The Fine Fifteen
1. San Diego (13-3). It isn't like you get anything for finishing the regular season atop the Fine 15, but the Chargers are playing the best of any team in football as the second season begins.
2. Indianapolis (14-2). Watching Curtis Painter, you can see why everyone in the Indy organization is so paranoid about Peyton Manning getting hurt.
3. Dallas (11-5). No team in football wants to play the Cowboys right now, not after they've knocked New Orleans from the ranks of the unbeaten and shut out two straight division foes.
4. Green Bay (11-5). I can almost say the same thing about Green Bay as I said about Dallas. Past three games: 36, 48, 33 points. Arizona's wary.
5. Minnesota (12-4). Vikes needed that. Big. And with seven touchdown passes in the past six Minnesota quarters, Favre has put the Favre-can't-play-in-December stuff to rest.
6. Philadelphia (11-5). Well, they used to have the most exciting offense in football.
7. New Orleans (13-3). Think of this: The Saints will take the field for their first playoff game having not played a very good game in 47 days.
8. New England (10-6). How amazing is it that Matt Cassel won 11 games last year and didn't make the playoffs, and Brady won 10 this year and did?
9. Arizona (10-6). Totally meaningless game for the Cards, because they could gain nothing and lose nothing by the time the Vikings won. I wouldn't read much into the Cards playing vanilla and getting rolled over.
10. Cincinnati (10-6). "I don't know what's going on with these Bengals,'' Cris Collinsworth said on the NBC game last night. Go figure an offense with all starters except for Cedric Benson playing, and looking so bad that it was 27-0 by the half.
11. Pittsburgh (9-7). What a weird, weird season. The Steelers need two things above all: a retooling of the offensive line and some way to keep Troy Polamalu healthy for 16 weeks.
12. Baltimore (9-7). Well, the Ravens survived. Now they have to travel to Foxboro and play a suddenly vulnerable Pats team, though New England hasn't lost at home this season.
13. New York Jets (9-7). Not sure where to put the Jets, but that was such a dominating performance, and the Jets look like they can run on anyone now.
14. Carolina (8-8). My favorite player in the past month? Well, other than Jerome Harrison and Romo, it'd have to be Julius Peppers. He made a tremendously athletic interception to cap the Panthers' win over New Orleans. Watch the video. It's one of those circus kind of catches that you wonder how it ever happened.
15. Houston (9-7). The Texans finally won a big game they needed to win ... and probably ensured Gary Kubiak will come back in 2010.
Quote of the Week I
"We're dangerous. You have to be able to run the football this time of year, and you have to be able to play defense, and we can do that better than any team in the league. That gives us a chance in every game, no matter who we play.''
Quote of the Week II
"Master Lock Revis has put a lot of great receivers on him this season. That will not happen this upcoming [week]. Darrelle Revis couldn't cover me in a brown paper bag on a corner of a Manhattan street in a phone booth. It's impossible.''
Chad told Bob Costas he'd change his name back to Chad Johnson if Revis shut him down Sunday night. Your move, Chad. Asked by a reporter after the game if he still planned to change his last name back to "Johnson,'' OchoCinco said, "Child, please.''
Quote of the Week III
"On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, I would say 17, somewhere in that range.''
How is it possible for a man to be that productive working that long, every week?
The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Willis McGahee, RB, Baltimore.
Hard to ignore the eighth-biggest running game of all time (Jamaal Charles' 259-yard day at Denver), but the Ravens were in a taut tilt at Oakland in the second quarter when McGahee had, in all probability, the greatest run of his life, busting through the Oakland line, then swatting away defensive back Hiram Eugene when it looked like Eugene was coming for the kill, and running 77 yards for what proved to be the eventual winning points. For the game, McGahee ran 16 times for 167 yards and three touchdowns, by far his biggest game of his season -- a season in which Ray Rice, until Sunday, had left him in the dust.
Defensive Player of the Week
Derrick Johnson, LB, Kansas City.
Lots of good candidates, but Johnson, playing the game of his life in a contest the Broncos had to have, returned Kyle Orton interceptions for 45- and 60-yard touchdowns, the daggers in a 44-24 stunner over the Broncos. Johnson had six tackles and four passes defensed on the day, and for a player who's been largely a disappointment, this game rekindled the hope that he can be a part of the Chiefs' future.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Nate Kaeding, K, San Diego.
With 47-, 24- and 45-yard field goals, Kaeding capped a strong year with an 11-point game, ensuring San Diego would finish the regular season on an 11-game win streak.
Coach of the Week
John Fox, head coach, Carolina.
With nothing to play for the past three weeks, Fox's team went 3-0 against teams that finished a combined 33-15 (Vikings, Giants, Saints). Though the Saints didn't come to play Sunday in Charlotte, Carolina beating three teams 90-26 when the games meant only pride is a sign Fox has the attention of every player in his locker room. A superb end-of-season run by one of the game's best coaches.
Goat of the Week
I hate giving a collective award here, but this isn't the lazy way out. It's reality. The Giants were a crushing disappointment, especially in a 44-7 loss at the Metrodome Sunday. In the final 11 games of the season, New York went 3-8 ... and allowed 48, 40, 45, 41 and 44 points in five of those losses. It's outrageous, really, that a team with such a defensive résumé played so poorly.
NFL Truth & Rumors