With three weeks left, the NFL is in an odd state. Most of the top teams have little left to play for, yet there's tremendous intrigue at the top and bottom of the playoff standings.
All eight divisions are effectively wrapped – sure, the Eagles and Patriots could falter in the respective Easts, but it's not likely.
The top two seeds in each conference will also be locked down with wins by New Orleans, San Diego and Minnesota this week, which would leave two full weeks of meaningless games atop the league.
Ah, but then there's the 13-0 factor. Will they both make it? Doubtful.
If you give the Saints and Colts a blanket 75 percent chance to win each individual game, which is about right, the odds of all six being wins is 17.8 percent. So it's not that likely. Apply that same math to each team, and they've each got a 42.2 percent shot to win all three.
Figure in the luck factor (both teams have won more than their share of tossup games), the letdown factor (nothing to play for), the sit-down factor (stars not playing) and the pressure factor, and it wouldn't be surprising to see twin 15-1s when the postseason kicks off.
The real intrigue is for the AFC wild-card race, where Denver is ahead of the pack and likely to make it, but Miami, Jacksonville, Tennessee, the Jets and Texans are all in win-em-all-and-hope mode.
Should be fun. On to the rankings!
1. NEW ORLEANS
(13-0). Last week: 26-23 win at Atlanta. When the MVP is all boiled down, how can it be anyone but Drew Brees? As of right now, he's got the fifth-best passer rating of all time (112.3), leads the NFL in almost every other passing category
, and his team is undefeated. That's pretty much "any writer who votes for anyone else is a tool
2. INDIANAPOLIS (13-0). Last week: 28-16 win vs. Denver. Eight of the Indy's 13 wins have ended with Peyton Manning taking a knee in the victory formation. He's killing their rushing averages! Gotta get Sorgi in there!
3. MINNESOTA (11-2). Last week: 30-10 win vs. Cincinnati. Jared Allen's chase of the Defensive Player of the Year honor is probably over. He's got 12.5 sacks (2 in the last four games), which puts him 2.5 sacks behind league-leader Elvis Dumervil of Denver, and has shoulder and knee injuries. With almost nothing to play for, the Vikings should be using him sparingly down the stretch.
4. SAN DIEGO
(10-3). Last week: 20-17 win at Dallas. The amazing part of San Diego's great season is that the running game never came around; San Diego's 3.25 YPA average is dead last
, and more than a half-yard a tote behind even 30th place (Seattle, 3.76 YPA).
5. GREEN BAY (9-4). Last week: 21-14 win at Chicago. RB Ryan Grant is quietly having an excellent season; he's on pace for 1,314 yards and 9 touchdowns with a 4.3 YPA average.
6. PHILADELPHIA (9-4). Last week: 45-38 win at Giants. DeSean Jackson is one of two players in history with two kickoff return TDs, at least one TD rushing and receiving, and 1,000 yards from scrimmage in a season. The other? Gale Sayers (1966 and 1967).
7. NEW ENGLAND (8-5). Last week: 20-10 win vs. Carolina. Loafing malcontent Randy Moss has seven drops in 120 targets; tough-as-nails gamer Wes Welker has six drops in 136 targets.
8. CINCINNATI (9-4). Last week: 30-10 loss at Minnesota. The Bengals have scored more than 17 points in a game only twice over the last nine weeks. That's not going to get it done in San Diego this Sunday; the Chargers haven't scored fewer than 20 all year.
9. BALTIMORE (7-6). Last week: 48-3 win vs. Detroit. The Ravens' schedule was the toughest in the league this year, but when they get a break they take it. In their four games against bad teams (KC, Cleveland twice, Detroit), they went 4-0 and outscored the bottom-feeders badly.
10. ARIZONA (8-5). Last week: 24-9 loss at San Francisco. The Cardinals make about as much sense as this sentence: "Yo soy choose horse regicide playdoh Gordon."
11. DENVER (8-5). Last week: 28-16 loss at Indianapolis. Brandon Marshall's record 21 catches is right in line with the disparity in Denver's offense; he's got 1,008 yards receiving, No. 2 man Jabar Gaffney has 442. Keeping Marshall and trading Jay Cutler looks like the best decision since we bought those 10,000 shares of Google stock back in 1997. Oh, wait ... that was Goggle stock.
12. N.Y. JETS (7-6). Last week: 26-3 win at Tampa Bay. If the Jets miss the playoffs, they can thank this stat: dead last in the league with a fourth-quarter passer rating of 43.6.
(8-5). Last week: 20-17 loss vs. San Diego. Can we officially put a moratorium on "Dallas is bad in December" stats, stories and sidebars? We get it. Not good in December. Moving on. We suggest the national media universally adopt our "Curse of Flutie
14. SAN FRANCISCO
(6-7). Last week: 24-9 win vs. Arizona. Last week, we mentioned that when the 49ers win
, Frank Gore gets about twice the carries as when they lose. The team's response? Gore gets 25 carries, 167 yards, one season-saving win. You're welcome.
