The Patriots are good, just in case you hadn't noticed.
After kicking off the season at No. 2 behind defending champ Indy, New England has sat atop our Power Rankings for 15 of the past 16 weeks.
With a win over the Giants Saturday, the Patriots will become the first team to complete a perfect 16-0 regular season. They'll also have won 19 straight regular-season games, breaking the record of 18 straight set by the also-pretty-good two-time champion Patriots of 2003-04.
But the Giants do pose a threat. They are the seventh Quality Team to take on New England this year. Of course, New England has outscored those other six Quality Teams, including four division champs (Indy, Pittsburgh, San Diego, Dallas), by an average of 22.0 PPG.
Still, Patriots fans should avoid premature celebration: New York has a stable of fleet-footed running backs and big-name receivers. This could be the game that former No. 1 overall pick Eli Manning realizes his full potential and leads the Giants on scoring drive after scoring drive without even the slightest bobbled snap.
Then again, maybe not ...
On to the rankings.
THE DOMINANT DOZEN
1. NEW ENGLAND (15-0, previous rank: 1)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 6-0; +22.0 PPG
- Last week: Randy Moss became the second receiver in history to catch 20+ touchdowns in a season as the Patriots cruised to a 28-7 win over the Dolphins.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Patriots have fielded at least one 100-yard receiver in 11 of 15 games this season. In relation, Minnesota is yet to have a receiver top 100 yards in any game.
- Next: at NY Giants. The Patriots will try to cap of a perfect regular season against a team which may not play its starters. Tom Brady (48 TD passes) and Randy Moss (21 TD receptions) each need two more TDs to break the respective all-time records.
2. INDIANAPOLIS (13-2, previous rank: 2)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 4-2; +6.7 PPG
- Last week: Peyton Manning completed 80 percent of his passes and the defense forced three turnovers as the Colts ran away from the Texans, 38-15.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: Manning's 125.4 career passer rating against Houston is the best for a quarterback versus one opponent.
- Next: vs. Tennessee. Tony Dungy said his key starters will play no more than the first half as the No. 2-seed Colts gear up for the playoffs.
3. DALLAS (13-2, previous rank: 4)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 5-1; +4.2 PPG
- Last week: The Cowboys went on the road and beat the Panthers 20-13, but leading receiver Terrell Owens suffered the dreaded high ankle sprain and his status for the playoffs is unknown.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: Pro Bowl RB Marion Barber has led the Cowboys in rushing nine out of 15 games yet has not started one contest.
- Next: at Washington. The Cowboys have secured the NFC's No. 1 seed but go to Washington with a chance to eliminate the hated Redskins from the playoffs.
4. GREEN BAY (12-3, previous rank: 3)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 5-1; +10.5 PPG
- Last week: The Packers suffered two blocked punts and averaged a whopping 15 yards per punt on their other three as the Bears routed the Packers, 35-7.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: Rookie RB Ryan Grant has averaged 103.2 YPG in his six starts this season; Minnesota's sure-fire Rookie of the Year Adrian Peterson has averaged 113.8 YPG in his nine starts.
- Next: vs. Detroit. With the No. 2 seed locked up, Brett Favre and Co. could see limited time in the regular season finale.
5. JACKSONVILLE (11-4, previous rank: 5)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 4-3; +0.3 PPG
- Last week: David Garrard and Quinn Gray each tossed a pair of touchdowns while thee different Jaguars ran for a score in Jacksonville's 49-11 win over the Raiders.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: The 49 points were the most for the franchise since it rolled up 62 against Miami during Dan Marino's final career game in the 1999 playoffs. Things haven't gotten much better for Miami since then.
- Next: at Houston. The Jaguars can capture 12 wins for the third time in franchise history and second time under Jack Del Rio.
6. PITTSBURGH (10-5, previous rank: 6)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 3-2; +4.6 PPG
- Last week: Willie Parker's one carry was a costly one as the NFL's then-leading rusher broke his right leg during a 41-24 victory over the Rams.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: Despite being labeled as Pittsburgh's big play threat, Willie Parker's longest run (32 yards) and YPA (4.1) have both been surpassed by his backup, Najeh Davenport (45 yards; 5.0 YPA).
