Eli Manning in last week’s win over the Raiders (AP photo) (Last week’s rankings in parentheses).
There wasn’t much change at the top of the rankings this week because of byes.
No. 2 New Orleans had a bye and the top-ranked New York Giants, No. 3 Minnesota Vikings and No. 4 Philadelphia Eagles each might as well have considering that they faced the awful Oakland Raiders, St. Louis Rams and Tampa Bay Buccaneers respectively. Collective final score of those three mismatches: 115-31.
There also wasn’t much change at the bottom of a league with some really dreadful teams. The 10 worst teams last week are the 10 worst teams this week with Missouri’s heroes, the Kansas City Chiefs and the Rams, bringing up the rear.
However, there was some serious movement elsewhere in the rankings. The Jacksonville Jaguars plunged seven spots after being shut out at Seattle. The San Francisco 49ers fell five notches after getting embarassed by Atlanta at home. Meanwhile, the Seahawks and the seriously suprising Denver Broncos each climbed five places.
1. Giants (1): Eli Manning on one healthy foot was 24 points better at halftime than Oakland’s JaMarcus Russell, the quarterback who was taken first overall only three years after he was. After three straight laughers over the Bucs, Chiefs and Raiders, the Giants visit New Orleans in a showdown of unbeaten NFC division leaders.
2. Saints (2): Gregg Williams befuddled Eli Manning when the quarterback was a rookie in 2004. He did it again — with some serious help from the wind gusts in Giants Stadium — when they last battled in 2007. The Saints’ defensive coordinator won’t have those advantages at home on Sunday, but he will have the highest-scoring offense on his side.
3. Vikings (3): Brett Favre once threw a playoff-record six interceptions in a playoff game at St. Louis. Last week in the same stadium, Favre threw only six incompletions among 24 passes in going 5-0 for the first time in 18 years as a starting quarterback. Minnesota has a much tougher test Sunday when Baltimore visits for Purple vs. Purple.
4. Eagles (4): Donovan McNabb returned last week in style from the fractured rib he suffered in the opener, tossing three touchdowns and scampering 13 yards on the first play as Philly toyed with Tampa Bay. The Eagles, 11-0 coming out of byes under coach Andy Reid, should keep the pressure on the Giants in the NFC East by stomping Oakland Sunday.
5. Colts (9): Is Peyton Manning possibly getting better at 33? During Indy’s 5-0 start, Manning had a 114.1 rating and passed Fran Tarkenton for third alltime in touchdown passes. Manning could well be in the top four in yards, completions and rating by the end of the season. The Colts come out of this week’s bye with a visit to the lowly Rams.
6. Broncos (11): The uniforms were hideous. The weather was frigid. The upstart Broncos trailed the mighty Patriots 10-0 after 25 minutes. But Denver’s amazingly stout defense shut out New England in the second half and protege Josh McDaniels beat mentor Bill Belichick in OT. If 5-0 Denver wins Monday at San Diego, it will own the AFC West.
7. Falcons (10): Quarterback Matt Ryan, who’s 14-6 despite starting from day one as a rookie, is 24. Running back Michael Turner, a huge free agent signing in 2008 who has 22 touchdowns in those 20 games, is 27. Receiver Roddy White, a rare survivor of the Michael Vick era, who has 111 catches during that span, is 28. Atlanta is in good shape for a while.
8. Patriots (5): Tom Brady is back at quarterback, but the offense isn’t playing like the record-setting unit he ran when last healthy in 2007. The Pats are 17th in scoring and ninth in yards after getting blanked after halftime at Denver. Bill Belichick needs to find a replacement for former offensive whiz Josh McDaniels, now the Broncos’ coach.
9. Bengals (13): Wow. Cincinnati went into Baltimore, got 120 rushing yards from scrap heap pickup Cedric Benson, shut out Derrick Mason and got another last-second score from Carson Palmer and Co. Marvin Lewis’ guys are just 17th on offense and defense, but they’re finding ways to win. The 5-1 Bengals, 3-0 in the AFC North, are for real.
