So barring a miracle, the NFL will have a new champion come February.
But let's not underestimate how incredible this collapse has been. On the morning of Nov. 10, the Steelers were 6-2, riding a five-game winning streak, and coming off a 28-10 beatdown of the Broncos in Denver the previous night. Since then, Pittsburgh has lost five straight games, with Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland all toppling the league's current kings.
So who's waiting in the wings to assume the crown? Well, the Colts and Saints look like likely candidates, but there are a handful of other teams capable of usurping Pittsburgh's position. And so, without further adieu, this week's rankings:
- 1. Colts (13-0) Last Week: 2
At this point, New Orleans and Indianapolis are interchangeable -- both are three wins from an elusive undefeated season and are the odds-on favorite to represent their respective conferences in the Super Bowl. But while the Saints struggled with a banged-up Falcons team in Week 13, Indy smoked Denver, so the Colts reclaim the top spot this week.
- 2. Saints (13-0) Last Week: 1
The Saints won another close one in Atlanta this past weekend, and even though New Orleans was never behind, the Falcons had a shot at winning. The Saints defense gave up 303 yards in the air to Chris Redman, which proves that they need to fix a few problems in that area. -- Knox Bardeen
- 3. Chargers (10-3) Last Week: 3
If I were a total loser, I would just quote Aerosmith re: trains and rolling right here. Instead, I'll just repeat what I said on the Wildcast Tuesday: Philip Rivers should be considered an MVP candidate and he's being totally hosed by the fact that the guys in Indy and NOLA are undefeated. It's almost criminal how under the radar his monster season is moving. -- Will Brinson
- 4. Vikings (11-2) Last Week: 4
All the Minnesota naysayers who assumed that a Week 13 flop in Arizona was the end of the line for Favre's bunch were snapped back to reality on Sunday. The Vikings throttled Cincinnati, 30-10, to move within a whisker of clinching the NFC North. If any team will challenge the Saints in the NFC, this is probably it.
- 5. Packers (9-4) Last Week: 6
The Packers are looking like a team that could make some noise in the playoffs. An upset at New Orleans in the second round could set up an epic Green Bay at Minnesota tilt in the NFC Championship.
- 6. Eagles (9-4) Last Week: 9
It's hard to say if the Eagles actually belong this high. They're still dealing with quite a few injuries, and their defense didn't exactly look stout in a 45-38 win over the Giants in New York on Sunday night. But Philadelphia's got the inside track to the NFC East crown, and with their host of big-play guys, the Eagles are still dangerous.
- 7. Bengals (9-4) Last Week: 5
Even if Cincinnati looked awful in a loss at Minnesota, that's a game that can be forgiven. And that's especially true when you consider that the Bengals still just need one win or one Ravens loss over the final three weeks to clinch the AFC North.
- 8. Broncos (8-5) Last Week: 7
Indy's been quite good at quashing teams trying to get on a roll; they did the same thing to Denver that they did to Tennessee two weeks ago as Peyton Manning went large to Dallas Clark and the Colts remained unbeaten. No shame in that game for the Broncos, though, and at least Brandon Marshall got the moral victory of an NFL-record 21 catches in a single game. We certainly don't want a loud-mouthed, self-involved jerk of a wideout like Terrell Owens holding something like that. -- WB
- 9. Patriots (8-5) Last Week: 11
Is this a top-10 team? Debatable, but there aren't many contenders knocking down the door to get up this high in the rankings. New England looks more and more vulnerable every week, despite a Week 14 win over Carolina. The Patriots may still win the AFC East, but they need to make some big strides down the stretch to be considered a contender.
- 10. Dolphins (7-6) Last Week: 14
Welcome to the big leagues, Miami. This is another team that only ascends because of others' struggles -- heck, the Dolphins could win out, finish 10-6 and still not make the playoffs. But with a road win at Jacksonville on Sunday, Miami has now won seven of 10 games to at least get in the thick of things. And with a sturdy defense and punishing ground game, it's the type of team built for the postseason, if it can get there.
- 11. Cardinals (8-5) Last Week: 8
Fresh off a beatdown of Minnesota in prime time, the Cardinals laid one of the biggest eggs of their season in getting blown out by the 49ers. Remember, if SF hadn't choked against Seattle, this game might have actually mattered. I'm not saying I want the tectonic plates to hurry up and start shifting so the West Coast falls into the Pacific Ocean, but it certainly would be better for football. -- WB
- 12. Ravens (7-6) Last Week: 15
Hard to know exactly what to make of the Ravens -- a 47-3 thrashing of Detroit doesn't prove too much other than that Detroit is still awful, and that's a fact we already knew. Running back Ray Rice has developed into a star, though, and just like Miami, the Ravens could be a dangerous wild-card team. A Week 16 trip to Pittsburgh might decide their fate.
- 13. Cowboys (8-5) Last Week: 10
Dallas' annual December collapse is in full swing after back-to-back losses, and a Saturday night trip to New Orleans doesn't bode well for righting the ship. That said, the NFC is such a mess that Dallas could lose out and still get in the playoffs at 8-8. Just one win in the final three weeks might get the job done.
- 14. Jets (7-6) Last Week: 17
New York's on its second three-game win streak of the season after bombarding the Bucs in Week 14. The problem, of course, is that the Jets also have two three-game losing streaks, which means their playoff chances are still in a tenuous spot. Closing with Atlanta, Indianapolis and Cincinnati won't help.
