(New Orleans Saints running back Pierre Thomas celebrated his first quarter touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons. AP Photo)
Despite memorable performances from old man Brett Favre and young man Ted Ginn, it was a pretty placid Week 8 in the NFL and the rankings reflect that.
Only Carolina, which surprised Arizona on the road, moved up more than two spots (from 25th to 21st) while only the Cardinals (from 12th to 17th), former No. 1 the New York Giants (from sixth to ninth after a third straight defeat) and Jacksonville (from 21st to 23th) slipped more than three notches.
With five of the six teams having byes this week ranked no higher than 19th, maybe there’ll be more movement near the top in Week 9 which features two meetings of team ranked in the top dozen: Dallas at Philadelphia and Baltimore at Cincinnati.
But for now, New Orleans and Indianapolis, the lone unbeatens, remain on top with Tampa Bay, the last winless team, taking the bottom spot.
The rankings follow; as always, last week’s rankings are (in parentheses).
1. Saints (1): It was looking almost too easy for Drew Brees and Co. on Monday against visiting Atlanta. New Orleans led 28-14 at halftime and had the ball to start the second half. But it took a late red zone interception and a subsequent touchdown drive to move the Saints to 7-0 and give them a 3-game lead over the Falcons in the NFC South.
2. Colts (2): As was the case in Weeks 1 and 2 against Jacksonville and Miami, close was good enough for Indy against visiting San Francisco. Jim Caldwell can tie Potsy Clark of the 1931 Portsmouth Spartans as the only coaches to win their first eight games with a victory over Houston against whom the Colts are 13-1, losing by a field goal in 2006.
3. Vikings (4): Brett Favre’s 2009 season seems like a movie: come out of retirement to have a career year for your longtime archrivals. Favre’s 4-TD performance last Sunday at Green Bay was just the fourth by a QB in his 40s matching Hall of Famers Warren Moon (twice) and George Blanda. The 7-1 Vikes probably wish they didn’t have a bye this week.
4. Patriots (5): When New England takes the field Sunday against Miami, it will be its first game a team that wasn’t unbeaten (Denver) or winless (Tennessee, Tampa Bay) since Week 4. How many times do you think Bill Belichick will remind his AFC East leaders this week that last year’s 38-13 home loss to the Dolphins kept them out of the playoffs?
5. Broncos (3): If Denver’s perfect season wasn’t over when Jarret Johnson sacked Kyle Orton on the first play, it probably was when Ed Reed leveled Knowshon Moreno and forced a fumble not long afterwards. The 30-7 loss in Baltimore hurt, but the Broncos still have a 2-game lead in the AFC West as they prepare for Pittsburgh on Monday.
6. Eagles (7): Whoosh. That’s the sound that Philadelphia’s phoes must hear when DeSean Jackson flies by on one of his now-typical touchdowns of at least 50 yards. The ugly Week 6 loss in Oakland has been erased by consecutive impressive NFC East victories. Finishing the trifecta against visiting Dallas would give the Eagles the undisputed division lead.
7. Cowboys (9): Make it three straight for the rising Cowboys, the past two by a combined 37 points. Stars DeMarcus Ware, Tony Romo, Marion Barber are all playing well as Dallas, written off in July, rolls into Philly in quest of sole possession of the lead in the NFC East which doesn’t figure to be settled until the Week 17 rematch in Big D.
8. Bengals (10): Believe it or not, Cincinnati goes for its third sweep of Baltimore in five years on Sunday at home. The Bengals are also fresh following last week’s bye, but the Ravens are coming off their best game of the season, a 30-7 rout of Denver. Strangely, Cincinnati has the stingier defense and Baltimore the more potent offense.
9. Giants (6): New York was 13-3 in regular season play from Week 7 of 2008 through Week 5 of 2009 with the losses by a combined 19 points. The Giants are 0-3 since with the losses by a combined 51 points. They allowed 40 points twice in 49 games before doing so twice the past three weeks. The bye that follows Sunday’s visit by San Diego is needed.
10. Packers (8): Revenge would have been sweet for Ted Thompson. Instead, the GM had to wacth Brett Favre jog into Lambeau and leave with the 38-26 victory that gave archrival Minnesota control of the NFC North. Meanwhile, Aaron Rodgers, the quarterback whom Thompson preferred, has a terrific 110.4 rating but has been sacked an amazing 31 times.
11. Steelers (11): Pittsburgh headed into itss bye having reeled off four straight victories behind quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, a resurgent defense and new No. 1 back Rashard Mendenhall. If the Steelers can learn from the Ravens’ domination of the Broncos, they could make it five in a row at Denver and stay at least tied for the AFC North lead.
12. Ravens (14): With conqueror Cincinnati (this week on the road), Indianapolis and Pittsburgh still to play this month, Baltimore could ill afford a fourth straight loss to unbeaten Denver last week. The defense got its mojo back early, Lardarius Webb’s kickoff return TD to start the second half kept it going and the offense completed the big day.
13. Falcons (13): They didn’t win, but there was a lot to like in Monday’s loss at New Orleans. Running back Michael Turner had his best game of the year. Matt Ryan made some terrific throws and Roddy White, Michael Jenkins and Tony Gonzalez all had big catches. The defense shut down the Saints for most of the second half. The 4-3 Falcons are fine.
14. Texans (15): It took eight seasons, but Houston finally reached the midpoint with a winning record. Matching that in the second half could mean the Texans’ first playoff spot, a task that became more difficult with the season-ending injury to Pro Bowl tight end Owen Daniels. Sunday’s game at Indy is the first of four straight AFC South contests.
