The Fine Fifteen
1. New York Giants (10-1). Over the last four weeks, the Giants have scored 35, 36, 30 and 37, all against teams in the top 10 in the NFL in total defense -- Dallas (8), Philadelphia (6), Baltimore (2), Arizona (10). Not trying to be too gee-whiz here, but exactly who is going to stop this team?
2. New York Jets (8-3). Biggest day in the history of New Jersey sports: The Jets versus the Giants in Tampa ... WITH SPRINGSTEEN AT HALFTIME.
3. Tennessee (10-1). Let's not go overboard because the Titans lost one game. But let's be a little bit concerned about the interior of the offensive line getting overpowered by the Jets.
4. New England (7-4). The Patriots face the very likely prospect of playing the playoffs on the road, from the fifth or sixth seed, if they make it.
5. Pittsburgh (8-3). The only thing that can stop this team is its running game. Or lack thereof. If I'm Mike Tomlin, I'm giving Gary Russell some important carries Sunday in Foxboro. What a month the Steelers have coming up: at Patriots, home vs. Cowboys, at Ravens and Titans. They'll never make it with the kind of running game we saw Thursday night.
6. Indianapolis (7-4). Not sure if I've ever seen a team win so many games in the last two minutes. And here's how nutty this season is for the Colts: Barring a major surprise, they'll be 10-4 and in the driver's seat for the fifth seed (with the head-to-head edge over the Pats and Ravens) after facing Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit the next three weeks.
7. Baltimore (7-4). I'll tell you what I like about the Ravens right now. They're scoring. Some of it is defense-prompted, of course, but they've won five of six and scored 27, 29, 37, 41 and 36 in those five wins. I also like that they'll end the season, barring injury, with three runners over 500 rushing yards.
8. Tampa Bay (8-3). Not to be a nattering nabob of negativism, but how do you fall behind Detroit 17-0?
9. Atlanta (7-4). You want to know the definition of dominance? After 20 minutes, Atlanta led the Panthers 182-0 in total yards.
10. Arizona (7-4). Tim Hightower, a popular midseason fantasy pickup, has given the Cards 22, 35 and 21 yards the last three weeks. Where art thou, Edgerrin?
12. Washington (7-4). Nice little NFL rushing race shaping up: Clinton Portis 1,206 yards, Adrian Peterson 1,180, Michael Turner 1,088. Portis showed up big with his aching knee in Seattle, rushing 29 times for 143 yards.
13. Carolina (8-3). Bueller? Bueller? Bueller? Talk about taking a day off.
15. (tie) Miami (6-5), Chicago (6-5), Minnesota (6-5). Don't ask me. The Bears looked like the '76 Bucs last week, the '86 Bears Sunday.
Quote of the Week I
-- Donovan McNabb, asked the last time he'd been pulled from a football game for poor performance. He was yanked from Sunday's 36-7 loss to Baltimore at halftime after committing seven turnovers in his previous seven quarters.
Quote of the Week II
"This is a very forgiving country. My dad -- God bless his soul -- used to say time heals all wounds. There are a lot of people in this country and in this business that probably forgave me for the mistakes I made, and there's going to be that group of men in our business that won't, and so that's just the way it goes. But you learn from your mistakes, and if you don't, you either don't care or you're a dumb ass.''
-- Jacksonville assistant head coach/tight ends coach Mike Tice, fined $100,000 by the NFL in 2005 as coach of the Minnesota Vikings for scalping Super Bowl tickets. He hopes to be considered for an NFL head-coaching job this winter.
Quote of the Week III
"I don't want to talk about Chad. We're 1- 8 with him. We're 0-1 without him.''
-- Cincinnati wide receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh, a day after the Bengals lost to Pittsburgh 27-10 with Chad Ocho Cinco inactive for the game because he overslept a Wednesday night team meeting.
Give Chad a little more credit, T.J. You're 1-8-1 with him, actually.
Stat of the Week
Barring another marquee quarterback signing a long-term deal before 2009 free-agency begins, the franchise number for a quarterback next offseason will be $14.28 million. With one asterisk.
The asterisk: If Favre retires by February 2009, the day franchise designations must be made, that number goes down by $220,000, to $14.06 million.
Here's how the cap system works: The franchise number is the average of the top five cap numbers at a position from the previous season. The top five cap numbers for quarterbacks in 2008 belong to Peyton Manning ($18.7 million), Carson Palmer ($13.9 million), Rodgers ($13.9 million, done last month to use up available 2008 cap space and preserve 2009 room), Eli Manning ($12.9 million) and Favre ($12 million). If Favre retires, the next contract used to quantify the franchise figure for quarterbacks is Jake Delhomme, at $10.9 million.
So the Patriots, in the unlikely event that they franchise Cassel when the franchise designations have to be made in February, will have two good reasons to root for Favre to retire. One, it would save them money. Two, it would save them on-field headaches next fall.