#12 is used to being #1
1. New England Patriots (5) – Brady-Belichick: the best QB/head coach combo in the NFL. Familiar territory for this duo. BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Danny Woodhead make the run game worthwhile. Defenses based on quickness, schemes, and system players are always underrated. However, how long will they stay atop the rankings with the team that beat them in Super Bowl XLII right behind them. Secondary covers a lot of ground, as range and athleticism usually makes up for inexperience.
2. New York Giants (2) – Lobbying for: A serious MVP candidate named Eli, best defense and offense in the NFC, and the most underappreciated shot caller on the sidelines. This club is more talented than the Super Bowl XLII winning squad. Tough game in Seattle this Sunday, that is, for Charlie Whitehurst and the Seahawks. Name me a team that offers more balance than what the Giants offer.
3. Indianapolis Colts (6) – Peyton made Jacob Tamme and Mike Hart look like John Mackey and Lydell Mitchell on Monday night against division rival Houston. Defense gets significantly overlooked despite its super pursuit to the QB and ball carrier. Manning is the best offensive coordinator I know of. Whatever this team lacks I can’t see, because #18 makes everyone and everything look good. He makes weaknesses disappear and become irrelevant. The best defense is a good offense, or a great QB – a.k.a. “The Great Equalizer”. Colts “been there, done that mentality” will play in their favor immensely.
4. New Orleans Saints (13) – Drew Brees is the Steve Nash of QB’s. A defense looks so much better when the QB is controlling the tempo at his pace while completing passes at an alarming rate. When do Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas return? One of the best secondaries held Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger to under 200 yards passing and no touchdowns. More on the often forgotten Saints defense: First QB rating under 100 for Big Ben this season, only the fourth time a defense has held the Steelers to less than 13 points since 2007, and they held Mike Wallace out of the end zone. Wallace-Roethlisberger previous five games, five touchdowns. As long as the Saints produce turnovers, they are nearly unstoppable. Sean Payton’s rhythmic offense and opportunistic defense possess the only legitimate threat in the NFC to take down the Giants.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (3) – The offense lacks a consistent big play threat next to Mike Wallace. You can’t run on this defense, but you can certainly pass on them. Their greatest strength is their greatest weakness, as quick slinging QB’s who attack the short to intermediate area in the aerial attack trouble them. Honestly, Tomlin’s troops haven’t played a good game since Week 3 in Tampa. “Best team in the AFC talk” was a bit too premature. Talk is cheap, hype is unwarranted, but I have a hunch the Steelers will shut me, and the critics up.
6. New York Jets (1) – Mark Sanchez isn’t ready to take the team to Dallas after all? LaDainian Tomlinson will slow down sooner rather than later. Defense is more of a bend but don’t break cast than a group of playmakers. Game against the Lions on Sunday will tell me a lot about Rex Ryan’s crew. How can they rebound from a miserable display of football against Green Bay?
7. Tennessee Titans (4) – Randy Moss replaces an injured Kenny Britt. Vince Young is buying time with his feet, completing the deep ball, and leading the NFL in passer rating (Peyton is 2nd). Now, he just has to stay healthy. Chris Johnson is a happy man because he doesn’t have to do all the heavy lifting anymore. Defense had a bump in the road in San Diego, but they have a bye week to get return to its normal, intimidating, aggressive form. Moss is going to love coach Fisher, I guarantee it.
8. Baltimore Ravens (7) – Flacco is getting better and better but it may be at the expense of Ray Rice and the run game. Pounding rush attack not as powerful and effective as it used to be. Ed Reed picked off two passes in his return; I bet he matches that number against Henne and the Dolphins this Sunday. His impact is immeasurable.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (9) – Thomas Jones said it best: “We hung in there. The way we won actually says a lot more than the win itself”. Big game away from Arrowhead against the hated Raiders. Jamaal Charles nickname should be: “Easy real estate”. Whether it be via ground or air, Charles picks up yardage with the greatest of ease. Defense picked up their play just in time for Oakland. Is the run defense ready to pick it up a notch to play to the level of McFadden? Cassel needs to make smart decisions, and wise choices to keep it and run if they want to win.
10. Green Bay Packers (10) – Can’t put this team any higher because of their inept offense. Defense showed it can carry the team, but now the offense is lacking firepower. When will it ever click together? Already without a run game; just made the shutout in the Big Apple even more eye-opening than it already was. This team is “rated”. Not overrated or underrated. The team is so close to representing the NFC in the Longhorn State come February, and Rodgers will get his opportunity to be the difference maker. Despite their win against the Jets, no one made a big deal of it because of their massive amount of key injuries. If Rodgers gets this team to win one game in the postseason, he will have rightfully earned top-5 QB status.
11. Miami Dolphins (15) – If they win in Baltimore they have the inside track on a wild card spot. Imagine if they would’ve gotten that goal-line fumble call against Pittsburgh. Nothing impresses me or stands out about this team, yet, they are a tough and resilient bunch. Good enough for the Playoffs in a loaded AFC? That remains to seen.
12. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (19) – Time to back your words up Raheem in Atlanta this Sunday. LeGarrette Blount’s big-time performance in Arizona has the Bucs offense thinking “Big 3” with Josh Freeman and Mike Williams. Arrelious Benn made a big play to set-up Blount’s game-winning TD. Rookies are shining, drafting in the NFL goes a long way.
13. Atlanta Falcons (12) – Dirty Birds have the division leading Bucs and the Baltimore Ravens in the Georgia Dome the next two weeks. Flacco and Freeman must be licking their chops against this secondary. Better get to the QB, front seven. Aquib Talib vs. Roddy White will determine Sunday’s winner.
14. Philadelphia Eagles (14) – Michael Vick returns to face Peyton Manning. LeSean McCoy needs 25+ touches this game. Trent Cole, time to show them why you are worth defensive player of the year consideration.
15. Oakland Raiders (17) – Darren McFadden is on a tear reaching the century mark on a weekly basis, the defense sacked Seattle eight times, and everyone is hyping the Silver & Black’s comeback to the spotlight. The Chiefs stand in their way to the AFC West crown. QB play is the final piece to seeing if this team is truly for “real”.
16. Houston Texans (11) – I thought Matt Schaub was supposed to be the next elite QB in the NFL? Arian Foster is doing his thing, Andre Johnson is playing like a warrior, but Schaub has disappointed so far. Defensive backfield will be presented with a big challenge this Sunday against Philip Rivers’ Chargers.
17. Detroit Lions (23) – Stafford is back and that means they are the second best team in the NFC North. Calvin Johnson is the best WR in the game when Staff is under center. Ndamukong Suh is as every bit as advertised and then some, and Alphonso Smith (4 picks) was a flat-out steal for the secondary. More Stafford to Johnson has Lions fans envisioning a division crown in the near future. Also, don’t forget, Kyle Vanden Bosch is playing like a man possessed. KVB and Suh better clear their plans for Hawaii at the end of January. I’m looking forward to Thanksgiving Day against the Patriots.
18. San Diego Chargers (27) – Antonio Gates is Canton-bound. Rivers is going to shatter Dan Marino’s passing yards record from ’84. Still not buying their turnaround until Ryan Matthews and Mike Tolbert provide more of a punch in the ground game. Defense got burned during more than one occasion against Tennessee. Needed Vince Young to get hurt in order to win.
19. St. Louis Rams (21) – Can Sam Bradford continue to outdo encore performance after encore performance? He’s something else. The defense is steady and coach Spags is making me a believer for the future. With that said, I want to see them win the NFC West now, not Arizona or Seattle -and I think they will.
20. Washington Redskins (8) – Rex Grossman and JaMarcus Russell are in the news around the Nation’s Capital. Mike Shanahan and his son are making way too many unnecessary front-page headlines. It seemed like they lost two or three games in the standings after losing in Detroit last Sunday. Understatement of the year: Donovan McNabb needs to be treated better. I don’t how the ‘Skins can recover from this crazy situation that’s turning into a fiasco like Lupe.
21. Chicago Bears (22) – Will a Bye week alter the offensive line’s sluggishness, Jay Cutler’s woes, and Mike Martz’s madness not running the football? Lost in the shuffle, a healthy and productive defense.
22. Minnesota Vikings (16) – Back to the drawing board. The worst coach in the NFL, a battered and bruised old QB, and the most underachieving defense in the NFL is not a good formula.
23. Seattle Seahawks (18) – 33-3 in Oakland. Enough said. Well I’ll also say this: I feel bad for Charlie Whitehurst going up against a vaunted Giants defensive front line, fresh off of a Bye week.
24. Cincinnati Bengals (20) – Still have hope they can upset the Steelers at home on Monday Night. In fact, I’ll go out on a limb and say they will beat Pittsburgh. If they do, that means they’ve gotten back to what made them successful last season, winning the AFC North: running the football and playing stellar defense. Time to trash the pass and play tough in the trenches.
25. Jacksonville Jaguars (28) – David Garrard and Maurice Jones-Drew can make the offense look razor sharp every two or three weeks.
26. Arizona Cardinals (26) – They should’ve kept Matt Leinart. I’m convicted and sure Leinart would have this team two wins better and in sole possession of first place in the NFC West.
27. San Francisco 49ers (31) – Troy Smith looked the part of a pro QB. He will start for the rest of the season and will lead this offense to a 20+ ppg average. Frank Gore is playing like an MVP, too bad he’s on a 2-6 club.
28. Cleveland Browns (29) – Let’s see if Colt McCoy can make Browns Backers forget Bernie Kosar, for just a moment anyways. Mangini vs. Belichick is a funny match-up, even more funny, the post-game “no-look” hand shake; which is so good, I wonder if they both have post-coach callings as point guards in the NBA.
29. Denver Broncos (24) – I want to see more Tim Tebow. Prepare for the future McDaniels, if you don’t now, then you are letting your fans down; the few that remain.
30. Dallas Cowboys (25) – I’m at a loss for words on how a team this talented is this bad.
31. Carolina Panthers (30) – I’m at a loss for words on how a team this talented is this bad. (Not a typo).
32. Buffalo Bills (32) – Embrace for a third consecutive heartbreaking, three point loss; this time to Chicago in OT.