That said, it's hard to make a wholly convincing argument against them. The Bengals have a nagging habit of sleepwalking through games, win or lose, against bad teams and Carson Palmer doesn't look all the way back from his injury issues. The Vikings have beaten the Packers twice and the Cardinals, despite their big win on Sunday, remain a team that doesn't leave the light on all the time.
That leaves the Chargers and they get the nod for now. Seven straight wins make them as hot as any team outside of the top two and it's getting harder and harder to see their flaws. Subject to change, of course, as are all the other spots in the Power Rankings that start RIGHT NOW...
- 1. Saints (12-0) Last Week: 1
The Saints have now come from ten points down in the fourth quarter to win this season. Impressive as that is on its own, it's doubled when you realize only one other team has done it. Whether the come-from-behind victories are a sign of barely squeaking by opponents or never quitting in a game doesn't really matter. The only important feature is their undefeated season. -- Knox Bardeen
- 2. Colts (12-0) Last Week: 2
You'd think with all the reality TV shows on the air right now that someone would have come up with a way to offer a receiving spot on a Peyton Manning-led offense as a prize. Or is that how Pierre Garcon got to Indy? Their chances at making it to the Super Bowl improved a lot with Joseph Addai's return to form this week.
- 3. Chargers (9-3) Last Week: 4
San Diego just keeps plowing through their schedule (although all 'crappy recent opponent' caveats may or may not apply) and Philip Rivers continues to be an MVP candidate in a year where he has absolutely zero chance of winning. LaDainian Tomlinson appears to be returning to form and Antonio Gates just set his single-game mark for receiving yards. They are butter because, yes, they are on a roll. -- Will Brinson
- 4. Vikings (10-2) Last Week: 3
Last five games of the 2008 season for Brett Favre: Nine interceptions, 1-4 record. Last five games of the 2007 season for Brett Favre: Seven interceptions, 2-3 record. Nothing to panic about yet for the purple-clad warriors but to see Favre struggle in Game 12 isn't a great sign.
- 5. Bengals (9-3) Last Week: 5
They're doing just enough to win most weeks, a strategy that you can knock as a sign that they simply aren't all that good. It has them on the doorstep of the division title, though, and they've proven they can hang with or beat good teams so better to survive and advance than try for style points that don't count for anything.
- 6. Packers (8-4) Last Week: 7
It was an ugly win against the Ravens on Monday night. It was also a fourth straight win and another strong effort by a defense that's got a pair of rookie studs in Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji. A split in the last four games will likely be enough for the playoffs and, possibly, round three with the Vikings.
- 7. Broncos (8-4) Last Week: 9
Just when everyone left Denver for dead, they decided to turn it around; beating the Chiefs wasn't the same as beating the Giants on Thanksgiving, obviously, but the blowout manner in which they did it at least says something. Knowshon Moreno appears over his little end zone fumble against the Bolts and Kyle Orton's shrugging off the potential for another late-season, ankle-injury-fueled collapse. Josh McDaniels just needs everyone to stay healthy and he'll coach a playoff game in his first season. -- WB
- 8. Cardinals (8-4) Last Week: 11
A shocking slam of the Vikings on Sunday Night Football pretty clearly establishes the Cards as legit this year, with the only possible worry for last year's NFC champs being the health of Kurt Warner. Given that they're straight-up cruising to the NFC West title at this point, it would be pretty shocking not to see a hefty dose of Matt Leinart for much of tte regular season. While no one wants Warner getting rusty, getting injured in a meaningless contest with nothing on the line would be far worse. -- WB
- 9. Eagles (8-4) Last Week: 10
They needed a blowout victory to quiet the doubters who looked at their wins over the Bears and Redskins and saw more negatives than positives. Now they need to stick a knife in the hearts of the Giants to prove that they're worthy of winning the division.
- 10. Cowboys (8-4) Last Week: 6
It's funny how reputations get built. The Cowboys lose to the Giants last Sunday and it goes into the "Tony Romo can't win in December column." The guy threw for 392 yards and three touchdowns -- two of them to Roy Williams, for heaven's sake -- and he can't win in December. Where's the Marion Barber can't hold onto the ball or Nick Folk can't make a kick file?
- 11. Patriots (7-5) Last Week: 8
They need to start scheduling more games in London (or more games against the Bucs) because they simply can't win on the road in the United States. They've got a favorable schedule, but two of the games are on the road and that means you can't start counting any chickens in New England just yet.
- 12. Jaguars (7-5) Last Week: 15
The first thought when yous see games against the Dolphins, Colts and Pats coming up is to thank the Jaguars for playing and give them a lovely parting gift. But then you stop and realize that it doesn't make any sense that they're here in the first place so why count them out just because the schedule looks kinda tough?
- 13. Giants (7-5) Last Week: 16
They wore their desperation well on Sunday against the Cowboys and will need to keep it on against the Eagles this weekend. As nice as it was to see the Giants stop the run and generate some big plays offensively, it's hard not to notice how many yards Romo and company piled up in the air. That's a major red flag for this week, but at least they regained a bit of their respectability.
- 14. Dolphins (6-6) Last Week: 18
Every time it looks like the Dolphins are a bad team, they play like a good one. Every time it looks like the Dolphins are a good team, they play like a bad one. Can we just agree that they're an average one?
- 15. Ravens (6-6) Last Week: 12
Five pass interference penalties on Monday night against the Packers are a pretty sure sign that the once-vaunted Ravens defense isn't getting the respect they once did around the league. If Ed Reed isn't in the lineup for all of the rest of their games, they won't be playing any after Week 17.
