A few years ago, there wasn’t a football fan in the land who wasn’t intimately familiar with the word “parity.” Everyone from John Madden and Chris Berman to the guy who worked at the sports paraphernalia store out at the mall was marveling at the sudden presence of parity everywhere they turned. The Titans beat the champion- to-be Colts? Parity! The Super Bowl-bound Bears get thumped by the Dolphins? Parity! Then, last year, the dominant Pats (and a few others) rendered the word impotent by making clear that there was a class of obviously superior teams. Now, it may be time to say that the term “parity” has regained its potency. In any given week, anyone can fall. Which will make these final weeks of the season particularly enjoyable to watch. Welcome back, parity.
1. Tennessee Titans 12–1 (2)
It seems like a few seasons ago, not a few months ago, that prospective superstar quarterback Vince Young fell apart and head coach Jeff Fisher decided that Young needed to stay on the bench the rest of the season. Fisher hoisted veteran Kerry Collins into Young’s place, and now the Titans are 12–1. MVP of the Titans’ season so far? Jeff Fisher.
2. New York Giants 11–2 (1)
If the Giants look as lackluster this weekend as they did last, then they’ll see their home-field advantage prospects for the playoffs grow a little bit vulnerable — and the Cowboys, no doubt, would be glad to contribute to this vulnerability. If Brandon Jacobs is out (as seems likely), Derrick Ward will get a larger spotlight, and a bigger share of the offensive responsibility.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers 10–3 (3)
With eight minutes left in Sunday night’s game, even the most ardent Steelers fans were ready to throw in the terrible towel. But during the final minutes of the game, we saw the importance of an experienced offense, a tireless defense and collective belief that there’s nothing wrong with having your back against the wall.
4. Baltimore Ravens 9–4 (5)
Let’s just say it: Ed Reed might be superhuman. I mean, we’ve always known he’s one of the league’s great defensive players, but on Sunday he had three tackles, two interceptions and one fumble recovery, which he returned 22 yards for a touchdown. This team echoes the 2000 Super Bowl winners from Baltimore: a frightening defense that risks wearing itself out trying to compensate for an (at best) efficient offense.
5. Carolina Panthers 10–3 (6)
The Panthers keep winning, yes, but if Delhomme can’t figure out how to keep his passes away from the other team, the Panthers run past December will be short lived.
6. Indianapolis Colts 9–4 (8)
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 9–4 (4)
8. Dallas Cowboys 8–5 (7)
9. New England Patriots 8–5 (10)
10. Arizona Cardinals 8–5 (15)
Kurt Warner leads the Cards to their first division title since the mid-1970s, which begs the question: Will we be seeing Matt Leinart anytime soon? Barring a Warner retirement, Leinart’s time may still be a few seasons away.
11. Denver Broncos 8–5 (14)
12. Minnesota Vikings 8–5 (13)
13. New York Jets 8–5 (9)
“I expect us to make the playoffs,” Brett Favre said earlier this week. And they might. But to do this they’ll need to see improvements in every phase of their game — including behind center, where Favre failed to land a TD on Sunday, though he did rack up one interception.
14. Philadelphia Eagles 7–5–1 (17)
Two weeks ago, the Eagles appeared to be grounded for the year. But after weathering the Andy Reid-Donovan McNabb “incident” and another round of Brian Westbrook injuries, the Eagles seem prepared to fight for a playoff spot. It’s going to be an uphill battle, but they’ve reignited their competitive fires.
15. Atlanta Falcons 8–5 (11)
16. Miami Dolphins 8–5 (16)
17. New Orleans Saints 7–6 (18)
18. Chicago Bears 7–6 (19)
19. Washington Redskins 7–6 (12)
20. Houston Texans 6–7 (20)
21. San Francisco 49ers 5–8 (23)
An impressive win against the Jets last weekend won’t do anything to change the outcome of this season, but it will give San Fran some confidence to carry into next season. And if the Niners play to their potential in the final weeks, they may be able to fuel that confidence with a few more wins.
22. San Diego Chargers 5–8 (24)
23. Green Bay Packers 5–8 (21)
24. Buffalo Bills 6–7 (22)
25. Cleveland Browns 4–9 (25)
26. Jacksonville Jaguars 4–9 (26)
27. Seattle Seahawks 2–11 (29)
28. Kansas City Chiefs 2–11 (27)
29. Oakland Raiders 3–10 (28)
30. St. Louis Rams 2–11 (31)
31. Cincinnati Bengals 1–10–1 (30)
32. Detroit Lions 0–13 (32)
Heading into the fourth quarter on Sunday, Detroit was up 13–10 and looked like they might — just might — pull one out over the division-rival Vikings. But then they let it slip away, and the wan expressions on the Detroit sideline spoke a clear message: 0–16, here we come!