The Washington Times - November 13, 2008, 07:43PM


NFL writer David Elfin ranks the teams (Last week’s rankings in parentheses).


Not much change this week as every team has now completed its bye. However, if Baltimore, which jumped five spots to No. 6, upsets the defending champion Giants on Sunday, there will be definite change next week. And what the heck has happened to Buffalo?de

1. Titans (1) — Tennessee solidified its spot atop the thankings by proving that it could beat a solid Chicago team even though its run game ground to a halt. Kerry Collins would be the most rejuvenated former Super Bowl quarterback if not for Kurt Warner. But its NFL-stingiest defense is the big reason why the Titans were still unbeaten on Veteran’s Day.

2. Giants (2) — New York is cruising to the NFC East title with a 3-0 division record and a 2-game lead over Washington and a 3-game bluge over Dallas and Philadelphia. The host Eagles scored first last Sunday but never led again as Brandon Jacobs and the Giants’ O-line wore them down. Don’t think Ravens rookie QB Joe Flacco will solve New York’s defense this week.

3. Panthers (4) — Carolina is 7-2 and leading the tough NFC South and yet … The Panthers managed just 17 points against Oakland after edging Arizona at home. Carolina is just 20th in offense. Beating winless Detroit at home on Sunday won’t prove anything. Perhaps I’ll truly believe if Carolina can win the next two weeks at Atlanta and Green Bay.

4. Steelers (3) — Let’s pretend that the Pittsburgh team that dominated in Washington two weeks ago didn’t let a home game against Indianapolis slip away. The Steelers seem better without Ben Roethlisberger, at least an ailing Roethlisberger. Maybe visits by San Diego and Cincinnati, both winless away from home, will help fix what went wrong last Sunday.

5. Redskins (5) — Washington finally got the rest for which it had waited 15 weeks only to learn that RB/MVP candidate Clinton Portis has a sprained knee and might not play in Sunday’s NFC East showdown with Dallas. If Portis doesn’t play, that puts serious pressure on QB Jason Campbell and his pass protection against a desperate Dallas defense.

6. Ravens (11) — Remember when a ferocious Ravens defense led by MLB Ray Lewis propelled a young coach and a shaky offense to the title in 2000? It’s too soon to dream that big again, but that formula’s working again in Baltimore. However, Sunday’s date at the Giants is a heck of a lot tougher than the conquests of Miami, Oakland, Cleveland and Houston.

7. Falcons (9) — The NFL’s Cinderella team pounded New Orleans last week to move to 6-3. Atlanta’s only losses are to Tampa Bay, Carolina and Philadelphia on the road. The way that QB Matt Ryan, RB Michael Turner, WR Roddy White and the offense are rolling, the Falcons should soar past visiting Denver this week heading into an NFC South showdown with Carolina.

8. Cardinals (6) — Want to know how much progress Arizona has made under second-year coach Ken Whisenhunt? Squeaking past San Francisco at home was a disappointment, that’s how much. The Cardinals are 6-3 and have a 4-game lead in the NFC West, having beaten each of their rivals. They can start printing the tickets for the first playoff game in the desert.

9. Buccaneers (8) — The Bucs have had a week to recover from consecutive nailbiters against Dallas and Kansas City. Sunday’s home game against Minnesota should come down to whether Tampa Bay’s 11th-ranked run defense can slow NFL rushing leader Adrian Peterson. The Bucs’ pass defense could take advantage of a turnover-happy Vikings offense.

10. Eagles (7) — It’s probably not fair for Philly to drop three spots because of a 36-31 home loss to the defending champs, but the Eagles failed to punch the ball into the end zone in the waning momments as had happened in their Week 4 loss at Chicago. Only this time, they had ace RB Brian Westbrook. Sunday’s game at Cincinnati shouldn’t require to such a climax.

11. Bears (10) — Seven of Chicago’s nine games have been close. Trouble is the Bears lost four of them. Surprisingly, the ancient rivalry with Green Bay hasn’t been close of late. Chicago has won five of the past six meetings by an average of 16 points although the Pack still had Brett Favre. But the Bears are vulnerable to the pass which doesn’t bode well.

12. Jets (14) — If it’s possible to do something quietly in New York, the Jets have quietly won three straight and five of six to tie New England for the AFC East lead heading into Thursday’s clash in Foxborough. Given the Pats’ struggles against the pass, this could well tip the scakes towards Brett Favre, Laveranues Coles and Co.

13. Patriots (17) — New England was down to its fifth RB, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but the rookie free agent got the job done against a solid Buffalo defense to lead a critical AFC East victory. The Jets visit on Thursday, but New York’s high-flying offense can’t assume success against a Patriots defense that allowed just 51 points the past four games.

14. Dolphins (12) — Miami has righted itself and won three in a row for rookie coach Tony Sparano. Not that beating sinking Buffalo, defensively challenged Denver and hopeless Seattle is really worth celebrating, but when you were 1-15 last year, any victory is sweet. So Miami won’t apologize for its impending home triumph over awful Oakland and move to 6-4.

15. Colts (19) — Just when you thought the longtime powerhouse Colts were done, they edge New England (which ended their 2003 and 2004 seasons) and Pittsburgh (2005) back-to-back. Houston, 0-6 in Indy the last six years, visits Sunday. So the Colts should be 6-4 and very much alive heading the next week to San Diego which ended their 2006 season. Hmm.

16. Cowboys (16) — Dallas averaged 29 points during its 4-2 start with Tony Romo at QB. With Romo out the past three games with a broken pinkie, the Cowboys averaged 14 points and went 1-2. Romo is back for the NFC East showdown at Washington, which has the No. 8 pass defense. The Cowboys really need this one to stay in the NFC race and that might be enough.

