The middle class may be disappearing in contemporary America, but it's alive and well in the NFL.
The top eight spots in our rankings are held pretty conclusively by the eight division leaders: New Orleans, Indy, Minnesota, New England, San Diego, Cincinnati, Dallas and Arizona.
And after that, all mediocrity breaks loose.
We have 5-5 Baltimore coming in at No. 9 this week, which tells you all you need to know. There are 15 teams between 6-4 and 4-6, and you can't tell them apart without a scorecard.
While the teams at the high end are pretty clearly better than those in the middle, the fact is that all of them are alive in the fight for the four wild-card spots – and that's where most of the drama will be over the season's final six weeks.
On to the rankings!
1. NEW ORLEANS (10-0). Last week: 38-7 win at Tampa Bay. The Saints are 5-0 on the road, with an average victory margin of 18.8 PPG. The undefeated 2007 Patriots won their eight road games by an average of 17.9 games.
2. INDIANAPOLIS (10-0). Last week: 17-15 win at Baltimore. The Colts are now an incredible 12-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less during their current 18-game regular-season winning streak. Unfortunately for them, in the middle of all this success is a loss by 6 at San Diego in the 2008 postseason.
3. MINNESOTA (9-1). Last week: 35-9 win vs. Seattle. Apparently, negative hype = good results. In 2007, the storyline that dominated was "Spygate," and the Patriots went 16-0. In 2009, it was "Favre the Turncoat," and Brett Favre is six weeks away from a possible MVP trophy.
4. NEW ENGLAND (7-3). Last week: 31-14 win vs. NY Jets. The Patriots are now first in the NFL in time of possession (34:43 per game) despite a 60-40 pass-to-run ratio. In other words, Wes Welker (79 catches in 8 games; on pace to catch 138 passes) is the new Jim Brown.
5. SAN DIEGO (7-3). Last week: 32-3 win at Denver. The Chargers have shifted their offensive approach, but their run of success continues. They are fourth in scoring (26.9 PPG), and if they finish there it'll be their sixth straight season in the league's top five.
6. CINCINNATI (7-3). Last week: 20-17 loss at Oakland. Bengal cornerbacks Leon Hall and Jonathan Joseph are tied for first in the NFL with 15 pass breakups each; they also have nine interceptions between them. At least one Pro Bowl berth would be nice.
7. DALLAS (7-3). Last week: 7-6 win vs. Washington. Dallas needs to take care of business against Oakland Thursday, because they have a tough finish: games at the Giants, Saints and Redskins plus visits from the Chargers and Eagles.
8. ARIZONA (7-3). Last week: 21-13 win at St. Louis. The Cardinals' run game has made strides, but it's not there yet. Arizona is dead last on third-and-short success running the ball (23.5 percent). Jacksonville leads at 69 percent.
(5-5). Last week: 17-15 loss vs. Indianapolis. The Ravens are fifth in net points (+6.6 per game), 10th in net yards (+39.4 per game) and seventh in turnover ratio (+5). So why are they .500? Seven games against Quality Teams
, five close losses.
10. PITTSBURGH (6-4). Last week: 27-24 loss at Kansas City. Things aren't going too smoothly in the Steel City, but don't blame Rashard Mendenhall. He's averaging 6.01 YPA on first down, third in the NFL behind Frank Gore and Correll Buckhalter.
11. GREEN BAY (6-4). Last week: 30-24 win vs. San Francisco. The Packers are No. 1 in turnover differential (+14) and have forced at least one turnover in all 10 games. It's gotta be the cheese.
12. PHILADELPHIA (6-4). Last week: 24-20 win at Chicago. Why do the Eagles hate the run? Probably because they're so good on first down without it – first in the NFL at 6.59 yards a crack.
13. N.Y. GIANTS (6-4). Last week: 34-31 win vs. Atlanta. The Giants lead the league in 25+ yard pass plays, but all of a sudden they're an average running team (14th with 4.3 YPA). What in the name of Ottis Anderson is going on here?
14. HOUSTON (5-5). Last week: 20-17 loss vs. Tennessee. How many hours has Texans coach Gary Kubiak slept this year? This poor guy needs a spa weekend, no kickers invited.
