The Fine Fifteen
See? Last week I put 18 teams in this space, unsure how to differ between the last few in the typical Fine Fifteen -- and I got crap from readers for not including the Broncos and Jets. I'm back to 15 this week. And for the rest of the year.
1. New York Giants (5-1). Lots of interesting and/or great games next weekend. Saints-Chargers in London will be terrific, with San Diego's playoff mortality flashing before its eyes. Rams-Patriots is suddenly interesting because with the mediocrity of the NFC West, St. Louis will be in the race with another win. Bucs at Cowboys will be a chance for the fans in Dallas to show their love to their fine football team. Falcons-Eagles is cool because the Atlantans are better than anyone thought they'd be. It's Matt Ryan playing against the team he got hoarse for as a kid. Colts-Titans could be the Changing of the Guard in the AFC South. But Steelers-Giants is the best game of the weekend, and none of the others is close for second.
2. Tennessee (6-0). Kerry Collins threw to starting receivers Brandon Jones and Lavelle Hawkins on Sunday. These Titans are a deep team.
3. Pittsburgh (5-1). Ben Roethlisberger, native son of the Buckeye State, is now 10-0 as a pro in games contested in Ohio.
4. Tampa Bay (5-2). The more I see of the reincarnation of Jeff Garcia, the more I see Doug Flutie with a few more inches and a few more completion-percentage points. Did you see him scramble against Seattle? You can't be much better than he was in building a 17-0 halftime lead -- 19 of 24, 228 yards, one touchdown, no picks.
5. Buffalo (5-1). Good chance the AFC East will be won or lost in the next three weeks for these Bills, who hold a 1.5-game lead over second-place New England in the division this morning. Buffalo is at Miami this week, the Jets at home next week and New England in Foxboro in game three of the decisive stretch.
6. Carolina (5-2). "We were so pathetic last week,'' Jake Delhomme said over the cell last night. "We had to prove to ourselves we weren't that bad against a team we need to beat in our division.'' Presto: Panthers 30, Saints 7. They held Drew Brees, the 2008 Marino, touchdownless, while Delhomme had an efficient 122 passer rating.
7. Washington (5-2). Surprisingly tough time with Cleveland, but I think it had more to do with the Browns finally playing the defense Romeo Crennel and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker knew they could. Not to be outdone, Washington defensive coordinator Greg Blache really frustrated Derek Anderson in 14-11 Redskins victory.
8. Chicago (4-3). Told Kyle Orton after the game it looked like he was inordinately comfortable in the offense in putting up 34 on the Vikings. (The Bears also scored 14 special-teams points in a 48-41 win over the Vikes.) "I've felt that way since the first game of the season,'' he said.
9. Philadelphia (3-3). Brian Westbrook's ribs really needed the bye week.
10. Green Bay (4-3). When I saw last January that the Colts were slated to go to Green Bay this year, I thought: Manning-Favre, for the last time. At Lambeau. Cool. Favre's understudy thoroughly outplayed the legendary Manning yesterday, as my colleague Don "Donnie Brasco" Banks explains here.
11. Jacksonville (3-3). I smell 6-3, with Cleveland, at Cincinnati, at Detroit on the horizon.
12. San Diego (3-4). Chargers go to London this week to play the Saints. Saints home game, technically. This means the Chargers, if the current scheduling format stays intact in the coming years, will go 19 years between dates on Bourbon Street -- 1997 to 2016. Hope there's no LaDainian Tomlinson Fan Club in Louisiana. He'll never play there.
13. New England (3-2). My big worry for the Pats tonight: In the past four games, the pass defense has allowed foes to complete 69, 86, 48 and 67 percent of their passes. They can't let Jay Cutler get comfy tonight, the way they allowed Chad Pennington and Philip Rivers to get.
14. (tie) Atlanta (4-2). No fluke.
14. (tie) Arizona (4-2). Might be a fluke.
Quote of the Week I
"No it is not. Emphatically no.''
Quote of the Week II
"Some of you guys sit up in the bleachers all day eating popcorn, looking down. I'm in the middle of the arena, in a team meeting, and if I'm 0-5 or 5-0, I look at those men with the same consistent message. The guy who's playing well is gonna play. That respects our game. Do you understand what respect of this game is? And the way you hurt high draft picks in the past here is, 'Hey, it's yours. C'mon, yours. You can mess up all you want. You can gain weight. You can do anything you want and you're going to still play. That insults this game, now. That insults it.''
In the middle of that screed was a seeming jab at fired president and GM Matt Millen for what Marinelli called "entitlement'' around the franchise, with high-drafted young players getting playing time whether they deserved it or not.
Quote of the Week III
"He's been hurt again. I've nicknamed him the 'White Tiger.' He's rare. He only comes out at Busch Gardens once every six months. Now it's kind of like he's the saber-toothed tiger. He's been extinct.''
Quote of the Week IV
"I couldn't turn it off. It didn't look too good there when it was 7-0. Then it was 7-1, then 7-4, then 7-6. I thought the Red Sox showed the heart of a champion.''