The Washington Times - October 29, 2009, 06:22PM

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Quarterback Drew Brees leaped over his linesmen to score a touchdown for our No. 1 team, the New Orleans Saints. (AP photo)

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New Orleans remains on top after recovering from a first half scare at Miami. Minnesota slips to fourth after suffering its first loss. Indianapolis and Denver, still perfect, move up to second and third, respectively.

Dallas, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh and Arizona all jump four spots while Atlanta and Baltimore, which made their rookie coaches and quarterbacks famous in 2008, sank six places with defeats and San Francisco and Chicago slid five rungs down the rankings.

But there’s no doubt about the stat of the week. The bottom seven teams remained unchanged. And with good reason. Kansas City, Detroit, Washington, Cleveland, Tennessee, Tampa Bay and St. Louis are a collective 1-37 against the rest of the league with the Browns’ 6-3 victory in Buffalo the only triumph.

That’s uglier than the scariest Halloween costume.

The rankings follow; as always, last week’s rankings are (in parentheses).

1. Saints (1): Down 10 points in the fourth quarter on the road, it would’ve been easy for the unbeaten Saints to pack it in. But New Orleans outscored Miami 22-0 the rest of the way. Just as important, the Saints did this on a day that all-world quarterback Drew Brees was off his game. Next up their first division game against Atlanta.

2. Colts (3): After two close victories to open the season, Indianapolis has won each of its past four games by at least 17 points. Peyton Manning has been otherworldly making Jim Caldwell’s transition to the top spot as smooth as possible. The best news for Caldwell is that his defense didn’t allow a touchdown in its past two games.

3. Broncos (4): Rookie coach Josh McDaniels must have enjoyed his bye week with a 6-0 start and a huge lead in the AFC West. Kyle Orton, the consolation prize acquired in April from Chicago for the unhappy Jay Cutler, has outplayed the higher profile quarterback. Denver returns from its bye with a tough test at Baltimore.

4. Vikings (2): In last week’s loss at Pittsburgh that ruined Minnesota’s perfect season, Brett Favre finally looked human for the first time as a Viking. But now Favre has the perfect place to rebound: at Lambeau Field where he starred for the Packers from 1992-2007. If Minnesota sweeps Green Bay, the NFC North race could be all but over.

5. Patriots (6): Bill and Tom’s European (working vacation) went bloody well, thanks. New England toyed with Tampa Bay, running its string of consecutive points to 80 — the most in 17 years — before settling for a 35-7 victory. And as a reward for schlepping to London, the AFC East leaders get this week off before playing host to Miami on Nov. 8.

6. Giants (5): Is Eli Manning in a funk (five turnovers in consecutive losses to the Saints and Cardinals) or was New York’s quarterback playing over his head during its 5-0 start? With Dallas beating Atlanta, the Giants could lose the NFC East lead for the first time since 2007 with another loss at Philadelphia and a Cowboys’ victory over Seattle.

7. Eagles (9): Guess Andy Reid got his point across about the offense’s pathetic outing in Oakland. Philadelphia scored on its fourth play and led Washington 27-7 before halftime. The defense recorded six sacks and forced three turnovers. The special teams forced another. Good preparation for Sunday’s visit from the archrival Giants.

8. Packers (10): Green Bay fans have been waiting for this game since Brett Favre left town in the spring of 2008. Minnesota’s 30-23 Week 4 home victory over the Packers only added to the desire to beat Wisconsin’s former favorite son. A home loss to the Vikings would not only be galling, it would give Minnesota a huge edge in the NFC North race.

9. Cowboys (13): For the first time this year, Dallas recorded a victory worth celebrating. Last Sunday’s 37-21 thrashing of Atlanta moved the Cowboys within half a game of the NFC East-leading Giants. The question for coach Wade Phillips and offensive coordinator Jason Garrett is why they kept deep threat Miles Austin on the bench so long?

10. Bengals (14): Talk about getting revenge. Cedric Benson, angry since being cut by the Bears after three disappointing seasons, got payback with his feet, trampling Chicago for a career-high 189 yards in a 45-10 Bengals rout. If Cincinnati can repeat its earlier victories over Baltimore and Pittsburgh the next two weeks, it’ll own the AFC North.

11. Steelers (15): All is well again for the defending champs after ending Minnesota’s perfect start with a 27-17 victory, Pittsburgh’s fourth in a row. The Steelers allowed 386 yards but also returned two turnovers for fourth quarter touchdowns. Next up for Pittsburgh after its bye week is a showdown with the undefeated Broncos.

12. Cardinals (16): Like the Steelers, who edged them in Super Bowl XLIII, the Cards are on a roll. The upset of the Giants gave Arizona undisputed possession of the NFC West lead heading into a visit from Carolina, which it smacked on the road in the playoffs. Can we all handle the Cards in consecutive postseasons for the first time since 1975?

13. Falcons (7): At 4-2, they still trail New Orleans by two games. So if the Falcons can’t beat the host Saints on Monday, their chances of winning the NFC South will be in jeopardy. After young quarterback Matt Ryan was picked off twice and sacked four times by the Cowboys, look for Saints defensive boss Gregg Williams to send his guys after him.

14. Ravens (8): Baltimore fans had better hope that first-year coordinator Greg Mattison used last week’s bye to fix the leaks in a defense that was so stout for so many years because Mike Nolan, his predecessor once removed, has this week’s foe, the Broncos, allowing a league-low 11 points per game, 10 points fewer than the Ravens.

