With the race for the top of the league arguably 10 teams deep, we let our trusty formula make the decision for us this week – and it chose Green Bay.
The Packers haven't had a truly poor game all season, and their KOs of Brad Childress and Wade Phillips probably endeared them to fans of the Vikings and Cowboys.In their three losses, they played well enough to win, and they've played a challenging schedule. Over the last three games, against three teams that made the Elite Eight a year ago, they allowed 0, 7 and 3 points.
They have candidates for Offensive Player of the Year (Aaron Rodgers, whose incredible stats we touted this week
) and Defensive Player of the Year (Clay Matthews), plus a lot of individuals playing at a Pro Bowl level that you've probably never heard of – guard Josh Sitton, linebacker Desmond Bishop and cornerback Tramon Williams, especially.
So yeah, they're No. 1, and a win in Atlanta Sunday in a huge NFC battle will pretty much cement their place. Green Bay-Atlanta, by the way, will be our Game of the Week on Sports Illustrated this week. So it's big-time stuff.
Speaking of cementing their place, it's going to take some real doing to supplant the Panthers as the league's worst team. The Panthers have eight double-digit losses, and are rumored to be looking at Todd Marinovich as their next
On to the rankings!
1. GREEN BAY (7-3)
Last week: 31-3 win at Minnesota
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Clay Matthews has at least one sack in 12 of his last 16 games, including playoffs, for a total of 18.5. Rodgers has 33 TDs and 10 INTs in his last 16 games. With these key players 24 and 26 years old, respectively, the future's awfully bright in Green Bay.
2. NEW ENGLAND (8-2)
Last week: 31-28 win vs. Indianapolis
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Is Danny Woodhead the best in-season free agent pickup of the decade? He averages 5.6 yards per carry and almost 10 yards per catch with four touchdowns and no fumbles in 78 touches. He's been hit for a loss only three times, and New England's runners have been tackles for a loss just 15 times, fewest in the league.
3. PHILADELPHIA (7-3)
Last week: 27-17 win vs. N.Y. Giants
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Eagles have thrown the fewest interceptions on offense (4) and made the most interceptions on defense (19). Add that differential to a +1.1 yard per play advantage, second only to San Diego, and you have to wonder how they even lost three games.
4. ATLANTA (8-2)
Last week: 34-17 win at St. Louis
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Falcons resemble the classic Patriots Super Bowl teams – efficient passing (5 INTs for Matt Ryan), a bend-don't-break defense (17th in total D, 6th in scoring D, 5th in Bendability) and good special teams. Plus, no one quite believes they're good, which is always useful clubhouse fodder.
5. N.Y. JETS (8-2)
Last week: 30-27 win vs. Houston
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: What's up with the Gang Green defense? The Jets have allowed 20+ points in six of their last eight games; they had only allowed 20+ in one of their previous 11 games including last year's postseason.
6. NEW ORLEANS (7-3)
Last week: 34-19 win vs. Seattle
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Drew Brees' receivers lead in the league in yards after catch (1,450).
7. N.Y. GIANTS (6-4)
Last week: 27-17 loss at Philadelphia
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Eli Manning has thrown a Favre-like number of INTs this year (16). But he's also completing 75.4 percent of his first-down passes – only David Garrard has been better. Add that to Ahmad Bradshaw's 559 first-down rushing yards (behind only Adrian Peterson), and the Giants are officially kings there.
8. BALTIMORE (7-3)
Last week: 37-13 win at Carolina
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: When you have three veterans with 600 career catches in the lineup, it pays off; the Ravens have dropped only six passes this year, easily the fewest in the league and fewer than Terrell Owens, Pierre Garcon, Brandon Gibson and Brandon Marshall have individually.
9. PITTSBURGH (7-3)
Last week: 35-3 win vs. Oakland
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Steelers have been in the top 10 in total defense every year since 2000 and are fifth this year. The only member of all 11 teams is Aaron Smith, who's out for the year.
10. CHICAGO (7-3)
Last week: 16-0 win at Miami
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Bears have yet to allow 24 points in a game this year; in contrast, the Texans haven't allowed less than 24 in a game this year.
11. INDIANAPOLIS (6-4)
Last week: 31-28 loss at New England
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Colts' final six games are against teams behind them in the rankings, and four of the games are at home.
12. SAN DIEGO (5-5)
Last week: 35-14 win vs. Denver
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Maybe it's time for (gulp!) a little love for Norv Turner? Dating back to his days in Washington, Turner's teams have ranked in the top 10 in passing yards in seven of his last eight seasons, and he did it with Brad Johnson and Kerry Collins along with Philip Rivers. Barring a collapse, Rivers will lead the league in yards per attempt for the third straight year, done previously by only Kurt Warner and Steve Young.
