By Don Banks
November 25, 2009

The 10-0 Saints and Colts can be the first teams to clinch their division titles this weekend, and that would set off celebrations in New Orleans and Indianapolis. But maybe it shouldn't.

Of the three teams who have clinched as early as the 11th game of the season since the playoffs expanded to 12 teams in 1990, none of them have ridden that wave all the way to a Super Bowl crown.

The 1997 49ers won the NFC West by six games, but lost the NFC title game at home against Green Bay. The 2004 Eagles won the NFC East by seven games, but lost the Super Bowl to New England. And the 2007 Patriots, they of the 16-0 regular season, won the AFC East by nine games, but of course lost to the Giants in the Super Bowl.

And need we remind you that the whole idea of the all-important top seed is way, way overrated? The only No. 1 seed to win the Super Bowl this decade was the 2003 Patriots. Five out of the past eight top seeds (2005-08) haven't even won their playoff openers that season.

So party at your own peril, Saints and Colts. Even after the clinching, there's plenty of work that remains undone. Now to this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings
1 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 1
How the undefeated Saints handle the hype and build-up for their monster Monday-night showdown against New England at the dome should tell us something about how Sean Payton's club reacts to playing on the biggest of stages. And that could prove useful to New Orleans in looking ahead to the pressure of the postseason, where there are no second chances to get it right. New Orleans' quest for a perfect record is a nice playoffs simulator of sorts, because you have to win, or that dream dies.
2 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 2
A Colts win and a Jaguars loss this week clinches the division for Indy, even before November is done, and that's just too much time to idle and get ready for the playoffs. As one of the top two seeds in the AFC, Indy wouldn't open up in the divisional round until the weekend of Jan. 16-17. That's an eternity from now, and there's only so much rest a football team can make good use of. We've seen the Colts ease into the postseason in the past, and not always with good results.
3 Minnesota Vikings
Last Week: 3
Do the well-balanced Vikings do everything well these days, or am I missing something? They throw the ball, run the ball, and protect the ball on offense. They kick the ball, return the ball and cover well on special teams. And their defense stuffs the run and holds up well enough against the pass. No wonder they've won six times already this season by 12 points or more, including the past three games in a row. Minnesota has no glaring weakness.
4 New England Patriots
Last Week: 5
It's still my favorite Thanksgiving football moment of all, watching Vikings rookie receiver Randy Moss get that multi-legged turducken from FOX analyst John Madden as the player of the game in Minnesota's blowout win at Dallas in 1998. Moss thought the turkey leg he was handed actually looked edible (it was probably cooked on Tuesday) and took a big bite out of it, only to turn away while on camera and spit the mouthful onto the Texas Stadium playing surface. Ah, holiday memories.
5 San Diego Chargers
Last Week: 8
After all their early season offensive line injuries, the Chargers didn't allow a Bronco to even lay a hand on quarterback Philip Rivers in Denver, and that's what gives me confidence that San Diego's rise will continue. Give Rivers time to see the field and he'll carve you up.
6 Cincinnati Bengals
Last Week: 4
I suppose the Eagles can commiserate, but the Bengals' loss at Oakland was typical of a team starting to believe its own hype. In the long run, maybe Marvin Lewis can turn a negative into a positive, using the defeat as a reminder that Cincinnati hasn't been good enough, long enough to do any resting on its laurels. Going back into division play with a home game against Cleveland this week should help the Bengals focus. They can finish out 6-0 in the AFC North with a win.
7 Arizona Cardinals
Last Week: 7
Now that someone has fixed Vince Young's game and restored him to the land of the NFL's living, can anyone do anything for Matt Leinart? Nothing good seems to happen when Arizona trots him out there in place of Kurt Warner. The Cardinals have been out-scored 24-0 with Leinart in the game this season, and it's not like he's out there without any offensive weapons at his disposal.
8 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 6
It's a mind-boggling thing, the Steelers kickoff coverage this season. Allowing four touchdowns on kickoffs in 10 games is the football equivalent of a lunar eclipse. You go years and years without seeing it happen. At this point, it's in the Steelers' heads. They know they have a weakness, and their opponents are going to keep pressing the issue. No touchbacks against Pittsburgh this season. Everybody brings everything out.
9 Dallas Cowboys
Last Week: 9
The whole Dave Campo-Terence Newman sideline confrontation got as much juice wrung from it as possible, but it really wasn't much in my book. Newman's play has been an obvious disappointment this season, and somebody needed to say something about it at some point. Why not his own position coach in the second quarter of a lackluster performance against a division rival at home?
10 Philadelphia Eagles
Last Week: 12
I predict there will be plenty of games in the Eagles' future that morph into the LeSean and DeSean Show. Rookie running back LeSean McCoy ran like he's ready and hungry for more work in the win over the Bears, and I haven't seen anyone yet really stay with second-year receiver DeSean Jackson when he decides to run the post pattern.
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