The Washington Times - November 27, 2008, 11:47AM

NFL writer David Elfin ranks the teams each week on Redskins 360. (Last week’s rankings in parentheses).

1. Giants (2) — Leading rusher Brandon Jacobs was a surprise late scratch. Ace receiver Plaxico Burress departed in the first quarter. New York was facing an Arizona team that was 4-0 at home and leading the NFC West by four games. And yet, the Giants prevailed 37-29 to move to 10-1 and the verge of the NFC East title.


2. Titans (1) — Everybody’s entitled to a bad week. It’s just more noticeable when you’re 10-0. Tennessee fell behind the Jets 10-0 and when the margin reached 20-3 in the third quarter, the Titans’ unbeaten season was history. Still, Tennessee can clinch the AFC South this week by beating Detroit and if second-place Indianapolis loses to Cleveland.

3. Steelers (4) — After dispensing with Cincinnati last Thursday, Pittsburgh will have had 10 days to prepare for Sunday’s visit to New England, which is suddenly vulnerable defensively. That’s good news for the Steelers, who averaged just 19 points during their past five games. Pittsburgh lost both of its games in Foxborough since 1997.

4. Jets (7) — You beat the No. 1 team, you move up in the rankings. Having already doubled last year’s four victories, AFC East-leading New York and can still dream of catching the Titans for the conference’s top seed. Brett Favre gets most of the credit, but all-purpose back Leon Washington is a big playmaker who should gash visiting Denver on Sunday.

5. Buccaneers (6) — Whatever Jon Gruden said on the sideline between the first and second quarters last Sunday in Detroit must have been special because the Bucs turned a 17-0 deficit into a 21-17 halftime lead en route to their fifth victory in six games. Avenging its opening loss to New Orleans this week will keep Tampa Bay atop the NFC South.

6. Cardinals (5) — Expecting Arizona, even in the best season of its two decades in the desert, to beat both Dallas and the Giants was probably too much, but the Cards did lead 12-10 in the second quarter before falling behind for good. Winning in Philadelphia on Thursday would clinch the franchise’s first division title in 34 years.

7. Panthers (3) — As with Tennessee, Carolina gets the benefit of the doubt and doesn’t crash too far despite being thumped at home. However, the Falcons did torch the Panthers for 392 yards and 45 points (seven on a punt return). Carolina’s struggles on the road (122-84 deficit) are bad news heading to Green Bay and for being a possible NFC wild card.

8. Falcons (10) — Any lingering effects from the previous week’s surprising loss to visiting Denver were erased when Atlanta zoomed to a 17-0 lead over Carolina after just 17 minutes. On Sunday, running back Michael Turner gets to show off in San Diego for the team that let him leave after being LaDainian Tomlinson’s caddy the past four years.

9. Ravens (9) — It was payback time last Sunday in Baltimore and the Ravens punished the Eagles for the previous week’s whipping by the Giants. It would’ve been a shutout if not for a kickoff return. Look for Baltimore to keep the pressure on AFC North leader Pittsburgh by winning again with defense this week at Cincinnati.

10. Redskins (8) — Yes, it was victory, ending a 2-game skid against Pittsburgh and Dallas. Yes, it came in the stadium where the Redskins’ last two playoff seasons ended. But coming from behind to beat the lowly Seahawks isn’t exactly anthem material. The battered Redskins will need a much better effort to avenge its Week 1 loss to the Giants this Sunday.

11. Colts (11) — Don’t look now, Titans, but someone is gaining on you. Indianapolis will be hard-pressed to catch Tennessee for the AFC South title, but after four straight victories (three over 2007 playoff teams), it’s apparent that Peyton Manning and Co. have their mojo back. And the Colts’ next four foes are a combined 9-34-1.

12. Cowboys (12) — Tony Romo was officially back when he started and finished the second quarter last week with touchdown passes. And with their quarterback back in a groove, everything was clicking for the Cowboys. Everything except a still-suspect pass defense which could be a big problem if Dallas winds up qualifying for the playoffs.

13. Patriots (13) — As terrific as Tom Brady was the past seven seasons, he never three for 400 yards in consecutive games or lead New England to back-to-back 500-yard outings as his fill-in, Matt Cassel, did the past two weeks. Think anyone’s going to want to play the Pats — AFC champs in 2001, 2003-04 and 2007, if they manage to reach postseason?

14. Vikings (19) — If Kevin Williams and Pat Williams wind up being suspended for using a banned substance, it will be too late for Jacksonville which was humiliated by Minnesota last week largely because of the monster defensive tackles. The 30-10 triumph was the kind of road victory the Vikes needed for their confidence if they wind up making the playoffs.

15. Saints (17) — New Orleans opened the season by beating Tampa Bay 24-20 to start what has become a 5-1 home season for the Saints. If it were only so (big) easy on the road. New Orleans is 1-4 away from the Superdome with the victory at lowly Kansas City. But the Saints have won four of the last six years in Tampa and they need the game more than the Bucs.

16. Dolphins (14) — No one thought Miami would win four in a row this year. Heck, after going 1-15 in 2007, four victories might have been a success. But the Dolphins are down after their 4-game streak halted with a 48-28 home loss to the Pats. Sunday’s visit to downtrodden St. Louis should restore the smiles of the overachieving guys in aqua.

