Super Bowl contenders separating themselves

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The Philadelphia Eagles and New Orleans Saints continued to emerge as obvious NFL contenders with wins on Sunday.

If the NFL play-offs were beginning next weekend, the Eagles and Saints would be the top seeds in the NFC with the Pittsburgh Steelers and New England Patriots getting first-round byes in the AFC.

Those four teams have emerged as obvious championship contenders, but they are not alone. While the Eagles improved to an NFL-best 8-1 record with a 51-23 throttling of the Denver Broncos on Sunday, the Los Angeles Rams (6-2) and Carolina Panthers (6-3) joined the Saints (6-2), Steelers (6-2), Patriots (6-2), Minnesota Vikings (6-2) and Kansas City Chiefs (6-3) as teams with at least six wins after nine weeks. 

The Rams are off to their best start to a season since opening 7-1 in 2001. They sit by themselves atop the NFC West after the Seattle Seahawks (5-3) were upset at home by the Washington Redskins. After winning just four games last season, the Rams are on track for their first winning season since going 12-4 in 2003. 

Outside of the six-win Steelers, Patriots and Chiefs, the AFC is pretty thin. The Buffalo Bills, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans are all 5-3, but the Miami Dolphins (4-4) are the only other team not below .500.

The NFC is more open with the Seahawks and Dallas Cowboys at 5-3 and the Green Bay Packers (4-3), Arizona Cardinals (4-4), Redskins (4-4) and Falcons (4-4) all in contention.

 

BRONCOS BATTLE

The Eagles held a 31-9 half-time lead on the Broncos. It was the first time since 2010 the Broncos had allowed 30 points in a half. Denver have now lost four straight, the team's first four-game losing streak since that same 2010 season, when the Broncos finished 4-12.

The Rams were 4-12 last season and scored just 24 touchdowns in 2016. After Sunday's 51-17 win over the Giants, the Rams already have 27 touchdowns this season and are the NFL's highest-scoring team.

Rams quarterback Jared Goff and Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz, the top two picks in the 2016 NFL Draft, each threw four touchdown passes Sunday. It was the first time in NFL history two quarterbacks selected 1-2 in the same draft tossed four touchdown passes in a game on the same day.

Titans safety Kevin Byard had two interceptions in his team's 23-20 win over Baltimore. Byard had three picks in Tennessee's last game, a 12-9 win over the Browns on October 22, and joined Hall of Famer Mike Haynes (1976), Willie Buchanon (1978), Albert Lewis (1985) and DeAngelo Hall (2010) as the only players with five interceptions over two games. 

 

HILTON HEROICS

Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton caught five passes for 175 yards and two scores, including an odd 80-yard touchdown when he fell while cutting at the Texans' 35-yard line, but was not touched. He got up and scored in what was the deciding score in the Colts' 20-14 win over the Texans.

The Saints scored another non-offensive touchdown with Justin Hardee blocking a punt and then picking it up for a seven-yard touchdown. 

The Rams had a huge game against the Giants defense, which is led by former Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo. Goff completed only 14 passes, on 22 attempts, but those completions went for 311 yards and four touchdowns. One touchdown was a 52-yarder to Robert Woods on third-and-33. 

New Eagles running back Jay Ajayi had just eight carries against the Broncos, but he had 77 yards with a 46-yard touchdown run.

Jaguars receiver Jaydon Mickens put an exclamation point on Jacksonville's 23-7 win over the Bengals with a 63-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.

The Chiefs were simply hoping to get lucky on the final play of the first half against the Cowboys, but Tyreek Hill took a short dump-off pass from Alex Smith and weaved his way through a soft Dallas defense for a 56-yard touchdown. The Chiefs were unable to carry the momentum into the second half as the Cowboys pulled away for a 28-17 win. 

Dolphins kicker Cody Parkey recovered his own onside kick after missing an extra point in Sunday's loss to the Raiders. 

PAYTON UNHAPPY

Saints coach Sean Payton on Buccaneers receiver Mike Evans hitting Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore near the sideline between plays: "If there's not an ejection in that situation then I don't know when there's supposed to be an ejection."

Giants safety Landon Collins on the blowout loss to the Rams: "I would definitely use the word embarrassing."

 

SUNDAY'S RESULTS

Carolina Panthers 20-17 Atlanta Falcons
Indianapolis Colts 20-14 Houston Texans
Jacksonville Jaguars 23-7 Cincinnati Bengals
New Orleans Saints 30-10 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Los Angeles Rams 51-17 New York Giants
Philadelphia Eagles 51-23 Denver Broncos
Tennessee Titans 23-20 Baltimore Ravens
Arizona Cardinals 20-10 San Francisco 49ers
Washington Redskins 17-14 Seattle Seahawks
Dallas Cowboys 28-17 Kansas City Chiefs
Oakland Raiders 27-24 Miami Dolphins