- 16. Steelers (6-6) Last Week: 13
The secondary is bad, let's establish that right off the bat. But let's not forget that the Steelers had red zone trips end on an interception and a failed fourth down conversion against the Raiders. There were plenty of chances on both sides fo the ball to put that game away and the Steelers took advantage of none of them.
- 17. Jets (6-6) Last Week: 21
There's not a Jets fan alive that doesn't expect this team to do anything other than run the table for the rest of the season and miss the playoffs anyway. That's the nature of Jets fans and it is the nature of a team that lost as many games by shooting themselves in the foot as the Jets did earlier this season.
- 18. Titans (5-7) Last Week: 14
The playoffs aren't going to happen after Sunday's loss to the Colts, but that doesn't mean we can't enjoy what Chris Johnson and Vince Young come up with over the last four weeks. And, gutsy prediction of the week, prepare for the Titans to be the hot pick in 2010 football previews next summer.
- 19. Falcons (6-6) Last Week: 17
If last week was any indication of how this team plays with Chris Redman under center, the Falcons should concern themselves more on trying to accomplish a winning season and forget about the playoffs. Atlanta was bad last Sunday and will continue to be without Michael Turner, Matt Ryan and 60% of their starting offensive line. -- KB
- 20. Panthers (5-7) Last Week: 22
Matt Moore's audtion on Sunday didn't instill the confidence John Fox needed to immediately announce a new quarterback in Carolina. The Panthers squeaked by Tampa Bay and now must face four potential playoff teams to end the season. Ouch! -- KB
- 21. 49ers (5-7) Last Week: 19
I wrote last week that, barring a meltdown, the Niners might have a shot at walking down the Cards for the division title. Unfortunately, that meltdown happened just as Kurt and Co. managed to shut down the Vikes. Which combined to more or less put the 49ers to bed for the season. On the bright side, they have a young nucleus of talent on both sides of the ball and a -- seemingly -- competent coach running things, so things have a chance of getting better. -- WB
- 22. Seahawks (5-7) Last Week: 24
It's always sad when a "surprise turnaround" involves a 5-7 record, but that's where the 2009 Seahawks find themselves. They're more or less eliminated from the NFC playoffs at this point and really only stand to gain a tiny bit of improved morale and a much worse draft pick next year by winning out. On the bright side, we've found out that Justin Forsett is approximately 1430x better than Julius Jones. On the not-so-bright side, Jim Mora apparently doesn't know it. -- WB
- 23. Texans (5-7) Last Week: 20
No one is rooting for Mike Shanahan to get a head coaching job more than Gary Kubiak. He'll be looking for work as an offensive coordinator come January and they had some good times together in the past. Unless, of course, Shanahan becomes the Texans coach. That would be awkward.
- 24. Bears (5-7) Last Week: 26
Speaking of Shanahan, what are the odds he'd like to work with Jay Cutler again? I don't know the answer, but a tough end of the season schedule could make it impossible for Lovie Smith to survive to underwhelm for another season.
- 25. Raiders (4-8) Last Week: 27
Plenty of folks can chalk up Oakland's win over the Steelers to Pittsburgh's poor secondary play, but I prefer to go in another direction: Bruce Freaking Gradkowski. The dude isn't spectacular, but isn't it entirely possible that he's just mediocre? Because I think so. And when you think about just how horrible JaMarcus Russell may really be, well, that Oakland's semi-success under Graddy makes a lot more sense.-- WB
- 26. Redskins (3-9) Last Week: 29
You can't give the Redskins credit for much, but you have to give them credit for going down fighting. Three losses by seven points to three teams who would be in playoffs if they started today says something good about Jim Zorn. That won't keep him employed, of course, but we're all about accentuating the positives.
- 27. Bills (4-8) Last Week: 23
They really showed Toronto their good side during the loss to the Jets last Thursday night. Their offense couldn't move the ball and their defense was beaten by a gimpy Mark Sanchez and incompetent Kellen Clemens. At least they didn't botch anything in the special teams. Canadians love the special teams.
- 28. Chiefs (3-9) Last Week: 25
A lot of people -- myself included -- thought the Chiefs were a little underrated and potentially poised to play late-season spoiler against some lesser quality opponents on the schedule. But KC debunked that silly myth with a beating at the hands of the Broncos Sunday in a game that saw franchise QB Matt Cassel lob up a 14.2 (!) passer rating en route to being yanked from the game for Brodie Croyle. -- WB
- 29. Lions (2-10) Last Week: 28
It might be time for the Lions to let Daunte Culpepper play out the string. For one thing, it's nice to give a guy a chance to get another job next season and, more importantly, Matthew Stafford needs to survive this season without sustaining a major injury.
- 30. Rams (1-11) Last Week: 30
Ndamukong Suh is going to be a monster. The bad news for the Rams is that the Bucs and Browns aren't stupid enough to both take quarterbacks early in this draft. Okay, well, they need to finish lower than the Bucs, at any rate. Of course, regardless of how good Suh is going to be, they still need someone to replace the two-headed cyclops of Marc Bulger and Kyle Boller.-- WB
- 31. Buccaneers (1-11) Last Week: 31
The Buccaneers have played close games in the last two weeks against divisional foes, but have come up short. Mark this down as a sign of slight improvement but remember that the team is still losing football games and the Panthers and Falcons were two opponents not playing their best football.
- 32. Browns (1-11) Last Week: 32
Why do the Redskins move up after a tough loss to a good team and the Browns don't? Look at the way they happened. The 'Skins lost because their kicker screwed them. The Browns lost because they spotted the Chargers a huge lead and came back when the Bolts started thinking about what they wanted for dinner. In other words, the Redskins hustled and the Browns faked it.