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Power Rankings

Pats finally hit the promised land

Posted: Wednesday December 10, 2003 12:35PM; Updated: Wednesday December 10, 2003 5:30PM
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We welcome a brand new king to the throne. The New England Patriots now occupy our top spot, for the first time this season, but all you e-mailers from Malden and Roxbury and Wrentham knew it would just be a matter of time, right? The Patriots won seven games against teams with winning records. I didn't even know there were that many. To read more about those fabulous New Englanders, drop your eyes down about an eighth of an inch and continue.

NFL Power Rankings
Rank LW Team
1 2 New England Patriots (11-2)
Looking for unsung heroes? Try offensive linemen Dan Koppen, a rookie, and Tom Ashworth, a street free agent last year. Injuries cast the duo into the breach and it was fingers crossed all around, but they have acquitted themselves nobly. And let's give a big assist to O-line coach Dante Scarnecchia, who instructs them, and personnel director Scott Pioli, who found them, and the repair crew from Jersey Central Power and Light, who got the electricity working after the wind blew the pole over and caused a power blackout with the weekend coming up, nearly giving your faithful narrator a nervous breakdown.
2 3 Philadelphia Eagles (10-3)
I thought Dallas was going to wear them out with the ground game. Then the Cowboys screwed up and Philly didn't, which is why the Eagles have won so many games. And of course there's always the background music of lusty booing from the faithful in Shibe Park, uh, Connie Mack Stadium, I mean Franklin Field, make that The Vet, wait a minute, Pay Up, Brother, Savings & Loan Field. That's the new one, right? Close enough, anyway.
3 4 Indianapolis Colts (10-3)
They're in first place by themselves in their division for nine of the 14 weeks, and tied for first in the other five. Yet we constantly think of the Titans as the kings of the ... what's it called again? AFC South, that's it. I hate to admit it, but I kind of think that way myself. So to make up for it I'm creating a little space between Indy and Tennessee on this modest chart, in hopes that the fairness is appreciated.
4 1 Kansas City Chiefs (11-2)
Oh, oh, storm warnings after Denver put up the weekend's high number of 508 yards against a defense that was highly suspect last year but has outgrown all those youthful indiscretions this season. Hasn't it? HASN'T IT?
5 6 St. Louis Rams (10-3)
Maybe you liked the way Marc Bulger looked against the Browns Monday night, but I didn't. It took an old pro, Aeneas Williams, to sucker Kelly Holcomb into a pair of throws that Aeneas intercepted and turned the game. Here's an interesting stat, though: 55 of Marc Bulger's passes went for 20 yards or more. You know something? I think I saw that game.
6 5 Tennessee Titans (9-4)
Quickie quiz. Who said the following: "I finished the game. If I finished the game, I can play next week." Who's that wise guy who said "the horn player in the marching band?" I'll give you a hint. The guy who said it was hobbling around the locker room after Sunday's game in a boot that was protecting a sprained ankle, which he injured trying to compensate for a torn calf muscle, which he incurred shortly after recovering from a dislocated finger. Plus other injuries he's not telling anyone about. If I were a real pain in the butt I'd say, Enough of these Steve McNair injuries already (oops, I gave away the answer to my quiz), let's move on to something else, but honestly, folks, it's not his fault that he keeps getting hurt ... and keeps refusing to sit down.
7 7 Miami Dolphins (8-5)
They're gonna beat Philly this week and Ricky Williams will run for 100 yards. In the first half. After that the sky's the limit. You heard it here first.
8 12 Baltimore Ravens (8-5)
I don't think I've picked any MLB on my all-pro team as many times as I've picked Ray Lewis. So if I leave him off this time, please, no hollering that my brain has gone soft. Since the position is so competitive, I'm giving an extra long look to all serious candidates, and right now Ray is sitting at around No. 3 of my top seven or eight. I'd give you my No. 1 and No. 2 except they keep changing. But it's shameful the way the announcers feed you his name if he's anywhere within sniffing distance of a pileup. Same with the guys who keep the tackles and assists totals. More about this later.
9 14 Denver Broncos (8-5)
How do you like Al Wilson, at the same position? Right now he's up there with Ray, maybe even a little higher. The Broncos were second in the NFL in defense, going into the K.C. game, and how many other potential all-pros do you see on that unit? If you say Trevor Pryce, I'd say that you're watching about half the game.
10 8 Dallas Cowboys (8-5)
This extremely mean spirited lead for the Dallas-Philly story, courtesy of Hank Gola of the New York Daily News, had me shaking my head: "Bill Parcells didn't get all choked up after this one. Ever since he went blubbering after the team got to 8-3, the Cowboys have been sputtering." For one thing, Parcells never blubbered after the Carolina victory. He paused for a moment, with a brief catch in his voice, showing a bit of emotion -- that's all. To twist it out of reality, and then write such a sneering, smirking reference a few weeks later reflects a really miserable approach to our business. Ah, the tabloids. They make fun of coaches who show emotion. They make fun of the stoics. What the hell do they really want?
