Heading into the home stretch, the guys from Pittsburgh are making clear that they’re ready to make a post-season run. Illinois grad Carey Davis, the Steelers’ first team fullback, could see increased action in the weeks ahead as the team tries to keep its backfield healthy by spreading the ball around. Former Illini standout Rashard Mendenhall, whose season ended with a shoulder injury in Week 4, will have to wait till next season to help out Pittsburgh’s offense. How are other Illinois grads faring in the ranks of the NFL? Find out by checking out the Fighting Illini website for weekly updates.
1. Pittsburgh Steelers 11–3 (3)
The Steelers could end a dangerous five-game stretch with a 5–0 record if they can manage to take down the Titans in Tennessee this weekend. A win this weekend (and a victory over the struggling Browns in the final week of the season) also grants the Steelers AFC supremacy. But the Titans are no easy foe.
2. Tennessee Titans 12–2 (1)
With last Sunday’s loss to the Texans, the Titans suddenly look vulnerable. And the loss of defensive standouts Albert Haynesworth and Kyle Vanden Bosch doesn’t do them any favors as they prepare for a major AFC clash against the Steelers on Sunday.
3. New York Giants 11–3 (2)
If you watched the Giants game against the Cowboys last weekend, what you witnessed was some uninspired football. In order to head into the playoffs on a strong note, the G-man need to rediscover their inspiration — and quick.
4. Carolina Panthers 11–3 (5)
By thumping the Broncos last weekend, the Panthers sent a message that the entire NFC finally received: Carolina is ready to make a deep run in January. A victory over the Giants on Sunday night could lend them crucial confidence and momentum. Not that this will be an easy task. ...
5. Indianapolis Colts 10–4 (6)
Peyton Manning, who went 29-for-37 for 318 yards and a TD on Sunday, is playing like a guy who would really like to have more Super Bowl rings than his kid brother. And the rest of the team seems to like the sound of that, too. The Colts are getting hot when getting hot matters most.
6. Dallas Cowboys 10–4 (8)
T.O. says that he’s not disgruntled. He says ESPN’s Ed Werder is a liar. He says he’s not a distraction to his football team. Well, he may actually be disgruntled, and Ed Werder probably isn’t a liar, but one thing T.O. got right: His team doesn’t seem distracted. They playing like a club that knows that each week their playoff hopes hang in the balance.
7. Baltimore Ravens 9–5 (4)
8. New England Patriots 9–5 (9)
9. Minnesota Vikings 9–5 (12)
10. Philadelphia Eagles 8–5–1 (14)
11. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9–5 (7)
12. New York Jets 9–5 (13)
Honesty all’s well and good, but does Brett Favre need to indulge in so many maybe-I-don’t-have-it-anymore moments? It just can’t be good for locker room morale.
13. Atlanta Falcons 9–5 (15)
14. Denver Broncos 8–6 (11)
15. Arizona Cardinals 8–6 (10)
16. Miami Dolphins 8–5 (16)
17. Chicago Bears 8–6 (17)
The Bears still have a chance to make the playoffs, but Bears fans should be advised not to hold their breath. Still, the Vikings, who currently sit atop the NFC North, have two losable games ahead, and the Bears have two (versus Green Bay and then Houston) that could — and should — be won.
18. Houston Texans 7–7 (20)
For a few years now, we’ve looked at the late-season Texans and said, “They could be a real threat next year.” Well, let’s say it again: The Texans look like a team on the rise — an image aided by last Sunday’s upset of the Titans.
19. New Orleans Saints 7–7 (17)
20. San Diego Chargers 6–8 (22)
21. Washington Redskins 7–7 (19)
22. San Francisco 49ers 5–9 (21)
23. Jacksonville Jaguars 5–9 (26)
24. Buffalo Bills 6–8 (24)
25. Green Bay Packers 5–9 (23)
26. Seattle Seahawks 3–11 (27)
27. Cleveland Browns 4–10 (25)
Romeo will surely go. But before he does, will his team be able to stitch together a decent game for him? This Sunday against Cincy, they just might.
28. Kansas City Chiefs 2–12 (28)
29. St. Louis Rams 2–12 (30)
30. Oakland Raiders 3– 11 (29)
31. Cincinnati Bengals 1–11–1 (31)
32. Detroit Lions 0–14 (32)