The Fine Fifteen
1. N.Y. Giants (11-1). The amazing thing, I'm told by Justin Tuck, is that Antonio Pierce never mentioned Plaxico Burress all day Sunday. "I was around him a lot today,'' Tuck, one of the defensive leaders, said from the Giants' winning bus after the game. "I wanted to be there for him if he needed me, and he was fine all day.''
The question now is not whether Burress will miss more time -- he'll never suit up for the Giants again -- but whether Pierce, the defensive signal-caller, will miss any because of his involvement with disposing of Burress' gun Saturday morning.
2. Tennessee (11-1). It's like the debacle against the Jets never happened.
3. Pittsburgh (9-3). I don't care how generous New England was in Foxboro. That was a tour de force performance by the Steelers in one of the league's toughest environments.
4. Dallas (8-4). I understand the consternation of you who follow "The Fine Fifteen'' rankings, who set your watches by them, who believe in them the way you believe in everything your mother ever told you. And you wonder how I can be jumping the Cowboys over teams more consistently better. Simple. They're better than Carolina, better than Tampa Bay, better than Atlanta, better than Washington.
5. Indianapolis (8-4). They've won one game this year by more than six points. I admire their pluck.
6. Baltimore (8-4). A hard, but relatively friendly, remaining schedule. Three of four at home. Washington and Pittsburgh at home, at Dallas on a short week (Saturday night), Jacksonville at home. I asked sudden star wide receiver Mark Clayton what kind of rivalry the Ravens had with foe No. 1 -- Washington, seeing that the District of Columbia is 38 miles down the road from Baltimore. "I'm not sure,'' Clayton said. "I don't know really. All I know is they're our next game.'' The Ravens, obviously, are burning with passion to face their hated Beltway cousins.
7. Tampa Bay (9-3). You can abuse the Jets defense. You definitely cannot abuse the Bucs defense. Opposing passer rating against the Bucs: 70.0.
8. N.Y. Jets (8-4). Would any sane person say the AFC West is better than the East? Well, look at the Jets versus the West: 1-3, with a minus-35 point differential. When you get manhandled by the Broncos in your own house, you slip five spots in The Fine Fifteen.
9. Atlanta (8-4). Stats of the Week from the 22-16 win in San Diego that could have been 32-6: Matt Ryan's passer rating was 130.2, Michael Turner rushed 31 times for 120 yards, and the Falcons held the ball for 35 minutes.
10. Carolina (9-3). DeAngelo Williams, in his last five games: Nine touchdowns, 541 rushing yards, four 100-yard games.
11. New England (7-5). Ever notice you're a lot better when you hold onto the ball? Matthew Slater's lucky I like his dad so much, or he'd have been my Goat of the Week for that monumental fumble on the kickoff against the Steelers, with the Patriots down only 13-10. Then the roof caved.
12. Denver (7-5). Jay Cutler's on the road to being Dan Fouts. I'm serious. He's an absolute mad bomber. Threw for 357 yards against the Jets, and two or three of the throws he made were all-time daring jobs, perfectly placed.
13. Miami (7-5). Odd game coming up -- versus sinking-like-a-stone Buffalo on the road, but in Toronto rather than Buffalo. So the Dolphins won't have the road problem playing in the snow. It might be a road game of relative indifference, but I have more faith in Bills' fans than those who think they won't show up in Canada, two hours from home.
14. Minnesota (7-5). The Vikings' remaining slate -- likely to be played without Starcaps victims Kevin and Pat Williams, whose suspensions I expect to be announced in the next 36 hours --at Detroit, at Arizona, Atlanta, New York Giants. Could be better, could be worse.
15. Chicago (6-6). Not impressed with the lack of gap discipline against Adrian Peterson (28 carries, 131 yards). Didn't the Bears watch the tape of the Tampa Bay game against Peterson?