- 15. Jaguars (7-6) Last Week: 12
Jacksonville blew its chance to really assert itself in the AFC race by losing to Miami at home. The Jags get another shot on Thursday night when the 13-0 Colts visit -- the first game all year that Jacksonville's sold out. It's probably a must-win, too, with a trip to New England looming in Week 16.
- 16. Titans (6-7) Last Week: 18
Tennessee's probably not going to have enough to make the playoffs, which is a shame, because with Vince Young at QB and Chris Johnson going wild at RB, the Titans are as much fun to watch right now as anyone.
- 17. Giants (7-6) Last Week: 13
Ugh. New York badly needed a win over Philadelphia on Sunday night. Instead, the Giants gave up a whopping 45 points and lost by seven, putting their backs smack-dab up against the proverbial wall.
- 18. 49ers (6-7) Last Week: 21
Again, just a maddeningly inconsistent team. One thing I did notice, though, is that when Frank Gore's out of the game, the Niners don't even consider running the ball. If opposing defenses pick up on this, it will probably not fare well for Alex Smith's rejuvenation. -- WB
- 19. Falcons (6-7) Last Week: 19
The Falcons lost a heartbreaker to New Orleans and now must win their remaining three games while getting help from the teams playing the Giants and Cowboys. It's still not known when or if Michael Turner or Matt Ryan will return from injury. But, if Atlanta does squeak into the playoffs, they'll need those two big guns. -- KB
- 20. Steelers (6-7) Last Week: 16
There is absolutely no way that there are 19 teams in the NFL better than the defending Super Bowl champions. But Pittsburgh is playing like a bottom-feeder right now, having lost five straight games, with three of those coming to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland -- all teams even further down in these rankings.
- 21. Texans (6-7) Last Week: 23
Round and round and round we go. Where we stop is probably right about 8-8 again for the Texans, who just cannot get over the top and into the playoffs. Houston could still get in with a 9-7 mark, but it's hard to see this team running off several wins in a row.
- 22. Panthers (5-8) Last Week: 20
The Panthers have lost three of their last four games and still have New Orleans and Minnesota remaining on their schedule. Add to the list of growing problems a Jonathan Stewart toe injury, and a quarterback that no one has ever heard of, and the last three games could get ugly. -- KB
- 23. Seahawks (5-8) Last Week: 22
Just when Seattle seemed to climb back towards a lower level of mediocrity, they ran smack-dab into Andre Johnson on a career day. The 'Hawks pass D isn't good, so the big day from Matt Schaub and A.J. wasn't that surprising, but it'll make people think twice before they give Seattle any prayer of a chance against a team with a strong passing attack. At least Jim Mora's specialty isn't secondaries ... -- WB
- 24. Bears (5-8) Last Week: 24
What a sad state of affairs in Chicago, with the Bears now officially eliminated from postseason contention. There's going to be a lot of soul-searching in the Windy City this summer.
- 25. Redskins (4-9) Last Week: 26
Washington moves up a spot after taking down the Raiders in Oakland. Woo hoo. The Redskins are certainly playing better the last couple weeks, and have a schedule that sets them up as a potential spoiler team down the stretch.
- 26. Bills (5-8) Last Week: 27
The Bills are essentially a non-factor in the AFC again -- until you consider this: Buffalo hosts New England this Sunday, then gets Indianapolis in Week 17. The Bills could really turn some situations inside-out with a couple of home upsets.
- 27. Raiders (4-9) Last Week: 25
How bad is JaMarcus Russell? Well, let's put it this way: Raiders head coach Tom Cable is considering starting Bruce Gradkowski in Week 15, and Gradkowski has torn ligaments in both his knees.
- 28. Chiefs (3-10) Last Week: 25
A missed catch by Chris Chambers cost K.C. a win over the Bills, but that's the story of the season, as the Chiefs have had many a close call in 2009. But when you're a largely untalented team in a serious rebuilding phase, you can't realistically expect to get all the breaks, right? -- WB
- 29. Lions (2-11) Last Week: 29
Rookie head coach Jim Schwartz let his team have it after a 47-3 loss at Baltimore on Sunday. And we'll find out a decent amount about Schwartz's future in Detroit the more he lays into his squad -- either the team will respond and start to improve, or they'll tune him out completely. The latter would be bad news for a constantly rebuilding franchise.
- 30. Browns (2-11) Last Week: 32
Cleveland could probably jump the Lions, but Detroit beat the Browns, so the head-to-head tiebreaker stays in the Motor City. And you could argue that the Browns should move up more because they beat the Steelers -- but, really, how impressive is that these days?
- 31. Buccaneers (1-12) Last Week: 31
The Buccaneers are averaging just 8.25 points per game over their last four games, all losses. The 2010 season, and more specifically the offseason where the Bucs get to retool their team, can't get here quickly enough. -- KB
- 32. Rams (1-12) Last Week: 32
Kerry Collins was arguably the biggest loser of the NFL season thus far. Until Sunday, when he shredded the Rams. Therefore making St. Louis the biggest loser by a long stretch. There aren't many more insulting things I can keep writing about this team, but I would appreciate it if they wouldn't hurt any more of my fantasy players on meaningless 44-yard runs. -- WB