Falcons, Texans retain top two spots, while Bears jump over 49ers. Meanwhile, the Chiefs and Jaguars are in very, very big trouble … paging Mark Brunell? Joe Montana? Away we go:
1. Falcons (8-0): They’ve handled every challenge thrown at them. They’ve won blowout games. They’ve won tight games. They’ve beaten almost the entire NFC East. Now, they’ll go to New Orleans to face a Saints team in desperate need of a season-saving win. Won’t be easy.
2. Texans (7-1): Like a well-oiled machine: run Arian Foster into the ground, let Matt Schaub chuck it around and trust the NFL’s best (second-best?) defense. Houston, we don’t have any problems.
3. Bears (7-1): If Jay Cutler and the offense is rolling like they were last week, forget about it. Bears can beat anybody (even that team in the space above). Game of the year Sunday, at home vs. Texans.
4. 49ers (6-2): Talk all you want about the defense — yes, it’s nasty and stingy — but Frank Gore is the glue holding this Super Bowl train together. On pace for over 1,300 yards.
5. NY Giants (6-3): Big Blue lost despite one of the worst games of Eli Manning’s career (10-of-24, 125 yards, one interception). Some are anticipating another second-half swoon … we’re not. Buy low.
6. Ravens (6-2): Should be able to squeak out a win on reputation alone this week (vs. Oakland), then we’ll find out how tough the Ray Lewis-deprived Ravens are next week in Pittsburgh.
7. Packers (6-3): We told you they were heating up, NBA Jam style. That’s four straight wins with an average margin of victory of almost two touchdowns (12.75). Scary part, the offense isn’t even playing with all its weapons.
8. Patriots (5-3): In Belichick We Trust. His defense may be a tad slow, however, the new wrinkle on offense — Stevan Ridley (716 yards) — is a pretty good insurance policy behind Tom Brady.
9. Broncos (5-3): Peyton Manning hasn’t been shy about floating some ducks, but when you have 48 fourth-quarter career comebacks, 48!, who cares? Denver is officially Peyton’s Place.
10. Steelers (5-3): If you had told anyone not named Dick LeBeau (and maybe him, too) that Troy Polamalu would play only two games and Pittsburgh would rank No. 1 in total defense … yeah, just shut up, because you’re lying.
11. Seahawks (5-4): Just when they were starting to look like pretenders, they earn crucial win against potential playoff team. With this defense, if Russell Wilson can eliminate mistakes, they’ll be in the thick of it.
12. Colts (5-3): Andrew Luck & Co. were supposed to be 3-4 years away from a playoff run, yet here they are, sitting in contention at the midway point. Luck is better than RG3, you heard it here first.
13. Vikings (5-4): The slide has started in Minnesota and it probably won’t end until — with apologies to Samantha Steele — Christian Ponder learns how to be a difference-maker.
14. Dolphins (4-4): Ryan Tannehill won’t get the press his rookie classmates get because he doesn’t put up lofty numbers, but his leadership and intangibles are invaluable.
15. Chargers (4-4): A win is a win is a win is a win, even if it’s against Kansas City. Does Philip Rivers (18-of-20 last week) have one last run in him? We’ll find out over the next two weeks.
16. Buccaneers (4-4): Tampa owns the league’s top-ranked rush defense and ninth-best rush offense (thanks Doug Martin!). They’re also averaging 39 points in their last two victories. Rising fast.
17. Lions (4-4): Left for dead three weeks ago, Matt Stafford has resurrected them. He’s the fourth-highest rated QB (99.8) in the fourth quarter and is on pace to break the 5,000-yard plateau.
18. Cardinals (4-5): Kevin Kolb is reportedly still having trouble sneezing. While he’s far from the Cards’ savior, he’s the best shot they got at saving this sinking ship. Cough, please.
19. Saints (3-5): Drew Brees and the boys have won three of four and actually flashed something not seen in New Orleans in a long, long time: a run game. Don’t bury the Saints just yet, folks.
20. Eagles (3-5): New week, same mistakes. They are calling for backup quarterbacks and new coaches in Philly — until that offensive line gets fixed, none of it matters.
21. Cowboys (3-5): Jerry Jones admitted he would never fire himself as GM as long as he’s owner. Cowboys fans everywhere are praying for a billionaire to save the day … ummm, Mark Cuban?
22. Bengals (3-5): Andy Dalton picks the absolute worst possible times to go all Ryan Leaf on everyone. He’s got 11 interceptions this season, with eight coming in losses.
23. Redskins (3-6): It’s OK to declare a man-crush on RG3, we’ve all done it. While his unique skill set is decorating highlight reels everywhere, it’s just not translating into wins.
24. Rams (3-5): Sam Bradford appears to be a bust. Steven Jackson wants out. Jeff Fisher needs to rebuild on offense.
25. NY Jets (3-5): Rex Ryan won a poll as most overrated NFL coach. Tim Tebow might win one for most overrated backup quarterback.
26. Titans (3-6): Owner Bud Adams put everyone in the organization on notice. On the bright side, Chris Johnson (435 yards in last three games) has decided to play football again.
27. Raiders (3-5): Aaron Curry has been added to the roster. We’re pretty sure that will strike fear into the hearts of Baltimore this week.
28. Bills (3-5): Not technically dead. After a trip to Foxboro, where they haven’t won in a decade, they will be.
29. Panthers (2-6): Cam Newton somehow got the win in less than electrifying fashion and snapped a five-game skid. Fool’s Gold, if there was ever such a thing.
30. Browns (2-7): Young Brownies haven’t been blown out yet, and rookie Trent Richardson starting to flex muscle. Finally something to look forward to in Cleveland. Maybe.
31. Jaguars (1-7): Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne are equally bad for the NFL’s worst-rated passing attack. Better start picking Mel Kiper’s brain.
32. Chiefs (1-7): Only question is will they fire Romeo Crennel now? Or let him finish out the season?