- Next: at Baltimore. A win combined with a San Diego loss will lock up the No. 3 seed and keep the Steelers away from the dangerous Jaguars in their playoff opener.
7. SAN DIEGO (10-5, previous rank: 7)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 2-4; -8.0 PPG
- Last week: San Diego dominated the ball (36:43 TOP) and the Broncos, 23-3, on Monday night.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: After an up-and-down start, LT has been on an absolute tear in December (four games) averaging 136.5 rushing yards per game and 6.6 YPA.
- Next: at Oakland. San Diego locks up the AFC's No. 3 seed with a win over the 4-11 Raiders. The Chargers won, 28-14, in their first meeting of the season.
8. TAMPA BAY (9-6, previous rank: 8)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 2-3; -5.0 PPG
- Last week: With the NFC South already secured, Tampa Bay sat most of their starters in the second half and were a 2-point conversion shy of sending the game into overtime before losing to San Francisco 21-19.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Buccaneers lead their opponents in nearly every statistical category yet have just a 36-second advantage in time of possession.
- Next: vs. Carolina. The Bucs are locked into a No. 4 seed and a wildcard matchup with the Giants, so Jeff Garcia and other starters may be spectators Sunday.
9. SEATTLE (10-5, previous rank: 9)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 1-2; -3.3 PPG
- Last week: The inconsistent Seahawks played what Mike Holmgren called their most complete game of the season, dominating the Ravens in a 27-6 home victory.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: Seattle played penalty-free football for the third time in franchise history during the win over Baltimore. Bitter Seahawks fans might have noticed that whistle-happy Super Bowl XL referee Bill Leavy called 13 penalties during the Washington-Minnesota game Sunday night.
- Next: at Atlanta. Seattle sack specialist Patrick Kerney and assistant coach Jim Mora Jr. face their former team for the first time. No word on whether Mora is willing to walk back to Washington this time around.
10. TENNESSEE (9-6, previous rank: 12)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 1-4; -4.6 PPG
- Last week: It may not have been a thing of beauty, but Tennessee's 10-6 grind-it-out win over the Jets now puts the Titans in the driver's seat for the AFC's final playoff spot.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: Vince Young has thrown at least one pick in 11 of his 14 games this season. Last year he threw an interception in just seven of his 13 starts.
- Next: at Indianapolis, Sunday night on NBC. Tennessee wins and they advance. The Titans lost a close one to the Colts, 22-20, in Week Two.
11. NEW YORK GIANTS (10-5, previous rank: 13)
- Record vs. Quality Teams: 1-5; -12.0 PPG
- Last week: Rookie Ahmad Bradshaw's 88-yard touchdown run, longest in the NFL this year, sealed a 38-21 victory over Buffalo and was a large part of the team's 291 yards on the ground.
- Cold, Hard Football Facts: Bradshaw's career-high 151 yards on the ground made him the fourth Giants ballcarrier to lead the team in rushing this year (Brandon Jacobs, Reuben Droughns and Derrick Ward).
- Next: vs. New England. The Giants, who could rest their starters, will have a large cheering section from South Florida as they attempt to ruin New England's perfect 16-0 season.
12. MINNESOTA (8-7, previous rank: 10)
Last week: QB Tavaris Jackson played poorly (5.4 YPA, 2 INT, 63.1 rating) as the Vikings tossed away control of their own destiny with a 32-21 loss to Washington.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Vikings are 5-2 when rookie phenom Adrian Peterson reaches the end zone, and 11 of his 13 touchdowns have come in victories.
Next: at Denver. The Vikings need a win and a Redskins loss to sneak into the playoffs.
THE TEPID TWENTY
13. CLEVELAND (9-6, previous rank: 11) – Just when you thought the Browns had turned the corner they suffer a terrible loss to the Bengals. Cleveland needs a Tennessee loss to reach the playoffs.
14. PHILADELPHIA (7-8, previous rank: 15) – Under-hyped back Brian Westbrook leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage (2,005).
15. WASHINGTON (8-7, previous rank: 16) – Who would've thought that the mourning 5-7 Redskins would still have a shot at the playoffs entering the final week of the season? With a win over Dallas, the Redskins head to Seattle for the wildcard playoffs.