13. KANSAS CITY (6-4)
Last week: 31-13 win vs. Arizona
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Jamaal Charles averages 120.4 yards per game from scrimmage on just 16.9 touches per game. If he can pick up the production just a bit on the same amount of opportunities, he'll be the first player ever to gain 2,000 yards from scrimmage on fewer than 300 touches. Roger Craig came closest in 1985, with 2,066 yards on 306 touches.
14. TAMPA BAY (7-3)
Last week: 21-0 win at San Francisco
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: LeGarrette Blount has 17 rushes of 10+ yards – pretty impressive, considering he has only 101 carries. As a team, Tampa is third overall with 38 runs of 10+ yards.
15. TENNESSEE (5-5)
Last week: 19-16 loss vs. Washington
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Rusty Smith? Sounds like the punchline to a dirty joke. In more relevant news, the Titans' defense has allowed 20+ first downs in seven of the last eight weeks (NFL average, 19.2).
16. MIAMI (5-5)
Last week: 16-0 loss vs. Chicago
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Remember all the positive stuff we wrote about Tyler Thigpen last week? Yeah, you didn't really read that.
17. OAKLAND (5-5)
Last week: 35-3 loss at Pittsburgh
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Just Backslide, Baby!
18. JACKSONVILLE (6-4)
Last week: 24-20 win vs. Cleveland
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Jaguars are -50 in points, -413 in yards and -11 in turnovers, and they could make the playoffs. In fact, if the season ended today, Jacksonville would win the AFC South. They're the weirdest team since David Bowie and Bing Crosby sang "Little Drummer Boy" together.
19. DALLAS (3-7)
Last week: 35-19 win vs. Detroit
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Jason Garrett still has the best winning percentage of any head coach in NFL history.
20. ST. LOUIS (4-6)
Last week: 34-17 loss vs. Atlanta
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Rams had a lead for much of Sunday's game, but for some reason refused to run the ball – only 12 runs to 42 passes. Atlanta has allowed 4.3 yards a carry this year, 22nd in the league.
21. CLEVELAND (3-7)
Last week: 24-20 loss at Jacksonville
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: When your defense forces six turnovers and has four sacks ... in a loss, the offense has some splainin' to do.
22. WASHINGTON (5-5)
Last week: 19-16 win at Tennessee
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: All five Redskins' wins have come by six points or fewer. Dating back to the start of 2008, they have only one win by more than 10 points.
23. SEATTLE (5-5)
Last week: 34-19 loss at New Orleans
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Against three elite QBs this year (Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Drew Brees), Seattle allowed 1,127 yards, nine touchdowns and a 100.6 rating.
24. HOUSTON (4-6)
Last week: 30-27 loss at N.Y. Jets
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Say this for the Texans, they haven't had an easy road. The only team they played that's currently sitting under .500 is Dallas.
25. BUFFALO (2-8)
Last week: 49-31 win at Cincinnati
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: When you win 14-12 one week and 49-31 the next, you've got something going. Over the past six games, Ryan Fitzpatrick has passed for more yards than his opponent five times – David Garrard, Joe Flacco, Matt Cassel, Jay Cutler and Carson Palmer.
26. MINNESOTA (3-7)
Last week: 31-3 loss vs. Green Bay
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: How you can have a future Hall of Fame quarterback, running back and left guard on your team and rank 30th in scoring offense (17.2 PPG) was a question that Brad Childress clearly didn't have an answer for.
27. DETROIT (2-8)
Last week: 35-19 loss at Dallas
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Hey, the Lions have three straight at home. Good news, right? Oops. They're against New England, Chicago and Green Bay, combined record 22-7. Worst homestand since Waco.
28. SAN FRANCISCO (3-7)
Last week: 21-0 loss vs. Tampa Bay
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: That's three losses by 21+ points this year for the Niners; they suffered only two of them in 2008 and 2009 combined.
29. CINCINNATI (2-8)
Last week: 49-31 loss vs. Buffalo
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Bengals could actually contend for the No. 1 pick – five of their last six games are against probable playoff teams, with the "easy game" against the Browns.
30. DENVER (3-7)
Last week: 35-14 loss at San Diego
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Josh McDaniels' boys are now 5-15 in their last 20 games.
31. ARIZONA (3-7)
Last week: 31-13 loss at Kansas City
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: Larry Fitzgerald is proving to be bad-QB-proof; he's on pace for 88 catches, 1,106 yards and 10 touchdowns ... for a team that's 31st in Passing Yards Per Attempt (4.97).
32. CAROLINA (1-9)
Last week: 37-13 loss vs. Baltimore
The Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Panthers have 2,525 yards of offense; that's less than nine quarterbacks have by themselves.
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