Over in the NFC, things are less complicated. That doesn't make them any less interesting, though. Have the Giants solved their problems or are the Redskins just that bad? Can the Cowboys play well three weeks in a row? Are the Packers aware that forward passes are legal?
Lots of questions will be answered before the next edition of the Power Rankings, but here's the way things look right now.
- 1. Colts (14-0) Last Week: 1
Of all the success they've had in the Peyton Manning era, they've never started a season 14-0. Actually, in the history of the entire franchise they've never won more than the 14 games they won in 2005 (and have matched this year). Just when you think they've made all the history they can, they prove you wrong. Naturally, now is the time for all the naysayers to start picking someone else to win the Super Bowl. -- Matt Snyder
- 2. Chargers (11-3) Last Week: 3
San Diego has now moved past the "blowing out bad teams" portion of their schedule and after taking down the Bengals in a close-fought, highly emotional game on Sunday, are squarely rooted in the "we don't lose in December, get hot at the right time and let everyone else know they don't want to play us in the postseason" section. They're hotter than anyone outside of Indianapolis right now. -- Will Brinson
- 3. Saints (13-1) Last Week: 2
Why do they drop below the Chargers on the back of just one loss? In the last three weeks, the Saints have actually been outscored 77-76. Nobody should be pushing any panic buttons, but the defense needs to get healthy and get back to what it was doing in the first half of the season.
- 4. Eagles (10-4) Last Week: 6
When people were making preseason predictions, this is where many people thought the Eagles would be at this point in the season. None of them thought that guys like Akeem Jordan, Winston Justice and Leonard Weaver would be such a big part of the reason why they've been playing so well. And even if they were hopeful about DeSean Jackson, he's still better than anyone thought he'd be.
- 5. Vikings (11-3) Last Week: 4
All of a sudden there's trouble in paradise. Sure, the Vikes are going to win the NFC North, but they need to figure out a way to get Brett Favre to the playoffs in one piece (behind a suddenly porous offensive line) while preventing the Eagles from grabbing the No. 2 seed that seemed a foregone conclusion for Minny three weeks ago. The good news? They face the miserable Bears this coming week, whose dysfunction makes the Favre-Brad Childress tiff pale in comparison. -- MS
- 6. Patriots (9-5) Last Week: 9
Frankly, this seems too high for the Patriots but it is hard to come up with another team to slot above them. Getting their first road win in the United States was a good start and Randy Moss giving it his all is always helpful, but the Pats really need to get healthy if they're going to make a run deep into the playoffs.
- 7. Cowboys (9-5) Last Week: 13
Is the December monkey really off their backs? Winning in the Superdome was a pretty good indication that this isn't the same team that folded up last year. That said, games against the Redskins and Eagles will offer every chance for the simian to hop back aboard. Doing what the Giants did in D.C. would be an awfully good way to shore up their playoff future.
- 8. Cardinals (9-5) Last Week: 11
What gives, man? 24 points to the Detroit Lions in the second half and late-game heroics needed to clinch the NFC West? Really? Because that's not the sort of stuff that potential consecutive-year Super Bowl runner-ups are made of, Mr. Kurt Warner. -- WB
- 9. Bengals (9-5) Last Week: 7
It was heartening to see the Bengals play with so much toughness and fire in San Diego after such a trying week, but the fact remains that they lost a second straight game. They've got wiggle room, though, and if the passing game is truly back in business there shouldn't be much reason to worry about Cincy going forward.
- 10. Packers (9-5) Last Week: 5
So much for the 3rd ranked pass defense in the NFL. You can't expect to win a game when you allow 503 passing yards, even if your own quarterback plays a stellar game (383 yards, 3 TD, no turnovers, rushing TD). The Packers can still expect to easily march into the playoffs, however, because a home date against the Seahawks this week poses absolutely no resistance. -- MS
- 11. Ravens (8-6) Last Week: 12
In the jam-packed race for a wild card spot in the AFC, you can't ask for much more than controlling your own destiny. The Ravens have that in their pocket, although you could ask for more forgiving destinies than a trip to Heinz Field against the desperate Steelers. Making that trip more daunting is the loss of cornerback Lardarius Webb in an already hobbled secondary.
- 12. Broncos (8-6) Last Week: 8
Please try to tell me that you aren't enjoying the epic collapse that is the Denver Broncos. Because if you do, I'll call you a liar. After an embarrassing cave to the Raiders, Denver is eying down an improbable pre-postseason exit after starting 6-0. They're basically the complete opposite of Tennessee and it's totally okay to pull against them. -- WB
- 13. Giants (8-6) Last Week: 17
Whatever happens over the last two weeks for the Giants, they can feel happy about one thing that's come out of this season. Eli Manning's gone from good enough to good enough to carry a team without a running game, secondary or consistent offensive and defensive lines. That's not insignificant and may be enough for them to salvage a trip to the postseason.
- 14. Titans (7-7) Last Week: 16
They have playoff life, but it's still going to take quite a bit of help to get them in. Regardless of how the season concludes, the Titans have every reason to be proud of the way things turn out after that disastrous start. They'll head into 2010 with lots of answers where there used to be questions, especially with Vince Young at quarterback. For this year, keep watching Chris Johnson's pursuit of 2,000 yards. -- MS
- 15. Dolphins (7-7) Last Week: 10
Strange as it sounds, Sunday's loss to the Titans might have been a good thing for Chad Henne. There's no better way to learn a lesson than to take a licking and Henne certainly did that by flinging a few interceptions. He led his team back, though, and the Dolphins appear to be only an offensive playmaker away from being really scary.
