The Washington Times - October 21, 2009, 10:35AM


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


New Orleans, one of three teams to never make the Super Bowl while belonging to the NFL for at least four decades, is in a rare perch atop the rankings.

The one-time Aints have yet to win a title, but in a town whose other franchises have been a couple of so-so NBA teams that haven’t caused much roulez les bon temps, they’re certainly kings.

While the equally undefeated Minnesota Vikings are right behind the Saints, two weeks of total dominance by the usual second banana NFC ended with the New York Giants dropping from the top spot after getting smacked by the Saints and the Philadelphia Eagles limping home from Oakland.

Meanwhile, the Denver Broncos continued to make me a believer, the New England Patriots woke from their lethargy and destroyed the Tennessee Titans and the Indianapolis Colts gained by being idle.

The Raiders and Buffalo Bills made the biggest jumps while the Titans and Seattle Seahawks took the largest hits.

1. Saints (2) — Not only did they win the battle of unbeatens with the Giants, they did so with ease, leading by a shocking 41-17 after three quarters. New Orleans has yet to win by fewer than 14 points and has just one winning team (Atlanta) ahead until Nov. 30. Four years after Katrina made them road warriors, the Saints are as tough as it gets.

2. Vikings (3) — Remaining perfect and beating a solid Baltimore team was great. So is Brett Favre’s unreal efficency (69.7 completion percentage, 12-2 touchdown/interception ratio). But Brad Childress should be worried about his defense giving up 448 yards and allowing 28 points in the last 20 minutes. Sunday, the Vikes visit the defending champs.

3. Colts (5) — What does Peyton Manning do during bye week? Throw footballs through tires? Make commercials? Root for brother Eli? Manning certainly shouldn’t have spent many extra hours preparing for Sunday’s destruction of the winless Rams. Indy is already in control of the AFC South so winning homefield advantage is the main goal here on out.

4. Broncos (6) — Wanna bet that not even Josh McDaniels had Denver with a 4-game lead in the AFC West on Oct. 20? But that’s where the rookie coach has the upstart Broncos after Monday’s spanking of expected division champ San Diego on the road. Denver and surprising QB Kyle Orton have a well-deserved bye before returning on Nov. 1 at Baltimore.

5. Giants (1) — Eli Manning was supposed to return to New Orleans in 2005, but Hurricane Katrina moved the game to New York. Manning finally got to play at home last week, but the formerly perfect Giants were blown away as he lost two turnovers and passed for just 178 yards before being being benched. New York tries to rebound this week at Arizona.

6. Patriots (8) — So much for those wondering if New England could regain the offensive dominance it showed during QB Tom Brady’s last full season, 2007. The Pats equalled their previous 21-point average within 3:36 of the second quarter en route to a record-tying 59-0 rout of Tennessee. They can’t let momentum dissipate during this week’s bye.

7. Falcons (7) — Mike Smith’s team doesn’t get a lot of national attention, but he’s 15-7 with a team that was 9-23 in the two years before his arrival. Atlanta’s forte in 2009 has been keeping foes out of the end zone. That strength will be seriously tested the next two weeks at Dallas and at New Orleans, who have the NFL’s top two offenses.

8. Ravens (10) — Mike Nolan’s Broncos are No. 1 in scoring defense. Rex Ryan’s Jets are No. 6. Marvin Lewis’ Bengals are No. 14. The Ravens, whose defense was run by those men from 1996-2008, are 21st after getting torched for 446 yards and 33 points in Minnesota. Greg Mattison has this week’s bye to get the usually stingy defense back on track.

9. Eagles (4) — They were supposed to cruise past Oakland the way they had crushed Kansas City and Tampa Bay. However, the Eagles must have left their flashy offense on the East Coast because they managed just 283 yards and three field goals while allowing six sacks in a stunning 13-9 loss. They’ll likely make the Redskins pay for that on Monday.

10. Packers (14) — Aaron Rodgers fought through five sacks to sear the Lions for 385 yards and two touchdowns. Green Bay’s defense held banged-up Detroit to 149 yards while producing five sacks and three turnovers. Sunday’s game at Cleveland could be similar as long as the Pack isn’t looking ahead to the Nov. 1 rematch against archrival Minnesota.

11. 49ers (13) — Mike Singletary and Co. certainly needed last week’s bye after getting manhandled by the Falcons at home. Sunday, the Niners visit unpredictable Houston knowing that they need to win to stay in front of defending division champ Arizona in the NFC West. Will rookie WR Michael Crabtree give a lift to the NFC’s last-ranked offense?

12. Bears (12) — Chicago did plenty right coming out of its bye in Atlanta. The Bears outgained the Falcons 373-235 and were tied with four minutes to go. But two turnovers inside the Atlanta 10 were killers and a false start on fourth-and-goal at the 1 turned a likely run into an incompletion. Sunday, 3-2 Chicago visits an angry Cincinnati team.

13. Cowboys (15) — Dallas was the NFC East’s big winner last week since it was off while the Giants, the Eagles and Redskins all lost. Taking on the Falcons and their version (Ryan, Turner and White) of the Cowboys’ former Three Amigos won’t make for such a fun Sunday this week. Getting RB Felix Jones back from injury would give the Boys a boost.

14. Bengals (9) — Everything was going Cincinnati’s way before last Sunday. The Bengals had won five straight with inconsistent Houston in town. But ace passrusher Antwan Odom blew his Achilles’ in the first quarter and his team blew a fourth quarter lead and lost 28-17. This week, RB Cedric Benson will be out to embarass the Bears for cutting him.

15. Steelers (17) — Watch out. The defending champs have won three straight. Now San Diego is off its game and Detroit and Cleveland are, well, Detroit and Cleveland. But Pittsburgh can be alone atop the AFC North if its upsets Minnesota and Cincinnati loses at Chicago. Those are big ifs, but the Steelers do seem to be getting back in gear.

