1. Green Bay Packers (9-0) Don't look now, but some slight cracks are starting to show. I don't think a team has ever started 9-0 that I was more convinced would not win the Super Bowl. It is an approaching lock status for me that the Pack will NOT be back to the Super Bowl this year. But it's still a great football team, playing the best football right now.
2. Baltimore Ravens (6-2) C'mon Thanksgiving. If John Harbaugh got so upset about the Pittsburgh PA music choice that he head-butted Ozzie Newsome after the win, what kind of fervor will be worked up into for a national primetime showdown with his brother? I would love just once to see Jim in the locker room for a pregame speech.
3. San Francisco 49ers (7-1) It makes little sense to me that a bust like Alex Smith can become a solid NFL QB simply by a coaching change. What in the hell were Mike Nolan and Mike Singeltary's QB coaches doing to this guy that he looked so awful then, but so good now? Regardless of Smith's re-birth, this team is built in the Ravens' mold -- defense and running.
4. Detroit Lions (6-2) In my preseason picks, I said the Lions would be one of the surprises of 2011, not because I was predicting what everyone else predicted and they would make the playoffs, but because I thought they would backslide. Instead, they got off to a fast start and I had to hop on the bandwagon late. Now I'm starting to get the feeling that everyone is getting off and I'm sticking around too long. With a couple of losses and a banged-up running back, how will Detroit step up?
5. New Orleans Saints (6-3) You might as well call the NFC South the Jekyll and Hyde division. Saints put up 62, then lose to the winless Rams, then come back and beat the Bucs. The Bucs get destroyed in San Fran, then beat the Saints, then lose to the Bears and Saints. Atlanta looks like a preseason Super Bowl pick, starts the year 2-3, then wins three in row. Carolina puts up points like a contender, but only goes 2-6. Yup, that makes perfect sense.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3) Just a piece of advice for Ryan Clark. Unless you enjoy throwing money away, I think that complaining about your fine, calling out the commissioner and threatening to "put (an opposing player) to sleep for real or I might as well blow (an opposing player's) knee out" is probably not the smartest idea. Not to mention you can't help but think there are some coming opponents hearing that and looking to get their own shot in.
7. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2) Andy Dalton to A.J. Green or Carson Palmer to Chad Ochocinco? I called Marvin Lewis crazy for going back to the franchise that put the dysfunctional in dysfunctional, but Lewis is having the last laugh. If the playoffs started today, the Bengals would be the No. 1 seed in the AFC. I am holding my breath to see how Mike Brown ruins the team by next year, though.
8. Houston Texans (5-3) If Andre Johnson returns healthy and the defense continues its growth under Wade, the Texans could be the most dangerous team in the AFC playoff picture. A couple more division wins and the Texans can put aside the playoff curse and start focusing on seeding.
9. New York Giants (6-2) Nope, STILL not buying it. I told everyone that would listen that New England wasn't that good and I don't give credit to East Coast teams that lose to Seattle at home. Also not sure how this isn't talked about more but Eli Manning = Joe Flacco. Mannerisms, attitude, facial expressions, it's hilarious how much the two act alike.
10. New England Patriots (5-3) So about that pick of Albert Hanynesworth for NFL Comeback Player of the Year? Yea, going to have to file that one with the Cardinals 2011 NFC West Champions. At some point Bill Belichick is going to out-clever himself with his draft-day moves. If I'm a Pats fan, I'm saying instead of trading our 46 picks during the first three rounds for 65 picks in 2013's draft, how about we use them on some legitimate defensive starters? Tom Brady only has so many years left and this defense is wasting that window.
11. Chicago Bears (5-3) I could be wrong, but I get the feeling that this is Matt Forte's last go around in Chicago. This is the franchise that let team leader Olin Kruetz walk and it just doesn't pay to overspend on running backs when replacements can pop up anywhere.
12. Atlanta Falcons (5-3) I want to move the Falcons up. I probably should move the Falcons up, but I just don't feel as if they are there yet. Julio Jones lit it up, but the Georgia Dome is just missing that aura about it that inspired fear in road teams.
On the outside looking in:
New York Jets (5-3), Buffalo Bills (5-3), Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4)
Posted Nov. 10, 2011