16. NEW ORLEANS (7-8, previous rank: 14) – The Saints were stuffed three times at the goal line during a pivotal third-quarter juncture of their 38-23 loss to the Eagles. They can still reach the playoffs with a win at Chicago and losses by Washington and Minnesota.
17. ARIZONA (7-8, previous rank: 19) – As good as Anquan Boldin was against the Falcons (13 catches, 162 yards, 2 TD), it was only his second-best game of the season. Boldin caught 14 passes for 181 yards and 2 TD in Week Three against the Ravens.
18. HOUSTON (7-8, previous rank: 17) – A win Sunday over the Jaguars would set a new franchise record for victories in a season. Houston's previous best was seven in 2004.
19. BUFFALO (7-8, previous rank: 18) – Kicker Rian Lindell continues his excellent season hitting 21 of 24 (87.5 percent) field goals this year. In his career the former Washington State Cougar is a perfect 248 for 248 on extra points and has hit 172 of 214 figgies (80.4 percent).
20. DENVER (6-9, previous rank: 20) – Ouch! In their two games against the Chargers the Broncos failed to score a touchdown and were outscored 64-6.
21. CHICAGO (6-9, previous rank: 21) – The lesser-known Adrian Peterson's 102 yards rushing against Green Bay was a season high for the Bears.
22. DETROIT (7-8, previous rank: 23) – Speaking of 100-yard games. T.J. Duckett's 102 yards in a 25-20 win over KC were also a career high and the second time the 2002 first-round pick has passed the century mark in his career.
23. CINCINNATI (6-9, previous rank: 24) – Anyone clamoring for Kenny Watson to be the featured back in Cincinnatti should remember that he is 29 football years old (about 75 in human years) and has surpassed 5.0 YPA just twice this season.
24. CAROLINA (6-9, previous rank: 22) – Curious Cold, Hard Football Fact of the Week: the Panthers are 5-1 when Steve Smith gets at least one rushing attempt. 1-8 when he doesn't get any.
25. OAKLAND (4-11, previous rank: 25) – So what if rookie JaMarcus Russell completed just 7 of 23 passes (30.4 percent) and threw three INTs in last week's 49-11 loss to Jacksonville? Rex Grossman matched that feat twice last season and started the Super Bowl.
26. BALTIMORE (4-11, previous rank: 26) – Derrick Mason has caught 97 passes, third in the NFL and more than Randy Moss (92), Reggie Wayne (92) or Terrell Owens (81), despite counting Kyle Boller, Steve McNair and rookie Troy Smith as his battery-mates.
27. NEW YORK JETS (3-12, previous rank: 27) – Hey, at least they're competitive. The 12-loss Jets have been outscored by an average of just 6.0 PPG this year.
28. KANSAS CITY (4-11, previous rank: 28) – No matter who is playing quarterback for the Chiefs in 2008, he would be wise to just throw the ball to Tony Gonzalez (92 catches, 1,108 yards, 5 TD) and Dwayne Bowe (69, 982, 5).
29. SAN FRANCISCO (5-10, previous rank: 29) – A Cold, Hard Football Facts salute to Bryant Young, one of the great defensive linemen of this generation, who will retire at the end of the season. The last vestige of San Fran's 1994 Super Bowl champion team, the 14-year veteran has recorded 6.5 sacks this year and boasts 89.5 for his career. Like fellow Notre Dame alumnus Rudy Ruettiger, Young's teammates carried him off the field during his final home game, San Fran's 21-19 win over Tampa on Sunday.
30. ST. LOUIS (3-12, previous rank: 30) – Torry Holt did his best TO impersonation on the sidelines, screaming at head coach Scott Linehan as Rams still lost at home for the seventh time this year, 41-24 to Pittsburgh.
31. ATLANTA (3-12 previous rank: 31) – Roddy White (141 receiving yards) and Laurent Robinson (114) became the first pair of Falcons receivers this decade with 100 yards or more receiving in the same game.
32. MIAMI (1-14, previous rank: 32) – So much for the red-hot one-game winning streak. Miami has locked up the top pick in the draft and is bracing for the arrival of Hurricane Tuna.