1. New England (13-2). Cinched homefield through the AFC playoffs by erasing Buffalo. I keep waiting for the running game to be shown as the Pats' weakness. It never will, at least not this year. By halftime yesterday, Danny Woodhead and BenJarvus Green-Ellis had outgained Tom Brady, 138 rushing yards to 75 passing yards. Amazing combo platter of two undrafted free agents excelling for the best team in football.
2. Atlanta (12-2). The Falcons clinch home field through the NFC playoffs by winning one of their final two -- versus New Orleans and Carolina, both at home. Be not afraid, Falcons fans.
3. Philadelphia (10-4). Fun Fact: Eagles and Vikes will play the first Tuesday NFL game since 1946.
4. Baltimore (11-4). Northeastern Football Alert: Ravens are still alive for the AFC North title (and a first-round playoff bye) by virtue of rushing 28 times in the Cleveland muck for 161 clock-eating yards.
5. Pittsburgh (11-4). They got out healthy. That's the best thing you can say about the Thursday night snoozefest win over Carolina.
6. New Orleans (10-4). Needs to win one game in the next seven days to clinch, at worst, the fifth seed.
7. (tie) Chicago (11-4). Terrific defensive effort in the second half by the Bears, spurred by Mr. Twitter, Chris Harris, with a last-minute interception to seal a 38-34 win over the Jets.
7. (tie) Green Bay (9-6). The Packer team that throttled the Giants 45-17 is the one I expected to see a lot more than the four or five times it has played that way this year.
9. Kansas City (10-5). Think of the Chiefs winning the AFC West title. That's amazing to me. Just amazing.
10. Indianapolis (9-6). Through backup running backs and backup wideouts and a backup tight end and backup offensive linemen, the Colts are starting to look like a team you don't want to play in the playoffs.
11. New York Jets (10-5). Rex Ryan has had better halves of coaching. I hated the fake punt early in the second half with a lead -- and with Mark Sanchez as a very obvious upback throwing a pass that was dropped by Brad Smith. There are times to take chances, and being ahead on the road in the second half with your quarterback in an obvious position to throw a pass for all the world to see ... well, that's not one of them.
12. Tampa Bay (9-6). If you're a Bucs fan, you've got to be very happy this morning -- even though your team's probably not going to make the playoffs. Josh Freeman, your 22-year-old quarterback, just threw five touchdown passes to shred Seattle. LeGarrette Blount, your rookie running back, picked up when the Titans cut him last summer, just ran for 164 yards, including scampers of 48 and 53 yards.
13. New York Giants (9-6). A bitterly disappointing last five quarters leave the Giants needing a Packer loss to Chicago and a New York win over Washington to make the playoffs.
14. San Diego (8-7). Enough with this underachieving thing. When it's put-up-or-shut-up time, the Chargers don't deliver. Simple.
15. Jacksonville (8-7). Boring pick, but probably the fair one.
1. Tom Brady, QB, New England. Twenty-four touchdown passes since his last interception. Imagine going two-thirds of a season without throwing a pick -- even though he's had three or four of them dropped.
2. Michael Vick, QB, Philadelphia. On Tuesday against the Vikings, he'll have a huge audience -- only the West Virginia-North Carolina State bowl game will be competition -- to make one final argument to beat out Brady for the award.
3. Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta. In the six games against the winningest teams on Atlanta's schedule (Tampa Bay twice, New Orleans, Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Green Bay), Ryan's 5-1 with 65-percent completions. He rarely makes the big mistake.
4. Matt Cassel, QB, Kansas City. Since October began, Cassel's thrown 23 touchdowns with two interceptions. He's made an amazing transformation into top 10 quarterback.
5. Maurice Jones-Drew, RB, Jacksonville. Demonstrated his value by missing the first game of his NFL career. In his place, Rashad Jennings rushed 15 times for a grand total of 32 yards in a dispiriting home loss to the Washington Redskins. Jacksonville had lived by the run before Sunday, and its playoff hopes are on life support because it didn't have Jones-Drew against the 'Skins.
"You can't always expect to dig yourselves out of a hole.''
-- San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers, after losing to Cincinnati and being eliminated from the playoffs. This is the first time in five seasons as a starting quarterback that Rivers quarterbacked a non-playoff team. And no wonder: The Chargers began the season 2-5, then began their usual climb to what they thought would be a playoff berth. But a couple of bad games like Sunday's in Cincinnati, coupled with the Chiefs' meteoric rise, helped to give the Chargers much to think about this offseason.
"I'm mad as hell. To be sitting here with only five wins is really beyond anything I could have imagined.''
-- Dallas owner Jerry Jones, after the Cowboys fell to 5-10 with a 27-26 loss to Arizona on Saturday night.
-- Minnesota quarterback Brett Favre, asked after what could have been his last appearance in an NFL game last Monday what he would do with his life after football.
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