle Seahawks:

Current record: 6-2

Projected record: 11-5

The Seahawks weren’t my pick to win the NFC; that honor was with the Buccaneers. However, they were a good team behind Russell Wilson, who is having an MVP-caliber season. Letting Russ cook was working. They had only narrowly lost to the Cardinals behind Russ having a career-worst three INTs. That seemed like a fluke, and despite a league-worst defense, I thought Russ and wide receivers Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf were playing at a level that could dig that defense out of their hole. However, the Seahawks came up against the Buffalo Bills in Week 9. Josh Allen exposed one of the worst secondaries in the league, going 31-38 for 415 yards and three TDs. Wilson faced the Bills defense, which is arguably top-five in the league, and he played poorly. Wilson threw for 390 yards and two TDs but also threw two INTs, which allowed the Bills to win 34-44. The Bills, much like the Cardinals, showed that the Seahawks can’t throw out of every situation they find themselves in. I still like Seattle as a playoff team, and I still think they can win the division. However, I no longer see them as an NFC Championship team, especially if they come up against the Saints who can score and play defense.


So what now?

So, if the Seahawks, Buccaneers and Steelers are now more suspect than I thought before, who takes their spots as top-tier teams in the NFL? It’s the New Orleans Saints and Buffalo Bills.


New Orleans Saints:

Current record: 6-2

Projected record: 11-5

After beating the Tampa Bay Buccaneers soundly twice, the Saints are now firmly in control of the NFC South. This will allow them to have at least their first playoff game at home, which is a big boost, and I think they have a good shot to make it to the NFC Championship game. Now that Michael Thomas is back for the Saints, they once again have an elite offense to pair with an excellent defense that can shut down offenses much like they did against the Buccaneers.


Buffalo Bills:

Current record: 7-2

Projected record: 11-5

After back-to-back losses to the Titans (42-16) and the Chiefs (26-17), the Bills looked like a good team, but not a great team. However, I don’t think those losses are all that bad. The Titans were coming off of an extended bye because of an outbreak of COVID-19, which helped them be both extra rested and extra prepared. The loss to the Chiefs was played at the Bills home stadium, which is open-air and it was raining. Josh Allen seemed to take a step back throwing 14-27 for 122 yards, two TDs and one interception. However, that one interception was fluky and was a deep ball to try and salvage the game. If you have a game in better weather, I think the Bills have the potential to be an explosive offense, and they have a better defense than the Chiefs. To me, they honestly have a good case to be the team to unseat the Chiefs. I think they will win their division and, at a minimum, advance to the second round of the postseason.