After the Ravens overtime victory against the winless Buffalo Bills Sunday, most of the experts removed the Ravens from the "elite" teams list.
They should actually take it further. There are no elite teams in the NFL. Some will call it parity, but let's just call it a league of mediocrity with about 10 average teams, and then the rest.
Last year, we were talking about the New Orleans Saints, the Indianapolis Colts, and how Brett Favre had breathed life into the Minnesota Vikings.
There are no great teams anymore.
Of the so-called best, both the Ravens (5-2) and Pittsburgh Steelers (5-1) needed blown calls by the referees in the final minutes to pull out victories Sunday. The defending Super Bowl champions New Orleans Saints (4-3) were beaten by the Cleveland Browns at home, and Kris Brown's missed 50-yard field goal late in the game allowed the New England Patriots (5-1) to come away with a 23-20 victory over the San Diego Chargers (2-5).
Meanwhile, some new upstarts in 2010 include Kansas City (4-2); Tennessee (5-2) and Houston (4-2) while contenders from a year ago like Dallas (1-4) and Cincinnati (2-4) have fallen on hard times.
The NFL isn't always about draft picks and coaching, but is now about a watered-down product that produces only average teams.
Where are the Ravens?
They are one in the top chunk, but at this point it's tough knowing where they are headed. From the season opener to Sunday, the Ravens haven't gotten a lot better.
The New York Jets (5-1) have gotten better, especially with the development of quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Steelers have gotten better because quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is an upgrade over former starter Charlie Batch. Compared to last season, New England, Kansas City, Houston and Atlanta are better.
But we're not really sure about the Ravens. After the game Sunday, they looked old and tired. There were some snapshots of veterans that are stuck in my head. There was receiver Derrick Mason limping around on a bad ankle and defensive tackle Kelly Gregg lying on the ground with a groin injury.
Tight end Todd Heap had two touchdowns, but also some shoulder problems. Strong-side linebacker Jarret Johnson is basically playing with one arm, and even though safety Ed Reed had two interceptions, he wasn't close to the Reed that could cover so much ground in previous years.
The Ravens needed a bye just so some of these old timers could pump some Geritol into their systems.
"You take time off whenever you get can get it, but especially at this point in the season," said Ravens veteran center Matt Birk. "Everybody is all banged up and the bye will be a great opportunity for us to freshen up mentally and physically. You know, when we come back, it's not stopping anymore. So, we've got to be smart on the bye making sure we rest up and take it easy so we come back ready to go."
Running back Ray Rice said: "We get some time off to heal, recover and spend time with our families. That's what the bye week is about. It sets you up for the second half of the season. It's time to get healthy, time to get our minds right and we're going to fight for what we need to fight for."
In the meantime, head coach John Harbaugh has to fix some major problems like finding out why the Bills tortured the Ravens secondary for 374 passing yards. He has to find some rushers who can get steady pressure on the quarterback and some return specialists who can run a straight line, and also know when to fair catch.
At the beginning of the season, most of us thought that if the Ravens got through the first seven games in good shape, the second half would be easier because five of the nine remaining games were at home, and the competition wouldn't be as strong with Carolina, Tampa Bay, Houston, Atlanta and Miami on the schedule.
But that has changed now. It will be interesting to see if the Ravens come back from the bye rejuvenated, or if they're borrowing time before old age sets in.
They've found ways to win, but good teams will start gaining some separation soon from the poor teams. Top contenders don't give up a 100 yards rushing every week. Super Bowl-caliber teams don't give up 506 yards of total offense to the winless Buffalo Bills. The good teams don't miss tackles and blow 10-point leads in the final quarter as the Ravens have the past two weeks.
That's the difference between the good teams and the average ones. Few teams improve enough to be in that class, and right now the Ravens are a team on the bubble, one that might walk that fine line for the rest of the season.
Listen to Mike Preston on "The Bruce Cunningham Show" from noon to 2 p.m. Monday and Friday on 105.7 FM.