The Fine Fifteen
1. New Orleans (6-0). My friend from Montclair, Mike Norman, and his two boys, Ben and Josh, can't get over how well they were treated as Giants fans in New Orleans a couple of weeks ago.
They were dressed in their Giants' gear. Big game. Lots at stake. And they're not shy -- they cheered openly for their team (though there wasn't much to cheer about in the Saints' rout of the G-men). And over and over again, fans in the stands and on the street were beyond charitable to them. "They all kept saying, 'Thanks for coming to New Orleans,' '' Mike said.
2. Indianapolis (7-0). I wouldn't be too alarmed about the so-called struggling Colts on the heels of their narrow win over San Francisco. Thirty other teams in the league wish they were struggling like this. Lots of teams are going to be up and down against the San Francisco defense. One other little clue about Indy's four three-and-outs against the Niners -- NBC compatriot Tony Dungy said he was fairly sure the 49ers offensive line coach, Chris Foerster, a Colts assistant in 2002 and 2003, shared a few clues about Peyton Manning's play-calls and fake-play-calls at the line during the San Fran practice week leading up to the game.
3. Minnesota (7-1). Make no mistake about the impact of Offensive Rookie of the Half Percy Harvin. He's had 46 passes thrown to him so far, compared to 47 to number one wideout Bernard Berrian. Harvin has 28 catches, Berrian 27.
4. Denver (6-1). One loss does not a season ranking make. If you're going to stress 30-7, OK, but factor in the wins over three playoff contenders (Dallas, New England, San Diego) in the weeks that preceded it.
5. Pittsburgh (5-2). Key factor in Steelers-Broncos Monday-nighter next week: the status of Pittsburgh's defensive ends. With Aaron Smith (rotator cuff) out for the year and the fate of his backup, Travis Kirschke (calf), unknown 'til late in the week, the job of the spot opposite Brett Keisel in the Steelers' 3-4 could fall to Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood. Eason wasn't even active for the first five games this year.
6. New England (5-2). Tom Brady's yards-per-attempt in the past two games: 10.42. Not bad, considering that intergalactic is anything above 9.0, even though Tennessee and Tampa Bay are, well, Tennessee and Tampa Bay.
7. Baltimore (4-3). A lot to like about the Ravens Sunday, on the heels of a three-game skid. I don't care what Joe Flacco's numbers were. I just know I feel like any time he's under pressure, he's going to make the right decision. Virtually every time. "I know,'' John Harbaugh said postgame via cellular. "It looks like the world is collapsing, and something good usually happens. He's amazing.''
8. Cincinnati (5-2). If you believe Twitter, Chad Ochocinco woke up Sunday morning and was seriously investigating flying to Green Bay just to watch The Favre Bowl ... and couldn't find a plane ticket anywhere.
9. Philadelphia (5-2). The Eagles' weaponry is so diverse. Think back to the preseason, when all wondered how long it would take Brent Celek, DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy -- all third-year players or younger, all 24 or younger -- to contribute as a group. Well, in putting up 40 on the Giants, those four touched the ball 24 times for 278 yards and four touchdowns. I guess chemistry class is going well, Professor McNabb.
10. Dallas (5-2). In the past three games, the Cowboys have scored 101 points. The Giants have allowed 112. That's why there's been such a big role reversal in the NFC East -- the Giants can't stop anybody and the Cowboys can't be stopped.
11. Atlanta (4-2). Seems odd that it's Nov. 2, and the Falcons have played only six games.
12. Houston (5-3). Esoteric But Meaningful Stat of the Week: Texans lead the league on defense with 36 three-and-outs.
13. San Diego (4-3). Chargers are 4-0 against teams with losing records, 0-3 against winners.
14. Miami (3-4). Dolphins play the Pats twice in 29 days starting Sunday in Foxboro.
15. San Francisco (3-4). A really impressive loss at Indy. When you lead for 41 minutes against the Colts, and hold Peyton Manning touchdown-less, you've done something. Not enough, but something.
1. Peyton Manning, QB, Indianapolis. The MVP is his to lose -- even if he has a couple more zero-touchdown games like Sunday.
2. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. Brees has certainly had lots of help in the run game compared to Manning (Indy had the league's 27th-best running game through seven weeks). "But the command [Brees] takes of the game is so important to the running game,'' New Orleans offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael said. That's partly why I'm still big on Brees.
3. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh. In the Steelers' four-game win streak, Roethlisberger has an 8-to-2 TD-to-pick ratio, with a 69-percent completion average.
4. Brett Favre, QB, Minnesota. The man is 40 ... and he's 7-1, with 16 touchdowns and three interceptions. I've had Adrian Peterson in this MVP lineup every week this season, but let's face it -- Favre's edging him in pure value.
5. Jared Allen, DE, Minnesota. Allen: 7.5 sacks against the Pack this year. Favre: 7.0 touchdown passes. Allen's value in pressuring Aaron Rodgers in those eight quarters has been huge.
Quote of the Week I
"We're 3-0 in the division ... and it still goes through us!!!''
He's right: Miami's an AFC East-best 3-0 in the division ... and 0-4 in other games.
Quote of the Week II
"I've got a lot of footballs. This one will mean the most.''
Quote of the Week III
"No, Brett Favre did not lay down to give me a sack. Doesn't happen in the NFL, man.''
Quote of the Week IV
"The NFL sort of has this blanket denial or minimizing of the fact that there may be this link [between playing football and brain injuries later in life]. And it sort of reminds me of the tobacco companies pre-nineties when they kept saying, 'Oh, there's no link between smoking and damage to your health.' "
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