1. New England (9-3). Patriots' scoring output in their last six games: 242 points. Seahawks' scoring output in first 12 games of season: 242 points.
2. Houston (11-1). A win tonight in Foxboro -- in Matt Schaub's first game ever at New England -- would all but clinch AFC home-field through the playoffs for Houston. A win would make them two games clear of second-seed Denver with three to play, meaning Houston would have to go 0-3 and Denver 3-0 for anyone else to win home-field, seeing that Houston has the tiebreaker in head-to-head with Denver.
3. Denver (10-3). As the indefatigable Mike Reiss points out, Manning-Brady XIV is assured for 2013 now that Denver and New England have both clinched their divisions. The 2013 schedule metric, planned long before Peyton Manning signed with Denver last March, has the AFC West winner playing at the AFC East winner (as in 2012, for some bizarre reason), and sets up the XVIth time Manning's team will play Brady's team since Brady took the starting job for New England in 2001. Two of the 16 matchups were negated by injury, Manning's in 2011, Brady's in 2008.
For those keeping score at home: Next season will be the third straight Brady-Manning Bowl in Foxboro. The previous three were in Indianapolis. The previous five were in Foxboro. All-time series score when Manning and Brady have started against each other: Brady 9, Manning 4, including 2-1 Brady in playoff games. CBS got Denver-New England this season. Look for it in primetime next year.
4. San Francisco (9-3-1). Remember when it was panicsville about Colin Kaepernick? You know, like, five days ago? The option run around left end cured that, at least for the time being.
5. Atlanta (11-2). Almost every good team in history has had a nightmare day, and this was Atlanta's. The key for Mike Smith now is to make sure it doesn't mushroom. You know how to do that? Run it better. With Jacquizz Rodgers.
6. New York Giants (8-5). I love the matchup in the Wild Card round if the playoffs were based on the standings today: No. 5 seed Seattle at No. 4 New York. Russell Wilson trying to slip-slide through and around that great defensive front. Fun times.
7. Seattle (8-5). Average score in the last five games (Seattle 4-1): Seattle 32, Foes 14.
8. Green Bay (9-4). I love it when a quarterback takes the bull by the horns. That's what Aaron Rodgers did on his third-quarter touchdown run. Amazing with the problems the Packers have had this year, but a week from today, with a win at Chicago and a Niners loss at New England, Green Bay would have a half-game lead for the NFC's second seed with two games to play.
9. Washington (7-6). Any team that sweeps the Giants and Ravens in seven days with playoff life on the line has to be in the top 10, even though neither win came with an exclamation point. After watching the last few minutes of the win over Baltimore, I no longer think it's hopeless if Kirk Cousins has to play Sunday in suddenly hot Cleveland.
10. Baltimore (9-4). I doubt even the return of Ray Lewis for the final three games (Peyton at home, Eli at home, then at Cincinnati) will revive the Ravens D. And that D needs a revival.
11. Indianapolis (9-4). I keep watching the Colts and saying Andrew Luck makes too many mistakes and there are holes in the secondary and they have a flawed offensive line and whatever else. But then Cassius Vaughn and Jerrell Freeman and Vick Ballard make plays, and it forces me to just say, "Shut up, logic."
12. Cincinnati (7-6). It's beginning to look very much like the Cincinnati-Pittsburgh game in 13 days will be for the sixth seed in the AFC playoffs. It's at Heinz Field.
13. Pittsburgh (7-6). Conference record: 4-6. Four and six. Cleveland has a better conference record. Strange days at the confluence, and it sure looked like Ben Roethlisberger came back a week too early.
14. Chicago (8-5). The record sounds much better than the Bears are playing.
15. Dallas (7-6). Steelers and Saints at home, before Dallas closes with Washington on the road. Cowboys could go 3-0. Cowboys could go 0-3. That you know.
Offensive Player of the Week
Cam Newton, QB, Carolina. The 30-20 win over NFC South first-place Atlanta showcased the 2011 Cam: 23 of 35 for 287 yards and two touchdowns, plus nine carries for 116 yards, including a 72-yard touchdown run. "I think this game allows me to have a little chip on my shoulder,'' said Newton. That's what he had most of last year.
