1. Houston (8-1). "We do not like the taste in our mouths from the Sunday night game against Green Bay,'' left tackle Duane Brown told me the other day, concerning the 42-24 loss to the Packers in the Sunday night game a month ago. The Texans spit out the taste thanks to their hard-earned victory at Soldier Field Sunday night.
2. Atlanta (8-1). The first 400-yard passing game of Matt Ryan's five-year NFL career kept Atlanta in the game Sunday at New Orleans and nearly beat the Saints. But when Roddy White turned the wrong way on the last drive of the game, all hope was lost. It had to happen sometime. This Falcons team just didn't have the feel of one to go through a season unbeaten.
3. Chicago (7-2). If Jay Cutler's MIA with his concussion recovery next Monday night at Candlestick, I don't like backup quarterback Jason Campbell to beat the Niners. At all.
4. San Francisco (6-2-1). I really didn't think the story Sunday was the failure of the 49ers, or them coming out flat. I thought the story was the Rams joining the ranks of the serious in the NFC West.
5. Pittsburgh (5-3). Prime-time menu for the Steelers at Heinz Field ... Tonight, ESPN, the JV game: Chiefs at Steelers. Next Sunday, NBC, the Varsity game: Ravens at Steelers.
6. Green Bay (6-3). 2012 stats: Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson, 52 catches, six touchdowns. James Jones and Randall Cobb: 85 catches, 14 touchdowns.
7. Denver (6-3). The Broncos officially have a good enough defense to be competitive in January.
8. Baltimore (7-2). Good comeback game for Joe Flacco, and the Ravens needed it. Can't figure out, though, why the Ravens, with a 41-17 lead and 20 minutes left over a vanquished opponent, would use a fake field goal. Nothing to do with running up the score -- only with the thought that you don't want to show fake field goals and the like to future opponents when it's garbage time.
9. New England (6-3). Still a generous defense, but as long as the Patriots keep scoring in the 30s every week, the wins will keep coming. They'll get in trouble for it in January, though. Opposing passers have produced more touchdowns than Tom Brady, 19-18.
10. Seattle (6-4). Amazing: Russell Wilson's 5-0 at home, with 11 touchdowns, zero interceptions*. (You know, the Golden Tate/Green Bay asterisk.). The Seahawks' formidable defense wasn't scored on by the Jets offense.
11. New Orleans (4-5). Playing for .500 next week at Oakland. Anyone picking the Raiders? Bueller? Bueller?
12. Indianapolis (6-3). Raise your hand if, before the season, you thought the NFL would flex Indy-New England to the national time slot (4:25 p.m.) in Week 11 ... or if you thought Andrew Luck and Tom Brady would be tied in victories in the first 10 weeks of the season.
13. New York Giants (6-4). I have absolutely no idea who they are right now. Should the Jints be ninth? Nineteenth? You tell me.
14. Tampa Bay (5-4). The offense is out of control, obviously. But how about this for the opportunistic D: the secondary has returned three interceptions for touchdowns -- 78 yards by Ronde Barber, 60 by Eric Wright and 83 (on Sunday) by Leonard Johnson.
15. Minnesota (6-4). Vikes need the bye so they can get in the weight room and lift 10 hours a day for the next 13 days ... and be ready for four NFC North games in the last six weeks.
Offensive Players of the Week
Arian Foster, RB, Houston. He's had better games; he'll tell you that. But the touchdown he scored, on a diving try, parallel to the earth, with his arms fully extended and making the catch and securing it to his body as he thumped to the ground ... a thing of beauty. On the same drive, Foster went over Duane Brown at left tackle for six, then for 21. He rushed 29 times in the muck and mire and cold rain of Soldier Field for 102 yards.
Danny Amendola, WR, St. Louis. Coming back five weeks after breaking his collarbone, Amendola was a horse in one of the most physical games you'll see all season. If the Rams don't get a careless and insignificant-to-the-play illegal formation penalty on the first snap of overtime, Amendola would have been around 12 catches for 182 yards. As it was, the free-agent-to-be was impressive enough -- 11 catches for 102. He told me after the game he had to block out the pain in his collarbone, because it was there.
Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota. He could have won for his fourth quarter alone -- 11 rushes, 120 yards, one touchdown. The 171 yards altogether puts him on pace to rush for more yards than he ever has in his career. What an incredibly ridiculous story he's writing, 46 weeks removed from knee reconstruction.
Defensive Player of the Week
Von Miller, OLB, Denver. He continued his strong recent run with a sack and three other tackles for loss in the rout of Carolina. The more I see of Miller, the more I think he's the most dangerous linebacker in football. His crushing sack of Cam Newton had to have rattled the quarterback's teeth. On another rope-down of Newton, the QB made the foolish error of trying to complete a pass while falling, and the result was a 40-yard interception return for a touchdown by cornerback Tony Carter. Miller forced a fumble too, on a day with many strong defensive performances,
Special Teams Player of the Week
Dwayne Harris, PR/WR, Dallas. With the Cowboys' season on the line, Harris, a 2011 sixth-round receiver from East Carolina, fielded a punt at the Dallas 22 in a 17-17 game with 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter. He darted forward, then left, then sprinted up the left sideline for a 78-yard touchdown. Talk about a play to save a season.
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, the longtime SI football writer struggling in New Jersey to recover from three strokes in November 2008. Zim, a former collegiate offensive lineman himself, loved watching offensive line play.
Steven Jackson, RB, St. Louis. Sometimes the most important thing a back can do is enable the quarterback to have a chance to make a play. Pick up the blitz. Chip on the pass-rusher. And with 69 seconds left in a game the Rams trailed 21-17 at San Francisco, Jackson picked up all-world linebacker Patrick Willis and blew him up, giving Sam Bradford a chance to throw a two-yard touchdown pass to Austin Pettis. Best block of the day, and it came from a running back.
Coach of the Week
Joe Vitt, interim coach, New Orleans. In the span of seven days, with Vitt being the pregame fire-and-brimstone guy, the Saints have gone from 2-5 and on the edge of a cliff to 4-5 and 1.5 games out of the second wild-card spot in the NFC. Vitt and GM Mickey Loomis were reunited this week, with both off their league-imposed bounty suspensions, and they've brought stability the Saints have lacked. Defeating the unbeaten Falcons is a great accomplishment for any coach, but particularly for a coach and a staff in the odd position of changing head coaches on the fly twice in the first half of a season.
Goat of the Week
Bob Boylston, replay official, Carolina-Denver game. You know that rule enacted in 2011 that requires replay officials upstairs to confirm all scoring plays? Well, Boylston, a former umpire kicked upstairs about a decade ago, failed to diagnose Trindon Holliday tossing the ball away a yard shy of the goal line, and the ball bouncing into the end zone. Instead of a touchdown, the play should have been a touchback.
The officiating crew in San Francisco, led by referee Clete Blakeman. I don't care what excuse they come up with. I don't care how the league whitewashes it, if it even tries. Losing 72 seconds in the first half of a game is inexcusable, and that's what this careless crew did on Sunday.
Philip Rivers, QB, San Diego. In the midst of an excellent personal streak of football, Rivers had the Chargers on the go in the third quarter at Tampa. Down 24-21 and rolling out to make a play at the Tampa 30, Rivers, just before hitting the right sideline (which, in retrospect, he should have done, or at least thrown it into the first row of the bleachers), lasered a line drive up the sideline. Trouble is, Tampa cornerback Leonard Johnson seemed to be the only possible receiver in sight. He snared the pass and ran 83 yards for a touchdown. Terrible decision, well executed. Asked after the game for his reaction when he saw Rivers throw the ball right to him, Johnson said: "Shocked."
Pundit (Or Whatever You'd Call What He Does) of the Week
Nate Silver, FiveThirtyEight Blog, New York Times. Derided by critics before the election for saying there was a 73 percent chance Barack Obama would be re-elected president, Silver ended up predicting that correctly, plus getting 50 of 50 states correct in his pre-election forecast, now that Florida has wound up in the Obama column. In addition, he called every senate race right, with the exception of one in North Dakota (those crafty North Dakotans). Silver's an economics grad from the University of Chicago, and there's a good chance he's the first one of those to ever grace MMQB's Awards Section.