11 9 Carolina Panthers (8-5)
They've run for less than 100 yards in three of their last five games. They've also dropped three of that quintet, not the same ones, actually, but enough to get the fans worrying. Against the Falcons, Stephen Davis looked like a guy who's been carrying the ball too much. Still, the Panthers are two games up on the rest of the division, and they couldn't hand-pick a better trio of NFC foes against which to end the year -- Arizona, Detroit, the Giants. I predict that they'll grace the playoffs with their presence, and then make a quick exit.
12 13 Green Bay Packers (7-6)
Cornerback Mike McKenzie was beaten on a 61-yard TD pass against the Bears, but he shrugged it off and came back with two interceptions, one of them for 90 yards and a score. From Green Bay defensive coordinator Ed Donatell: "Mike has a short memory, and I love that to the dickens." Bear this in mind if you're thinking of hiring Ed to be your after-dinner speaker.
13 15 Minnesota Vikings (8-5)
Yeah, wide open, go deep, make the ESPN geniuses happy. You know, the "just fling it up there and let Randy go get it" school of analysis.
14 11 Cincinnati Bengals (7-6)
What a fragile game it is. They're holding their own against the Ravens. Then LT Levi Jones goes out with a sprained knee and Scott Rehberg, who represents a throwback to the days when the Cincinnati wasn't, ahem, very good, comes in, and from the Ravens sideline you hear the bugle sounding the cavalry charge and it was all over. The Bengals, as much as we love them, are walking a tightrope. They're constantly just this little bit away from disaster.
15 10 Seattle Seahawks (8-5)
It's not true that they can't win on the road. They beat the Cardinals in Arizona in September, but for aesthetic purposes we're not including it in our statistical round-up, mainly because it's my own round-up and I can do what I want with it. Got that, everybody, and I see you trying to leave the room back there! Where was I? Oh yes, the road miseries. Last five roadies, all losses, have seen the defense give up an average of 33.4 points and 403.6 yards. Why is this happening? I will throw this question to my loyal e-mailers from the Northwest, and only serious responders need apply. Jimmy, if you see things like, "They miss grandma's cooking," just throw them in the dumper.
16 18 Buffalo Bills (6-7)
Travis Henry, playing with a cracked bone in his leg and torn cartilage in his rib cage, continues to run like the wind. How can they leave this terrific little back off the Pro Bowl team? I'll give you four ways: Holmes, Tomlinson, Portis, Lewis. Here's another one. Ricky Williams. Before you start yelling that it's not fair and head down to 19th and McDowell, remember that there are always Pro Bowl no-shows due to injuries and other things. So Henry still has an outside shot.
17 19 San Francisco 49ers (6-7)
This is my day for taking on my journalistic brethren. This one from the AP, describing the end of a 56-yard scoring drive against Arizona, "with Terrell Owens performing some sort of mime act in celebration of his one-yard scoring catch." Well, it was really two yards, so in addition to being as wooden and lifeless as an eye chart, this piece of deadball writing is inaccurate as well.
18 16 New Orleans Saints (6-7)
Aaron Brooks fumbled three times in the loss to the Bucs. One time, the ball flew out of his passing hand as if it had a motor. Kickers have mentioned the slick new balls the NFL insists upon using, but now we have a QB citing the same problem. In tennis, if you've got a big serve, you always like the cry of "new balls, please." Eunuchs do, too.
19 22 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-7)
I heard one description of their 14-7 victory over New Orleans that began, "Led by Warren Sapp, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers..." Well, he caught a TD. But he took no part in the sackfest that numbered seven, and he registered no tackles nor assists. So I guess you could say he led the scoring. Or maybe you could just say nothing at all, which would earn my respect.
20 17 Houston Texans (5-8)
Dave Ragone now joins a very select club that has a long title. It's called Quarterbacks Who Had to Play Last Sunday But Would Have Been Better Off Doing Something Else and Now They Might Have to Start This Week. Other members include Arizona's Josh McCown and the Giants' Jesse Palmer. But applications are in the mail and the membership is expected to grow in weeks to come.
21 21 Chicago Bears (5-8)
I don't know whether or not Rex Grossman belongs in the above group. I hear noises indicating there's some stirring about in the Windy City, and the kid might actually get some game time, which is what the fans have been yelling about for quite a while now. But fans yell all the time, don't they? Writers, too. But not their wives, if you're thinking of the same person I am.
22 23 Washington Redskins (5-8)
Bruce Smith got his record-breaking sack shortly after he put Giants' QB Kerry Collins out with a hit on a play that had been whistled dead. Caught up in the overwhelming emotion of the moment, Steve Spurrier issued this stirring quote: "He's one of our defensive ends. He plays half the time, and he's been a leader and a veteran player, and it was nice he was able to get the record here today." Spurrier? He's one of their coaches. Came from college. Once played for the Niners. Nice to see him so level-headed when those around him are losing theirs.
