The Fine Fifteen
1. New York Giants (6-1). So you love the Giants, and you think they got one of the really tough games off the schedule Sunday in Pittsburgh. That was a terrific win, the 21-14, come-from-behind, gut-check verdict. No rest for the beaten-up, however. Look at the next eight weeks. Each of the next eight foes are legit playoff contenders -- Dallas, at Philly, Baltimore, at Arizona, at Washington, Philly, at Dallas, and Carolina. (Don't quibble with Baltimore threatening to play some January football. Ravens are 4-3 with Cleveland and Houston the next two weeks.)
2. Tennessee (6-0). Titans don't own a win over a team with a better record than 4-3, but you can only play the teams they ask you to play.
3. Pittsburgh (5-2). You're not going to look very good when your offensive line struggles and you're playing against a pressure defense like the Giants employ. But I would be worried, Steelerphiles, by the pounding Ben Roethlisberger continues to take. Few quarterbacks have been abused as much as he has this year (he's third in sacks), and there are no more bye weeks to help him heal.
4. Carolina (6-2). Good comeback win over the Cards, which almost sounds like damning with faint praise. But the Panthers had a lot of things go wrong -- at one point, Kurt Warner was 31 of 41, and Muhsin Muhammad dropped a third-grade touchdown catch in the end zone -- and the mark of a good team is when you beat a decent team when the roof is semi-caving in.
5. Buffalo (5-2). Pretty strange, playing your first division game in Week 8. Bills can't afford another letdown with Brett Favre coming to town Sunday.
6. New England (5-2). If you had told me the Pats would lose Tom Brady in the first hour of the first game, and would play a quarterback as green as Kermit the Frog, and would play like the '76 Bucs in losses to the Dolphins and Chargers, and would be 5-2 and tied for first in the division midway through the season ... well, let's just say I would have wondered if you were all there.
7. Washington (6-2). No style points (SP) for a close-call win in Detroit. Luckily, in the NFL, there's a column for W's, a column for L's and no SP column.
8. Tampa Bay (5-3). Has there been a 183-pound quarterback survive the rigors and the pounding of a recent NFL season? Jeff Garcia's going to try. I saw him at the Bucs' hotel Saturday evening, and he looks like he's trying to make weight for a junior-welterweight bout. Garcia defines wiry.
9. Chicago (4-3). Twenty-five career starts for Kyle Orton. A little early to start thinking about Orton being the long-term quarterback, but it has to be something Jerry Angelo and Lovie Smith are pondering.
10. Philadelphia (4-3). Is there a more valuable back in football than Brian Westbrook?
11. Green Bay (4-3). Good time for the sore-shoulder Aaron Rodgers to have a bye, with the high-pressure Titans, Vikings and Bears on the docket in a 15-day span starting Sunday.
12. Arizona (4-3). What makes me delirious about Sunday's games: You can't say teams flying from west to east (in luxury, by the way, for between three and five cushy hours) can't win. I know the Cards lost after a 2,050-mile jaunt to Charlotte, but they led for much of the game and showed no sign of sleep-walking through any part of the game.
The west-to-east futility thing is the silliest story angle of the 2008 season. But all the opiners wondering why teams like Seattle and San Francisco can't win on the East Coast should consider this possibility: Maybe they stink. Maybe when the Cards get routed at the Jets it's because Kurt Warner's turnover-happy that day, which he's been at home and on the road in his career. Maybe Arizona loses at Carolina because Carolina's better, not because the Cards had such an arduous trip east.
Tough duty. I bet the biggest hardship for the players was when the flight attendants ran out of filet and they had to settle for roast duck.
13. Dallas (5-3). Read my SI story this week and you'll see how Wade Phillips threw a bunch of changeups at the Cowboys during the week and helped them win one of the biggest must-win games in the annals of Jerry.
14. Atlanta (4-3). Every game Matt Ryan has to struggle and get bloodied and knocked down and go through adversity is another game closer to making him a top-10 quarterback in the league.
15. Indianapolis (3-3). Honestly, after the debacle in Green Bay last week, I really struggled with putting the Colts here. But it came down to the Saints, the Jags, the Ravens or the Colts. The Colts killed Baltimore two weeks ago; out goes Baltimore. I still question the Saints' ability to stop anyone; out goes New Orleans. The Jags lost to the Browns Sunday. Questions?
Quote of the Week I
"I've heard them in Green Bay before. I don't blame them [the fans]. It was a little premature, as we see now.''
Quote of the Week II
"The Buffalo Bills are going to the Super Bowl.''
That sound of scissoring you hear is the PR staffs of the Patriots, Steelers and Titans clipping that quote out of the paper this morning and posting it in places players will see quite often.
Quote of the Week III
"Of course we're proud of that. Of course we're proud of that. We're 5-2.''