17. Saints (13) — New Orleans at Kansas City should be the lock of the week. The Saints have gone win, loss, win, loss, win, loss in their past six games so it’s time for a win. The Chiefs can’t stop the pass and Drew Brees leads the NFL’s top passing attack. And Kansas City is 1-17 since last Oct. 21.

18. Vikings (22) — The comeback over Green Bay is the kind of victory that can launch a team to the playoffs. For all of Gus Frerotte’s weaknesses, the Vikings are 5-2 since he replaced raw Tavaris Jackson at QB. Any team with Adrian Peterson running and Pat and Kevin Williams stopping the run is going to be competitive as the Bucs will learn on Sunday.

19. Packers (18) — After failing to hold on at Minnesota, Green Bay is 2-5 against winners and 2-0 against losers. That doesn’t bode well for Sunday’s visit by 5-4 Chicago. However, the Pack really needs this one to stay in the hunt in the NFC North and Aaron Rodgers could really carve up the Bears’ 30th-ranked pass defense if his line gives him time to throw.

20. Bills (15) — Try to remember the kind of September when Buffalo was 4-0 and steaming towards its first playoff berth since 1999. It’s been all downhill for the Bills since. Last week’s loss at New England completed an 0-3 skid in the division. Buffalo averaged 27 points during its 4-0 start. It hasn’t reached that figure since while averaging just 17 points.

21. Broncos (25) — I should’ve known that no matter how bad things were for the Broncos they would still find a way to beat the Browns. Denver is now 8-0 in Cleveland since Barack Obama was a 29-year-old community organizer. Sunday’s game at Atlanta will be much harder, but a loss would still leave the Broncos atop the AFC Worst at 5-5.

22. Chargers (21) — Squeaking by a horrible Kansas City team at home after a bye week did move the Bolts to 4-5, but it’s no way to start a true playoff drive. Unless LaDainian Tomlinson (3.8 yards per carry) somehow suddenly gets in gear, it’s hard to see San Diego running the upcoming gantlet of Pittsburgh, Indianapolis and Atlanta.

23. Browns (20) — Brady Quinn threw for 239 yards and two TDs in a fine debut as the starting QB. Too bad for Cleveland that its defense couldn’t contain Denver QB Jay Cutler. The 34-30 loss might have finished the 3-6 Browns’ playoff hopes, but they’re playing better than the reeling Bills, whom they visit on Sunday.

24. Jaguars (24) — After averaging 19 points during their ugly 3-5 start, the Jaguars scored twice as many last week. But that was against the winless Lions. Jumping to the other end of the scale Sunday against unbeaten Tennessee is a whole other deal. However, the Jags only lost to the Titans by 17-10 in Week 1 and are 5-6 against them under Jack Del Rio.

25. Texans (26) — All the fuss over whether Matt Schaub (out last week) or Sage Rosenfels is the QB obscures the fact that Houston’s defense isn’t very good. No AFC team has allowed more points. Only winless Detroit has failed to score at least 28 on the Texans, who visit Peyton Manning and the gang Sunday. It looks like another year in the AFC South basement.

26. Seahawks (27) — They gave it a go in Miami but came up short 21-19 to fall to 1-4 on the road and 2-7 overall. Only twice in coach Mike Holmgren’s nine previous years did the Hawks lose seven games in a full season. And six of the final seven games are against winning teams, starting Sunday against NFC West leader Arizona.

27. Rams (23) — It’s as if the consecutive victories over Washington and Dallas and the dogfight in New England were a dream because the Rams have definitely drifted back into the nightmare that was their 0-4 start. Last week’s 47-3 loss at the Jets was beyond embarassing. At least St. Louis gets similarly struggling San Francisco this week.

\28. Bengals (28) — News flash from Cincinnati: the Bengals haven’t lost in two weeks. OK, they had a bye last week, but after an 0-8 start, that’s progress. Facing the Eagles, Steelers, Ravens, Colts and Redskins should take care of that progress in a hurry. Ailing QB Carson Palmer might as well focus on getting healthy for 2009.

29. Chiefs (29) — Three straight weeks, Kansas City has come oh so close, losing 28-24, 30-27 (in overtime) and 20-19. But the moral victories don’t prevent the Chiefs, a playoff team in 2006, from falling to 1-8 en route to its worst season since 1988. On the bright side, playing in the same division as the Raiders could keep Kansas City out of last place.

30. Raiders (30) — Three weeks ago, Oakland was inept offensively. Two weeks ago, the Raiders added defensive incompetence to the mix. This past Sunday, they actually gave NFC South leader Carolina somewhat of a contest before succumbing. Dumping high-priced CB DeAngelo Hall will far from clean up the black hole that the team of the decades has become.

31. 49ers (31) — Mike Singletary didn’t go nuts after his second loss as San Francisco’s coach as he did after the first, but he could have after the 49ers led most of the way but fell a yard shy of the end zone at Arizona in the closing seconds on Monday night. Hard to believe that this was the NFL’s dominant franchise from 1981-94.

32. Lions (32) — Jon Kitna, Dan Orlovsky, Daunte Culpepper. It doesn’t really matter who the QB is, Detroit finds a way to lose. The Lions were pounded last week by Jacksonville, which was 3-5. Detroit’s next three games are against 7-2 Carolina, 6-3 Tampa Bay and 9-0 Tennessee. The Lions seem sure to be 0-12 heading into December.