As for the Colts, say what you will about their habit of falling behind in games but you can't do anything but applaud their ability to come back. They've won five straight games after trailing in the fourth quarter, an NFL record, and Peyton Manning has made it impossible to feel safe with a lead unless the game's been over for 45 minutes.
The only question left is if they can both run the table and there are fewer and fewer reasons to doubt them every week.
- 1. Saints (11-0) Last Week: 1
Wanna know the stat that, more than any other, explains why the Saints are the best team in the NFL through 11 games? They've had touchdowns scored by 19 different players after third-string tight end Darnell Dinkins caught a score during Monday night's rout. When your offense has as many flavors as Baskin-Robbins, you're a very good football team.
- 2. Colts (11-0) Last Week: 2
With just five games remaining, the talks can shift from speculation to legitimate talk of whether or not they'll go undefeated. The biggest thing working against them might be the fact that they don't seem to care much about finishing 16-0. In the meantime, they've clinched the division and their next victory will get Indy to 12 wins for the seventh consecutive season. -- Matt Snyder
- 3. Vikings (10-1) Last Week: 4
Even if it was against a brutal Bears team, that was the definition of a clinic on Sunday. Brett Favre appears headed for a career-high in quarterback rating and career low in interceptions. Oh, and he's also never quarterbacked a team to more than 14 wins. All this at age 40. That's how you spell M-V-P. -- MS
- 4. Chargers (8-3) Last Week: 5
Well, then. I had Kansas City pegged to at least be a pest in San Diego's current run, but it wasn't even close -- LaDainian Tomlinson, but for a questionable fumble, would have scored three times and Philip Rivers looked straight-up dominant, going large to Antonio Gates all afternoon. The only question at this point, barring some Denver-like collapse, is what seed they'll be. -- Will Brinson
- 5. Bengals (8-3) Last Week: 7
No, they didn't blow anyone away with their performance against the Browns on Sunday, but the win left them 6-0 in the AFC North and it's highly unlikely either the Ravens or Steelers can take the division crown away from them. Now they're playing for a bye, which makes their December 20th date with the Bolts one of the most meaningful regular season games left on the slate.
- 6. Cowboys (8-3) Last Week: 8
Fattening up during October and November (especially with a Turkey Day game against the Raiders), Tony Romo and the 'Boys now have to prove their mettle in December and January, something that has been a problem for quite a while. If they can get through the beastly schedule with a playoff spot, they'll have earned it. -- R.J. White
- 7. Packers (7-4) Last Week: 10
Since the debacle in Tampa, the Pack have now won three straight and are eying a wild card. They do have a pretty tough December with trips to Pittsburgh, Arizona and Chicago (the Bears may presently suck, but rivalry games on the road aren't easy) and a home tilt against the Ravens this week. We'll find out what they're made of quite soon. -- MS
- 8. Patriots (7-4) Last Week: 4
That the Patriots got blown out by the Saints isn't all that surprising. It's clear that they've got a helluva football team down on the bayou. The shocker on Monday night was the way Bill Belichick just accepted the inevitable and stopped trying to win the game halfway through the fourth quarter. We knew he didn't much care for his defense, but now it looks like the offense is on the list as well.
- 9. Broncos (7-4) Last Week: 14
Daaaang. Turns out these guys aren't just quite yet ready to roll over and play totally dead -- a Thanksgiving Day miracle (read: playing well) against the Giants led to a Denver beatdown and Josh McDaniels staying within one game of the division-leading Chargers. More importantly (since catching SD seems unrealistic at this stage, even with such a short gap) they're leading the Wild Card race with three (@KC, v. KC, v. OAK) very winnable games remaining on the schedule. It's gonna be fun, one way or the other, to watch this team close out.-- WB
- 10. Eagles (7-4) Last Week: 12
At times it appears the offense will score on every drive, that the defense will let no one pass the 50-yard line, and that the special teams will win the field position game every time out. Other times, you wonder how this team isn't 4-7. The offense must get better at the goal-line for the team to have a shot. -- RJW
- 11. Cardinals (7-4) Last Week: 6
It could be easy to freak out over the last-second Titans win on Sunday, but everyone knows that Matt Leinart can't beat Vince Young! COME ON. No, seriously, Kurt Warner should be fine and Leinart actually looks, um, er, not as bad as Chris Simms? (What? It counts as a compliment. Kind of.) Anyway, they should still be on cruise control; even presuming they lose to Minny next week, worst case is it all comes down to their matchup against the Niners in two weeks. -- WB
- 12. Ravens (6-5) Last Week: 15
Don't fret too much about these guys being ahead of the Steelers. In fact you can go ahead and flip them any way you see fit because only the future matters for these two teams. The same goes for patting Michael Oher on the back about 'The Blind Side's box office. Five sacks on Sunday night matter more.
