Roaring into the top 10
|NFL Power Rankings|
New England Patriots (8-0)I had a weird premonition about The Game. Positively scary. Knowing full well that in a contest of this sort coaches like to pull stunts that heretofore have been unrevealed, I got this overpowering feeling that the untapped vein would be the tight end. No, not Ben Watson, who's been down with an ankle. I mean Kyle Brady, the 280-pound blocker, the bookend max protector, the tackle in a wingman's uniform. Let's not forget that at one time he was the ninth player picked in the entire draft, the first receiver of any kind selected, except for Joey Galloway, who went one spot before him. He knows how to catch the ball, or at least he did at one time. And he weighs 40 pounds more than anyone who will try to cover him. Just a premonition, a weird hunch.
Indianapolis Colts (7-0)The Panthers had put together an 11-minute drive for a TD and Peyton was stumbling around at 2-for-9 completions, and I said to myself, this is it. It's back to the days when they'd get pounded, and the whole Colts-Patriots battle of the unbeatens angle is blown and there go all the fancy ideas for a super layout advancing the game. Kaput! Oh ye of little faith. Do you forget that this is a resourceful team, with many weapons and resiliency and resolve and good nutritional habits? It lives. The greatest November matchup in history -- maybe -- is still alive!
Dallas Cowboys (6-1)Do you know what happened the week after their bye last year? They beat Tennessee, 45-14, for their most lopsided win of the season. Is that why I picked them over the Eagles? No. Why, then? Because I've been too hot on my handicapping this year. I need to show my fans that I, too, can be wrong once in a while. "Are you actually going to let them print that?" asks The Flaming Redhead. Just watch.
Green Bay Packers (6-1)Boy, I just love to watch Brett Favre in one of those night games, whether it's Sunday or Monday. I learn all sorts of swell things about him. That the game is fun for him. That he's just a little kid at heart. "Impish," I heard at one point, or maybe it was "puckish." I don't like to brag ("Not much," says FR) but I believe I can supply a new fact. I ran the tape back and got a hang time on his winning pass, honest. It was 3.04, bad for a punt but pretty formidable for a heave.
New York Giants (6-2)I covered Vikings-Cards exhibition game in London in 1983. My favorite line about the players came from a newsdealer outside the Great Cumberland Hotel next to Marble Arch, a character they called Lord Barker. "These blokes are like the American GIs during the war," he said. "Overfed, overpaid and over here."
Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2)This is a statistic I mention because people who lean on it show me they don't really understand football: In games in which Fast Willie goes over 100 yards, the team is 5-0. In games in which he doesn't, they're 0-2. It's like saying, they're 5-0 in games in which they score more points.
Tennessee Titans (5-2)The Titans ran for 282 yards against Jacksonville in the opener, getting much of their yardage by spreading the field with four wideouts. Against Oakland last Sunday they brought in the heavies, all their tight ends plus a fullback, and ran for 192. They'd better keep figuring out exotic ways to run the ball, if Vince Young is planning any more of those 6-for-14, 42-yard days.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-2)Say what you want about Quinn Gray, but he's the only one of seven quarterbacks ever to win his first start against a defense coached by the Bucs' Monte Kiffin.
San Diego Chargers (4-3)As one who majored in football statistics in college, I must ask myself, how can you beat a team (35-10 over the Texans) that runs off 75 plays to your 40? And myself answers, like this -- you score two defensive touchdowns, which keeps your offense off the field, and two of your other three TDs come on lightning-quick, four-play drives.
Detroit Lions (5-2)This is terra incognita for the Leos. Have I ever had them in my top 10? I mean it's been seven years since they had a winning record, and 15 teams were as good or better than their 9-7 back in 2000. And when did I start doing this thing, anyway? OK, well, here they are. Uncork the Piper Heidsick. A word of caution, though. Six of their next nine opponents have winning records.