17. Bears (20) — Chicago has won once in seven years in Minnesota and that was by a field goal in 2006. The Vikes are 4-1 at home losing only to the Colts by a field goal. But the Bears did beat the Vikes in a wild 48-41 matchup in Week 7. Sunday, the longtime division rivals play the rematch in the Metrodome with the NFC South lead on the line.

18. Eagles (15) — Thankfully for Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid, Philadelphians are still basking in the glow of the Phillies’ World Series triumph, the town’s first title in 25 years. Imagine how harsh the reaction would be otherwise on Thanksgiving night to the Eagles’ return home from the bumbling tie with Cincinnati and the thrashing in Baltimore.

19. Packers (16) — Who can figure the Pack? Green Bay started 2-0, lost its next three, then won two straight and lost two in a row before following a devastation of the Bears by being smacked around by the Saints. All that inconsistency has left the Packers at 5-6 and in the NFC North cellar, albeit a game out of first, with Carolina coming to town on Sunday.

20. Chargers (21) — Any Redskins fans with a memory dating back to 1994 can’t be surprised that San Diego has fallen hard in Norv Turner’s second year. Or that the Chargers are 1-6 in games decided by a touchdown or less. There’s no way a team this talented should be 4-7, but there’s also no way that a 4-7 team shoiuld still have a shot to win its division.

21. Broncos (18) — San Diego is still alive in the AFC Worst because division-leading Denver managed to get blown away at home by Oakland to slip to 6-5. Formerly unbeatable at home, the Broncos have lost three straight in Denver and have been outscored there by 31 points. Guess it’s good that Sunday’s game is at the Meadowlands where Mike Shanahan is 1-3.

22. Bills (23) — Buffalonians will be thankful on Thursday. Not for the weather in Western New York or for the so-so Sabres. The fans are thankful that the Bills ended their 3-game losing streak by crushing Kansas City 54-31. Of course that means Buffalo still gave up 31 points to one of the NFL’s worst offense. But at 6-5, the Bills still have playoff hopes.

23. Texans (26) — What’s this? Houston not blowing a lead? Houston winning on the road? Both came true last Sunday in Cleveland as the Texans jumped ahead 10-0 and won 16-6. The key was the scoreless fourth quarter since Houston came in with a 61-98 deficit in that period. Imagine where the Texans would be without Andre Johnson (77 catches, 1,071 yards).

24. Jaguars (24) — Yes, Minnesota has a superb run defense. But the dynamic duo of Maurice Jones-Drew and Fred Taylor should’ve been able to run pretty well against the Vikes, who were 1-4 away from the Metrodome. Not this year. Taylor and Jones-Drew managed 24 yards on nine carries. The Jags will have the AFC South cellar to themselves with a loss to Houston.

25. Browns (22) — Was Cleveland really a Super Bowl darkhorse just three months ago? It must seem like ages ago to the Browns, who managed just two field goals in a home loss to the Texans, who never win on the road. And now Cleveland gets Indianapolis, which has won four in a row. At least Clevelanders can enjoy watching the Cavaliers.

26. Seahawks (27) — Give retiring Seattle coach Mike Holmgren some credit. A week after the Seahawks rallied in the fourth quarter to make Arizona sweat a little, they pushed the visiting Redskins hard with only pride on the line before suffering a fourth straight loss. Thursday’s visit to Texas Stadium, where Holmgren is 1-7, doesn’t figure to be so close.

27. Raiders (30) — Did anyone enjoy last weekend more than Ashley Lelie? The receiver, whose tenure with the Broncos ended with a trade that followed an ugly holdout, returned to Denver and helped Oakland romp 31-10. Now comes a game against the even-lowlier Chiefs. The Raiders last won two straight in Weeks 12-13 of 2007 againstg the Broncos and Chiefs.

28. Bengals (25) — Last Thursday’s loss was Cincinnati’s eighth straight on the road. That won’t get extended this week against visiting Baltimore, but the Bengals should assure their first 10-loss season in coach Marvin Lewis’ 6-year tenure. That’s routine for Cincinnati fans who remember the Bengals losing at least 10 games from 1991-94 and 1998-2002.

29. 49ers (28) — The progress that the Niners had made under new coach Mike Singletary — from getting pounded by Seattle, to losing a heartbreaker at Arizona to crushing St. Louis — was halted in Dallas as the Cowboys led 29-9 early in the fourth quarter. San Francisco can clinch a franchise-record sixth straight losing season Sunday at Buffalo.

30. Chiefs (29) — The good news for Kansas City is that the Chiefs scored 31 points last Sunday, their most since their lone victory, back in Week 4 against the Broncos. The bad news is that the previously reeling Bills scored 54. Kansas City has lost a staggering 19 of 20 games heading to Oakland which won 23-8 at Arrowhead in Week 2.

31. Rams (31) — If not for Detroit, St. Louis would’ve won the World Series in 1968. Four decades later, St. Louis would be the NFL’s worst team if not for Detroit. The Rams lost a fourth straight game by at least 19 points last Sunday, this time a 27-3 whipping by the visiting Bears. In five weeks, the Rams will be looking for a third coach in four months.

32. Lions (32) — When Detroit led visiting Tampa Bay 17-0 last Sunday, it looked like there might finally be some relief for long-suffering Lions. But, as is the case with Motown’s auto industry, relief will have to wait. It was 38-3 Bucs the rest of the way. And with 10-1 Tennessee in town on Thursday, the Lions will remain winless into December.