- 13. Steelers (6-5) Last Week: 9
Ben Roethlisberger's head injury is obviously troubling, but the defense should trouble them a lot more. Dennis Dixon played well enough to earn a win, but the defense's inability to stand tough on fourth down is what killed Pittsburgh on Sunday night. It can't all be about Troy Polamalu being out of the lineup, can it?
- 14. Titans (5-6) Last Week: 17
What a story a playoff run would be after an 0-6 start -- especially with the 59-0 embarrassment in Foxboro. There appear to be three gimmes, with the way the Titans are playing (vs. StL, vs. MIA and at SEA). But eight wins won't be enough. They'll likely need to win both in Indy this week and against the Chargers in Week 16. Still, do you want to count them out now? -- MS
- 15. Jaguars (6-5) Last Week: 11
At least they don't have to go west again. The Jags were outscored 61-3 combined in San Fran and Seattle. They at least need to stay close enough to give Maurice Jones-Drew more than 15 rushing attempts -- which is all he had Sunday. With three straight home games on the horizon, now is the time to prove they are a playoff team. -- MS
- 16. Giants (6-5) Last Week: 13
Oh how the Giant have fallen. From 5-0 and hearing whispers of a Manning-Manning Super Bowl to being one more crippling loss from missing the playoffs, the G-Men have battled a rough string of injuries. However, there is no excuse for losing five of your last six games if you consider yourself championship contenders. -- RJW
- 17. Falcons (6-5) Last Week: 19
A nice job circling the wagons and getting a win against the Bucs on Sunday, but did they really need to play Michael Turner to get it? It doesn't seem like it. Now they're down their top two offensive players with the Eagles and Saints coming to town and that win might very well only wind up mattering come draft day.
- 18. Dolphins (5-6) Last Week: 16
There's every reason for Dolphins fans to rue missed opportunities this season, but there's not much point in getting too crazy about it. Tony Sparano has done a fine job through his first two seasons and, frankly, there was pruning on the roster that couldn't get done after they won the AFC East last season. Take care of that, add some more talent and the 'Phins should swim again in the near future.
- 19. 49ers (5-6) Last Week: 22
A whipping of the schizophrenic Jaguars is nice and all, but Mike Singletary can't let his team look past the woeful Seahawks to the Cards in two weeks -- doing that is a recipe for disaster. Both SF and Arizona get the Lions and Rams the rest of the way home, so if Minnesota takes care of business, a seemingly lost season can suddenly have "division championship" stamped all over it ... if San Fran can get up for Seattle. -- WB
- 20. Texans (5-6) Last Week: 18
They've played well enough to be as good as 10-1. Of course, in Week 12, they did what they've done the previous two games (and in Weeks 3 and 5): find a way to lose. There seems to be this proverbial hump they just can't get over. It's a shame, because there's a lot of exciting young talent there. Now they need to win out to make the playoffs. It's doable (Jags, Seahawks, Rams, Dolphins and a Week 17 bout against the Patriots at home), but this team just seems like it will find a way to lose. -- MS
- 21. Jets (5-6) Last Week: 23
Hey Rex Ryan, don't ya think it would have made some sense to manage the risk of a rookie quarterback with 16 college starts at some point before the 11th game of the season? Better late than never, but that kind of decision making makes Ryan a questionable risk manager at best.
