Division rankings (cont.)
5. AFC North
I keep waiting for the Steelers to run away and hide from the rest of the AFC North, but the Ravens are having none of that.
Logic says that Pittsburgh's playoff-drive experience should give the Steelers a clear edge in the season's final seven weeks, but Baltimore has a fairly dependable winning formula going for itself. I don't foresee this team caving to the pressure of the big games to come.
The division race looks like it could hang on a Week 15 Steelers-Ravens showdown in Baltimore, and I say that's advantage Ravens. As for the Browns and Bengals, the state of Ohio continues to be in a state of depression.
Team on the move: Baltimore.
Team on the slide: Cleveland.
Playoff bound team(s): Baltimore.
Best player: LaMarr Woodley, Pittsburgh, linebacker.
Best rookie: Joe Flacco, Baltimore, quarterback.
6. NFC North
This is a division up for grabs, and I could make a case for all three of the contenders to come out on top -- or finish third. The Vikings are the hottest team, winning four of their last five. But Minnesota is about to embark upon four road games in the next five weeks, and it's just 1-3 away from home this year. The Bears are going to get Kyle Orton back soon, but they're also going on a three-game road trip, facing the Packers and Vikings in the next three weeks. Green Bay, at 4-5, has more ground to make up, but it also has two more shots at first-place Chicago. If they sweep the Bears, the Packers should win the North on the tiebreaker.
Team on the move: Minnesota.
Team on the slide: Green Bay.
Playoff bound team(s): Green Bay.
Best player: Adrian Peterson, Minnesota, running back.
Best rookie: Matt Forte, Chicago, running back.
7. AFC West
In reality, there are no teams on the move in the AFC West, where the four teams are a combined 12-24. But by virtue of going 4-3 following their 0-2 start, the puzzling Chargers get the nod. Try as it might to give this thing away, San Diego still has the ability to finish comfortably ahead of Denver if it gets its act together starting this week at Pittsburgh. But doing things the easy way hasn't been the Chargers way this season. That's why I expect it to come down to Week 17 -- Denver at San Diego -- for the division title that nobody seems to want to win. Oakland and Kansas City have long since faded into irrelevance.
Team on the move: San Diego.
Team on the slide: Denver.
Playoff bound team(s): San Diego.
Best player: Philip Rivers, San Diego, quarterback.
Best rookie: Eddie Royal, Denver, receiver.
8. NFC West
All you need to know about the sad-sack NFC West is that first-place Arizona now owns as many wins (six) as the rest of the division combined. The Seahawks, Rams and 49ers have gone 6-21, and three of those wins have been in head-to-head division games. The Cardinals own a four-game division lead, and that probably hasn't happened since they were based in Chicago. I get the feeling we've seen this particular Kurt Warner story before. The last time he replaced his team's starting quarterback in the preseason and went on to produce an MVP season was 1999, the year he led the Rams to their only Super Bowl win.
Team on the move: Arizona.
Team(s) on the slide: St. Louis or Seattle or San Francisco.
Playoff bound team(s): Arizona.
Best player: Kurt Warner, Arizona, quarterback.
Best rookie: Tim Hightower, Arizona, running back.