1. Green Bay Packers (10-0, 1st last week): The Bucs proved that the Green Bay defense is more vulnerable than most assumed. Now, in 48 hours, the Lions, who beat the Packers in Detroit last December, will have a legit shot at slaying unbeaten Green Bay.
2. San Francisco 49ers (9-1, 2nd last week): They’ve already won in Cincinnati and Detroit. No reason they can’t win in Baltimore.
3. Houston Texans (7-3, 3rd last week): It can’t be a good sign that Jeff Garcia’s name has come up, but I really think they can survive without Matt Schaub temporarily.
4. Baltimore Ravens (7-3, 4th last week): Without Ray Lewis, the next two games are huge for a team that is trying to prove it can win consistently. They have to beat the Niners at home, and they can’t lay an egg the next week in Cleveland.
5. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3, 5th last week): Out of the bye they get the ice-cold Chiefs on short rest followed by back-to-back home games against Cincinnati and Cleveland. They also get to finish the season against the Rams and Browns. The only big challenge: San Francisco (on the road) in Week 15. What the Ravens and Steelers do in their respective games against the Niners could be the difference in the AFC North.
6. New England Patriots (7-3, 6th last week): Blowout win against Kansas City despite not showing up until the start of the third quarter. Then again, it was Kansas City. They could be in for a real challenge this week against the desperate Eagles on the road.
7. New Orleans Saints (7-3, 7th last week): Losses in Tampa and St. Louis were blips on the radar. The rested Saints will prove that over their final six games.
8. Chicago Bears (7-3, 8th last week): The Jay Cutler injury could be a death knell, which is a shame considering how well they were playing. This team isn’t good enough to win in January without a proven veteran at quarterback.
9. Atlanta Falcons (6-4, 9th last week): Great game plan against Tennessee. And the schedule continues to ease up. Keep in mind that they’ve lost just one game in regulation since Sept. 25. And that loss came at the hands of the 10-0 Packers.
10. Detroit Lions (7-3, 10th last week): Yeah, no changes in the top 10 this week. Big recovery win for the Lions. Turns out they had their 2011 answer at running back on the roster three years ago.
11. Dallas Cowboys (6-4, 12th last week): Having a lights-out kicker is an underrated advantage. Dan Bailey, who’s 24 of his last 24, was the difference against Washington.
12. Oakland Raiders (6-4, 13th last week): Nice timing on the Chicago game. They’ll get the first shot at Caleb Hanie before embarking on a very tough five-game stretch to close out the season.
13. Cincinnati Bengals (6-4, 15th last week): I don’t believe in them yet, but maybe I’m just being stubborn. If not for a controversial call killing a Jermaine Gresham touchdown and a tough penalty on the final drive, they probably win in Baltimore.
14. New York Jets (5-5, 11th last week): It’s salvageable. It doesn’t get much easier than what the Jets have over the next three weeks (Buffalo, Washington, Kansas City).
15. Denver Broncos (5-5, 21st last week): The defense and the running game might be good enough for the Broncos to sneak into the playoffs via the weak AFC West. Notice how I didn’t say anything about Tim Tebow?
16. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6, 18th last week): I think they might have gained a lot of confidence Sunday in Green Bay. The problem is that it was still a loss, and now it might be too late to save the season.
17. Miami Dolphins (3-7, 23rd last week): They haven’t allowed a touchdown on defense in three games (all wins). And in that span, Matt Moore has been the second-best quarterback in football. A few more weeks on that level and Moore has to be considered the permanent starter, period.
18. San Diego Chargers (4-6, 16th last week): Six games remaining in the Norv Turner era, right? I’m not even sure a one-and-done playoff appearance would save Turner’s job now.
19. Philadelphia Eagles (4-6, 20th last week): Transfer DeSean Jackson’s contributions from Week 11 to Week 10 (when he was benched) and the Eagles beat the Cardinals and are only one game out of first place in the NFC East.
20. New York Giants (6-4, 14th last week): So much for Eli Manning being elite. Can we just stop overreacting to his hot streaks? Because Manning has been supbar in three straight games, all of which would’ve been losses had they not pulled off a minor miracle in New England.
21. Tennessee Titans (5-5, 17th last week): I can give you 20 million reasons why Matt Hasselbeck will remain the Tennessee quarterback going forward, barring injury.
22. Buffalo Bills (5-5, 19th last week): Has a team only one game back of the last playoff spot ever seemed so dead? The playoff drought will continue in 2011. Now the question is, Who’ll be the starting quarterback in 2012?
23. Kansas City Chiefs (4-6, 22nd last week): For what it’s worth, they actually played a lot better than the score would indicate Monday night.
24. Seattle Seahawks (4-6, 28th last week): Four wins and Chris Clemons looking like one of the best defensive ends in the game. Not bad.
25. Carolina Panthers (2-8, 27th last week): Give the damn ball to DeAngelo Williams! Or Jonathan Stewart! Or Stephen Davis for all I care! Just give Cam Newton some support…
26. Minnesota Vikings (2-8, 26th last week): From Donovan McNabb and Adrian Peterson to Christian Ponder and Toby Gerhart. And whatever happened to Percy Harvin?
27. Arizona Cardinals (3-7, 25th last week): So John Skelton isn’t the long-term answer at quarterback? Okay, good to know.
28. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-7, 26th last week): Thanks for coming out, Jack Del Rio. My early guess? Del Rio replaces Mike Zimmer in Cincinnati after Zimmer gets a head-coaching job this offseason. Del Rio worked with Marvin Lewis in Baltimore.
29. Cleveland Browns (4-6, 30th last week): Remember Peyton Hillis?
30. Washington Redskins (3-7, 31st last week): Six straight losses coming out of their bye. Charger-esque. But at least Washington is supposed to suck.
31. St. Louis Rams (2-8, 29th last week): Despite the new presence of Brandon Lloyd (who’s been solid), Sam Bradford has continued to look like a mediocre quarterback. And don’t call it a sophomore slump, because he really wasn’t particularly good as a rookie, either. Count us as concerned about the 2010 top pick.
32. Indianapolis Colts (0-10, 32nd last week): Hey, at least the punter’s been great.