The Fine Fifteen
1. New York Giants (8-1). Never Thought We'd See This In The NFC East This Year Dept.: With seven games to play, Giants have a two-game lead over Washington and three-game lead over the Eagles and Cowboys.
2. Tennessee (9-0). So who's going to beat the Titans now? The remaining sked: at Jacksonville, Jets, at Detroit, Cleveland, at Houston, Pittsburgh, at Indianapolis. Imagine if the Titans are 15-0 heading into Indianapolis. I don't care if the Colts are in it, out of it or have a playoff seed wrapped up, Dungy will play his guys. As will Jeff Fisher. He told me after the game Sunday, "We'll play our players'' for 16 games. No rest for the Titans.
3. Baltimore (6-3). His name is Joe Flacco, not Joe Flucco.
4. Indianapolis (5-4). Not too long ago, the Colts were coming off bad losses to Green Bay and Tennessee. They were 3-4. They were on the verge of ... well, on the verge of nothing good. So they scratched and clawed and beat the Patriots 18-15. They took advantage of two ridiculously fluky tipped balls by Ike Taylor that fell into Reggie Wayne's hands, and Peyton Manning did the rest. A great, gallant win. Colts 24, Steelers 20, at the Ketchup Bottle.
5. New England (6-3). Good point by Cris Collinsworth in the NBC viewing room after watching another strong game by the New England quarterback Sunday: "Have you noticed we used to say the Patriots won in spite of Matt Cassel, and now they're winning because of him?''
6. Pittsburgh (6-3). Awful loss. Terrible loss. The kind of loss that could cost the Steelers a division title and a home playoff game. Think I'm exaggerating? They're at New England, at Baltimore, at Tennessee in the last five weeks.
7. Carolina (7-2). Ever seen a team play worse and win by double digits? Carolina 17, Oakland 6. Jake Delhomme: 7-of-27, a 12.3 rating. Yecch.
8. Tampa Bay (6-3). In the time between last week's column and this one, the Bucs did not practice. Not once. Jon Gruden didn't give his players a bye week. He gave them a bye-bye week. Smart move. You think his players won't come back hungry to play hard for him the last seven weeks?
9. Atlanta (6-3). All you Atlantans, you deserve to stone me at Stone Mountain for the lack of respect I'm giving your team. What more do I need to see? They win at Green Bay. They beat the Bears. They get officially jobbed at Philadelphia. They skunk Oakland and New Orleans. I really like the Falcons.
10. Philadelphia (5-4). I'm stunned, as was John Madden, that the Eagles twice ran the ball with three yards to get for a first down at the two-minute warning, down 36-31 to the Jints. Brian Westbrook struggled for two on third down, then got stoned on fourth down. You're not a power-running team, Andy Reid.
11. New York Jets (6-3). The final of 47-3 doesn't really matter. It could have been 67-3. What matters is Thomas Jones and Brett Favre are making beautiful music together, and Kris Jenkins has changed the run defense for the better, and a bunch of guys in the secondary America's never heard of (Abram Elam, Dwight Lowery, etc.) are playing great football the past two weeks.
12. Washington (6-3). I bet a lot of money Jim Zorn, Coach Well-Rounded, did not spend his bye Sunday in the den watching Ravens-Texans. My guess is he took a long bike ride. Or hiked in the Shenandoahs. Maybe sailed in the Chesapeake Bay. So where are the Redskins now? Good question, following a bad night last Monday. The Redskins have laid eggs this year against two good teams, the Giants and Steelers. Over the past week, I'd heard too much, "The 'Skins are flukes" and "Jason Campbell's overrated.'' Neither is true. What's true is the Redskins aren't a Super Bowl team, but they're still a playoff team.
13. Arizona (5-3). I'm not sure what a decisive win over San Francisco will mean tonight. But I do know what a loss would mean. It would tar the Cards with the phony brush.
14. Chicago (5-4). Get well soon, Kyle Orton. Sounds like he'll play next week in the weekly must-win game the Bears seem to play every Sunday.
15. (tie) Minnesota (5-4). The Vikings are one of those teams that you don't want to face in January. The Williamses, Jared Allen, Antoine Winfield ... and I haven't even gotten to the best running back alive.
15. (tie) Miami (5-4). "The people outside this locker room might be surprised we're over .500,'' defensive lineman Vonnie Holliday said from Miami afterward. "The guys in this locker room aren't surprised at all.''
Quote of the Week I
"We are fighting and scratching. We've kind of been the underdog. We're beat up. We have a lot of new guys playing. We've played good team football and we've played winning football.''
Quote of the Week II
"You'll never hear me say 'I' anything, but I lost this game. I let the guys down on offense and defense.''
Quote of the Week III
"This is a man's game. Some people need to check their egos at the door and find some heart and come out here and play hard.''
Quote of the Week IV
"It's what I essentially hope to become someday -- a male version of Martha Stewart.''