Week 11 was one for the little guys with bottom feeders Detroit, Oakland and Kansas City winning on the same Sunday for the first time since Sept. 30, 2007. That was so long ago, no one knew were in a recession, Barack Obama hadn’t won a caucus or a primary and Joe Gibbs, Jon Gruden, Mike Holmgren, Brian Billick, Mike Shanahan, Dennis Green, Lane Kiffin and Herm Edwards were all coaching NFL teams.
The Raiders, who stunned Cincinnati, rose four spots this week to No. 24, equalling the leap by the rising Tennessee Titans from 21st to 17th. The Bengals dropped from fourth to eighth, while the defending champion Pittsburgh Steelers sank from seventh to 12th with their equally shocking defeat to the Chiefs.
The AFC North tussle between the Steelers (6-4) and Baltimore Ravens (5-5) and the New York Giants’ Thanksgiving night visit to the Denver Broncos (both teams are 6-4) could be interesting, but the game of the week comes Monday when AFC East leader New England (7-3) visits NFC South frontrunner New Orleans (10-0). It will be the first time in the Superdome for Bill Belichick, Tom Brady and the Patriots since they won their first Super Bowl there eight seasons ago.
As always, last week’s rankings are (in parentheses).
1. Saints (1): On a day when Drew Brees passed for just 187 yards, Pierre Thomas and Mike Bell teamed 167 in the ground, averaging 7.0 per carry. And the defense shut out Tampa Bay over the final 49:02. Monday, the unbeaten Saints receive their toughest test of the year when Bill Bekichick, Tom Brady and the Pats come calling.
2. Colts (2): Make it 19 straight for Indy, two shy of the alltime mark (and 10-0 for rookie coach Jim Caldwell). Last week’s 17-15 victory at Baltimore was won by the defense which produced a goal line stand and a red zone interception in the final quarter. Sunday, the Colts visit the Texans, whom they edged 20-17 on Nov. 8.
3. Vikings (3): If New Orleans and Indianapolis weren’t unbeaten, Minnesota (9-1) would be getting all the headlines. The Vikes crushed Seattle last week despite an off day from Adrian Peterson as Brett Favre completed a career-high 88 percent of his passes. They can just about clinch the NFC North by beating Chicago on Sunday
4. Patriots (5): After Bill Belichick blew the previous week’s game against the archrival Colts, you the Pats would be pumped for the Jets. Add the motivation from New York’s Week 2 upset of New England and it was over by halftime. Sunday’s visit to unbeaten New Orleans promises to be a lot tougher for Tom Brady et al.
5. Bengals (4): Just when the Bengals looked like an elite team, they go and blow a late 7-point lead at Oakland and lose to the lowly Raiders. We should’ve known it was going to be a weird day when Carson Palmer ran for two touchdowns but didn’t throw one. Look for Cincinnati to get back on track at home against Cleveland.
6. Cowboys (6): Where has the Cowboys’ high-flying offense gone? Dallas is lucky to still be on top of the NFC East after being shut out for the first 57 minutes for a second straight week before beating the Redskins on a late drive. Tony Romo’s ailing back has three fewer days to recover since Oakland visits on Thanksgiving.
7. Cardinals (8): Arizona is one victory from three straight non-losing seasons for the first time in 25 years, but that one could be tougher on Sunday at Tennessee if Kurt Warner can’t play because of what’s being termed “concussion-like symptoms.” The Cards didn’t score after Matt Leinart replaced Warner last week.
8. Chargers (10): Six weeks after being counted out, San Diego is on top of the AFC West and tied for the conference’s second-best record after smacking Denver 23-3 last week. Philip Rivers and the Chargers need to avoid a letdown on Sunday against Kansas City which they pounded 37-7 to start their turnaround in Week 7.
9. Eagles (11): Does anyone make more big plays than DeSean Jackson? Last week’s 48-yard scoring catch that helped edge host Chicago gave him seven touchdowns this year, all of at least that distance. At 6-4, Philly remains in the thick of the NFC playoff race with the battered Redskins visiting on Sunday.
10. Ravens (9): Think John Harbaugh, a one-time special teams coach, regrets not re-signing 41-year-old kicker Matt Stover? The original Raven beat his old team (which cut his replacement) with a fourth quarter field goal for Indy last Sunday. At 5-5, Baltimore is in a must-win situation Sunday against archrival Pittsburgh.
11. Packers (13): Green Bay’s not going to catch Minnesota in the NFC North after being swept by the Vikings, but the Packers are tied with the Eagles and Giants for the wild card spots heading to Detroit for Thanksgiving after beating San Francisco behind Aaron Rodgers’ arm and Ryan Grant’s legs.
12. Steelers (7): There’s no way the champs follow getting swept by the Bengals by losing at Kansas City, especially not after leading 17-7 in the third quarter, right? But that’s what happened to the Steelers, who might have lost Ben Roethlisberger to an overtime concussion. Hardly good preparation for the Ravens.
13. Falcons (14): They played without injured star running back Michael Turner and backup Jerrious Norwood. They rallied to force overtime at Giants Stadium on two Matt Ryan touchdown passes in the final 6:01. But the Falcons still lost their fourth of five falling to 5-5 heading into a seemingly easy visit from Tampa Bay.
14. Giants (15): As outlined immediately above, New York beat Atlanta 34-31 to end a 4-game losing streak, but it sure wasn’t easy. The Giants still have serious issues on defense, having allowed 164 points the past five games. Fortunately, Denver’s up next because the Broncos have lost four in a row themselves.
