1. New England (14-2). Just so you all know, the announcement of Tom Brady winning his second Most Valuable Player award is due to come on Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 6, sometime in the NFL Network's 67-hour pregame show.
2. Atlanta (13-3). I had three Falcons make my AP All-Pro team, and you might be surprised at one of them. Defender. One clue: He is from Jimmy Johnson's hometown. Answer in Tuesday's column.
3. Pittsburgh (12-4). One more week for Aaron Smith to heal. But I don't hear positive signs about him being ready for Saturday's divisional round playoff game.
4. Baltimore (13-4). Amazing start to Joe Flacco's career. He's won at least one road playoff game in each of his three seasons -- by 18 at Miami (2008), by 3 at Tennessee (2008), by 19 at New England (2009) and now by 23 at Kansas City. I can't think of another quarterback in the NFL who started his career by winning playoff games on the road in each of his first three years, never mind winning the four by an average of 14 points.
5. Green Bay (11-6). Nov. 28 at Georgia Dome: Atlanta 20, Green Bay 17. Pack, uncharacteristically, gives up 80- and 85-yard touchdown drives, and Matt Ryan throws only four incompletions all day. Green Bay defensive coordinator Dom Capers will be in Ryan confusion mode this week. They meet again in Atlanta on Saturday.
6. Chicago (11-5). Oct. 17 at Soldier Field: Seattle 23, Chicago 20. Jay Cutler was sacked six times and completed 17 of 39 with no touchdowns. Chicago offensive coordinator Mike Martz will be in max-protect mode this week. They meet again in Chicago on Sunday.
7. New York Jets (12-5). Eighty-two yards and two touchdowns on the ground for LaDainian Tomlinson in the 17-16 edging of the Colts. That's not something I expected, and I didn't expect the 5.1 yards per rush either. He's turned out to be a much better addition than I thought he'd be.
8. New Orleans (11-6). You're tired of hearing me say this, but I'm not stopping. The Saints had five running backs on injured-reserve entering the game. Two more, Reggie Bush and Julius Jones, got hurt during the playoff game at Seattle. On the last drive of the game, New Orleans was down to fullback Heath Evans and DeShawn Wynn, signed Monday, with its season on the line. So on the biggest drive of the year, the Saints have their eighth running back and a fullback. That's it. My point: And the league wants to go to 18 games? Who'd the Saints have signed for the playoffs then? Hokie Gajan?
9. Philadelphia (10-7). Doesn't it feel like a tale of two seasons? Season one: The Mike Vick Miracle. Season two: Mike Vick Falls to Earth.
10. Indianapolis (10-7). I can't think of an offseason the Colts have entered with more questions. Bill and Chris Polian had better fix that offensive line. A franchise receiver wouldn't hurt either, because so many of the Colts' wideouts get hurt.
11. Tampa Bay (10-6). Bucs had to be sick watching that game Saturday in Seattle. In the last two weeks of the season, they beat the Seahawks by 23 and the Saints by 10.
12. Kansas City (10-7). That was certainly a nice sendoff for Charlie Weis.
13. Seattle (8-9). Welcome to the Fine Fifteen, Pete Carroll. This didn't exist when you coached the Jets or Pats. It's my pick of the top 15 teams in the league every week. You're one of them now. "I don't know where we're going, but I can't wait to get there,'' Pete Carroll said after the 41-36 shocker over New Orleans. To Chicago, coach, where you had your biggest win of the year (well, at least until the last eight days). One prediction: You're going to have a good time there.
14. San Diego (9-7). Chargers defensive coordinator Ron Rivera is the leader in the clubhouse for the head-coaching job in Carolina.
15. New York Giants (10-6). Well, I guess we know what Tom Coughlin thinks about his critics now.
"I've been underestimated. I always find that to be a wonderful competitive advantage.''
-- New San Francisco coach Jim Harbaugh, after being named to the job on Friday.
"I hope John does better than I did, because I stunk at it.''
-- TV analyst Matt Millen, to the Denver Post, on John Elway being handed the Broncos' top football executive position. Millen had a grim eight-year run in Detroit that left the franchise in shambles.
"There's nobody like this guy in the league. Nobody studies like him. I know [Tom] Brady thinks he does. I think there's probably a little more help with [Bill] Belichick with Brady than there is with Peyton Manning."
-- Jets coach Rex Ryan, who, in praising Peyton Manning the other day, dissed Tom Brady, uttering yet another quote that those above him in the Jets' offices wish he'd never said. That one just might be featured in the New England press this week. Endlessly.
"All we need is this Luck to be drafted by Carolina.''
-- Atlanta general manager Thomas Dimitroff, to New Orleans coach Sean Payton on the field before their Dec. 27 game in Atlanta, referring to Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck.
Luck, luckily for the rest of the teams in the NFC South, announced Thursday he was staying at Stanford. What a super-division of quarterbacks he would have joined, with Drew Brees (New Orleans), Matt Ryan (Atlanta) and rising star Josh Freeman (Tampa Bay) in-house. Jimmy Clausen (Carolina) just breathed a pretty big sigh of relief.
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