The Fine Fifteen
1. New York Giants (7-1). A tour de force performance against Dallas by a team that looks hungry -- no, famished -- to win another Super Bowl. Eli Manning threw only five passes in the second half ... and the Giants lost nothing from their 14-point halftime lead.
2. Tennessee (8-0). You want depth? With the Titans clinging to a 13-10 lead and Green Bay trying to get a drive going, no-name defensive end Jacob Ford burst through the line to sack Aaron Rodgers and strip the ball from him. And no-name linebacker Stephen Tulloch picked it up. Did you notice, also, that Albert Haynesworth was dropped into pass coverage on at least two zone-blitz occasions against the Packers?
3. Pittsburgh (5-2). Troy Polamalu's wife gave birth Friday. The timing of that birth scared the tar out of Steelers fans around the country, most of whom rooted for a C-section last Tuesday or Wednesday. Because the long-haired one made it clear he would not miss the birth of his son, Paisos Polamalu, in order to play against the Redskins tonight at FedEx.
4. Carolina (6-2). Quietly, in the middle of the Panthers' bye week, Carolina signed kicker John Kasay to a four-year extension. Kasay is an original Panther, having kicked in the first game in franchise history in 1995. If he finishes out the contract, he'll have played for the Panthers two years longer than Brett Favre played for the Packers.
5. Washington (6-2). So Dan Snyder had this idea to promote his players for the Pro Bowl. Yards signs, like the ones politicians use, pubbing the Redskins Ticket for Honolulu. I got one in the mail the other day. It's rather snazzy. And I wondered, "What am I going to do with a Redskins Pro Bowl sign in Montclair, N.J.?'' Anyone have any ideas? Anyone in my neighborhood want to put it in their front yard?
6. Philadelphia (5-3). Todd Herremans with a touchdown catch. Brent Celek with a 100-yard receiving day. That's some wacky stuff Andy Reid did with his tight ends Sunday in Seattle.
7. (tie) New England (5-3). Stunning loss. Not a killer, though. At the midpoint of the season, New England, injuries and all, looks like the best team in the AFC East.
On another subject: I said on NBC last night that Matt Cassel will be in a unique position after the season. In this day and age, it's highly rare that a young starting quarterback, playing well, would hit the open market. But Cassel, 26, will almost certainly not be tagged by the Patriots after the season, and the team will risk losing him unless Tom Brady looks like he'll have problems returning from his knee surgery for the start of the 2009 season.
Why? Because the Patriots have a system in place, a system that calls for them to draft players to replace those who leave as rich free-agents. In this case, they'll simply train 2008 third-round pick Kevin O'Connell to replace Cassel and some team out there will pay Cassel $7 million or $8 million a year to be their quarterback of the future.
Will he be worth it? Maybe not, but when a young quarterback with some position experience is on the street, teams drool. The Texans dealt for Matt Schaub and then paid him $8 million a year -- after he'd started all of two NFL games.
7. (tie) Indianapolis (4-4). Why tie the two teams? Gallant win by the Colts on Sunday night. Playoff-saving win. Not a lot of differentiation between the teams, I didn't think ... and the Patriots had the dropped sure touchdown pass by Jabar Gaffney and the 15-yard deadball-foul penalty on David Thomas on third-and-short, in field-goal range in a three-point game. Having said that, the Colts did a terrific job moving the ball when they had to, and it's good to have Peyton Manning on your side when you've got to win a game.
9. Tampa Bay (6-3). Of the Bucs' seven remaining foes, only two (Carolina, Atlanta, both on the road) are over .500.
10. Baltimore (5-3). Uh-Oh Dept.: Between Weeks 11 and 16, the Ravens play every team in the NFC East.
11. Chicago (5-3). I'd have them higher, except the Bears had to expend every drop of energy to beat the Lions, and we won't know how long they'll lose Kyle Orton (high ankle sprain) until later today.
12. Green Bay (4-4). How do you drop a team in the Fine 15 for losing an overtime game, gallantly, to an unbeaten team?
13. Arizona (5-3). Great point by Anquan Boldin to me after the 34-13 win over the Rams: "Our team is different this year. We're tougher mentally than our teams of the last couple of years. In the past, adversity would really bother us, but not now.''
14. Atlanta (5-3). Three straight games at home now --New Orleans, Denver and Carolina. At some point soon, we're going to realistically consider the Falcons as a playoff contender.
15. (tie) New York Jets (5-3). Three-hundredth career pick by Favre, and from the looks of him after the game, he didn't much care.
15. (tie) Buffalo (5-3). Bills are 0-for-2 on their midseason tour of the AFC East, with the toughest of three games coming Sunday in Foxboro.