1. Green Bay (8-0). Minnesota comes to Lambeau Field tonight. Remember when Vikes-Pack was a game of the year? John Randle-Brett Favre ... Randy Moss-LeRoy Butler ... Dennis Green-Mike Holmgren ... Brett Favre-Aaron Rodgers. And now? It's an interesting game because of the color of the uniforms. But Christian Ponder versus Rodgers at Lambeau has the feel of Idaho versus Alabama at Tuscaloosa.
2. San Francisco (8-1). Faithful column reader Doug Kelly point out how amazing it is that Jim Harbaugh is 20-2 in his last 22 games coached -- 12-1 at Stanford, 8-1 with the Niners. The guy might be able to coach.
3. Houston (7-3). I underrated the Texans too long. They lead the NFL in point differential at +107 entering Monday night.
4. New Orleans (7-3). Sean Payton being on the field didn't happen just because he felt antsy and hated being upstairs. It happened because Drew Brees needs him there. They need to be talking and seeing each other after plays and after series. They have the best head coach-quarterback relationship in football.
5. Baltimore (6-3). I give up. Wins over the Steelers, Jets, Texans and Steelers. Losses to the Titans, Jags, Seahawks (combined 11-16). You figure out where to put the Ravens. I can't. But I can't put them behind a team they've beaten twice.
6. Pittsburgh (7-3). They won one of the biggest tests of their season -- beating a 6-2 team on the road after a disheartening loss to the archrival Ravens. The Steelers might not be able to protect Ben Roethlisberger well enough to get to the Super Bowl, but they'll be a tough out if they make the playoffs.
7. New York Giants (6-3). Two losses in the last two months. Nothing to be concerned about, losing a close game to the Niners.
8. New England (6-3). This was really the hardest week to do this list. The way the Patriots played Sunday night, I could make a case they should be third, or that the Bears could be just as high. The fact is, the consistency with teams like New England and Pittsburgh is what I wonder about now.
9. Chicago (6-3). Looking dangerous, winning four in a row by an average of 16 points. That's a fierce pass rush, even if the Bears don't get the sacks. They get plenty of pressure, and that led to four Matthew Stafford interceptions Sunday in Chicago.
10. New York Jets (5-4). I don't intend to make Rex Ryan choke on his Pop Tarts this morning, but the Jets and Patriots have met three times in the regular season in the last calendar year. Pats 3, Jets 0. Score: Pats 112, Jets 40.
11. Detroit (6-3). Starting to get worried about one of my NFC wild cards. The Lions have lost three of four and really got pummeled at Soldier Field.
12. Cincinnati (6-3). Not sure the Bengals can survive the loss of Leon Hall. They've lost both starting corners from a season ago -- Johnathan Joseph in free agency to Houston and now Hall to an Achilles injury.
13. Atlanta (5-4). I wouldn't worry about that fourth loss too much. I still think the Falcons are going to make the playoffs. Next five games: Tennessee, Minnesota, at Houston, at Carolina, Jacksonville.
14. Dallas (5-4). The Cowboys are a game behind the Giants in the NFC East. They haven't played the Giants yet, but Dallas has one advantage right now -- a 4-2 conference record; Giants are 3-3.
15. Oakland (5-4). Up one week, down the next. But the way Carson Palmer threw, the way Michael Bush mashed the Charger run defense and the way they tormented Philip Rivers, the Raiders played like the best in the West in beating San Diego for the third straight time.
Offensive Players of the Week
Dallas QB Tony Romo. Doubtful that many quarterbacks have had an hour like Romo had in a game the Cowboys had to have. He started 11 of 11 for 179 yards and three touchdowns, two to backup Laurent Robinson, and finished 23 of 26 for 270 yards. Romo did it without Miles Austin, and he looked like he'd been throwing to Robinson for years, not weeks.
Houston RB Arian Foster. With a 21-touch, 186-yard day in the shredding of the Bucs in Tampa, Foster continued to show he's not just a runner. In the six games missed by wideout Andre Johnson with the bad hamstring, Foster has 26 catches for 427 yards and a pair of 78-yard touchdowns, one Sunday in Tampa.
Oakland C Stefen Wisniewski. This easily could have gone to Michael Bush or Denarius Moore for outstanding performances in the Raiders' 24-17 win at San Diego Thursday night. But the rookie Wisniewski was superb in his first NFL start at center for the Raiders, keeping underrated nose man Antonio Garay off Palmer most of the night and blocking at the second and third levels very well. Third level? On Palmer's 22-yard screen to Bush late in the second quarter, Wisniewski sold the screen, sprinted downfield and was there to clear Eric Weddle from Bush's path. Great effort.
Defensive Players of the Week
New England DE Andre Carter. Carter knows the sporting media (me, mostly) has been all over coach Belichick for not making major pass-rush investments in the draft in the last few years. On Sunday night, Carter dragged that critique through the mud in the thoroughly convincing 37-16 Patriots rout of the Jets. Carter sacked Mark Sanchez four times, assisted on another sack, and either leveled or hit Sanchez three other times. The 4.5 sacks is a team record.
Oakland LB Kamerion Wimbley. Yes, he took advantage of the chaos on the San Diego line, but Wimbley's four sacks, constant pressure of Rivers, one more tackle for loss and a pass defensed wrecked San Diego's chance to win the Thursday nighter.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Chicago PR/WR Devin Hester. Here's what Hester said on the NFL Network's GameDay Morning show Sunday: "I don't know what it's going to take for a returner to get voted in the Hall of Fame, but I'm going to make sure that it'll be a hard decision to pass me up. There's a first for everything: I want to be the first." Hester's 82-yard, sideline-tiptoe punt return for touchdown in one of the late games gave the Bears a commanding 20-0 lead and put them in the Wild-Card driver's seat at 6-3.
Coaches of the Week
Denver coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Mike McCoy. I love coaches who tailor their teams to their talent, and not the other way around. Fox and McCoy saw the holes in Tebow's passing game and began practicing options and pitches in the last three weeks in practice. On Sunday, they won a game with 55 of their 63 plays runs. Fantastic.
Goats of the Week
Baltimore KR David Reed. The Ravens lost by five points at Seattle. Reed fumbled on two kick returns in the first half, both leading to field goals. So he handed the Seahawks six points. That's what I call directly contributing to a loss with really bad plays.
Atlanta coach Mike Smith. I can't criticize Smith quite as much as I did Bill Belichick a couple of years ago, because the Falcons had to make about eight inches against the Saints with a good short-yardage back in Michael Turner, and the Patriots had to make two yards against the Colts. But Smith erred here. He had to know if he didn't make it, the game was all but over; the Saints would take possession and already be in position to kick a 47-yard field goal to win. The options are all well and good, but I don't like knowing if I don't gain half a yard, I've lost the game. I'll take my chances punting it, thanks.
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