15. MIAMI (7-6). Last week: 14-10 win at Jacksonville. Dolphins fullback Lousaka Polite is 9-for-9 picking up first downs on third-and-short, not bad for a guy with 61 carries in six NFL seasons.
16. NEW YORK GIANTS (7-6). Last week: 45-38 loss vs. Philadelphia. Eli Manning has been back on his game the last five weeks after a similarly strong first five (remember the 5-0 G-Men?). He's thrown 10 TDs to three INTs the last five weeks despite being sacked 13 times and playing from behind. The Giants D allows 32.3 PPG since that 5-0 start.
(6-7). Last week: 47-7 win vs. St. Louis. The Titans are a first ballot "Started 0-6 Hall of Famer." They'll go into next year with a revitalized Vince Young, a maturing young receiving core, the best running back in the AFC and a peerless offensive line (No. 1 on the Offensive Hog Index
18. HOUSTON (6-7). Last week: 34-7 win vs. Seattle. Andre Johnson has averaged 96.3 yards a game over three whole seasons; over Jerry Rice's best three-year stretch (1993-95) he averaged 101 a game.
(6-7). Last week: 13-6 loss at Cleveland. That odor coming out of Pittsburgh? It's 500,000 Steeler fans belching sausage-y disgust in unison. Pittsburgh this year surrenders 6.7 yards per pass attempt, with an 82.5 Defensive Passer Rating
. Last year? It was 5.4 YPA and 63.4 DPR
(6-7). Last week: 26-23 loss vs. New Orleans. The Falcons led the NFL last week in moral victories (1) but were tied for last in actual victories (0). One big problem? Atlanta can't get off the field on third down: opponents convert 47.7 percent of third downs
21. JACKSONVILLE (7-6). Last week: 14-10 loss vs. Miami. Rookie left tackle Eugene Monroe is making an impact ... in more ways than one. Running to his side, the Jags have a league-best ratio of first-down runs to negative runs, and have converted all of their third-and-short runs to that side. But Jags QBs have been hit 101 times, most in the league.
22. CAROLINA (5-8). Last week: 20-10 loss at New England. If we're about to see the last three games of the John Fox Era in Carolina, it's been a good run. In seven years: three playoff spots, two 7-9 seasons where injuries would have made a lesser bunch go 4-12, one Super Bowl appearance, and a record (thus far) of 68-57 (.544). If he's replaced, it had better be by Bill Cowher or it's just a move for the sake of a move.
23. CHICAGO (5-8). Last week: 21-14 loss vs. Green Bay. The Bears are 22nd in points scored, 21st in points allowed and 22nd in turnover differential. In other words, it's a C-minus for you, Bears.
24. WASHINGTON (4-9). Last week: 34-13 win at Oakland. With all of their running backs hurt, the Redskins have inexplicably discovered offense; 27+ points in four of their last five games after not cracking 17 in their first eight.
(5-8). Last week: 16-10 win at Kansas City. Maybe Perry Fewell has a chance to shake the interim tag. The Bills have had a successful defensive year, they're No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating
, and they've allowed only 15.3 PPG in Fewell's four games as head coach (2-2).
26. SEATTLE (5-8). Last week: 34-7 loss at Houston. Yeah, we got nothing here.
27. OAKLAND (4-9). Last week: 34-13 loss vs. Washington. How does a team that ranks 31st in scoring offense, 27th in scoring defense and gets outgained by an average of 1.5 yards per play actually win four games? Weird.
28. KANSAS CITY (3-10). Last week: 16-10 loss vs. Buffalo. The Chiefs lead the NFL with 39 dropped passes (in 434 attempts), just ahead of the 2-11 Browns (36/397), the 2-11 Lions (35/487), the 4-9 Raiders (34/373) and the 8-5 Patriots (34/505).
29. TAMPA BAY (1-12). Last week: 26-3 loss vs. NY Jets. Yes, the 1-12 Bucs are better than three other teams in the league here in this year of the bottom-feeder.
30. CLEVELAND (2-11). Last week: 13-6 win vs. Pittsburgh. The Brownies have turned the ball over only once in the last four games after losing it 25 times in the first nine games.
(2-11). Last week: 48-3 loss at Baltimore. Nine double-digit losses and counting for the "improved" and "rebranded
32. ST. LOUIS (1-12). Last week: 47-7 loss at Tennessee. Is there parity in the NFL? The debate rages. But the "Any Given Sunday" rule can definitely be verified on the back of the Rams-Saints game in Week 10 – a dead even contest where the now 13-0 Saints and now 1-12 Rams put up almost identical stats and a Courtney Roby kickoff return TD is the difference in a 28-23 game.