Injuries and upsets were big stories over the weekend and the worst game of the year was actually the best. The Colts and Saints moved to 10-0, making it only the third time in league history with two undefeated teams at this stage, the AFC West threw down with the AFC North and won(!), and the Browns found yet another way to lose. Let’s make our way all the way from No. 1 to No. 32…
1. New Orleans Saints (10-0)— Efficient and dominant in each phase of the game, the Saints were in control throughout it. By creating four turnovers and leading a perfectly balanced offensive attack, New Orleans put their stamp on this game. They are 10-0 for the first time in franchise history and will look to continue their unblemished run in a huge contest on Monday night, when they host the Patriots.
2. Indianapolis Colts (10-0) —Certainly not their prettiest win of the year, but as we like to say, “good teams win ugly.” The Ravens forced three turnovers and held the Colts to just 17 points, but Indy shut the door late with two late turnovers of their own to run their record to 10-0. Next up is a scrappy Houston Texans team who is looking to put a signature win up on the board.
3. Minnesota Vikings (9-1)— It doesn’t often go much easier than this in an NFL contest. QB Brett Favre was able to check out in the start of the fourth quarter, holding a 28-3 lead after completing 88 percent of his passes and four TDs against Seattle. The reeling Bears visit Minnesota on Sunday.
4. New England Patriots (7-3)— The Pats certainly dished out a measure of revenge, embarrassing the Jets by holding the ball for 40 minutes and creating five turnovers. WR Wes Welker ran free most of the day, racking up 15 catches for 192 yards and exposing a less-than-stellar game plan. The Pats play another “Game of the Year” when they travel to New Orleans to take on the undefeated Saints.
5. San Diego Chargers (7-3)— Right back where they belong, the Chargers withstood some early season trials and tribulations and find themselves in first place in the AFC West and playing commanding football. San Diego ran over the Broncos on Sunday, picking up 203 yards on the ground in a 32-3 shellacking. They now have their eyes focused on a No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs and will host the Chiefs this Sunday.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (7-3)— This will be permanently filed under "One that we let get away." The Bengals of old would have even been shaking their heads after Cincy gave up 10 points to the Raiders in the last 41 seconds of the fourth quarter. A big special teams gaffe gave the Raiders the ball in field goal range, one play after the game-tying TD, which resulted in a 20-17 loss. They forfeited a huge chance to go up two games on Pittsburgh, but will attempt to bounce back against the cellar-dwelling Browns this Sunday.
7. Arizona Cardinals (7-3)— The Cardinals have inched their way up the power rankings in recent weeks and find themselves in complete control of the AFC West yet again. Kurt Warner’s injury is not deemed to be serious and he staked them to a commanding 21-3 lead before being forced out of the game against the Rams. The Cards take on the red-hot Titans in an effort to stay within a reasonable distance of the Vikings or Saints for the No. 2 spot in the NFC.
8. Dallas Cowboys (7-3)— This one was very ugly, so Big D should be thankful this holiday for the win on Sunday. They scored their points (a Romo-to-Crayton-TD) with less than three minutes to play and hung on to beat the Redskins 7-6. The Thanksgiving tradition continues when they host the Raiders on Thursday.
9. New York Giants (6-4)— As head coach Tom Coughlin succinctly put it, “it was miserable around here for a month,” and that ended with an overtime victory over the Falcons. Eli Manning threw for a season-high 384 yards along with three TDs to pace the offense to 34 points. They go to Denver on turkey night to try to make it two wins in a row.
10. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-4)— Despite picking up over 500 yards of offense, three costly turnovers, ANOTHER kickoff return for a TD, and eight penalties doomed the Steelers in the OT loss to Kansas City. With S Troy Polamalu out for several more weeks and Ben Roethlisberger banged up after this loss, the defending champs are in a danger zone. This week’s showdown against the Ravens should result in the losing team being out of the playoffs at year’s end.
11. Philadelphia Eagles (6-4)— Was that balance we saw on Sunday night? Yes it was. Philly came out running the ball and throwing, which led to nearly 400 yards of offense, despite three turnovers. They sealed the win with a LeSean McCoy TD with five minutes to go and now will need to keep pace with a jumbled wild card group in the NFC. Next up: Redskins in Philly.
12. Denver Broncos (6-4)— After opening the season at 6-0, the Broncos are in serious danger of missing the playoffs. They managed exactly three points in four trips to the red zone and held the ball for less than 23 minutes. Their 25th-ranked offense will need to get back on track for a huge Thanksgiving night game in Denver.
13. Atlanta Falcons (5-5)— The Falcons battled the Giants into overtime in a game during which they trailed throughout, ultimately falling 34-31. They will need to find a way to get stops on defense if they are going to have a chance at a playoff run in 2009. The back end of their schedule is loaded with home games, so they can get started with a win over Tampa Bay this week.
14. Green Bay Packers (6-4)— The Pack completely dominated the 49ers, despite only winning by six points. They held the ball for over 41 minutes, including the last six to run out the clock and racked up nearly 500 yards of offense. The Pack takes on the Lions on turkey day and are back in the thick of the NFC playoff race.
15. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-4) —The Jags came from behind to beat the Buffalo Bills by three and put themselves right into playoff contention. One of the hardest teams to figure out in the whole league, the Jags have a balanced offense and hard-hitting defense that creates problems for most of their opponents. A loooong road trip to San Fran is up this holiday weekend.
16. Baltimore Ravens (5-5) —The Ravens failed to score a TD in four red-zone trips , settling for five field goals on the day as their only points. Two late turnovers cost them in a game that was there for the taking against the unbeaten Colts. They are in serious jeopardy of missing the AFC playoff race and have a clash against the rival Steelers this Sunday night.
