By Don Banks
November 18, 2009

Strange that it took so long in a year in which the NFL's lower class has been almost historically bad, but the Bills officially got the league's firing season started Tuesday by dismissing head coach Dick Jauron. For those of you who had Washington's Jim Zorn in the first-to-go pool, better luck next time.

A quick word about Jauron: Strictly from a win-loss standpoint, he deserved his fate, and it's true what they say about nice guys not finishing first too often. But Jauron's guys always played hard for him, and the Bills I've talked to over the years universally seemed to respect and admire him.

It's a bottom-line business, but in both his head coaching stints, in Chicago and Buffalo, Jauron didn't exactly luck out in terms of his team's quarterback situation or its front office depth. With the Bears, he was always making do with a Jim Miller or a Shane Matthews, and in Buffalo, it was J.P. Losman, Trent Edwards, or Ryan Fitzpatrick. It's hard to win too much in this league if you're always trying to make chicken salad out of you-know-what at quarterback.

At some point, Jauron will resurface as a coveted defensive coordinator candidate in the NFL, and he'll remain one of the quality people in the game. But his Bills tenure is over, and firing season is back upon us once again. Now on to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 1
Remember when the '85 Dolphins went on Monday Night Football and blocked the big, bad '85 Bears from joining Miami as the only franchise in league history to post a perfect season? That's the kind of Monday night theater we're headed for again in less than two weeks, when New England of 16-0 regular-season fame in 2007 heads for the Superdome to face the Saints, who'll be 10-0 by then after dispatching Tampa Bay this week. I know, New Orleans is living dangerously these days. But don't go trying to spoil my build-up. The Pats had their shot to knock the Colts from the ranks of the unbeaten and didn't get it done. Will they be 0-for-2 on that front?
2 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 2
Buried amid the never-ending Bill Belichick debate was a rather disconcerting reality for the Colts: Young receivers Pierre Garcon and Austin Collie simply weren't ready for their big-game close-ups Sunday night against New England. Garcon especially struggled against the Patriots, dropping passes and putting even more pressure on Peyton Manning to rely on Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark. The Colts have been survivors this season in any number of ways, but it's hard to see them going as far as they want to go with only two reliable receiving options.
3 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 3
The Vikings haven't ridden this high since their memorable 15-1 season of 1998, but you remember how that one turned out. Minnesota fans sure do, and it's one reason why nobody in the Twin Cities should be counting chickens just yet. Things came almost too easily for that high-powered team, and it lost in overtime to Atlanta in the NFC title game in one of the few close affairs it played all season. These Vikings haven't dominated people, and have learned to win a bit ugly at times. That actually might prove helpful come playoff time.
4 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 5
Year after year we wondered when Marvin Lewis, he of the impressive defensive pedigree, would "fix" the Bengals defense? Well, with the aid of coordinator Mike Zimmer and some solid drafting in recent years, the Bengals defense is the strength of their first-place team. The job Cincy did of frustrating the Steelers in the red zone on Sunday in Pittsburgh was a defensive work of art. When you give up field goals instead of touchdowns in this league, you'll win almost every time.
5 New England Patriots
Last Week: 4
Just for symbolism sake, I wanted to drop the fourth-ranked Patriots back two spots after their heart-breaker at Indianapolis. (Get it, fourth-and-2?) But I just couldn't talk myself into going for it. I couldn't rationalize bumping the Steelers ahead of New England. Pittsburgh lost at home to the No. 5 Bengals. The Patriots lost on the road to the No. 2 Colts. That's a win of sorts for New England.
6 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 6
It's rare to see the Steelers lose the physical battle in a game, but the Bengals handled them pretty well on that front at Heinz Field. Whenever Pittsburgh needs to rediscover its physical identity in a game it usually turns back to the running game, but offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called 40 passes to just 18 runs against Cincy, even though the game was close and the Steelers averaged 4.4 yards per rush. Even more curiously, Rashard Mendenhall got only 13 carries despite being in such a groove of late.
7 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 11
This is as high as the Cardinals have climbed all season, but I'm still not completely sold on them. Maybe it's because they're the clear class of their division and they know it, but the Cardinals still look like the kind of team that believes it can flip the switch and start winning almost any time it pleases. Down 14-0 at home to Seattle in the second quarter, Arizona hit the gas and scored 31 of the game's final 37 points in the 31-20 win. But the trick is to play four quarters with that same intensity, and not rope-a-dope its way through the game's first 20 minutes.
8 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 12
It's almost eerie how the Chargers and Broncos are reprising their respective roles of last December, albeit six weeks earlier this time around. San Diego has again climbed out of a huge hole in the division and run down the fading Broncos, who have to be trapped in a Groundhog Day-like existence at this point. If you're the Chargers, there's no letting up now. Win at Denver this week and you might just step on the Broncos throats and keep both teams headed in opposite directions the rest of the season.
9 Denver Broncos
Last Week: 7
The I-told-you-so crowd had a field day with the Broncos once they lost at Washington, but I'm not ready to write off Josh McDaniels' staggering club. I think the season could still feature one more big momentum swing in Denver, and it doesn't get any bigger than this week's showdown with visiting San Diego for the AFC West lead. If Kyle Orton is healthy enough to play, the Broncos could grind out a win. If it's Chris Simms under center, it's hard to see how the streaking Chargers don't prevail.
10 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 8
The Cowboys did very little right at Green Bay and came out of the game with a host of injuries to contend with, none bigger than the loss of offensive right tackle Marc Colombo with a broken left fibula/ankle. With Dallas in the midst of the three games in 12 days stretch it always encounters at Thanksgiving time, the health issue could be critical. But there is good news. The next two games are at home, against Washington (3-6) and Oakland (2-7). It won't take the Cowboys' A game to get to 8-3 as the always challenging month of December dawns.
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