15. Broncos (12): In 1978, Jack Pardee started 6-0 after replacing Hall of Fame coach George Allen in Washington. But the Redskins crashed to an 8-8 finish. Josh McDaniels, who replaced two-time Super Bowl winner Mike Shanahan in Denver this year, started 6-0 but is now 6-4 heading into Sunday’s visit from the Giants. Hmm.
16. Dolphins (19): Good thing that Miami didn’t lose Ricky Williams’ number when the potsmoking former No. 1 pick was suspended by the NFL. With Ronnie Brown out for the year, Williams scored three times to beat Carolina last week. The surging 5-5 Dolphins, who started 0-3, go for a sweep of the sinking Bills on Sunday.
17. Titans (21): Make it 4-0 for Tennessee since Vince Young replaced Kerry Collins after an 0-6 start. It’s shades of 2006 when then-rookie Young turned an 0-5 start into an 8-8 finish. However, Jacksonville, San Francisco, Buffalo and Houston aren’t good as this week’s foe, Arizona (if Kurt Warner’s at quarterback).
18. Texans (16): Houston has never had a winning record since returning to the NFL in 2002 and its past two games help explain why. The host Texans allowed the Titans to drive for the go-ahead field goal before Kris Brown missed a last-second attempt for a second straight 20-17 AFC South loss. Three in a row Sunday vs. Indy?
19. Panthers (17): When it visits the sinking Jets on Sunday, Carolina will have had 10 days to recover from being run over by the Dolphins at home. At 4-6, the Panthers simply have to beat the Jets and then the Bucs because the final four games (at Pats, Vikes, at Giants, Saints) are as brutal as can be.
20. 49ers (18): Since they were 3-1, the Niners have scored at least 21 points every other week. Trouble is, they’ve scored 14 or fewer in the odd weeks. Last week, they rallied to score 24, but still lost to make it 1-5 since the hot start. They need to beat the Jags to stay within sight of NFC West leader Arizona.
21. Bears (20): Jay Cutler shook off his five picks against the Niners, leading six drives to the Philadelphia 30. However, the Bears scored just one touchdown and lost a third straight game and a fifth in six since a 3-1 start. That kind of production isn’t going to keep pace with the Vikes at Minnesota on Sunday.
22. Jaguars (22): The Jags, the NFL’s worst 6-4 team, have beaten the Rams, Bills, Chiefs, Jets, Titans and Texans. Not a winner in the bunch. Jacksonville, bludgeoned by the Seahawks and Titans, would be 9-4 by beating the Niners, Texans (again) and Dolphins the next three weeks. And they finish with the Browns.
23. Chiefs (25): It’s party time in K.C. where the Chiefs are 3-2 in their past five games and have won two in a row for the first time since October 2007 after stunning the Steelers despite being outgained 515-282. A 3-1 turnover ratio and a kickoff return score made the difference. Now they visit the surging Chargers.
24. Raiders (28): Go figure the 3-7 Raiders. They’re 2-4 at home and those victories came over AFC North leader Cincinnati and NFC contender Philadelphia. But Oakland was crushed at home by the Jets. A victory Thanksgiving at Dallas would be an even bigger surprise for a team that’s 8-44 on the road since 2002.
25. Redskins (26): Minus four top offensive starters and top defensive player, they lost two more regulars during the game. They had a shutout until 2:41 left, but being the 2009 Redskins, they still lost at Dallas. More bad times figure to follow Sunday at Philly if they have enough healthy bodies to field a team.
26. Jets (23): So much for Rex Ryan not kissing Bill Belichick’s rings. Ryan’s J-E-T-S looked like J-E-R-K-S in getting pounded by the Pats last Sunday to drop to 1-6 since a 3-0 start. It would’ve been even worse if New York hadn’t scored on a blocked punt. Mark Sanchez continues to play like the rookie quarterback he is.
27. Seahawks (24): Seattle was shredded for 893 yards and 69 points by Arizona and Minnesota the past two weeks. That’s how far the Seahawks are from division leaders. Jim Mora’s tired team plays a third straight road game Sunday, but it’s at awful St. Louis, which Seattle pulverized 28-0 in Week 1.
28. Bills (27): Buffalo almost won Perry Fewell’s debut as interim coach before losing at Jacksonville on a last-minute touchdown pass. The Bills shut down Maurice Jones-Drew but ran for just 53 yards on 19 carries. Losers of six of eight, the Bills don’t even have homefield advantage with a 1-3 record in Buffalo.
29. Lions (29): Despite a separated non-throwing shoulder, rookie Matthew Stafford ripped Cleveland for 422 yards and five touchdown passes, the last as time expired, to equal Detroit’s victory total of its previous 32 games. Stafford’s status is shaky for Thursday’s visit by Green Bay. That’s scary for the Lions.
30. Buccaneers (30): Tampa Bay scored first last Sunday against unbeaten New Orleans. That was about the extent of the highlights for the 1-9 Bucs, who managed 219 yards and didn’t record a sack or force a turnover in a 38-7 shellacking. And now they go back on the road (at Atlanta) where they’re 0-6 during the last year.
31. Rams (31): They scored first and last at home against the Cards, but Arizona outscored them 21-0 in between to drop St. Louis to 1-19 since last October. Steven Jackson did become the first Rams running back to gain 1,000 yards in five straight years. Sunday they face Seattle against whom they’re 0-9 since 2004. Sheesh.
32. Browns (32): If not for the last-second touchdown pass by Detroit, Cleveland would be 2-7 and out of last place in the rankings. Instead, the Brownies stayed put after getting strafed for 473 yards in a 38-37 defeat. The good news was Brady Quinn’s four touchdown passes, topping his previous career total. Yes, total.