17. Miami Dolphins (5-5)— A big week from Ricky Williams with three TDs allowed the Dolphins to keep pace with the rest of the playoff pack in the AFC. His role will be significant down the stretch as QB Chad Henne continues to develop. They received a nice 10-day break before they head up to Buffalo to take on the last-place Bills.
18. Tennessee Titans (4-6)— While the hill may be a little too steep for the Titans to climb all the way back into the playoff picture, they are playing as well as many teams on that level. RB Chris Johnson, who ran for 151 yards against Houston, is following up his excellent rookie campaign with a breakout season that may make him the NFL’s next big star. The four-game winning streak will be heavily tested against the Cardinals and Colts the next two weeks.
19. Houston Texans (5-5)— Yet another loss in the books thanks to missing a field goal on the last play of the game…just inexcusable. From clock mismanagement to poor execution, the Texans show no signs of being able to get above the .500 mark for any length of time. Titans’ RB Chris Johnson tore them up and now they will need to set their sights on Colts QB Peyton Manning.
20. San Francisco 49ers (4-6)— The only positive thing the Niners showed on Sunday was their ability to fight until the end of the game. Their defense was beaten up all day and their offense only had 18 minutes with which to move the ball. The playoff window is just about closed on San Fran in what has shaped out to be a disappointing 2009 campaign; they host the Jags this Sunday.
21. Carolina Panthers (4-6)— Carolina has been fighting inconsistency all year and likely dropped out of the playoffs with that loss to Miami. The Dolphins dared QB Jake Delhomme to throw and he was unable to do so accurately or take advantage of red zone opportunities. They face the Jets this Sunday in a battle of two teams whose seasons have come off the rails earlier than anticipated.
22. New York Jets (4-6)— The seemingly limitless prospects of rookie QBs are often perfectly counterbalanced with the reality of the developmental process. Mark Sanchez offered up five turnovers against the superior Pats team, which combined pressure and good coverage to confuse the youngster making just his tenth NFL start. The playoff window has shut on the Jets as they wait ‘til next year yet again. Next up: hosting Carolina on Sunday.
23. Chicago Bears (4-6)— The Bears were unable to capitalize on three turnovers and ended the game with two punts, a blocked field goal, and an interception on offense. Unfortunately for the Bears, they appear to have personnel issues on both sides of the ball and will be retooling in the offseason after a third straight year of missing the playoffs. They travel to Minnesota this week in a must-win game for the Vikes...bad times…
24. Kansas City Chiefs (3-7)— A look at the box score will not tell you the story of the Chiefs’ huge upset over Pittsburgh in Week 11. Key turnovers and a few clutch plays in overtime allowed them to snap their 10-game home losing streak, their longest ever. Head coach Todd Haley has them playing inspired football and we’ll see if they can make it three straight against the Chargers this week.
25. Oakland Raiders (3-7)— Kudos to the Raiders for causing and then taking advantage of the Bengals mistakes in a shocking 20-17 win over Cincinnati. The league’s worst offense managed 10 points in the final 41 seconds of the upset and look better-suited having Bruce Gradkowski under center to run the show. Heading to Dallas on turkey day could be interesting, as neither offense has lit the world on fire over the last month.
26. Washington Redskins (3-7)— The Redskins battled for the entire contest, keeping Dallas QB Tony Romo off-balance and holding them to only seven points. But they were plagued with their own inability to do anything in the red zone in losing their fifth game out of their last six. The ‘Skins go on the road to Philly to try to play spoiler for the remainder of the season.
27. Buffalo Bills (3-7)— The Bills went 3-of-11 on third down, coughed up three turnovers, and came away with three field goals in three tips to the red zone—tough way to win a football game. They played more-inspired ball with interim head coach Perry Fewell and QB Ryan Fitzpatrick leading the way, but will need to be better to break the three-game skid against the Dolphins.
28. Seattle Seahawks (3-7)— The wheels have come off the wagon in Seattle. Injuries and abysmal play have them out of the playoffs and wondering where the future may lead them in 2010. Only four rushing yards on 12 carries put them in a position to hold the ball for less than 18 minutes. They visit the Rams this week to try and heal some of their war wounds.
29. Detroit Lions (2-8)— The Lions and Browns combined for over 900 yards in a very competitive contest that ended with Detroit victorious. Their defense has myriad issues, but Matt Stafford and the rest of the offense came back from being down 3-24 in the first quarter to take the game on the last play, 38-37. Lions host the Pack on turkey day in one of the oldest traditions in the NFL.
30. St. Louis Rams (1-9)— The Rams went 4-of-16 on third down and failed to capitalize on another great performance by RB Steven Jackson. Their inability to stop the Cardinals’ offense put them in too big of a hole to finish off their second-half comeback. They will take on the Seahawks in an NFC West battle (read: pillow fight).
31. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-9)— Mama said there’d be days like this…a 38-7 drubbing at the hands of the Saints. Considering how badly he was harassed in this game, the Bucs should be thankful that QB Josh Freeman is not injured. They travel to the Falcons looking for improvement in all three phases.
32. Cleveland Browns (1-9)— The Browns suffered a heart-breaker in finding a shockingly new way to lose an NFL game. A pass interference penalty on a “Hail Mary” pass was followed by an untimed down for a Detroit TD on the last play of the game; that really was a tough way to go out in Week 11. Bengals, Chargers, Steelers is a tough stretch for Cleveland as we head into December.