15. Bears (17): Chicago certainly bounced back from its 45-10 drubbing by Cincinnati in style, pounding Cleveland 30-6 while holding the Browns to nine first downs and forcing five turnovers. The Bears can move within 2-1/2 games of NFC North leader Minnesota by beating visiting Arizona on Sunday. They don’t play the Vikings until Week 12.
16. 49ers (16): They haven’t won since Alex Smith relieved Shaun Hill at quarterback at halftime of Week 7, but the 49ers did outscore the Texans and Colts 35-21 behind the No. 1 pick in the 2005 draft, who might finally be getting it with a 95.0 rating. Sunday’s visit by 1-6 Tennessee should be Smith’s first victory since Sept. 16, 2007.
17. Cardinals (12): If it was bizarre for the long-downtrodden Cards to come within 40 seconds of winning the Super Bowl, then it’s at least weird to be 1-3 at home but 3-0 at home. And Kurt Warner throwing five picks for just the second time in 108 career starts? Baffling. For all the unexpected stuff, Arizona still leads the NFC West at 4-3.
18. Dolphins (20): After leading Miami with 56 catches in 2008, 2007 first-rounder Ted Ginn was benched this year. Ginn responded by making his mark on returns. Last Sunday he became the first player with a pair of touchdowns of at least 100 yards in a game. What he will do for an encore against New England’s mediocre coverage units this week?
19. Bills (18): Buffalo’s defense sidelined Owen Daniels for the year and forced a fumble that benched Steve Slaton, but the visiting Texans still rang up 439 yards and 31 points. Not good, especially since Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t make much happen through the air for the Bills, who are 1-3 at home and don’t play there again until Nov. 29.
20. Jets (19): New York held Miami to just 104 yards and sacked Chad Henne six times but still lost 30-25 because its special teams gave up consecutive kickoff return scores and Jason Taylor returned a fumble for a touchdown. Despite the No. 1 rushing attack and No. 2 defense, the Jets head into their bye 1-4 since a 3-0 start under coach Rex Ryan.
21. Panthers (25): This time, Jake Delhomme wasn’t the interception king as Carolina avenged its 2008 playoff loss to Arizona and rose to 3-4 by forcing six Kurt Warner turnovers, making the offense’s 13 first downs and 90 passing yards inconsequential. Sunday the Panthers’ top-ranked pass defense takes on New Orleans’ top-ranked offense.
22. Chargers (23): Sure they’ve won two in a row, but crushing Kansas city and beating Oakland for a 13th straight time doesn’t mean much except that Norv Turner is now 6-0 against his former teams. If the Bolts are really going to salvage what was supposed to be another season atop the AFC West, they need to win games like Sunday’s at the Giants.
23. Seahawks (22): Like the girl with the curl in the nursery rhyme, the Seahawks are very good when they’re good (28-0 and 41-0 routs of the Rams and Jaguars) and very bad when they’re bad (losses by at least 13 points to the 49ers, Colts, Cards and Cowboys). Sunday’s visit by the Lions should be the former. If it’s the latter, the Hawks will be very bad.
24. Jaguars (21): None of his team’s next four foes are over .500, but Jack Del Rio might be still coaching for his job after the past three games (a 41-0 loss to Seattle, a 23-20 overtime victory over the visiting Rams and a 30-13 defeat that ended Tennessee’s winless season). The Jags can’t score or stop anyone, hardly a formula for success.
25. Raiders (24): Another week, another report about bad behavior by Oakland coach Tom Cable. At 2-6, Cable’s team is on pace for an incredible seventh straight season of at least 11 losses. And yet, the Raiders could return from this week’s bye as favorites to sweep fellow AFC West lightweight Kansas City. That is if they bother returning.
26. Chiefs (26): Kansas City coach Todd Haley is having quite a rookie season. He fired his offensive coordinator in August, demoted his receivers coach during Week 6 and had management suspended his No. 1 running back for ripping him on Twitter. Maybe it’s a good thing that the Chiefs will go 27 days without playing at home where they’re 0-4.
27. Lions (27): Detroit was less than two minutes from a second victory in six weeks (not impressive unless you hadn’t won before that since December 2007) when its run defense failed one last time to control the Rams’ Steven Jackson. Now come two in a row on the road where the Lions are 8-59 since 2000 and have been outscored 119-51 this year.
28. Redskins (28): Washington hasn’t lost in Atlanta since the game before the 1987 strike. But the Redskins, minus two of the offense’s four Pro Bowl players, are no match for the potent Falcons even though the home team is on a short week. Washington’s offense is being run by two Shermans, but they won’t be marching through Atlanta.
29. Titans (30): When Jeff Fisher had last turned to Vince Young back in 2006, Tennessee was 0-5. The rookie quarterbacked the Titans to an 8-3 record the rest of the way. Could history be repeating now that Young got Tennessee off the schneid last week? It’s doubtful, but the Titans are certainly more talented than their fellow NFL dregs.
30. Browns (29): George, we hardly knew ye. Half a season into his debut as the Browns’ GM, George Kokinis is out. True, Cleveland is a mess with just five offensive touchdowns, but he inherited a mess from Phil Savage. If Browns owner Randy Lerner doesn’t watch it, he’ll be accused of running a more dysfunctional franchise than Dan Snyder.
31. Rams (32): Great news in the Gateway City: In the same week, Tony LaRussa agreed to return for a 15th year as the ever-contending Cardinals’ manager and the Rams won for the first time in 18 games dating to Oct. 19, 2008. Beating Detroit with a last-minute touchdown doesn’t mean much but it should make for a happy bye week in St. Louis.
32. Buccaneers (31): Tampa Bay didn’t lose a game during its bye week, of course, but it lost its partners in the winless ranks as Tennessee and St. Louis both won. That’s something the Bucs haven’t done since last Nov. 30. With Green Bay, surging Miami, New Orleans and Atlanta up next, Tampa could easily make it a year without winning.