After last week’s Polite Power Rankings hit the virtual newsstands, a reader offered this advice: “Instead of profiling the top 16, you should do random teams throughout…. That way, if I’m a fan of a weaker team I can occasionally look forward to your coverage of my team.” My initial reaction was: What’s a Raiders fan doing in the middle of Illinois? But the truth is, sports fans migrate and they bring their teams with them, and in a university town full of transplants and transients, there just may be some Dolphins diehards looking for a fix. So each week, the Polite Power Rankings will profile the top five teams and a selection of 11 others from among the list.
1. NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS (1)
Sometimes invincibility is simply the art of making one less mistake than your opponent, as the Patriots demonstrated Sunday night. Amidst a media-hyped quest for perfection, the Pats allowed a limping Eagles team to take them to the wire. Word on the street is other teams now have a blueprint for success against New England. You know who also has a copy of that blueprint? Bill Belichick. Buyers beware.
2. DALLAS COWBOYS (2)
The New York Jets swagger into Texas Stadium a week after defeating the AFC heavyweight Steelers, and what do the Cowboys do? Shrug, and proceed with a systematic dismantling of the Jets. After the game, ’Boys head coach Wade Phillips said, “That’s the way we need to play at home.” Few truer words have ever come from a coach’s lips, considering the Thursday showdown with Green Bay.
3. GREEN BAY PACKERS (3)
There has to be more than one other person in Football Nation who’s just waiting for Brett Favre to stare down all those post-game reporters and say, “You know, I think we’re a pretty darn good ball club. In fact, I think we can take this thing all the way.” But he’s been clinging to his reservations all year. This Thursday, though, if Green Bay walks out Dallas with a W, count on Favre to raise his expectations.
4. INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (5)
With two starting linemen and receiving extraordinaire Marvin Harrison out, the Colts still managed a strong performance against the Falcons. They’re now 9–2. And Peyton Manning seems to have gotten over his mid-season hump. In other words, this team is bound to get healthy, and they haven’t forgotten they’re wearing last year’s rings.
5. JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS (8)
Zero. That’s right: David Garrard has thrown zero interceptions this year. You might say, “Yeah, but he was injured those couple of games, and — .” Nope. A team that doesn’t turn the ball over is a team with the potential to win, and that’s exactly what the Jags are doing. With a devastating defense in tow, they’re going to give us something fun to watch this Sunday in Indy.
6. PITTSBURGH STEELERS (4)
Say what you want about a soggy field — and it was about as soggy as they come — the Steelers came out Monday night looking like a team that’s worn out from its early-season exploits. After a couple of rough games, Sunday’s divisional showdown with Cincy will allow Pittsburgh to get its blood flowing again.
7. CLEVELAND BROWNS (7)
8. TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS (9)
If you’re searching for the Bucs’ strong suit, look no further than a swarming defense that nabbed three interceptions last week against the Redskins and reminded offenses league-wide that it knows how to put a man on the ground. This week’s match-up against the surging Saints may pave the way for an ultimate victor in the NFC South race.
9. SEATTLE SEAHAWKS (13)
10. SAN DIEGO CHARGERS (12)
Through week 4, the Chargers went 1–3. Since then, they’re 5–2. And with a favorable schedule ahead (the remaining opponents are a combined 24–31), San Diego is revving up for a charge into the playoffs.
11. NEW YORK GIANTS (6)
Picture this: Eli Manning, standing alone, maybe on the sidelines, maybe on the field, having just tossed the ball, again, to the other team, and wearing a woe-is-me look on his face. It’s not tough to imagine, is it? Until Eli learns the art of leadership, the Giants will remain vulnerable to the brand of whoopin’ the Vikings gave them last week.
12. DETROIT LIONS (10)
13. NEW ORLEANS SAINTS (20)
If Drew Brees can continue to complete nearly 70 percent of his passes (as he did in week 12) and the defensive cohort led by Josh Bullocks can continue to pluck the opponent’s balls out of the air, the Saints just might begin to look like the dominating team of 2006 — without a run game, that is.
14. DENVER BRONCOS (17)
15. TENNESSEE TITANS (11)
Looking ahead to Sunday, Titans fans inevitably turn to Cat Stevens: Oh Vince-y Young/ What will you leave us this time? What they hope is that he’ll leave them memories of a touchdown pass — something he’s done during only four games this season.
16. MINNESOTA VIKINGS (23)
17. ARIZONA CARDINALS (14)
18. CHICAGO BEARS (21)
It’s official: Grossman’s back. Sure, Broncos QB Jay Cutler out-threw him by 109 yards, and Cutler had two TD tosses to his one, but at the end of the day Grossman got the win. For a resigned Chicago fandom, that’s good enough for now.
19. WASHINGTON REDSKINS (15)
20. CINCINNATI BENGALS (25)
The mystery of the season: How can a team so steeped in talent stink so bad? Perhaps it’s not so much that off-field antics led to insurmountable distractions as it is that off-field antics finally resulted in depletion at the karma well. After a dominating home performance last week against the Titans, the Bengals just may have karma back on their side. Of course, they’ll have to stymie an angry Steelers squad before we know for sure.
21. BUFFALO BILLS (16)
22. HOUSTON TEXANS (18)
23. PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (28)
Without their star quarterback and in the throes on ongoing off-field distractions from the coach’s personal life, the Eagles came up with a game plan that nearly dropped the exalted Patriots. Backup hurler A.J. Feeley may have thrown a contest-ending interception, but that guy also earned himself the game ball on Sunday.
24. CAROLINA PANTHERS (22)
25. KANSAS CITY CHIEFS (19)
26. BALTIMORE RAVENS (24)
27. SAN FRANCISCO FORTY-NINERS (29)
28. ST. LOUIS RAMS (26)
After the Rams’ week 10 bye, many predicted Marc Bulger would be fully replenished and St. Louis would look like a team reborn. But on Sunday, a punishing hit by Seahawks linebacker Leroy Hill rattled Bulger, who was later removed from the game and diagnosed with a concussion. Backup Gus Frerotte’s mediocre fill-in performance doesn’t leave much hope for a sunny day in St. Louis if Bulger sits out.
29. OAKLAND RAIDERS (31)
30. NEW YORK JETS (27)
31. ATLANTA FALCONS (30)
32. MIAMI DOLPHINS (32)
Keep your eye on the Dolphins this Sunday when they welcome the Jets to South Florida. If the Fins don’t come out with a win, they’re going to be hard-pressed to snag a W the rest of the way.