The Fine Fifteen
1. San Diego (12-3). Remember how the game everyone wanted to see was New Orleans-Minnesota? It was that way for two months. Now it's San Diego-Indy.
2. Indianapolis (14-1). Very, very tough call. San Diego and Indy can both pass. Neither runs well. The Colts rush the passer better. I guess this is a combination of recent history (San Diego 4, Indy 1 in their last five meetings) and how they're playing now. You're thinking I have the Colts behind San Diego because Indy lost to the Jets. Not so. Though I would like to see the Colts play better, I made this ranking because the Chargers have played better over the past two months. In the past 10 games, San Diego's outscored foes by an average of 31-16. In its past 10, Indy's won games 26-20, on average.
3. Dallas (10-5). In this year's NFL, you rise and fall like penny stocks. Ergo, Dallas to number three.
4. Philadelphia (11-4). Did you see the sideline catch by Jeremy Maclin on the decisive drive of the victory over Denver, the one when Maclin just barely toe-tapped on the grass next to the sideline? Huge play. Gain of 27. Set up the winning field goal by David Akers. And with Brent Celek and DeSean Jackson already impact players for a terrific offense, if Maclin starts making winning plays like this, who are teams going to cover in the postseason?
5. Minnesota (11-3). I know the running game is worrisome, but the Vikes have to be smelling the top seed. If the Vikes sweep the playing-for-nothing Bears and Giants, and the Saints stumble at Carolina (how will Vegas possibly make a sane line for Saints-Panthers?), Minnesota wins the top NFC seed.
6. New Orleans (13-2). In the past four weeks, the Saints have played teams with a combined record of 25-35. And they've been outscored 100-96. It's officially time to worry.
7. New England (10-5). Only bit of bad news for the suddenly Patriot-like Patriots came five minutes into the game against Jacksonville. Two extra offensive linemen came in on a goal-line run play for New England at the Jags one-yard line. Laurence Maroney took a handoff from Tom Brady and tried to bust up the scrum and ... got nothing. Except a fumble. That was it for Maroney on the day. Now he's in the doghouse, and it was Sammy Morris, Fred Taylor and Kevin Faulk the rest of the day.
8. Arizona (10-5). Arizona-Green Bay Sunday in the desert. Then Arizona-Green Bay the next Sunday in the desert, quite possibly.
9. Green Bay (10-5). Study the old man well, Charles Woodson. You could be seeing Kurt Warner for two weekends in a row.
10. Cincinnati (10-5). Strong words from Rodney Harrison on "Football Night in America,'' calling the Bengals frauds on TV last night.
11. Pittsburgh (8-7). The Steelers might not be a playoff team, but they're exciting.
12. Baltimore (8-7). The best thing Ravens coach John Harbaugh could do this morning is put a stop to the-officials-cost-us-the-game talk that I'm sure is all over the Baltimore practice facility. Watch the four costly calls and you'll see they all were justified, with one asterisk. It was clear the Ravens felt the Frank Walker illegal-contact foul shouldn't have been called because the Ravens thought Ben Roethlisberger was out of the pocket on the play, and if the quarterback's out of the pocket, a receiver can be hit beyond the five-yard bump zone. Now, I haven't watched the play with all the angles timed right to see whether Big Ben is out of the pocket, but someone who watched the play told me he felt Roethlisberger was still in the pocket.
13. Carolina (7-8). The Panthers are better running the ball and stopping the run than Denver right now.
14. Houston (8-7). Edge the Jets because of offensive explosiveness. Amazing, isn't it, that Matt Schaub's going to end up with 4,700 passing yards or so. What's this league coming to?
15. Denver (8-7). Points for valor, but the Broncos are 2-7 since Nov. 1.
Quote of the Week I
"The perfect season was never an issue with us. We've said it time and time again. It's somebody else's issue, not ours.''
Quote of the Week II
"I disagree with their whole scheme ... They don't let me rush. They're all against me, or whatever.''
Quote of the Week III
"I think he knows that he should.''
Tweet of the Week
"How would we look at a team that threw away a game to get a higher draft pick? How is that dif than the Colts game today?''
Good question, Angel. Very good question.
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