The Fine Fifteen
1. Indianapolis (14-0). Deservedly, the best team in football. Colts have won low-scoring affairs and shootouts. The one thing that's getting no attention, wrongly, is the Colts' cornerback play. When Indy lost Kelvin Hayden and Marlin Jackson to injury, I was sure they'd have to play games in the 30s each week to win. But they've held 11 of 14 foes to 23 points or fewer, and rookies Jeraud Powers (third round, Auburn) and Jacob Lacey (free agent, Oklahoma State) have been clinging and tough, stunning for rookies playing quality time against the Randy Mosses, Andre Johnsons and, last Thursday, Torry Holt.
Credit the Colts' excellent scouting process -- led by director of player personnel Tom Telesco and new GM Chris Polian, with president Bill Polian overseeing the whole deal -- for uncovering an undersized guy like Lacey, who made the interception that clinched the win over Jacksonville Thursday. "He's small but with really good cover ability,'' Bill Polian said over the weekend. "Just great ball sense. Remember the Bill Bradley book, A Sense of Where You Are? That's what this kid reminds me of.''
2. San Diego (11-3). Chargers have won the close ones (a pair of three-point victories and a seven-point win the past three weeks), and the routs (back-to-back 29-point margins the two weeks before that) during their nine-game winning streak.
3. New Orleans (13-1). Past three weeks: Foes 77, Saints 76. Now the question is, how will the Saints respond to adversity?
4. Minnesota (11-3). Past three weeks: Foes 66, Vikings 54. Now the question is, how will the Vikes respond to adversity?
5. Dallas (9-5). For one night, at least, the Cowboys were the best team in football. Now they have to win Sunday night at their nemesis, Washington, where they've lost three of the past four.
6. Philadelphia (10-4). Tough call, Dallas leapfrogging Philly. But it comes down to Dallas' 20-16 head-to-head win six weeks ago and the quality of Dallas' win Saturday night. Still, Philly has a fighting chance to beat the Vikings for the second seed in the NFC playoffs.
7. Cincinnati (9-5). These are not your father's lay-down Bengals.
8. Baltimore (8-6). Starting to get the feeling this is a very dangerous fifth or sixth seed, unless the Ravens get torn apart physically at Pittsburgh on Sunday.
9. New England (9-5). There's still something wrong with that offense, but the beat-up defense responded by pressuring Buffalo consistently and forcing two quarterbacks to look awful in Orchard Park.
10. Arizona (9-5). Just a weird game in Detroit, a game the Cardinals could well have lost. In fact, two grim games in a row for Arizona on the road, which is where it will have to win a pair of games for a return trip to the Super Bowl.
11. Green Bay (9-5). Saints, Vikes, Pack. Maybe three of the four best teams in the NFL two days ago, but now with gigantic weekend zits.
12. Tennessee (7-7). Past eight games: 7-1, with the one being a fourth-quarter loss at Indy.
13. Denver (8-6). In six of the past eight weeks, Kyle Orton hasn't put up more than 17 points on the board. Yikes.
14. New York Giants (7-6). We'll see if they can survive some more secondary injuries tonight in Washington -- and we'll see if the line can protect Eli Manning against what's going to be an onslaught from 'Skins defensive coordinator Greg Blache.
15. Vacant. I don't know. You pick from among Pittsburgh, Carolina, Houston, Miami ... or about five other teams.
Quote of the Week I
"Pretty fun. I'll bet you all counted us out too.''
Quote of the Week II
"These shoulders that I have on my body, you can put the earth on it. Just to let you know: I bounce back.''
Quote of the Week III
"Tony said we had no chance. No chance? None? He was a coach. He should know you always have a chance.''
NFL Truth & Rumors