by Nick Ferraro
1.Â Chicago Bears â€“ the Bears have been dominant until last Sunday.Â There have been doubts all along that they were as good as they seemed to be.Â The Giant game will tell us all we need Â Â to know.
2.Â New York Giants â€“ the Giants may be the best team in the NFC.Â They have a chance to prove it Sunday in their own backyard.Â There will be no excuses.
3.Â New Orleans Saints â€“ Everyoneâ€™s second favorite team has a puncherâ€™s chance come January.
4.Â Seattle Seahawks â€“ If they can keep themselves above water until Alexander and Hasselbeck return, nobody will want to play them in the playoffs.
5.Â Carolina Panthers â€“ The Panthers are as talented as any team in the conference, but they seemingly refuse to play well enough to prove it.
In the Mix
6.Â Atlanta Falcons â€“ The Falcons can beat anyone or lose to anyone on any given Sunday.
7.Â Philadelphia Eagles â€“ The inconsistent Eagles are inventing new ways to lose.Â They need to find a way to run the ball when the defense knows itâ€™s coming to win in January.
8.Â Dallas Cowboys â€“ If the Cowboys get stuck watching the playoffs, does Parcells get to come back?
9.Â St. Louis Rams â€“ The Rams play at Seattle and at Carolina to open the second half.Â Theyâ€™ll either set themselves up as a solid contender or an also-ran in two weeks time.
10.Â Minnesota Vikings â€“ only three points against the 49ers???
11.Â Washington Redskins â€“ why are the Skins so bad?Â I refuse to believe itâ€™s coaching.
12.Â Green Bay Packers â€“ the Pack has played better than expected, but they are still missing too many pieces.
13.Â Detroit Lions â€“ they seem to have things back on track, but they are still way out of the picture
14.Â Tampa Bay Buccaneers â€“ itâ€™s been a long fall after a solid 2005
15.Â San Francisco 49ers â€“ another early pick
16.Â Arizona Cardinals â€“ how many good players will it take to be competitive?
1.Â Indianapolis Colts â€“ Again they are on top in the regular season, but nothing matters for them or for Manning until January.
2.Â Denver Broncos â€“ Denver may be the leagueâ€™s second best team, but why should anyone believe they can win against Indy in January?
3.Â San Diego Chargers â€“ Tomlinson is the best all-around back in the league, and Rivers is quieting the critics, but can he deliver in the big games?
4.Â Baltimore Ravens â€“ the defense will be there, but what they can get out of McNair and the offense in a big spot?
In the Mix
5.Â New England Patriots â€“ theyâ€™ll win the AFC East by default, but the leagueâ€™s most overrated team has lost both games theyâ€™ve played against teams over .500.
6.Â Kansas City Chiefs â€“ The Chiefs can be a factor as long as the offensive line holds up
7.Â Jacksonville Jaguars â€“ a favorite for a wildcard spot, but their playoff run will be shortâ€¦again.
8.Â New York Jets â€“ the schedule and low expectations set them up to sneak into the picture.Â They will need to win every game theyâ€™re expected to plus one that theyâ€™re not in order to pull it Â Â off.
9.Â Cincinnati Bengals â€“ one of the yearâ€™s biggest disappointments, the Bengals are complete pretenders
10.Â Pittsburgh Steelers â€“ their season ended Sunday against Denver, but you would rather not play them when you need the win
11.Â Miami Dolphins â€“ Saban may get the underachieving Dolphins to enjoy ruining other peopleâ€™s seasons
12.Â Buffalo Bills â€“ not a lot to like about the Bills
13.Â Houston Texans â€“ the Texans will be interestingâ€¦in 2007
14.Â Cleveland Browns â€“ the preseason injuries to the OL doomed the Browns.Â
15.Â Tennessee Titans â€“ theyâ€™ll have a chance to draft early to fill their many holes
16.Â Oakland Raiders â€“ itâ€™s just painful to watch
1.Â Peyton Manning â€“ Manning is as good as there has ever been in the league, but he will not get his due until he finds a way in the playoffs
2.Â Tiki Barber â€“ in his last season, Barber leads the league in rushing
3.Â LaDainian Tomlinson â€“ Tomlinson is the leagueâ€™s most complete back and a TD threat on every play
4.Â Tom Brady â€“ Brady continues to post the numbers and the wins despite changes for the worse at wideout
5.Â Larry Johnson â€“ LJ is the focus of the defense every week, but it doesnâ€™t matter as he still manages to hang with the league leaders
1.Â Daunte Culpepper â€“ Culpepper was a big reason why some folks picked the Dolphins to unseat the Pats at the top of the AFC East
2.Â Jake Plummer â€“ Plummer was almost mistake-free last season.Â He appears to have regressed with the pressure of Cutler waiting in the wings.
3.Â Terrell Owens â€“ Six TDs for the season with three coming in one game against the lowly Texans
4.Â Chad Johnson â€“ the Bengalâ€™s go-to wideout has just two TDs for the year and is on pace to post more than 500 fewer yards than last season
5.Â Ben Roethlisberger â€“ Big Ben has a 70.7 rating after bettering 98 in his first two years.
Coach of the Year
1.Â Sean Payton â€“ Payton has built the Saints into a contender in the leagueâ€™s toughest division
2.Â Eric Mangini â€“ The Jets are buoyed by a sweet schedule, but they have also been able to compete with the big boys like Indy and New England
3.Â Lovie Smith â€“ Yeah, I know â€“ you could coach the Bears, but there is nothing easy about motivating an elite team week in and week out to bury inferior opponents before the end of the Â Â first quarter.
4.Â Mike McCarthy â€“ nobody thought the Pack would be near .500.Â McCarthy has managed to rejuvenate Favre as well.
5.Â Bill Belichick â€“ Another offseason of roster defections, but the Pats roll on to another division crown
Worst Coaching Jobs
1.Â Dennis Green â€“ Green has talent on both sides of the ball, but Arizona continues to disappoint.Â We werenâ€™t thinking Super Bowl, but 7-9 shouldnâ€™t have been too much to ask.
2.Â John Fox â€“ with one of the deepest rosters in the NFL, the Panthers continue to hover around .500
3.Â Art Shell â€“ Shell gets points for dealing with some of the leagueâ€™s most difficult characters, but shouldnâ€™t a hall-of-fame offensive lineman be able to improve the Raiderâ€™s atrocious blocking?
4.Â Nick Saban â€“ from coach of the year candidate to top five draft pick, Sabanâ€™s Fish are the leagueâ€™s biggest disappointment.
5.Â Bill Parcells â€“ heâ€™s finally buying the groceries the make the dinner, so why does the meal taste so bad?
Offensive Player of the Year:Â Peyton Manning â€“ if not for Manning, the Colts are an 8-8 team at best
Defensive Player of the Year:Â Champ Bailey â€“ Bailey completely locks down one side of the field for Denver.