Here’s how I see it …
1. Colts: They were more concerned with a Super Bowl than the 23 straight regular-season wins or the perfect season. I applaud them for that. If they wanted to risk injury and beat the Jets, they could have. I applaud Bill Polian and the organization for sticking to their guns. Tough way to have so much end, but I get it.
2. Chargers: Last week, I said they were probably playing the best football in the NFL right now. Take the “probably” out of it. The lack of a running game and the failure to stop it at times could still catch up to them.
3. Eagles: They are peaking at the right time. Now they have Brian Westbrook back. They can get after the quarterback. I worry a bit about the back end of the defense, but they are a very solid club. They almost blew that game Sunday, but yet had Donovan McNabb make some huge plays and rallied to win. That tells you something.
4. Packers: That offensive line has been stellar the past half-season or so, and now you guys know why I picked Aaron Rodgers as a player I would build a team around in the preseason. He is going to greatly out-perform that contract (he’s already done so pretty much since signing it last season). These guys have a stud D and can run it down your throat. Look out.
5. Saints: They need a win before hitting the postseason, and it won’t be easy against the Panthers.
6. Cardinals: When the passing game is going they can play with anyone.
7. Cowboys: Putting strong efforts together in December and Tony Romo is playing his best football when it counts.
8. Patriots: They won’t go down easy in the postseason and Randy Moss looks highly motivated again.
9. Vikings: Drama, drama, drama. Bad time of the year to start trying to rediscover your identity. I have not foreseen a long playoff run for this bunch all season long. We’ll find out if I was right soon enough. (P.S. — If rookie coach Jim Caldwell can sit Peyton Manning when he wants for the greater good, Brad Childress has every right to tell a 40-year-old Brett Favre to take a seat).
10. Steelers: If they get in the dance, look out (but it’s going to take a lot of help for that to happen). The Ravens did them a favor that Baltimore might soon regret with all those silly, backbreaking penalties at Heinz Field on Sunday.
11. Ravens: Despite all the injuries — especially to the secondary — they have played with every elite team, usually losing due to inexcusable mental mistakes (drops, penalties). They have not caught a break in terms of calls in many games, either. They played the Bengals, Vikings and Patriots very tough, but always choked in the clutch. Now they’re in a must-win situation at Oakland. Will they step up?
12. Bengals: They deserve all the credit in the world for winning their division, but they look extremely limited on offense. They seem to be slimming some, and appear vulnerable to me. I worry this may have been their last win of the season.
13. Texans: All credit to them for beating the slop out of a physical Miami team and keeping their playoff hopes alive. Their 1-5 division record will likely end up dooming them, but they have a chance to tally their first winning season.
14. Panthers: This team could easily be in the thick of playoff hunt without all of Jake Delhomme‘s picks. Going to Matt Moore sooner might have given them nine wins already. I love how they’re finishing the season.
15. Titans: They won’t make a miracle comeback from an 0-6 start, but they could end up finishing 8-2 down the stretch, with the only losses in that span to Indianapolis and San Diego. Not too shabby.
16. Jets: Their offense is so limited that even that potent defense isn’t enough. Give Rex Ryan credit for establishing a top-notch defense right off the bat. The Colts gave them that game Sunday, but give the Jets credit for taking it once offered up via Curtis Painter.
17. Broncos: They are fading fast, and beating Kansas City this weekend is no gimme. It is gut-check time, again, after that 6-0 start. That was a valiant effort Sunday, but that was their season in all probability.
18. Falcons: I like the way they are finishing strong. Matt Ryan is going out on a high note after some serious midseason struggles. They need to address that defense, but I think the future is bright.
19. Jaguars: They ran out of steam when the schedule got serious, as I expected, but they made strides from a year ago for sure.
20. Giants: Seriously, that’s how you guys closed out Giants Stadium? Really? It reminded me of how the Cowboys faltered in the final game at Texas Stadium last year, but at least that was against an AFC Championship-bound Ravens team.
21. Dolphins: The loss of Ronnie Brown ended up being huge. Losing that Wildcat element hurt them.
22. 49ers: They have a chance to finish .500 in Mike Singletary‘s first full season as head coach. Not bad at all.
23. Browns: Could they finish with a four-game winning streak? Sure, they have big issues on both sides of the ball and won some via Josh Cribbs, but a win is a win. I’m not sure Eric Mangini is the right fit for Mike Holmgren.
24. Raiders: A little more Bruce Gradkowski earlier in the season and they could be .500. They had some signature wins, which is a lot more than pretty much any other team down here can say.
25. Bears: Lovie Smith is going to be under a microscope at season’s end as the organization looks ahead.
26. Buccaneers: They have some major issues to overcome, but coming out and winning at Seattle and then beating the Saints has to warrant them getting a little bump in the rankings here.
27. Chiefs: I honestly can’t tell you exactly why I’m putting them here. All of the teams from about 23 on down are crazy flawed right now. I guess someone had to be 27, and they did give the Bengals a game Sunday.
28. Redskins: They managed to sap the fighting spirit they showed much of the last few weeks, and Albert Haynesworth has had a cancerous first season there — not all that unexpected. The next coach (I continue to hear Mike Shanahan) has a whole lot of pieces to pick up and try to put back together.
29. Bills: Having to go to Brian Brohm is indicative of how hard it’s been just keeping a roster together. They don’t have the bodies to compete right now.
30. Seahawks: I picked these guys to make the playoffs? What was I thinking? I realize injuries crushed them again, but they’ve been outscored 108-24 the last three games. As Mike Tyson would say, that’s ludicrous.
31. Lions: Made some progress this year.
32. Rams: Could be a one-win season. That is never a good thing.