15. MIAMI (5-5). Last week: 24-17 win at Carolina. If the Dolphins can finish .500 or better, it'll mark the 35th such season for the franchise in the 40 years since the AFL-NFL merger. But the Fish haven't been in the conference championship game since 1992.
16. ATLANTA (5-5). Last week: 34-31 loss at NY Giants. The offense is still a threat, but over the last five weeks Atlanta has allowed an average of 30.2 PPG and 399.8 YPG. Not good.
18. JACKSONVILLE (6-4). Last week: 18-15 win vs. Buffalo. QB David Garrard has also done it with his legs, leading the NFL with 81.3 percent success (13 of 16) getting first downs on the run. Maurice Jones-Drew is fourth (72.7 percent, 16 of 22).
19. TENNESSEE (4-6). Last week: 20-17 win at Houston. If, by wild chance, the Titans fulfill Chris Johnson's prophecy and go 10-6, Johnson gets the MVP and officially replaces Joe Namath as the greatest guarantor in league history. P.S.: he's on pace for 1,987 yards rushing.
20. SAN FRANCISCO (4-6). Last week: 30-24 loss at Green Bay. Kicker Joe Nedney leads the NFL with 14 touchbacks on kickoffs. Isn't that nice? Good for you, Joe Nedney!
21. N.Y. JETS (4-6). Last week: 31-14 loss at New England. The Jets' receivers are second in the league with an average of 13.0 yards a grab. Unfortunately, they Jets are also 31st in interceptions thrown (16) and 29th in completion percentage (51.7). Maybe some shorter stuff for the rookie QB makes some sense?
22. CAROLINA (4-6). Last week: 24-17 loss vs. Miami. The Panthers allowed 154 yards rushing to Miami last Thursday; they've surrendered 150+ in five of their 10 games this year and allow opposing runners 4.7 YPA for the season.
23. CHICAGO (4-6). Last week: 24-20 loss vs. Philadelphia. The Bears can't blame field position; their average start after a kickoff is the 30.2 yard line, second only to Minnesota (33.4).
24. KANSAS CITY (3-7). Last week: 27-24 win vs. Pittsburgh. Matt Cassel has a sparkling 95.8 passer rating in the fourth quarter; he also has a 12-to-4 TD-to-INT ratio over his last eight starts. This all comes despite a league-high 30 drops by Chief pass-catchers.
25. WASHINGTON (3-7). Last week: 7-6 loss at Dallas. Why do we think that the Redskins' defense didn't get real chummy with the guys from the offensive side of the ball on the flight home from Dallas last week?
26. BUFFALO (3-7). Last week: 18-15 loss at Jacksonville. RB Marshawn Lynch has been a bust after returning from a three-game suspension in September; 3.1 yards per carry, 6.7 yards per catch and two total TDs. The Bills, if you missed it, have allowed 15 rushing TDs and scored two.
27. OAKLAND (3-7). Last week: 20-17 win vs. Cincinnati. The Raiders won last Sunday despite just 42 yards from their highly-drafted "triplets" of JaMarcus Russell, Darren McFadden and Darrius Heyward-Bey.
(3-7). Last week: 35-9 loss at Minnesota. According to the Web site 10000birds.com
, "seahawk" is actually a nickname for the osprey, a large, long-winged bird of prey. "Seahawk" is also a Chinook Indian word that translates to "team that needs rebuilding."
29. ST. LOUIS (1-9). Last week: 21-13 loss vs. Arizona. Steven Jackson has a league-best 31 runs of 10+ yards -- for a team that doesn't have one 100-yard game by a receiver all year. Impressive stuff.
30. DETROIT (2-8). Last week: 38-37 win vs. Cleveland. First a free concert by Jay Leno back in the spring, now a thrilling home win by the Lions in the fall. The completion of this trifecta of great Detroit happenings? Dodge invents flying cars this winter.
31. TAMPA BAY (1-9). Last week: 38-7 loss vs. New Orleans. The Bucs lead the NFL in offensive red-zone efficiency (72.2 percent touchdowns), which would be great if they actually got to the red zone more often (18 trips, second-fewest).
32. CLEVELAND (1-9). Last week: 38-37 loss at Detroit. Free Josh Cribbs! He averages 13.2 yards per punt return and has fair caught only twice in 26 opportunities. Take him off the Browns and their record is minus-1 and 11.