1. Atlanta (9-2). The Falcons are 4-0 in the last 22 days against teams with a combined record of 27-17. Matt Ryan and his teammates deserve this lofty perch -- especially with him playing like a latter-day Peyton Manning.
2. New England (9-2). Still a bit worried about its defense holding down a top offense, but less so after seeing the magnificent Devin McCourty besting Calvin Johnson Thursday in Detroit.
3. New York Jets (9-2). Rex Ryan's right. Marquee game of the year a week from tonight in Foxboro. The Jets won the first meeting, 28-14, back on Sept. 19.
4. Green Bay (7-4). Outgained Atlanta 418-294 in the Stats Are For Losers Dept. There's something about the Packers, though. I think they've got a heck of a shot to be back at the Georgia Dome for the NFC title game.
5. Chicago (8-3). I have no idea how that offensive line is going to hold up in December and January, but give Rod Marinelli and that D some credit for holding Mike Vick in check for 60 minutes better than anyone has this season.
6. New Orleans (8-3). This is going to be a very good week if you're a fan of the Saints. Trust me on that one.
7. Baltimore (8-3). Somehow, I think we're going to see one of the all-time slobberknockers Sunday night in the Inner Harbor when the Steelers come knocking for control of the AFC North.
8. Philadelphia (7-4). Wouldn't make a big deal out of a road loss to a strong team, except for the part about allowing 31 points to an average, at best, offense.
9. San Diego (6-5). If you send me a bunch of e-mail and tweets with your slings, arrows and Molotov cocktails, blasting me for putting a 6-5 team so high, then you didn't watch the game Sunday night. It might be criminal putting the Chargers so low.
10. Pittsburgh (8-3). Saved by the Johnson.
11. New York Giants (7-4). As shaky a home win to stay in the pennant race as there's ever been. Bright side: Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, 23 carries for 136 yards (5.9 per rush) against a decent front like Jacksonville's is a good combo platter.
12. Tampa Bay (7-4). I like the Bucs -- Aqib Talib, in particular, was impressive with an interception of Joe Flacco Sunday at Baltimore -- but facts are facts: Tampa Bay is 0-4 against teams with winning records.
13. Kansas City (7-4). This Dwayne Bowe's amazing. Three more touchdown catches in Seattle Sunday, giving him 14 in 11 games. He couldn't get 10 in the next five weeks, could he?
14. Indianapolis (6-5). The Sunday night game was as poor a performance by the Colts (the Colt varsity, mind you, not the Colt JV we sometimes get in the last game or two of the year) as I've seen since the home playoff debacle to the Chargers three years ago. It might be time to worry, Colts' fans. Indy's looking very much like an AFC fourth seed, having to beat the Jets or Patriots in the Wild Card game just for the privilege of then having to try to win two road games in the playoffs.
15. Jacksonville (6-5). Another week that Maurice Jones-Drew did everything he could for his team: 21 carries, 113 yards. It's still conceivable that the Jags could play a meaningful game at Indy three weeks from now.
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England. Masterful in carving up the Lions Thursday, presumably before carving some fowl Thursday night in his Back Bay home.
2. Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. I cannot argue with you one scintilla if you put Rivers over Brady. Numerically, it's a push, I'd say. Rivers has a 659-yard edge in passing yards. Brady is plus-19 in TD-to-INT ratio, Rivers plus-14. Brady's passer rating is 0.9 points higher, 105.8-104.9. Rivers has a big edge in the important yards-per-attempt stat, 8.94 to 7.59. Wins? Brady's three up.
3. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta. Five straight wins, all with a rating of over 94.
4. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay. Pushes his teammate, Clay Matthews, out of the competition -- for now. Rodgers made some spectacularly cool plays in tense moment Sunday at Atlanta.
5. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans. He's not higher for one reason: the 15 interceptions. That's just weird. But he has time to rally.
"I'll never get over it. Never. The Buffalo Bills will get over it. I'll never get over it.''
-- Buffalo wide receiver Steve Johnson, whose stunning drop of the potential winning touchdown pass -- a perfectly thrown ball by Ryan Fitzpatrick in the end zone in overtime -- allowed Pittsburgh to rebound and beat the Bills 19-16 in overtime in Orchard Park.
"For us to collectively mess this up would be criminal.''
-- New England owner Robert Kraft, to Greg Bedard of the Boston Globe, on the pressure on players and owners to get a new collective bargaining agreement before the 2011 season is affected.
"I lost the ballgame. I let my teammates down. That was the nail in the coffin. That was a W.''
-- Dallas wide receiver Roy Williams, after being stripped of the ball on the potential game-icing drive late in the fourth quarter by Saints defensive back Malcolm Jenkins. The Saints recovered the stripped ball and rallied from a 27-23 deficit by driving 89 yards for the winning touchdown at Dallas on Thursday.
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