- 16. Steelers (7-7) Last Week: 20
It's hard to understand why anyone would really take issue with Mike Tomlin's choice to go for an onside kick in the fourth quarter against the Packers. We always criticize coaches who don't realize when something isn't working and make changes, but Tomlin gets smacked for understanding his defense isn't up to the task without Troy Polamalu?
- 17. Jaguars (7-7) Last Week: 15
If they can find a way to knock off the Patriots in Foxboro this week, they'll likely have a good shot at making the playoffs. Considering they've been blown out in three of their last four road games, it doesn't seem likely. This is a team, however, that has been outscored by 56 points and still managed to win half its games. Obviously, the Jags seem to defy the odds quite often. -- MS
- 18. Falcons (7-7) Last Week: 19
It's hard to come up with much to say about the Falcons. There's talent on this team, although not enough of it on defense and not enough of it to be too surprised that they won't be returning to the playoffs. Sure, it sucks to potentially finish 9-7 and stay home but we've yet to hear a convincing case about why they deserve any different.
- 19. Texans (7-7) Last Week: 21
The playoffs are possible, but -- much like Tennessee -- there's too much help needed for a realistic chance. Instead, the Texans need to beat the Dolphins and Patriots to finish with the first winning record in franchise history. If nothing else, the big thing they can take away from this season is the durability and reliability of Matt Schaub. He's obviously the long-term answer for this team. -- MS
- 20. Jets (7-7) Last Week: 14
Ah, the Jets. The team whose players only have feet so that they can shoot themselves in them before the end of a victory. The loss to the Falcons was the perfect capper to their playoff hopes since it featured everything wrong with the team in a 60-minute package.
- 21. Panthers (6-8) Last Week: 22
Hi, my name's Julius Peppers. You might remember me from such good seasons as 2008 and such mammoth contracts as the one I got before this season started. I've taken most of the year off, but I was happy to play a big part in helping start the inevitable Favre-related meltdown in Minnesota. If you'd like a similar performance next year, please call 1-800-PAYJPEP in February.
- 22. 49ers (6-8) Last Week: 18
You can't fault San Fran for losing to the Eagles on Sunday. Not only are the Eagles a much better team, but the Niners have alternated win-loss-win-loss for their last seven games. And if that's not a streak worth keeping alive, I don't know what is. (Seriously, they're just Jekyll/Hyde at this point and you shouldn't bother trying to guess what the heck they'll do, much less bet on them.) -- WB
- 23. Raiders (5-9) Last Week: 27
Michael Silver dropped some fascinating knowledge in his Monday column at the Y!: six of the 16 touchdowns scored by the Raiders offense (quick aside: ouch, right?) have been in sub-two minute situations, where the quarterback is calling most of the plays. Now, the Raiders just beat the Broncos on a JaMarcus Russell game-winning drive, so I don't want to pile on them, but what does that say about the job Tom Cable is doing? Not good things, I think. -- WB
- 24. Bills (5-9) Last Week: 26
How many people are going to be lining up to coach this Bills team next season? They've got a few nice pieces here and there, but the cupboard is just about bare at offensive line, quarterback, cornerback and pass rusher. Those four spots are mighty important for teams that enjoy winning, and lacking them doesn't make for long tenures on the sideline.
- 25. Seahawks (5-9) Last Week: 23
Jim Mora apparently woke up and realized that if his team kept winning, he was going to end up with a losing season AND a bad draft pick on his hands. Because, really, there's no other way to possibly explain only tossing up 14 points against the Texans and Buccaneers combined. Except perhaps the offense just being awful. That could also work. -- WB
- 26. Bears (5-9) Last Week: 24
You have to wonder how many of the players actually want to play these final two games instead of simply forfeiting. Sure, they've won five games, but it's hard to imagine there are many fan bases more disgusted with the state of their favorite team right now than Bears fans. The team -- including the head coach -- doesn't appear to be giving full effort. Team that with the appearance of indifference and a lack of preparation and there's really not much to like. -- MS
- 27. Browns (3-11) Last Week: 30
One of the funniest things about the aftermath of the Browns' victory on Sunday was that not one player would take the bait when asked if they were inspired to win the game in order to help Eric Mangini keep his job. It's a good thing that they got the Mike Holmgren deal done because it lessens the chance that a late winning streak will wind up keeping the status quo instead of the badly-needed housecleaning.
- 28. Redskins (4-10) Last Week: 25
In hindsight, the shameful performance during the Monday Night game against the Giants shouldn't have been a surprise. The game efforts in the previous two weeks should have been the surprise, because an organization so rife with garbage can't expect to put anything other than garbage on the field.
- 29. Chiefs (3-11) Last Week: 28
"Maybe they'll play spoiler!" he said. "They could be dangerous!" he yelled. Scratch that -- KC's on a four-game skid and they just allowed Jerome Harrison to become the man who now holds the third best all-time mark for rushing yards in a game. JEROME HARRISON. -- WB
- 30. Buccaneers (2-12) Last Week: 31
It hasn't been a terribly enjoyable season for the Bucs, but you could do a lot worse than coming out of it with a franchise quarterback and a promising coach. Josh Freeman and Raheem Morris have both had their growing pains, and they might have some more in the offing, but they each appear to be learning from their mistakes. Tampa couldn't really ask for more this year.
- 31. Lions (2-12) Last Week: 29
They've played tough in several losses this season, despite normally being overmatched physically and playing through several significant injuries. Getting a Week 17 win over the Bears will get them to 3-13, which is definite progress. There's no light at the end of the tunnel yet, but it's getting closer. -- MS
- 32. Rams (1-13) Last Week: 32
Say what you will about St. Louis, but at least they're going down fighting. I'm not even sure who's taking snaps at this point, but, again, they're trying. Of course (and this is a good thing mind you) they won't end up with a franchise quarterback because Steve Spagnuolo is smart enough to take Ndamukong Suh. -- WB