1. Houston (6-1). Amazing, just amazing, to see J.J. Watt continue to make game-changing plays, like the first-half tipped pass resulting in the Johnathan Joseph interception returned for a touchdown. That's the fourth time this year Watt has tipped a ball that's resulted in an interception.
2. Atlanta (6-0). Average yards after the catch through six weeks: 36-year-old Tony Gonzalez 3.23, Reggie Wayne 3.07, A.J. Green 2.98, Roddy White 2.70, Brandon Lloyd 2.29, DeSean Jackson 2.21.
3. New York Giants (5-2). Eighty-seven seconds. An eternity for the good Eli, a couple minutes after the bad Eli almost handed the Redskins the game with an interception. And after the game, Tom Coughlin sounded like your high school coach in the locker room, with the players around him: "Let's have a TEAM! One-two-three ... (now with all the players joining in) TEAM!!!!!"
4. Chicago (4-1). It's been 15 days since the Bears played (bye, then a Monday nighter), so you're forgiven if you forgot how well Chicago was playing entering the off-week. Average margin of victory in a three-game winning streak: 23.6 points.
5. San Francisco (5-2). Niners have allowed point totals of zero, three, 26 (with three short fields) and six points the past four games.
6. Green Bay (4-3). Pack righting the ship. Green Bay 72, Foes 44 (with a combined 8-3 record entering the two games) the last two weeks.
7. Minnesota (5-2). Adrian Peterson is carrying the Vikes like the pre-ACL days. Last four games: 105.5 average rushing yards per game, 5.4 yards per rush.
8. New England (4-3). I don't like putting them two spots ahead of Seattle and one spot ahead of Baltimore -- two teams that have beaten the Patriots in the last month. And I didn't love what I saw in the win over the Jets. But it goes back to feeling the Patriots would beat either team today on a neutral field in Wichita.
9. Baltimore (5-2). Stunningly bad performance by a good team. I understand the injuries, of course, but I don't get it, honestly.
10. Seattle (4-3). Have to give props to left tackle Russell Okung for doing something I never thought I would see in an NFL game (or a biker street fight, for that matter): Okung pancaked Justin Smith in the Thursday night game. Stunning. You do not pancake Justin Smith. You just don't.
11. Washington (3-4). Odd to have a losing team No. 11, but Robert Griffin III makes all things possible. The rookie made a couple of plays in the fourth quarterback at the Meadowlands, under pressure, that caused the Giants to gush about him endlessly. "Best quarterback we've faced all season,'' Osi Umenyiora said.
12. New Orleans (2-4). Odd to have a losing team No. 12, but who out there is going to stop Drew Brees and that passing game? And there's a chance -- just a chance -- that the addition of coach Joe Vitt, back from suspension, and the big play on defense Sunday by Malcolm Jenkins could boost the Saints just when they need a boost, with a big Sunday-nighter at Denver coming up.
13. Miami (3-3). Like what I see out of this excruciatingly close and competitive team. Last four: lost by three, lost by three, won by four, won by three.
14. Denver (3-3). Seven of the 10 remaining games are against teams with losing records. Why, with the 2-4 Saints coming to town next week, does it not feel like a cake schedule the rest of the way?
15. Pittsburgh (3-3). So the Steelers, six games in, are 1.5 games behind Baltimore with both games left against the Ravens (two weeks apart, Nov. 18 and Dec. 2), and are back in the AFC North race. But the NFL's Bono comes to town Sunday -- Robert Griffin III at Steelers, at 1 p.m. ET -- followed by a trip to play the Giants. So the Steelers won't have an easy road to the playoffs.
Offensive Player of the Week
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. Kudos to Peterson after a 23-carry, 153-yard rushing, one-touchdown performance against the Cardinals (and Arizona is a much better defense than that). The Vikings improved to 5-2, something no one outside the Wilf household saw coming two months ago. And though Christian Ponder is making progress toward becoming a good quarterback long-term, and Percy Harvin has been the most explosive overall skill player in football this year, the dominance Peterson has shown recently shows he's the key weapon for the Vikings, the same way he was before his reconstructive knee surgery 10 months ago. "How much better does it feel? Light years,'' Peterson said Sunday. It shows.