10. Ravens (6): All is not well in Baltimore. The Ravens have won lost two close games and their defense was torched in the close game they won. The next three games: at unbeaten Minnesota, unbeaten Denver and the return engagement with last week’s conqueror, Cincinnati, could well decide whether Baltimore is a serious contender or a pretender.
11. Jets (7): Slip sliding away, slip sliding away. Two weeks after the Big Apple tabloids were touting an all-New York Super Bowl, the Jets are 3-2 after getting spanked at New Orleans and edged at Miami. Mark Sanchez is now just another struggling rookie quarterback. But Gang Green should get healthier Sunday at home against Buffalo.
12. Bears (12): Chicago’s Lovie had two weeks to prepare for Atlanta’s Mike in Sunday’s first battle of the coaching Smiths, both former defensive coordinators. But given the Falcons’ struggles on defense and their potent offense, the Bears’ best chance for an upset is to ride quarterback Jay Cutler’s arm and running back Matt Forte’s legs.
13. 49ers (8): The Golden State’s economy is a mess. The baseball season in the Bay Area was a bust. Cal’s Rose Bowl hopes seem gone. Don’t even mention Stanford. But the Niners were 3-1 and back on track and headed to their first NFC West crown since 2002 when they were manhandled by visiting Atlanta. Their bye comes at the right time.
14. Packers (15): Aaron Rodgers and the Pack can certainly score: they’re one of just two non-perfect teams to produce at least 21 points in every game. However, the defense has just five sacks and can’t get off the field on third down. If those issues remain the next weeks vs. banged-up Detroit and impotent Cleveland, it’s big trouble.
15. Cowboys (14): Rallying from a 10-point deficit with 17 minutes left is impressive. Except what were the Cowboys doing trailing the winless Chiefs 13-3 late in the third quarter? Third receiver Miles Austin’s huge day masked some big problems in Big D where the offense is No. 1, but the defense isn’t holding up its end of the deal.
16. Seahawks (21): The searing pain in Matt Hasselbeck’s broken ribs wasn’t enough to keep the quarterback from returning after Seattle had gone 0-3 without him. Inspired by their gutty leader, the patchwork O-line allowed just one sack as Hasselbeck threw four touchdowns in a 41-0 rout of Jacksonville. Next up, a big NFC West game vs. Arizona.
17. Steelers (17): Pittsburgh is 3-2 after winning back-to-back games over San Diego and at Detroit. But the champs are off their game, needing to thwart a late drive by a lowly Lions team minus Calvin Johnson and Matthew Stafford to win 28-20. Maybe Sunday’s visit by the bad Browns will be the game that turns the Steelers into men of steel again.
18. Dolphins (22): Left for dead at 0-3 and with Chad Pennington, the leader of the shocking 2008 AFC East title team, done for the year, the Dolphins have slid off the sand and are leaping through the waves again after crunching Buffalo and squeaking past the Jets to go to 2-0 in the division. But it’s Saints, at Jets, at Pats after this week’s bye.
19. Cardinals (20): Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald got back on track during bye week, but it was the unsung defense that saved Arizona with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie’s interception for a score giving the hosts the lead that was saved by a last-minute goal line stand. But the Cards can’t be happy about losing a 21-0 halftime lead to Houston.
20. Texans (18): Going back to Week 16 of 2008, Houston has gone L-W, L-W, L-W, L … which should mean an upset victory Sunday at Cincinnati. Trouble is that, as was the case last week at Arizona, the Texans never quite get over the hump, They rallied behind Matt Schaub from a 21-0 third quarter deficit only to lose in the final three minutes.