Defensive Players of the Week
Bobby Wagner, LB, Seattle. The Seahawks' second-round rookie is trying to wedge his way into the Defensive Rookie competition the way Russell Wilson is doing on the offensive side. His eight tackles and two interceptions were big keys to the 58-0 whitewash of the woebegone Cardinals.
Thomas Davis, LB, Carolina. As my compatriot Dennis Dillon reports (see the end of this column), Davis has had a remarkable recovery from his third ACL tear in as many years. Think of that -- three major knee injuries to the same right knee and he's back playing at a high level. Against Atlanta he had seven tackles and, in the middle of the fourth quarter, with the Falcons driving to cut the Panthers' lead to three, stepped in front of a Matt Ryan pass for an interception. That led to an insurance touchdown, and to the upset of the day.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Travis Benjamin, WR/KR, Cleveland. The rookie fourth-round pick from Miami (Fla.) made the longest punt return for touchdown in the storied history of the Browns, 93 yards, giving Cleveland a 10-7 second-quarter lead over Kansas City. The twisting, leaping, cutting return was one of the best in the NFL this season, but add to the skill of the return the prelude to it. Benjamin began the play at the line of scrimmage, blocking the Chiefs' gunner, split wide right. About seven seconds before the snap, returner Josh Cribbs sprinted into a middle linebacker position, and Benjamin was left to sprint back into return position. Two seconds after he got there, the punt was floating down to him, and the rest is Browns history.
David Wilson, RB/KR, New York Giants. For going 97 yards untouched on a kickoff return (longest GMen TD return on a kickoff since 1964) to forge a 7-7 tie in the first quarter of a game the Giants had to have. Wilson, the first-round pick from Virginia Tech, had fumble problems early this season for the Giants, but he's become a real threat in a part of special teams that had been a bit of a dry gulch for the team in recent years. His first three kick returns Sunday against the Saints: 58, 97 and 52 yards. For good measure, he added 13 carries for 100 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Combined yardage for the day: 327 yards. Yowza.
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 suffered in November 2008. Zim, a former collegiate offensive lineman himself, loved watching offensive line play.
Andre Smith, RT, Cincinnati. The former overweight, underperforming first-rounder (remember how embarrassing his Hard Knocks performance was as a rookie?) has rebounded with a big year, and played well in the 20-19 loss to Dallas. Smith allowed but one pressure and no sacks (the rest of the line surrendered five), and he was a powerful part of a 146-yard afternoon on the ground. Credit offensive line coach Paul Alexander for plugging in so many new pieces to the line and keeping it humming over the years -- and for helping rebuild Smith's confidence after it flagged his first two seasons in the league.
Coach of the Week
Jason Garrett, head coach, Dallas. Talk about a difficult weekend. For the second straight week, a head coach of a team in crisis. Like Romeo Crennel in Kansas City last week, Garrett had to stand up in front of his team Saturday and tell them of a death in the family. Garrett did it just before the Dallas charter left for Cincinnati, telling his players that practice-squad linebacker Jerry Brown had been killed in a drunk-driving crash, and starting nose tackle Josh Brent was the driver of the car that killed him. "Everybody in our organization who knew Jerry is completely numb, and has been numb the last couple of days,'' Garrett said Sunday. "And football is a game of emotion."
Down 19-10 in the fourth quarter, Garrett's prep work paid off late, and the Cowboys rallied to a 20-19 win.
Goat of the Week
Jake Locker, QB, Tennessee. Standing in his end zone, under pressure, with a 20-14 lead late in the third quarter, Locker threw a mind-bendingly bad interception to Indianapolis cornerback Cassius Vaughn, who waltzed in with a three-yard interception that a third-grader would have caught and turned into a touchdown. Terrible decision, terrible execution, and without it, there's a good chance the Titans would have shocked the Colts in Indy. But the Colts went on to win, 27-23.
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