23 24 Pittsburgh Steelers (5-8)
They held the Raiders to 39 yards passing. I was wondering if this might be close to a Raiders record, so, foolishly, I tried finding the stat in the Oakland press guide. Just as I thought. In Prise and Poide -- make that Pride and Poise -- Country, negative marks are not noted. Only commitment to excellence. I will return to this theme in the Raiders section.
24 20 New York Jets (5-8)
The Bills rushed for 203 yards on 41 carries against New York, so for just for a kibbitz, I looked up how many tackles and assists their No.1 draft, DT Dewayne Robertson, had collected. I couldn't find his name listed. A typo, a misprint, an injury that kept him out of action, what? So I called the Jets. "He wasn't hurt," said the stony voice in their PR department. "Well, did he play?" "He alternated with Josh Evans." Oy, the double bagel. There is some serious regression going on here, assuming the talent was ever there in the first place.
25 25 Jacksonville Jaguars (4-9)
This is the only ranking I'm really apologizing for because I like the way they're playing now. I kept them where they were because they beat a Texans team without its top runner and top two quarterbacks. The Jets, one notch above, beat them not so long ago. I don't think they're really better than the Steelers, although they might be. I'll be looking to hoist them if they give the Patriots a good game. No nasty e-mails, please, because the answer won't change.
26 30 Atlanta Falcons (3-10)
Gosh can one guy, I mean, only one, change a team so completely? Evidently he can. Yeah, I could quibble and say Michael Vick's passing was way off Sunday night, but so what? Did you see the faces of those fans? Did you see the way the Falcons' defense was playing? How can a QB make the defense so much better? "Because it's easy to play defense like this," said tackle Ed Jasper. "It's harder when the other team has 10 minutes more of possession time than you do."
27 28 Cleveland Browns (4-9)
Remember the Cincinnati capsule? Something along the same line happened Monday night when LG Chad Beasley, who had been a backup himself, departed and Cleveland reached way down in the depth chart for a rookie free agent named Enoch Demar. The thing kind of collapsed as the kid gave up the key sack that ended Cleveland's evening. On another topic: am I seeing things or is Orpheus Roye really operating at a high level at DT? I mean a really high level, like maybe the all-pro checklist? I'll be calling the Browns about him later on, but any of you Cleveland e-mailers who want to respond to this, pro or con, have my invitation. My literary idol, George Orwell, believed that a great deal of his insight came from the fact that he read carefully all correspondence from readers.
28 26 New York Giants (4-9)
Left tackle Ian Allen, "kind of delayed" when he heard what he thought was an official's whistle, but Bruce Smith didn't, and the result was a quarterback who's now out of commission. Running backs on the Giants are saying, in private, that playing behind this patchwork 0-line is risky because some of the guys don't know what they're doing. Remember in the old Gary Cooper-Robert Preston movie, Beau Geste, when they're defending the fort and Sgt. Markov, played by Brian Donlevy, keeps sending one legionnaire after another up to the tower to take the bullet? That's the way it is with this team. Survival is the key.
29 27 Detroit Lions (4-9)
Barry Sanders had a Tuesday press conference to push his book, Now You See Him. Three days later the Chargers' LaDainian Tomlinson got a copy and read it. Sanders and Emmitt Smith are his idols -- he chose his number (21) because it lies between Sanders' 20 and Emmitt's 22. During the game, while he was in the process of gaining about a million yards on the poor Lions, Tomlinson tossed the ball to the official after each of his two TDs, just as Barry used to do. Even the idols are coming back to haunt the Lions.
30 29 Oakland Raiders (3-10)
Forget fewest passing yards. I was interested in the last time the Raiders were outgained by as much as 238 yards in a game (Steelers 399, Raiders 161), but I always get in a bad mood when I have to deal with either the Elias Bureau, the NFL's statistical arm -- make that forearm -- or the Raiders' p.r. dept. Well, since Google on the computer is the miracle information service, I punched it in ...greatest yardage difference, oakland raiders (like all idiots, the computer doesn't like capital letters). What I got back was something I really had to laugh at. A line of NFL products available on eBay, all the years the Raiders led the league in penalties, everything except what was close to the matter, and finally, after I punched it in once too often -- A NETWORK ERROR HAS OCCURRED. THE ATTEMPT TO LOAD 'ACCESSING URL' FAILED. HIT OK. Pow! I mean, does this sum up the Raiders' season or what?
31 32 San Diego Chargers (3-10)
Doug Flutie on Tomlinson: "The best pure hands on the team." How about the best impure hands? It's around an eight-way tie.
32 31 Arizona Cardinals (3-10)
They handed McCown a tin hat, a gas mask and a set of instructions, What to Do in Case of An Air Raid, and told him he's the man against Carolina this Sunday. I can tell you this about Josh McCown. He played his college ball at Sam Houston State. How many of you know the school's nickname? I see a few hands. OK, how many of you know that nickname's correct spelling? I thought so. None of you. It's the Bearkats. Not to be confused with my neighbor, Bare Katz.


Sports Illustrated senior writer Paul Zimmerman covers the NFL for the magazine and SI.com. Click here to send Dr. Z a question.