By Don Banks
October 13, 2010

As clumped together and parity-addled as the entire NFL feels about now, maybe the real story is just how up for grabs the NFC is this season. The conference that has boasted two of the past three Super Bowl winners is filled with a bunch of teams whose mantra should rightfully be: "Why not us?''

Let's face it, no one in New Orleans is asking "Who Dat?'' in the past few weeks. Because the answer would be, well, Atlanta, and then Arizona have both beaten dem Saints (3-2). Dallas and Minnesota can't even find their way out of the fog this season, and if you don't quite believe in either the Packers or the Giants just yet, well, join the crowd. Atlanta has been solid, but far from spectacular, and you just know the Bears' magic-carpet ride has to end at some point. Doesn't it?

So, why not us, indeed, when it comes to the aspirations of about all but three or four NFC "contenders?'' Let's just throw a blanket on all of them and check back in mid-December. Unless some serious separation starts happening any day now, those playoffs scenarios the league puts out every week are going to run 15 pages long in the NFC.

Now onto this week's rankings...

NFL Power Rankings, Week 6
1 Pittsburgh Steelers
Last Week: 1
If we didn't bump the Steelers out of our top spot last week after their narrow loss at home to Baltimore, it's indefensible to demote them coming off their bye week. Everyone's worried about the rust factor in regards to Ben Roethlisberger's game, but if rookie QB Colt McCoy starts for Cleveland this week in Pittsburgh, the Browns will be just the oil can needed to get the Steelers and Big Ben back to their winning ways.
2 Baltimore Ravens
Last Week: 3
The Ravens have won three in a row and that constitutes a near-dynasty in this season's NFL. After January's debacle in the first round of the playoffs, the Patriots have had this week's visit from Baltimore circled on the calendar since April. If the Ravens can get to 5-1, they'll be through the toughest stretch of their schedule in great shape. Four of their next six are at home, and none are against 2009 playoff teams.
3 New York Jets
Last Week: 4
It takes a lot to knock the Jets out of the spotlight, but didn't Rex Ryan's team feel like an afterthought during its conquest of Minnesota on Monday night? New York is winning because it's taking care of the football. The Jets haven't had a turnover since their Week 1 loss to Baltimore, and the four straight games without one ties for the best stretch in the league on that front since 1960.
4 Atlanta Falcons
Last Week: 2
I heard from a couple Falcons fans I know last week, and they both said I had their Birds too high at No. 2. You just can't please some people. OK, so I'm making a midcourse correction based on their ho-hum 10-point win at Cleveland. But honestly, who is any good in the NFL this year? Atlanta, with a four-game winning streak, at least appears to be the class of the NFC at the moment. But the key word in that sentence is "moment."
5 New England Patriots
Last Week: 7
The Patriots getting rid of Randy Moss and turning back to Deion Branch is a little like the guy who realizes he's dating someone out of his league and decides to get back together with his old girlfriend. She may not be the hottie of all time, but she's not a weekly headache either. Sometimes it's just not worth the trouble to upgrade.
6 Indianapolis Colts
Last Week: 9
As unaccustomed as we are to the Colts looking this fallible, a win at Washington this week will give them a 4-2 record and no worse than a tie for first in the AFC South heading into their Week 7 bye. That's not the worst position to be in as you stare down the final 10 weeks and begin building toward another meaningful January of football.
7 New Orleans Saints
Last Week: 5
Two losses and an unimpressive win in three games and now the Super Bowl hangover talk is all the rage when it comes to the Saints. That's the easy hook, but the stats don't lie. New Orleans's Reggie Bush-less running game ranks 31st, the defense has just eight takeaways after last year's orgy on that front, and the Saints are averaging only 19.8 points per game, or 12.1 fewer than last year. And don't look now, Saints fans, but at Tampa Bay this week is anything but a gimme.
8 Chicago Bears
Last Week: 11
I listened to Bears talk on the radio Monday night as I drove down to Chicago for the NFL owners meeting, and their fans seem pretty evenly divided between those who can't believe how charmed Lovie Smith's club has been and those who just want to sit back and enjoy 4-1 for what it is -- a first-place record in the NFC North. I can see both sides of the debate, but this is one of those years in the NFL where you can't get too concerned with style points. When almost everyone's winning ugly, no one's ugly really stands out.
9 Green Bay Packers
Last Week: 6
The Packers never seem to overreact to bad news or bad losses, and I believe that serves them very well in the long run. But sometimes the short term dominates 100 percent of the conversation in the NFL, and that makes it seem like almost panic-button time in Green Bay. But it's not. The Packers will hang in there, get quite a bit healthier in the days ahead, and still win the NFC North. Maybe not as comfortably as I previously presumed, however.
10 New York Giants
Last Week: 15
Remember when everyone wanted to know how in the world the Giants were going to replace Plaxico Burress? Well, first Steve Smith emerged last season to lead New York receivers, and now Hakeem Nicks is breaking through to become Eli Manning's money-time target. Nicks has 20 catches for 240 yards in the past two games, and his six touchdown catches this season leads all NFL wide receivers. That's how New York has replaced Burress.
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