1. New England (7-3). No Gronk for a while, but I'd be surprised if the Patriots don't score enough to beat the Jets Thanksgiving night. This is a ridiculously explosive team, with a defense that played better Sunday than it had in recent weeks. I had to think about the top of the rankings for some time Sunday night, and the fact that no one can stop the Patriots tipped the scales. In their last three games: nine takeaways, two defensive touchdowns (both Sunday), 47.0 points per game.
2. Houston (9-1). Now for the Three-Game Trip From Heck: at Detroit (Thanksgiving afternoon), at Tennessee (Titans 10-4 in last 14 against Texans), at New England. AFC home-field in the playoffs on the line.
3. San Francisco (6-2-1). The Niners will be hard-pressed to go 2-0 over the next seven days, with Chicago tonight and the Saints, on a short week, in New Orleans next Sunday.
4. Green Bay (7-3). Does anyone throw a prettier ball, dropped out of the sky into a postage-stamp hole, than Aaron Rodgers? He did it again on Sunday with the rainbow to Randall Cobb to send the Packers past the Lions.
5. Atlanta (9-1). Sorry, Falcons fans. Just seeing too much out of this team, especially on offense, that I don't like the last couple of weeks.
6. Denver (7-3). The Broncos have won five games in a row. Scored in the 30s five games in a row. Won the five games by an average of 13.6 a game.
7. Baltimore (8-2). Three wins in a row in the game's fiercest rivalry, by 28, 3 and 3 points. Loved the hitting and instincts I saw out of cornerback Corey Graham Sunday night in Pittsburgh.
8. Chicago (7-2). With Jay Cutler under center, they'd be in the 4-5 range of these rankings.
9. New Orleans (5-5). Since Oct. 1, 5-1, with the margin of the five wins at 11 points a game.
10. Pittsburgh (6-4). That was just plain weird, seeing strong-armed (or so we thought) Byron Leftwich wind up, throw bombs downfield, and have them flutter to earth three or five or eight yards short. The Steelers have to survive without Ben Roethlisberger for now, and there's only a one-game cushion over Cincinnati at the moment.
11. Tampa Bay (6-4). Haven't seen that much pure jubilation on a sideline in a long time than what the Bucs showed after winning in overtime at Carolina. Stat line that'll make football traditionalists happy: Doug Martin, 197 carries, 1,000 yards, 5.1 yards per rush, seven touchdowns.
12. Seattle (6-4). On his bye Sunday, Russell Wilson went to church and when he left, he told the minister, "Go Hawks!" He went grocery shopping and told his checkout gal, "Go Hawks!'' He went to ... You get the message. The guy ends most conversations -- with the media and with real people -- with "Go Hawks!''
13. Minnesota (6-4). Strap it on, Vikes. Next three foes are 21-7, and two are on the road.
14. New York Giants (6-4). NFC East gets tighter, and the Giants, on the bye Sunday, aren't playing well. They're a game up on 5-5 Dallas, two up on 4-6 Washington, and the Cowboys and 'Skins play Thanksgiving Day in Arlington. If Dallas wins, the Giants will be playing for the division lead next Sunday at home against Green Bay.
15. Indianapolis (6-4). Thought they were ready to play a shootout game against New England. I thought wrong.
Offensive Players of the Week
Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington. The best game of a precocious rookie season: 14 of 15, 200 yards passing, four touchdowns, no picks; 12 rushes, 84 yards, in the 31-6 rout of the Eagles. I talked to a long-time NFC East executive Sunday night, and he said: "I am not happy this guy's in our division for the next 15 years. In fact, I'm pissed." And this from Santana Moss, who made one of the touchdown catches, a spectacular one: "Robert's going to go out there and keep being special. He ignites our fire.''
Andre Johnson, wide receiver, Houston. With 14 catches, 273 yards and the game-winning touchdown, Johnson had the game of a lifetime. He told me it was the best game of his starry NFL career. The Texans escaped with an overtime win that never should have been this tough. Well, it wouldn't have been possible without the tough catches and the long runs of Johnson.
Defensive Players of the Week
John Abraham, DE, Atlanta. One of these days -- I have no idea when -- he'll start playing like his age, 34. He still sprints around end as though he's a decade younger. With the Falcons in a 13-3 hole in the second quarter Sunday, Abraham went careening around right end, caving in the tackle, and strip-sacked rookie QB Ryan Lindley just as he was about to throw.
Von Miller, OLB, Denver. He could win this every week. Another ridiculous game in the division-defining win over San Diego, with three sacks and two forced fumbles. With 24.5 sacks in his first 25 NFL games, he's approaching Lawrence Taylor/Derrick Thomas impact ... and he's only 23.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Julian Edelman, WR/PR, New England. Weaving and sprinting and feinting his way through the Colts' punt team, Edelman, with the Patriots trailing early in what appeared destined to be a shootout, took an Indy punt 68 yards for a second-quarter touchdown. Just because it didn't turn out to be a shootout doesn't negate the beauty of Edelman's return.
Leodis McKelvin, CB/PR, Buffalo. McKelvin's name gets lost in the great return men of this era. It shouldn't. Since entering the league four years ago, McKelvin has had touchdowns on a kickoff return (98 yards) and three punt returns (80, 88 and 79 yards), and that last one came the first time a Bills player touched the ball Thursday night. It was a put-it-in-overdrive, Wile E. Coyote breakneck sprint up the left sideline, through the Dolphins defense, and it was the Bills' lone touchdown of the night -- vital to a 19-14 Buffalo victory.
Janoris Jenkins, CB, St. Louis. For his sprinting-around-the-corner, full-extension, perfectly timed block of a Jets' chip-shot field goal attempt. As pretty a blocked field goal as you'll ever see.
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.
Sebastian Vollmer, tackle, New England. Having a great season protecting Tom Brady's front side, Vollmer allowed but one quarterback pressure in 35 Brady pass-drops, and he pushed the pile for a 4.6-yard rushing average in the run game. There's little question that Vollmer has turned into one of the most valuable Patriots. His ability to play against speed-rushers on the outside and power guys on the inside has made him one of the best right tackles in the game in only his fourth year as a pro.
Coach of the Week
Jerry Rosburg, special teams coordinator, Baltimore. A special teams coach has to invent a new core every year, and Rosburg showed his value again Sunday night in Pittsburgh. The punt return he coaches produced the only Ravens touchdown of the game -- a 63-year cannon-shot by the quick and fast Jacoby Jones -- and it's the third return touchdown by Jones of the season. Rosburg has also had to wean the Ravens from a veteran kicker to rookie (Billy Cundiff to Justin Tucker), while improving the overall play of the kicking game, which last year was a sore spot.
Goat of the Week
Andrew Luck, QB, Indianapolis. The mantra around the Colts all week, entering their game at explosive New England, was they couldn't turn it over. Give the Patriots any freebies, and the Colts had no shot. We can debate whether it really would have mattered in New England's 59-24 win, but let's be honest here: Luck handed it over four times, leading to 21 New England points. Let's say he converts two of those four into Indy touchdowns. Is it so far-fetched that the Colts would have been in the game late, say, behind 45-38 as the clock wound down? All we do know is that because the Patriots returned two of their three picks off Luck for scores and turned a fumble into a touchdown drive, this game was never much of a game from the middle of the third quarter on.
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