SportsPulse: Are we headed for a Saints-Patriots Super Bowl? Trysta Krick recaps a loaded Week 9 that saw New Orleans and New England continue their dominance.

The first football weekend of November featured salivating matchups, division foes facing off in key races, and a historical showdown of two of the game’s best to ever play.

Here are the Week 9 winners and losers:


Tom Brady: He lost the first matchup against Aaron Rodgers in 2014, but he comfortably took the second, as the Patriots beat the Packers, 31-17, in a showdown that didn’t quite live up to the hype. Still, it was a victory in which his connection with receiver Josh Gordon (five catches for 130 yards and one score) took the next step. That Brady and the offense clicked despite not having tight end Rob Gronkowski, running back Sony Michel and guard Shaq Mason showed that New England is steadily improving as the year wears on. In fact, with the game tied at 17 after three quarters, Brady posted a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in the fourth quarter on 6-of-6 passing for 104 yards and one touchdown. Now, the Pats are 7-2 and keeping pace with the AFC-leading 8-1 Chiefs.

New Orleans Saints: A masterful five-for-five day in the red zone sparked the Saints to a massive 45-35 victory against the previously undefeated Rams. Running back Alvin Kamara tied a career high in touchdowns (three) before halftime. Drew Brees was surgical. New Orleans’ defense stepped up and its offense — behind Brees, Kamara, receiver Michael Thomas and coach Sean Payton’s innovative play calling — might be the most dangerous in the league. This game could very well be a tiebreaker that determines home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. And in the Superdome, the Saints are close to unstoppable.

Winners of division games: Four of the seven early slate games were between division opponents, and in particular, victories for the Steelers (over the Ravens), Panthers (over the Buccaneers) and the Vikings (over the Lions) were pivotal for their playoff runs. With the Bengals on bye, Pittsburgh (5-2-1) snuck into first place. With the Saints’ win over the Rams to move to 7-1, the Panthers (6-2) needed to keep pace in the NFC South and wild-card chase. And Minnesota — thanks to a franchise-best 10 sacks against Matthew Stafford — now has a chance to potentially claim first place in the NFC North after its bye next week when it faces the division-leading Bears in Week 11.

Los Angeles Chargers: They lost two of their first three games, but have now won five in a row – after beating the Seahawks, 25-17, on the road — for their best start (6-2) since 2006. Quarterback Philip Rivers is efficiently spreading the ball all over the field, running back Melvin Gordon is carrying the load and the defense is improving with each week — even without defensive end Joey Bosa, who is nursing a foot injury. If it wasn’t for the Chiefs and their blazing start to the year, more people would be talking about the Chargers. But make no mistake, they’re a team to worry about down the stretch. Now, if they could only fix their kicking woes.

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Baltimore Ravens: They’ve now lost three in a row and four of the last five after dropping their game against the Steelers, 23-16. An NFL Network report suggested coach John Harbaugh could be fired soon. Baltimore’s deep passing game that helped it burst to a hot start this season disappeared and its defense has yielded a steady stream of explosive plays over the past several weeks. The Ravens can move on from quarterback Joe Flacco at the end of the 2019 season, Eric DeCosta will replace Ozzie Newsome as general manager at the end of this year, and if a coaching change does come down, this could be a team in a full rebuild.

Dirk Koetter: He fired his offensive coordinator, benched his supposed franchise quarterback, and even went for a fake punt that failed from the Buccaneers’ own 26-yard line in a 42-28 loss against the Panthers. Koetter appears to be trying anything to spark some change, but nothing is working. Turnovers (the Bucs committed two, didn’t force any and have the league’s worst TO margin at minus-15) continue to be an issue, Tampa fell to 3-5, and Koetter looks more and more like a head coach whose job is in danger.

New York Jets: Speaking of coaches potentially in danger of losing their jobs, Todd Bowles’ Jets looked lifeless again in a 13-6 loss against the Dolphins. In particular, it’s New York’s offense — and the stagnant development of rookie quarterback Sam Darnold — that’s troubling. The Dolphins picked Darnold four times (one of which was returned for a TD) and prevented him from throwing a score. In the past three games, Darnold has thrown just two touchdowns versus seven interceptions. His 14 interceptions are most in the NFL. He looks uncomfortable in the pocket and his struggles are sending the Jets plummeting down the AFC East.

Redskins’ defense: They entered Week 9 ranked fourth in the NFL in total defense (322.4 yards a game), second in rushing defense (80.1 yards a game), and fifth in scoring defense (19.1 points a game). By early in the third quarter of its 38-14 loss against the Falcons, Washington allowed Atlanta to eclipse all three of those figures. The Falcons finished with 491 total yards and 154 rushing. Cornerback Josh Norman was exploited all game long, and Washington’s dud could be disastrous. If the Cowboys win Monday night, both Dallas and the Eagles — who were on their bye — would be just one game back in the NFC East.

Follow USA TODAY Sports’ Lorenzo Reyes on Twitter @LorenzoGReyes.


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