1. Green Bay Packers (8-0, 1st last week): It’s beginning to look like they’re going to go wire-to-wire in the top spot. They’re almost certain to be 10-0 in Detroit on Thanksgiving.
2. San Francisco 49ers (7-1, 2nd last week): Nothing pretty, but these Niners aren’t pretty. This isn’t Montana-to-Rice, but the fans don’t care. All that matters is that they’re already on the verge of wrapping up a playoff spot.
3. Baltimore Ravens (6-2, 8th last week): Was that a turning point for Joe Flacco, who until Sunday night at around 11:00 p.m. ET was having a pretty mediocre season? Nice to see the Ravens dominate on third down like that.
4. Houston Texans (6-3, 5th last week): Even Kareem Jackson is playing half-decent football for the No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL. Seriously. The No. 1-ranked defense in the NFL.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-3, 3rd last week): How does James Harrison go from doubtful to defensive player of the week? If he doesn’t win that award, he at least deserves some votes. Pittsburgh’s still a prime Super Bowl contender despite losing a crucial tiebreaker with Baltimore.
6. New England Patriots (5-3, 4th last week): A lot of people think the loss to the Giants was a turning point for a franchise that is now just good, not great. We’ll see. All I know is the whole Chad Ochocinco/Albert Haynesworth haul hasn’t paid off one bit.
7. Detroit Lions (6-2, 7th last week): Jim Schwartz is right about the dirty label being better than the alternative. This is football, where nice guys often finish last.
8. New Orleans Saints (6-3, 9th last week): Kind of crazy that two Saints are in the top three in the NFL in receptions, and they aren’t named Marques Colston or Lance Moore. In fact, neither is a receiver. Darren Sproles and Jimmy Graham have become Drew Brees’ favorite two targets.
9. Atlanta Falcons (5-3, 10th last week): Left tackle controversy in Atlanta? Will Svitek did a hell of a job protecting Matt Ryan in Sam Baker’s stead. Considering the problems that line had early, they’d be smart to ride with the hotter (or at least steadier) hand.
10. New York Jets (5-3, 16th last week): Loved how aggressive they were in Orchard Park. Haven’t seen enough of that out of them lately. A lot of momentum for a huge New England game at home this week.
11. Chicago Bears (5-3, 13th last week): Outplayed the Eagles on the road in prime time. Not an easy task. The offense is rolling and the defense is solid as always. This might be a wild-card team after all.
12. New York Giants (6-2, 19th last week): I don’t know what to think about the Giants. Was that a statement or a fluke? All I know is they control their own destiny in the NFC East. Also, I love Jake Ballard, and you should too.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (6-2, 15th last week): I repeat: I won’t buy their stock until they beat Pittsburgh (this week) and/or Baltimore (next week).
14. Buffalo Bills (5-3, 6th last week): They’ve won just twice since Week 3 and now they’ve received the news that Kyle Williams is out for the year. Oh, and now they go on the road for three straight weeks. Good chance the playoff slump continues.
15. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-4, 14th last week): The shine has come off Raheem Morris as of late, and the play-calling has come under fire. If this keeps up, that coaching staff might be fighting for their jobs next year.
16. Philadelphia Eagles (3-5, 12th last week): They have to run the table now, and they won’t. What will that mean for Andy Reid? Or should I say, “Andrew Ried.”
17. San Diego Chargers (4-4, 18th last week): Again, too many mistakes. Philip Rivers is now just one interception shy of his career high.
18. Oakland Raiders (4-4, 11th last week): Feels like it’s all crashing down for the suddenly power-tripping Hue Jackson and the Raiders, who will likely fall to 0-3 in the Carson Palmer era Thursday night.
19. Kansas City Chiefs (4-4, 17th last week): They’re young and they were probably playing over their heads considering the injuries. On short rest, I expected them to lose in Week 9. But no one expected a disaster like that.
20. Dallas Cowboys (4-4, 21st last week): Schedule’s treating them nicely. They might be able to win their next four games with or without Miles Austin and Sean Lee.
21. Tennessee Titans (4-4, 20th last week): Chris Johnson appears to be finally making some progress. Unfortunately, the rest of the team has already fallen back to earth. It’s very unlikely they compete for a playoff spot this season.
22. Minnesota Vikings (2-6, 22nd last week): Christian Ponder nearly beat the Packers in his first career start. He’ll have another chance to slay Goliath Monday night.
23. Carolina Panthers (2-6, 23rd last week): The goal should be to finish 4-4. Look at the schedule — they can do it. And no one will want to mess with them in 2012.
24. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-6, 24th last week): What do you want me to say about a bad, boring team coming off a bye? Oh, here: they play Indy this week. Happy?
25. Arizona Cardinals (2-6, 27th last week): Trust me, Kevin Kolb, it’s probably a good thing that you might not be healthy enough to face your former team in Week 10.
26. Denver Broncos (3-5, 31st last week): They probably aren’t consistent enough to pull off the unthinkable in the AFC West, but if the running game stays hot and they utilize Tim Tebow correctly, they’ll win a few more times in the second half of the year.
27. Miami Dolphins (1-7, 30th last week): My apologies to Dolphins fans hoping for Andrew Luck — you’re probably going to beat the Redskins this week, and it wouldn’t surprise me to see a win against Buffalo in Week 11. With Matt Moore playing well and Reggie Bush playing the best football of his career, there’s reason for optimism. Whether you like it or not.
28. St. Louis Rams (1-7, 25th last week): Not the ideal way to follow up a massive win over the Saints. That’s what makes this league so unpredictable.
29. Seattle Seahawks (2-6, 28th last week): They get the Rams twice and the Cardinals once over their final eight games. That removes them from the Luck sweepstakes.
30. Washington Redskins (3-5, 26th last week): Less than a month ago, they were 13th in these rankings and the immediate future looked bright. But they’ve lost four straight since their Week 5 bye, and now they’re already facing questions about a rebuild. Amazing decline.
31. Cleveland Browns (3-5, 29th last week): Unless things change drastically over the next two months, I can’t see Mike Holmgren and Co. allowing Colt McCoy to continue as the starter next season.
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-9, 32nd last week): No Dallas Clark for their most winnable game of the year, and now we’re thinking about 0-16. A lot of Colts fans are pulling for the team to finish dead last, but they certainly don’t want to see them run the table with losses.