21. Chargers (19): The underachieving defense (no sacks from Shawne Merriman or Shaun Phillips) had a bye week to recover from its ugly outing at Pittsburgh. San Diego allows 25.5 points per game and can’t stop the run minus injured nose tackle Jamal Williams. So it’s up to Philip Rivers and Co. to beat Denver and keep hope alive in the AFC West.
22. Jaguars (16): Jacksonville must have lost the momentum from two straight AFS South victories somewhere at 40,000 feet because the 41-0 bombardment at Seattle was the Jags’ worst defeat since they were a 1995 expansion team. Luckily for coach Jack Del Rio, the next four weeks include three games against winless teams and the bye week.
23. Panthers (23): It was looking like lights out and time to start focusing on ACC basketball in Charlotte when the host Panthers trailed the Redskins 17-2 with just 24 minutes left. But coach John Fox’s previously lousy special teams jump-started the comeback and then set up the winning touchdown. A date at winless Tampa Bay is next.
24. Titans (24): For the second time in four years, Tennessee is 0-5. Jeff Fisher changed the bad karma in 2006 by benching quarterback Kerry Collins and inserting Vince Young, then a rookie. Young replaced Collins late in last week’s loss at Indy and his first pass was picked off. Don’t look for a comeback to start Sunday at New England.
25. Lions (25): Playing without No. 1 quarterback Matthew Stafford and then losing ace receiver Calvin Johnson in the first quarter, Detroit hung with Pittsburgh all day before falling 28-20. The Lions aren’t good, but they’re a lot better than the winless bunch of 2008, especially at home. They’ve lost 12 in a row on the road heading to Green Bay.
26. Redskins (26): Washington has yet to play a team that came in with a victory but is still an ugly 2-3 with the victories over the Rams and Bucs, who are 0-10 combined, and two of the losses to the Lions and Panthers, who are 0-7 against everyone else. Sunday’s game with Kansas City is the end of the “easy” part of the reeling Redskins’ schedule.
27. Browns (29): Over the last two years, Cleveland is 2-0 at Buffalo, 3-16 in all other stadiums. Seems to me that the solution is to swap franchises. Move the Browns to Buffalo and the Bills, who haven’t had a winning record at home since 2004, to Cleveland. Don’t look for the Browns to win at Pittsburgh on Sunday with 23 passing yards.
28. Bills (27): How low can Buffalo go? The Bills haven’t made the playoffs since 1999 — a record of incompetence matched only by Detroit — but they’ve usually been respectable. But after losing to Cleveland, Buffalo is 1-2 at home and has scored just 20 points in three weeks. It’s hard to see coach Dick Jauron surviving into 2010.
29. Buccaneers (28): Were they really 9-3 and looking at a first-round bye last Dec. 6? The Bucs are 0-9 since with six of the losses coming by double digits. Rookie quarterback Josh Johnson threw three picks last week at Philly, wasting a solid outing by the young defense. Rookie coach Raheem Morris’ team is 29th in scoring and 30th in scoring defense.
30. Raiders (30): After pushing San Diego and beating Kansas City, Oakland returned to reality the past three weeks, getting outscored 96-16. The Raiders can’t pass (last), stop the run (31st), run (28th), pass-block (31st), return punts and kickoffs (last) or cover kickoffs (31st). They also can’t win. Certainly not Sunday vs. the Eagles.
31. Chiefs (32): The NFL’s worst defense was shredded by Tony Romo, Miles Austin and Tashard Choice last week, but there were signs of life from the offense as quarterback Matt Cassel passed for 253 yards and ran for 28. If the rest of the running game could get going, the Chiefs just might get off the schneid Sunday at Washington.
32. Rams (31): Take away the scare the Rams gave the Redskins before losing 9-7 and they’ve been trampled 137-27. St. Louis has yet to rush for a touchdown or score in the first quarter. Steve Spagnulo isn’t exactly replicating the success of 2008 rookie coaches John Harbaugh, Tony Sparano and Mike Smith. But his old Giants defense is No. 1.