By Don Banks
November 11, 2009

Gotta love mid-November. It's Patriots-Colts week in the NFL. Thursday night football is back, and the bye weeks are almost gone. The midseason reviews are out of the way, and we're legitimately starting to identify and separate the playoff contenders from pretenders.

Which means it's just about that time of year when the NFL starts taking over the world. Between now and that first Sunday in February, the next 13 weeks are always a whirlwind ride that we love to take. Strap in, and hang on. And now to this week's rankings.

NFL Power Rankings
1 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 1
For a team that had only one winning streak all of last season (just two games), I like the way the Saints have proven they can handle prosperity these past three weeks, fighting from behind to beat the Dolphins, Falcons and Panthers. But now comes a pair of road games against one-win teams New Orleans should dominate: St. Louis and Tampa Bay. If the Saints fall behind in any significant way against the Rams or Bucs, you can start questioning whether New Orleans is opening games with the necessary focus, or coasting until it feels a sense of urgency kick in. Learning what it's like to be the hunted is something new for these Saints, and they're going to get everyone's best shot from here on out. But at 8-0, it comes with the territory, and it's one of the nicest problems you can have in the NFL.
2 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 2
Though neither quarterback will probably ever admit it, I've always wondered if Peyton Manning and Tom Brady get a bit weary of having to face each other every year in such a Game of the Century hype-fest? It's always about the quarterbacks and who's better and who's more valuable and who would you rather have? Blah, blah, blah. It's like having the exact same argument with family members each and every Thanksgiving, right after dinner. My hunch is they enjoy it to a certain degree and endure it to a certain degree. Brady probably even missed it some last year when Matt Cassel took over, but I'll bet it didn't spoil Manning's day one bit to beat New England 18-15 without No. 12 in the New England lineup.
3 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 3
You look at the Vikings schedule, then check the NFC North standings, and you can see where this thing is headed: Early clinch-ville. Minnesota doesn't leave home again until the first week of December, with visits from Detroit (1-7), Seattle (3-5) and Chicago (4-4) in the coming three weeks. That spells a 10-1 record to me, and given the state of affairs with the struggling Packers and Bears, that may be a big enough lead for Minnesota to spend its final games of the regular season worrying about playoff positioning and getting some rest. Of course, opinions vary as to the benefits of the cruise-control December.
4 New England Patriots
Last Week: 5
Tom Brady against a Colts secondary missing safety Bob Sanders and starting two rookie cornerbacks sounds like an epic mismatch in the making, but let's not pencil it in for a 17-point Patriots blowout win just yet. After all, Houston's Matt Schaub can wing it a bit too, and he still only threw for 311 yards and led the Texans to 17 points in last week's loss at Indy. But don't be surprised if this is one of those games where New England lets Brady throw it 50 times, spreading the field with receivers and challenging the Colts defense to respond. Then again, with no running game to speak of, Indy's likely to do the very same thing.
5 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 6
Don't know if the Bengals are primed to go into Pittsburgh and get a win that could wind up sending them on their way to the division title, but no matter what happens Sunday, Cincinnati isn't going away. With games remaining against Oakland, Cleveland, Detroit and Kansas City, the Bengals look bound for no worse than 10-6. One more win in any of its other four games and Cincinnati should be punching its playoff ticket for just the second time this decade.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 7
The Steelers haven't lost since October arrived, and it can't be good news for the rest of the AFC to see Pittsburgh's defense and running game returning to their dominating form of yesteryear. Rashard Mendenhall is growing up as an NFL lead back, and his role is only going to be more pivotal as the weather starts to turn nasty in western Pennsylvania. Beware of these Steelers. They're a pair of three-point losses away from being mentioned in the same breath as the undefeated Saints and Colts.
7 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 4
The balloon finally burst for Kyle Orton in Denver's first home loss of the season Monday night against the Steelers, but that was going to happen eventually. He quadrupled his season interception total in one game (from one to four), and his dismal fourth quarter turned a close affair into a rout. But the Broncos will be OK. They can play defense, and Orton won't be that careless with the ball too often. Sitting 6-2 feels bad after a 6-0 start, but that's just the ebb and flow of a long season. There's still a pretty clear path to 10 or 11 wins and a playoff berth for Josh McDaniels and Co.
8 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 9
There are a pretty fair group of 6-2 teams in the league right now, and I wanted to jack the Cowboys up into the middle of them after their gutsy win at Philly Sunday night. But there's plenty of time left for them to climb, and the Broncos did beat Dallas head-to-head in Week 4. If the Cowboys can get past Green Bay on the road in a rather tricky game this week, they're well-positioned to roll into December at 9-2 and then take their chances with the month that has bedeviled them for most of this decade.
9 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 8
I thought Donovan McNabb came up rather small in the Eagles' biggest game of the season to date -- Sunday night's home game against Dallas, which could have vaulted Philly into sole possession of first place at the season's midpoint. McNabb was back to his old habit of throwing low, uncatchable balls at times, and he didn't have much going in terms of his deep passing game either. The Cowboys pass rush got to him early, and it seemed to keep him from developing rhythm with his receivers. Now it's back to the West Coast for the Eagles (at San Diego), and things didn't fare so well the last time they headed that direction (see Oakland, Week 6).
10 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 11
What NFL player wouldn't like to play for Falcons head coach Mike Smith, who doesn't mind mixing it up with the enemy on the sideline if things get a little chippy? He's fiery and emotional, but not in a needlessly hot-headed way. And for the record, I'd take Smith over a chowderhead like DeAngelo Hall any day.
1 - 10 11 - 20 21 - 32

You May Like

Eagle (-2)
Birdie (-1)
Bogey (+1)
Double Bogey (+2)