- Associated Press - Monday, November 14, 2011

The NFL has separation at the top, thanks to the Packers and 49ers. At the bottom, too, thanks to the woeful, Manningless Colts.

Otherwise, well, go figure.

From week to week, it’s been almost impossible to figure out most teams. The Bills, Lions and Chargers have plummeted back to Earth. The pitiful Dolphins and Rams suddenly are winning. The Jets had a three-game winning string and lots of matchup advantages against the Patriots, who were on a two-game slide. So New England wins in a rout.

As Vince Lombardi once shouted from the sideline: “What the hell is going on out there?”

Of course, one of the reasons for the NFL’s unparalleled popularity is the old mantra, ever-so-true this year, that on any given Sunday …

So, the championship-contender Saints can lose to a winless St. Louis. The Ravens, looking like the best team in the AFC, can flop at weak Seattle, their third road loss to a sub-.500 team this season. Denver, with Tim Tebow doing a fine imitation of a backup high school passer, runs all over Kansas City even as Tebow completes two passes.

If college hoops has March Madness, the NFL has November Nuttiness. This weekend emphasized that.

“We had a long trip out here, feeling confident and to come in here and not be able to get that game separation from everyone else in your division when you really had a good shot to do that, it doesn’t feel good,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said.

His sentiments were echoed by Jets coach Rex Ryan, who pretty much labeled Sunday night’s meeting with the archrival Patriots a must win.

“I thought we’d play better,” Ryan said. “I thought we had really improved. You make that many mistakes against that team, there’s no chance.”

Yet the Jets have a chance to still do something special this year. So do the Patriots, the Ravens, the nose-diving Lions, Bills and Chargers. Such is the nature of the NFL, which is part of its charm.

The constants of 2011 include two shockers _ did anyone project San Francisco (8-1) to be this good under a rookie coach and coming off a lockout; or for Indy, even without four-time MVP Peyton Manning, to be so bad? _ and one easy enough prediction. The Packers were so strong in last year’s playoffs and Super Bowl and got back so many key injured players eager to contribute to another championship that their dominance of the first half of the schedule is no surprise.

As for the rest, nothing much could have been anticipated.

“It happens every week in the NFL,” Patriots quarterback Tom Brady said. “You look up at the scoreboard during the game _ or for us, because we played on Sunday night, we saw a lot of those games. And it’s like: `God, how did they lose?’ Or, `Wow, they beat so-and-so.’

“One team one week looks great, and then they play another team. Other than the Packers this year and the 49ers, you really don’t know what you’re getting every week.”

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