Defensive Players of the Week
Malcolm Jenkins, S, New Orleans. If the Saints end up making something of this mega-troubled season, they'll point to the play Jenkins made in Tampa Bay on Oct. 21. Coming from all the way across the field, Jenkins caught Vincent Jackson at the Saints' 1.5-yard line after Jackson had run 95 yards downfield with a reception that really should have been the tying touchdown. The excited Saints D then held on during the ensuing goal-line stand and defended some last-minute passes too for a 35-28 New Orleans win. Jackson had a game-high nine tackles, one for a loss.
Connor Barwin, OLB, Houston. "We found out today we could still play great defense,'' said coach Gary Kubiak, and Barwin led the way. Sackless until taking down Joe Flacco here, Barwin had two more tackles for loss and three more quarterback hits in the beatdown of the Ravens. Barwin has been overtaken in dominance this year by J.J. Watt, but on this day, in this dominant performance, Barwin was the best of the brightest on a very good Houston defense.
Terrell Suggs, OLB, Baltimore. The worst-kept secret in Baltimore turned out to be Suggs playing his first game of the season after only three practices. And though the Ravens got their clocks cleaned, it's noteworthy that Suggs had two tackles on the first series of the game, a sack, two more quarterback hits, and a pass deflected. Just when his team needed him, he responded. Not his fault the rest of the team stunk in Houston.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Andy Lee, P, San Francisco. Jim Harbaugh knows the kind of team he has. It's a field-position team. His passing game is not explosive, but his running game is very good, and his defense mostly suffocating. On Thursday night, Lee, the superb punter for the Niners, played right into Harbaugh's plans. He punted five times. He pinned the Seahawks back at their 4-, 33-, 14-, 9- and 6-yard lines. (Average post-punt drive start: 13-yard line.) Seattle had five punt-return yards all night. Niners 13, Seahawks 6.
Dr. Z Unsung Man in the Trenches of the Week
The award for the offensive lineman who was the biggest factor for his team in the weekend's games, named for my friend Paul Zimmerman, a former collegiate offensive lineman who loved watching offensive line play.
The interior of the San Francisco line -- Left guard Mike Iupati, center Jonathan Goodwin, right guard Alex Boone. You want to see how to wear down a defensive front? Watch the three men on the Niners offensive line batter a very good Seattle front seven (and tackles Joe Staley and Antony Davis played well too) for 175 rushing yards on 32 clock-eating carries.
My favorite run of the Thursday night win over the Seahawks: Early in the fourth quarter, Frank Gore took a handoff from Alex Smith. Boone cut left to erase defensive lineman Jason Jones, Goodwin blasted out to smother defensive tackle Clinton McDonald, and Iupati, foraging for a victim, ran ahead to clear out middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. Gore was off to the races. Gain of 37. This is what these three guys did all night for Gore and Kendall Hunter, particularly late, when their physical dominance showed.
Coach of the Week
Gary Emanuel, defensive line coach, Indianapolis. In the last three weeks, the injury-riddled Colts' defensive front had added Clifton Geathers (from the practice squad), Antonio Dixon (from the Eagles on waivers) and Lawrence Guy (from the Packers' practice squad), and on Sunday, in crunch time against Cleveland, all played. Credit defensive coordinator Greg Manusky for the scheme, and Emanuel, a great story himself, for getting three newbies ready to play at a time when an NFL game was on the line.
Emanuel, in the last 31 autumns, has been a typical football journeyman, working on 10 college staffs (including the likes of Plymouth State and Purdue) and one pro staff (49ers, 2005-06) until getting hired out of the blue by GM Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano last winter.
"He cold-called me,'' Grigson texted me after the 17-14 win over Cleveland. "Getting [Emanuel] was like finding money in the street. We had all kinds of big-time recommendations, and after Chuck and I met with Gary, we didn't even want to talk with another DL coach."
What a story.
Goat of the Week
Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore. You can be a goat and not blow the game at the end. And that's what Flacco was in Houston, with his abysmal play helping pave the wave for a 26-3 Houston halftime lead. Numbers at the half: 7 of 20, 50 yards, two interceptions ... for a passer rating of 4.2. Goat material.
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