There has been a lot of talk this week about the New England Patriots back to being legitimate Super Bowl contenders. Some say it is an overreaction to them beating the Jets and Bills, two of the worst teams in the NFL right now. And that is a fair argument, because they have not beaten anyone good in quite awhile. But on the other side of the argument, beyond Indy and Seattle the other contenders don’t look that great either. Denver, Cincinnati and the Giants barely got bye struggling teams. Both the Bears and Chiefs lost after looking really good the week before. The Cowboys, Steelers, and Buccaneers look much better after big wins, but all have struggled in the recent past. The Vikings are one of the hottest teams in football with their 6 game win streak, but have done it largely against weak opponents. But maybe we are underestimating them, after all Brad Johnson is the only QB not named Tom Brady to win a Super Bowl in the past four years. So the hype around New England is a bit justified. They do look better and after all they still have Tom Brady.
It looks like the Super Bowl matchup between the Colts and Seahawks is theirs to lose. Both will have home field advantage, and both play much better in their own stadium. They’ll both have the week off to rest, while the remaining playoff teams jockey for position and fight for the right to play them. Neither team has to face what the Patriots did last year on their run to the big game. They had both the Steelers and Colts standing in their way, both teams that legitimately could have been called the best team in football. It would be a major upset if both these teams don’t make it.
1. Indianapolis Colts 13-0 (1): The only question left is how much do the starters play here on out. This could be the most dangerous week as they play the Chargers who likely need to win out.
2. Seattle Seahawks 11-2 (2): The Seahawks have been one of the top offenses in football even without Darrell Jackson, who will return this week.
3. Denver Broncos 10-3 (5): Denver is in a position to get a first round bye, but that means they have to play better than last week if they want to keep it.
4. Cincinnati Bengals 10-3 (4): Carson Palmer had his first rough outing in what may be an MVP season. The Bengals still escaped with a win as Rudi Johnson takes over the offense with the cold weather setting in.
5. Chicago Bears 9-4 (3): The Bears are not the 2000 Ravens. That Ravens offense had Priest Holmes, Jamal Lewis, Shannon Sharpe and a much underrated Trent Dilfer.
6. NY Giants 9-4 (9): Eli Manning is the NFL’s version of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, he looks great when the game is on the line, but he also throws some horrendous picks.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9-4 (10): Chris Simms is not making many mistakes and the defense is dominating. They could be a surprise Super Bowl team much like in 2002.
8. Jacksonville Jaguars 9-4 (8): The Jags have a chance at being the most underwhelming 12 win team ever. They don’t impress much, but they do win and play almost everyone tough.
9. New England Patriots 8-5 (13): The bandwagon is beginning to fill up again as their injury report empties. Seymour, Dillon and Faulk make up for a lot, but the secondary still has issues.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers 8-5 (16): The Pittsburgh Steelers looked like Super Bowl contenders in dominating the Bears.
11. Carolina Panthers 9-4 (6): The Panthers offense seems to offer little more than Steve Smith. Without a big day from him, they have no shot.
12. Dallas Cowboys 8-5 (15): It’s hard to believe, but Drew Bledsoe should be the starter for the NFC in the Pro Bowl. It was a big win for the Cowboys in a game that neither team could afford to lose.
13. Minnesota Vikings 8-5 (12): It’s amazing how good a defense can look when your offense isn’t always turning over the ball.
14. San Diego 8-5 (7): Is there a more disappointing team in the NFL? The Chargers should be pushing for a bye week rather than their playoff lives.
15. Kansas City Chiefs 8-5 (11): The Giants, Chargers and Bengals stand in their way of the post season. Things don’t look good this year, but the future does with Larry Johnson.
16. Atlanta Falcons 8-5 (14): Monday was a must win game and they did, but it will be tough to win out and get into the playoffs with their schedule.
17. Washington Redskins 7-6 (17): Clinton Portis is looking like the back he was in Denver, but the Skins have to resolve the QB problem that has plagued them for years. Brunnell isn’t the answer either.
18. Miami Dolphins 6-7 (18): The Dolphins are on a 3 game win streak, with games against the Jets, Titans and the Patriots still to come. At the least, they could be going into Foxboro with a chance at a winning season. No one expected that.
19. Philadelphia Eagles 5-8 (21): I’m a little offended that I wasn’t invited to TO’s party, because it seems like everyone but Donavan was. But Philly fans, next year they’ll be the team to beat in the NFC again.
20. Cleveland Browns 4-9 (19): Many teams would find a 4-9 season disappointing, but there are a lot of positives for this team. They have been competitive almost every week and the future looks bright with Frye, Droughns and Edwards.
21. St. Louis Rams 5-8 (20): It is hard to knock a team that has to start it’s third string QB, but the Rams are too talented to be as bad as they have been all season. They need new direction fast.
22. Arizona Cardinals 4-9 (23): It’s is unfortunate they won 4 games, because no team needs a running back like Reggie Bush more than them.
23. Buffalo Bills 4-9 (24): Tom Donahoe will take a lot of blame for the Bill’s lack of success and that may cost him his job. Losman doesn’t remotely look like a quality NFL QB and what has happened to Willis McGahee?
24. Baltimore Ravens 4-9 (25): It might be safe to say that the Jamal Lewis era is done in Baltimore. It’s amazing that just two seaons ago he ran for 2000 yards.
25. New Orleans Saints 3-10 (26): The tough ride this team is on won’t end with the season, because the off-season looks just as rough.
26. Oakland Raiders 4-9 (22): Oakland hit a season low losing to the Jets, but it really wouldn’t take much to turn this team around for next year. But that has to start with a getting a QB.
27. Detroit Lions 4-9 (32): Lions fans want to forget this season so much that they may even pretend the big game in February isn’t in their own back yard this year.
28. Tennessee Titans 3-10 (27): There will be a lot of talk about coaches losing their job, and none of them should involve Jeff Fisher.
29. Green Bay Packers 3-10 (28): Samkon Gado’s play may mean the end for Ahman Green in Green Bay. You have to wonder if they’ll have a new QB as well.
30. NY Jets 3-10 (31): The win Sunday may have cost them a shot in the Bush / Leinart sweepstakes. They will be one of the teams pushing for Vince Young to enter the draft.
31. San Francisco 49ers 2-11 (29): Has there even been a remote sign that Alex Smith can play in the NFL?
32. Houston Texans 1-12 (30): I know things are bad in Houston, but I have never seen a 31 yard FG miss by that much. The league should be able to fine teams and players for tanking like that.