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“Football players, like prostitutes, are in the business of ruining their bodies for the pleasure of strangers,” says writer Merle Kessler. Well, consider me one of those strangers. We’ve hit that time of year — in real and fantasy football — when diehard fans feel compelled to devote, approximately, 14 straight hours every Sunday (including pre-, between- and post-game coverage) to watching the game. But it seems that every week, there are new teams worth keeping an eye on. Are the Pats back? The Falcons for real? The Titans knocking on the door of the immortals? These are the types of questions that keep us glued to the tube on Sundays.

1. Tennessee Titans (1)

Chicago’s angry defense managed to hold the Titans to just 20 yards on the ground this past Sunday. But the veteran Kerry Collins tossed for two TDs and nearly 290 yards to give Tennessee’s offense a reason to feel optimistic about the weeks ahead. But still — 20 yards? That will need to change.

2. New York Giants (2)

On Sunday, the Giants managed to come out on top in a slugfest against their divisional foes from Philadelphia, solidifying their place atop the NFC East. But with that challenge behind them, a new challenge emerges — this one wearing black jerseys and boasting a fierce defense, a surprisingly effective offense and a triplet of mascots named Edgar, Allan and Poe. Call me Nostradamus, but I’m predicting an all-out battle this weekend at the Meadowlands.

3. Carolina Panthers (4)

It certainly wasn’t pretty, but the Panthers managed to serve up a putrid performance on Sunday against the Raiders and they still came out with a win. Not that Jake Delhomme needs to hear this, but a four-pick game against any other team (except, perhaps, for the Lions) would spell certain disaster.

4. New England Patriots (9)

It’s time to admit it: After some post-Brady bumps that nearly derailed the New England train, Bill Belichick not only has this team believing it can win, but actually has it winning. Matt Cassel, though, still has some growing to do — before he’s ready to ship off to another team next season, that is.

5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6)

When teams above you lose, you get to move up. Even if you’re on a bye week. That’s how it works. This Sunday against Minnesota, the Bucs will have to prove they deserve the bump.

6. Philadelphia Eagles (5)

7. Pittsburgh Steelers (3)

When all the chips are down, you have to be able to come up with a big hand — and this is where the Steelers often fall short. An injured lineup didn’t help Pittsburgh in their showdown with Indy last Sunday. They look to right the ship this week with a sinking San Diego team coming to town.

8. Washington Redskins (8)

9. Baltimore Ravens (10)

10. Chicago Bears (7)

11. New York Jets (13)

Look, if you beat a team 47–3, you have to be doing something right — even if that team is the St. Louis Rams. The sticking point for the Jets, though, is consistency. If they manage to take down the Pats in this week’s Thursday night game, consider me a believer. Almost.

12. Arizona Cardinals (12)

Suddenly, everybody’s singing the Cardinals’ praises. You know what I’m singing? A song called, “You Would Have Lost to the 49ers on Monday Night if the Niners Hadn’t Choked.” It’s a folk song. Try to imagine a banjo in the background.

13. Atlanta Falcons (16)

14. Indianapolis Colts (18)

15. Dallas Cowboys (15)

16. Buffalo Bills (9)

Where has all the mojo gone? At the beginning of the season, the Bills seemed poised to make a run at the AFC East throne. But now they need to struggle just to stay in the picture.

17. Minnesota Vikings (20)

18. Green Bay Packers (14)

19. Miami Dolphins (19)

20. Denver Broncos (24)

Yes, the Broncos are 5–4. And yes, the Broncos are at the top of the AFC West. And yes, the Broncos did just win (even if it was against the mediocre Browns). But in general, October and early November marked a rough period for the Broncos, and they’ll have to show a little more — for instance, by taking down a surging Falcons team in Atlanta this weekend — in order to enjoy a significant Polite Power Rankings ascension.

21. Jacksonville Jaguars (23)

22. New Orleans Saints (17)

23. San Diego Chargers (25)

24. Cleveland Browns (22)

25. Houston Texans (21)

26. San Francisco 49ers (29)

When you’re dwelling in the cellar, all it takes is a decent effort to let you climb a few steps.

27. Kansas City Chiefs (26)

28. Seattle Seahawks (27)

29. Cincinnati Bengals (30)

30. St. Louis Rams (28)

31. Oakland Raiders (32)

32. Detroit Lions (31)