16. Cardinals (19) — After losing five straight years in Seattle, Arizona broke through 26-20 last year en route to winning the NFC West. So does last Sunday’s 27-3 rout of the host Seahawks spell another title for the long-laggard Cards? Not yet, but the defense shut down the battered Hawks, a good boost heading into Sunday’s visit by the Giants.

17. Texans (20) — Make it eight straight games in which the 3-3 Texans have followed a loss with a victory. Last week’s W was impressive as Matt Schaub riddled the Bengals with 392 yards and four touchdowns. The bigger concern for coach Gary Kubiak is the mediocre defense which has just seven sacks and three interceptions.

18. Dolphins (18) — The Dolphins couldn’t have enjoyed their bye Sunday watching New Orleans, which they visit Sunday, crush the Giants. It’s hard to see a defense that surrendered 27 points to the Jets slowing the Saints, but coordinator Paul Pasqualoni has had two weeks to prepare for the offense of Sean Payton with whom he coached in Dallas.

19. Bills (28) — Just when you thought they were ready to shut down for the winter after routs by New Orleans and Miami and a home loss to Cleveland, the Bills survived the loss of QB Troy Edwards by picking off six passes and beating the Jets in overtime. At least that gives Buffalo some hope heading to Carolina, which has been shaky this season.

20. Jets (11) — Mark Sanchez is no longer being compared to Joe Namath in New York. More like Joe Palooka. The rookie QB from USC threw five interceptions last week against the Bills, New York’s third straight loss after a 3-0 start. A game at Oakland would normally provide a great chance to bounce back, but the Raiders just stunned the Eagles.

21. Raiders (30) — After getting outscored by a whopping 96-16 the previous three weeks, where did the 13-9 upset of Philly come from? If it turns around Oakland’s season, credit Richard Seymour and Trevor Scott, who had two sacks apiece, and Zach Miller, whose 86-yard catch and run was the game’s only touchdown. The reeling Jets visit this week.

22. Jaguars (22) — A week after getting blasted 41-0 at Seattle, Jacksonville managed to fall behind hapless St. Louis with less than five minutes to go before prevailing in overtime. The Jags generated 492 yards but also lost three turnovers and allowed theree sacks. They can work on those areas during this week’s bye which they’ll leave at 3-3.

23. Panthers (23) — There’s a pulse in Carolina. A week after rallying from a 17-2 third quarter deficit to get off the schneid against Washington, the Panthers ran for 267 yards and survived a pair of touchdown returns to win at Tampa Bay. The confidence from those victories should help at Arizona as Carolina looks to avenge last year’s playoff loss.

24. Seahawks (16) — Matt Hasselbeck’s brave return from broken ribs to lead a victory behind a battered line was the story in Week 5. But playing behind an even less qualified front, Hasselbeck was smacked around in a 27-3 loss to Arizona that left Seattle limping into its much-needed bye week at 2-4 and thankful that the Rams are also in the NFC West.

25. Chargers (21) — Hello, Norv? This is A.J. Smith, your GM. Remember how I gave you all the pieces you needed to win the AFC West in a walk. And now you’re four games behind the Broncos in Week 7 after losing to them at home? With the Giants, Eagles, Broncos, Cowboys and Bengals still to play, you might want to get your resume updated, coach.

26. Chiefs (31) — Kansas City came to Washington with a 6-31 record the last three years and an NFL-worst defense that had just been shredded by Dallas for 498 yards. The Chiefs left D.C. with a 14-6 victory in which their defense held the Redskins to seven first downs. Now they face San Diego to whom they lost a pair of 1-point nailbiters in 2008.

27. Lions (25) — Make it 13 straight road losses for the Lions after last week’s 26-0 shutout in Green Bay minus star receiver Calvin Johnson and rookie quarterback Matthew Stafford. The good news is that Detroit gets to stay home for two weeks with Sunday’s bye followed by a visit from the inept Rams, who are 3-17 on the road the last three years.

28. Redskins (26) — Washington, 6-2 at midseason 2008 after a playoff year in 2007, is 4-10 since after a third loss in four weeks to a winless team. The touchdown-loss defeat to Kansas City prompted management to take away the playcalling from coach Jim Zorn. He might lose his job if Monday’s game against the Eagles goes as badly as expected.

29. Browns (27) — Cleveland simply can’t beat Pittsburgh. Last week’s 27-14 loss was its 12th in a row to its AFC North rival. Of course, the Browns haven’t beaten many teams of late, at 1-5 this year and 5-17 the past two. Don’t look for those numbers to look any better after Sunday’s visit by Green Bay. Cleveland is 31st in offense, last in defense.

30. Titans (24) — On Oct. 19, 2008, Tennesse crushed Kansas City to improve to 6-0 en route to a 13-3 season. On Oct. 19, 2009, the Titans were reeling from a 59-0 bludgeoning by the Patriots that dropped them to 0-6. Jeff Fisher and Co. will need more than this week’s bye to recover from the exclamation point on their amazingly awful start.

31. Buccaneers (29) — Tampa Bay scored on special team and on defense against Carolina. Trouble is the offense only scored once while ppassing for 121 yards and producing 12 first downs. The result was a 10th straight loss dating to December. It will only get worse Sunday against visiting New England, which just annihilated Tennessee.

32. Rams (32) — For a change, St. Louis put up a serious fight, but in the end, it was a 16th straight loss, this one in overtime to visiting Jacksonville. Watching former Rams WR Torry Holt catch five passes for 101 yards against them didn’t brighten the day. St. Louis will not make it nearly so close against the unbeaten and rested Colts this week.

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