- 22. Panthers (4-7) Last Week: 20
We look forward to the Matt Moore era with great anticipation and begin to wonder how different the Panthers are going to look come the start of the 2010 season. They'll probably have the same uniforms, but it's anybody's guess who is going to be filling 35 or 40 of them when next season rolls around. Change is coming to Carolina.
- 23. Bills (4-7) Last Week: 27
From all accounts, Dick Jauron is a very nice man. The fact that Terrell Owens and Ryan Fitzpatrick have given the team a semblance of an offense in the two weeks since he was fired is proof that he's not a very good coach. They say God doesn't give with both hands, and Bills fans don't disagree.
- 24. Seahawks (4-7) Last Week: 26
Woo, moral victories! I've said before (I think anyway) that I love Justin Forsett. And even if I didn't, he was playing the Rams, so, well, what's not to love, right? The Seahawks didn't necessarily destroy the Rams, but the win was convincing enough for a team just playing out the season. On the bright side, they can always play spoiler to the 49ers, which is better than, well, being the Browns. Or something. -- WB
- 25. Chiefs (3-8) Last Week: 21
Perhaps it was too early to call these guys spoilers ... or perhaps the Chargers are just that good. At least Matt Cassel found Chris Chambers and Jamaal Charles looked pretty good too (even if the "Larry Johnson carrying the Bengals with 100-plus yards" storyline is a bit of salt in the proverbial wound). Don't think they're just going to lay down and let the Broncos and Bengals stroll into the postseason.-- WB
- 26. Bears (4-7) Last Week: 24
I still can't see the McCaskey family firing Lovie Smith and paying two head coaches next season. Instead, look for Smith and general manager Jerry Angelo to try and save their own hides by gutting the offensive coaching staff. Also expect to see Charlie Weis' name mentioned often in talks about the new offensive coordinator. -- MS
- 27. Raiders (3-8) Last Week: 25
The one bright spot to an awkwardly scheduled Thanksgiving game (aside: Oakland, Rog? Really? You couldn't give us a better matchup? I mean, I know Jerry's gotta win his first Turkey Bowl in the new stadium, but come on ...) for Oakland was Bruce Gradkowski who managed to throw a "touchdown pass" to his "wideout" Darius Heyward-Bey, the first of the young rookie's "hopefully promising career." And yes, I'm using the quotes hoping JaMarcus Russell will be curious enough to look them up on his "computer." -- WB
- 28. Lions (2-9) Last Week: 28
Just get Matthew Stafford through the season without killing him and we'll call it a success. Unfortunately, there are more than a few hard-hitting defenses left on the docket. They should be able to start building a quality offensive line in the offseason, which will give him enough time to grow with his talented weaponry (Brandon Pettigrew, Calvin Johnson, Kevin Smith et al). -- MS
- 29. Redskins (3-8) Last Week: 29
A win in Philly would have given Jim Zorn a signature victory on which to hang his hat. Instead, the pink slip could be on the way to his desk at any second. Fair? Of course not -- but building an immediate contender is the only way to keep your job in Washington. It'll be nice to see where Jason Campbell ends up this offseason. -- RJW
- 30. Rams (1-10) Last Week: 30
What does it say about your season when you're starting Kyle Boller at quarterback and your total point scored is less than your total point differential? It means you're the 2009 St. Louis Rams! Really, there's not much more to say: the Rams stink, they'll stink all year long and, yeah, there's some hope for next year and the future eventually, but I think we'll all need to see the before we believe. Maybe Brian Billick's available as an OC. He can work wonders with that kid. -- WB
- 31. Buccaneers (1-10) Last Week: 31
The defensive performance against the Falcons made it clear that Raheem Morris wasn't totally nuts when he stripped defensive coordinator Jim Bates of his duties. Josh Freeman's nearly mistake-free performance showed he wasn't totally nuts to hand the offense to a rookie. A 10th loss in 11 games proves that sanity doesn't always equal success.
- 32. Browns (1-10) Last Week: 32
Now that Shaun Rogers is out for the season and there's really no point pretending you're a competitive NFL team, the Browns should go the ever-popular reality show route to fill their roster over the remaining weeks. If you thought the casts of those VH1 dating shows were unsavory, just imagine the casting call to jump on the sinking good ship Mangini.