15. Texans (17): They needed a 50-yard field goal and a late interception to hold off the visiting 49ers, but the Texans have won two straight for the first time since Weeks 14-15 of 2008. Red-hot quarterback Matt Schaub’s task in Buffalo will be a lot harder if Pro Bowl receiver Andre Johnson can’t play because of a bruised lung.

16. 49ers (11): They head into last week’s bye after being humiliated at home by Atlanta. They came out of it, trailing Houston 21-0 at halftime. That’s when coach Mike Singletary called on quarterback Alex Smith. The top pick in the 2005 draft zoomed from bust to boon with three touchdowns but should find tougher sledding at unbeaten Indy.

17. Bears (12): Don’t mess with Texas. Or at least players who starred at Texas. That’s the lesson that GM Jerry Angelo and coach Lovie Smith learned the hard way last week when UT product Cedric Benson ran all over the Bears, whom he claimed blackballed him in 2008. Fortunately for Chicago, playing Cleveland should ease much of the pain from last week.

18. Bills (19): Ryan Fitzpatrick is smart enough to have attended Harvard. He’s also smart enough to not throw an interception or fumble in the face of a furious Panthers pass rush. That lack of mistakes was enough to help Buffalo surprise punchless Carolina. However, the Bills will need more points to keep it going against the potent Texans.

19. Jets (20): Mark Sanchez is the only New York quarterback to win a game the past two weeks, but he’s still a goofy rookie. A week after throwing five interceptions, Sanchez threw a ball over the goalpost in celebration and threw down a hotdog on the sideline. Kid, you only threw for 143 yards against the Raiders. The Dolphins will be tougher.

20. Dolphins (18): It was all there for Miami, which was on the verge of an unlikely third straight triumph, leading unbeaten New Orleans 24-10 at halftime at home. But the Dolphins’ defense couldn’t hold the Saints’ league-leading offense, allowing 302 yards in the second half of a 48-34 loss. Now that defense faces the Jets’ rampaging ground game.

21. Jaguars (22): Jacksonville fell into third in the AFC South during its bye. But the time off will have been worth it if the Jags straightened out the mistakes that almost cost them the previous week against the winless Rams. Jacksonville split with Tennessee in 2008 and that was against the 13-3 Titans not the 0-6 mess it visits Sunday.

22. Seahawks (24): If the Hawks managed to patch together a semblance of an NFL-quality offensive line during bye week, they just might be able to stay with the Cowboys on Sunday. But since Seattle scored more than 19 points in just one of its past five games, it looks like the defense will have to somehow shut down Dallas. Don’t count on it.

23. Chargers (25): After surrendering 72 points in back-to-back losses to Pittsburgh and Denver to fall to 2-3, San Diego really needed a pick-me-up last week. What a perfect time to play Kansas City. The 37-7 romp made the Chargers feel better. They should have another feel-good Sunday against Oakland before they start playing serious teams again.

24. Raiders (21): Whatever the opposite of owning New York is, that’s what Oakland has achieved after getting pounded 44-7 routs by the Giants and 38-0 by the Jets, sandwiched around a way out of character 13-9 shocker over the Eagles. The offensively challenged Raiders have five touchdowns in seven games. At least they’re done with the Big Apple.

25. Panthers (23): Just when it looked like coach John Fox had his team turned around from its 0-3 start, Carolina fell behind punchless Buffalo 17-2 midway through the fourth quarter despite holding the Bills to 53 yards on 30 carries. Jake Delhomme and Co. generated 425 yards but were killed by four turnovers. And now they get red-hot Arizona.

26. Chiefs (26): So much for building on the upset victory at Washington. Kansas City was down 20-0 more than five minutes into the third quarter against visiting San Diego. In the wake of the 37-7 loss, longtime No. 1 back Larry Johnson ripped new coach Todd Haley. Like their cross-state rivals, the Rams, the Chiefs don’t have a rushing score.

27. Lions (27): That’s two weeks out of four during which Detroit hasn’t lost! Of course, last week’s loss avoidance was because of the bye week. But maybe the break allowed ace receiver Calvin Johnson and starting quarterback Matthew Stafford to heal up in time for should be victory No. 2 of the last two seasons: St. Louis at home.

28. Redskins (28): The defense, Washington’s strong suit, was torched for touchdowns of 57 and 67 yards by the Eagles. The usually solid special teams muffed a punt deep in their own territory. As for the offense, losing star tight end Chris Cooley only makes that unit more feeble. Maybe they just won’t bother coming back from this week’s bye.

29. Browns (29): Cleveland, 5-18 the last two years, is a mess. The Browns have scored just four offensive touchdowns in seven games while the defense has allowed 20. A 1-5 ratio just doesn’t cut it. At least Mangenius can’t go winless after winning at Buffalo a couple of weeks ago. The new coach can start preparing for his 2010 first-round pick.

30. Titans (30): Tennessee heads into Sunday’s game with Jacksonville having had two weeks to prepare to get off its 0-6 schneid. Trouble is the Jaguars, who are also coming off their bye, crushed the Titans 37-17 in Week 3, the first of three straight defeats by at least 20 points. Tennessee can clinch a losing season in the AFC South with a loss.

31. Buccaneers (31): They’re probably not going to match their 1976 expansion brethren by going winless, but the Bucs are one loss away from being halfway there because they score about as often an NHL defensive defenseman. Tampa has 11 offensive touchdowns in seven games. Since three of its next four foes are stingy, that likely won’t change much.

32. Rams (32): Is it possible for a team with an elite running back to go through a season without a rushing touchdown? St. Louis is nearly halfway to making that happen. Last week’s 42-6 lambasting in Indianapolis was the Rams’ fifth in seven games by at least 19 points. A rare chance to avoid going winless happens this Sunday in Detroit.