The Fine Fifteen
1. Tennessee (13-2). Kerry Collins continues to just win, baby, even though he's not on the Raiders anymore. The interesting thing here: He's played 15 games and had 15 negative plays -- seven interceptions, eight sacks.
2. Pittsburgh (11-4). Slightly repetitive from last week. But in the last 22 days, they've beaten 10-5 New England and 10-5 Baltimore on the road and 9-6 Dallas at home, and lost to 13-2 Tennessee on the road. I can't kill them for one loss to a very good team.
3. New York Giants (12-3). A great gut-check win. The Giants have shown all season if they can run, they can win. And if Brandon Jacobs is dressed, they can run. Jacobs and Sunday night's star, Derrick Ward, have 2,037 rushing yards between them, for a gaudy 5.28-yards per rush.
4. Carolina (11-4). The Panthers need to be more physical on defense if they hope to beat the Giants in the NFC title game Jan. 18.
5. Baltimore (10-5). Underrated factor of the weekend -- and in no way am I saying this won the game: Friday night, at the Ravens' team meeting in their Dallas hotel, director of player program O.J. Brigance, a special-teamer on the Ravens' Super Bowl team eight years ago and now suffering from Lou Gehrig's Disease, gave the team a pep talk. He's a beloved figure on the team, and this no doubt juiced the guys for Saturday's game.
6. Indianapolis (11-4). I agree with Adam Schefter: I'd be surprised to see Marvin Harrison back on the Colts in 2009. That would leave $6.4 million in dead money on the Colt cap, but not as hurtful as the $9 million salary for a player who you can't count on anymore.
7. New England (10-5). Matt Cassel is going to finish this season with something like 3,900 passing yards. Unfortunately for him, the Patriots are going to finish the season out of the playoffs -- unless Miami loses next week or Baltimore loses next week.
8. Atlanta (10-5). How could you not feel good for Thomas Dimitroff and Mike Smith when they embraced after the Falcons clinched a playoff spot in Minnesota. Dimitroff's the architect of these rebuilt Falcons, and Smith is the coach, the guy who keeps things fresh and has built a great staff. No one heard of them in Atlanta 11 months ago, but I'm betting they won't be buying the Heineken Lights on Peachtree Street for a long, long time. They won't have to.
9. Miami (10-5). You don't win eight of nine in the NFL by luck. If the Fish can beat the Jets, they'll be a tough out for anyone in the playoffs.
10. Dallas (9-6). Winner of the Good Fortune of 2008 Award. A couple of weeks ago, we all said they'd probably have to go 3-1 in the last month to make the playoffs. Now they're 1-2, with one game left, at Philly. And all they have to do to make the postseason is beat the Eagles, despite what everyone else in the conference does.
11. San Diego (7-8). This is ridiculous. "Didn't look too good for us at 4-8,'' Philip Rivers said after winning at Tampa to get within a game of .500. No it didn't. But when you're in the same division as Denver, all is possible. A three-game winning streak in the AFC West, which the Chargers are on, happened only one other time in this division all season -- to Denver, when the Broncs opened 3-0.
12. Philadelphia (8-6-1). Seven dropped passes in a game with massive playoff implications. Three points. Ridiculous.
13. Minnesota (9-6). Still 6-2 in their last eight, and still in control of their playoff fate, needing one win or one Bear loss in their last three combined games to clinch a home playoff game on wild-card weekend.
14. Chicago (8-6). Kyle Orton continues to play his way to the Bear starting lineup of 2009 and beyond with another good game Monday night.
15. Vacant. Sorry. You think the Jets, Cards, Bucs or Broncos deserve this? No way.
Quote of the Week I
"We're not gonna look for excuses. They made critical plays. We made critical errors.''
-- Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin, after the Steelers' 31-14 loss in Tennessee on Sunday.
Quote of the Week II
"We've had plenty of Lions and Chiefs and Raiders games, too, the last couple of years, so we know how to polish up a turd pretty good. Not everybody can do the Gints and the Cowboys and the Patriots every week.''
-- Fox play-by-play man Matt Vasgersian, asked by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch how difficult it was to do so many Rams games.
Quote of the Week III
"I've given my all to this city for four years, and I realize it will never be enough. I went to the Pro Bowl last year and resurrected this team from the darkness, and nobody cared... My biggest problem is that I actually give a damn. I'm always rushing back from surgeries and injuries, never missing games or practices. But through this, I've learned how to overcome adversity. I'm also proud of how much my foundation has taken off. I've been doing all this community service in Cleveland. My charity efforts will only be in Detroit from now on.''
-- Cleveland wide receiver Braylon Edwards, in one of the most ill-timed rants in recent NFL history, to the Cleveland Plain Dealer.
Ill-timed because the 4-11 Browns are having their most disappointing season since returning to the NFL in 1999. Ill-timed because Edwards leads the NFL in dropped passes with 16 and has contributed in a big way to the bad season. (In fact, according to Stats, Inc., Edwards entered this weekend with the lead in dropped passes in the NFL since the start of the 2006 season, having a 36-35 edge on Terrell Owens. Owens had his 36th Saturday night.)
Ill-timed because here we are, in the holiday season, when kids (and adults) in destitute inner cities have come to rely on the generosity of Edwards, and now he says he'll drop them like a hot potato. Some 8-year-old kid with holes in his shoes is paying for fans booing Edwards?
He's going to have to live with his "I went to the Pro Bowl last year and resurrected this team from the darkness'' line for a long time. That'll go over well in the locker room. It wins the Emmitt Smith "I'm a Diamond Among Trash'' Memorial Quote of the Week award.