1. Kansas City (7-0). Of all the things I never thought I’d type this season, Kansas City as the lone unbeaten team in football would be at the top of the list. Did you see that strange handoff/non-handoff near the goal line that Alex Smith ran into the end zone for a touchdown? He said after the game it was a designed run for the quarterback. Sure didn’t look that way to me. Looked like Smith, or Jamaal Charles, turned the wrong way. Whatever, the Chiefs are going to be playing January football this year, because the offense is good enough and the defense is great.
2. Indianapolis (5-2). At halftime Sunday night, Arizona safety Tyrann Mathieu tweeted: “Dudes in the hood be like, that boy Andrew luck sumn serious #SNF” In other words, Mathieu thinks what the rest of America thinks: Luck’s good.
3. Denver (6-1). If you can’t beat ‘em, joke with ‘em. Best sign I’ve seen in any crowd in a long time, from a Denver fan at Lucas Oil Stadium: “When you’re done w/ Luck, we’ll take him too.”
4. Seattle (6-1). Cool mini-bye, just like this week’s Giants Thursday night/Monday night schedule: Eleven days between the game at Arizona and the one at St. Louis. Players love it.
5. New Orleans (5-1). On his bye weekend, Sean Payton cross-fitted.
6. San Francisco (5-2). Weeks 2 and 3: Foes 56, Niners 10. Weeks 4 through 7: Niners 132, Foes 51. That’s psycho.
7. New England (5-2). You may ask why I have the Saints No. 4 and the Pats No. 6, even though the Patriots beat the Saints last week. Judgment call. The Pats don’t have two cornerstone players they had last weekend anymore—Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib.
8. Cincinnati (5-2). Andy Dalton took some giant steps in the win at Detroit.
9. Green Bay (4-2). Dom Capers Returneth: Pack foes have scored 13 points a game in Green Bay’s three-game win streak.
10. Dallas (4-3). Very impressed with the defensive effort, holding the Eagles to three points and 278 yards.
11. Detroit (4-3). I continue to think the Lions will eventually be ruined by their secondary.
12. San Diego (4-3). Philip Rivers became the second Charger to surpass 30,000 career yards in Jacksonville Sunday. I could see Rivers getting to 45K.
13. Buffalo (3-4). Kiko Alonso is becoming a cult hero/tackling machine approaching the midpoint of his rookie year. He has 70 tackles in seven games, and four interceptions.
14. New York Jets (4-3). Chris Ivory: 34 rushes for 104 yards. That’s from the Earl Campbell days, carrying the ball that much.
15. Carolina (3-3). Panthers have won three out of four by an average of 26 points. Now that’ll get your attention.
The Award Section
Offensive Player of the Week
Cam Newton, quarterback, Carolina. He had the most efficient day of his NFL life (15 of 17 for 204 yards and one touchdown; no interceptions) and added 10 clock-eating rushes for 26 yards. Newton will have better and more dominant days in this league but, playing under control and disciplined, he led the Panthers to 30 points or more for the third time in the last four games.
Defensive Players of the Week
Robert Mathis, defensive end, Indianapolis. His two sacks of Peyton Manning Sunday night would be impressive enough (Manning had been sacked five times in six previous games, and the Colts got him four times Sunday), but he pressured Manning consistently and helped force him into 20 incompletions. Mathis leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks through seven games. At 32, he has the speed of a much younger player, and it was interesting to see how Mathis overwhelmingly outplayed the Broncos’ impact rusher, linebacker Von Miller, on Sunday.
Vontae Davis, cornerback, Indianapolis. When you hold a great receiver like Demaryius Thomas to two catches for four yards in your time covering him, that’s a good day. Davis, the Colts’ best cover corner since being acquired from Miami before last season, played physically and with great confidence. “Peyton’s great,’’ he said of Manning, “but we’re all football players. We just compete.” And, on this night, win 39-33.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Devin Hester, punt returner, Chicago. Rarely do you see a player return a punt 145 yards for a touchdown—but check out the Hester replay at Washington. He fielded a punt at his 19 at the far left sideline, then, to escape the coverage, ran horizontally across the field and backward about five yards, then up the right side the length of the field for a touchdown. By my calculations, Hester’s first punt return for touchdown since 2011, an 81-yarder, was in the 140-yard range. Great, great play. It’s the 13th punt return for touchdown in Hester’s career, and the 19th return touchdown overall.
Coach of the Week
Greg Manusky, defensive coordinator, Indianapolis. Odd to give this award to a coordinator of a defense that gave up 33 points and 429 yards Sunday night, but … well, you had to see the game Sunday night to understand. Manusky and the Colts’ defense planned to be more physical with Peyton Manning’s receivers than any team had been all season, and it worked, particularly with corner Vontae Davis, who padlocked Demaryius Thomas and keyed the win from the secondary. Manusky’s scheme and blitzing of a quarterback thought unblitzable created some long-yardage situations for a team used to turning second downs into firsts consistently.
Goats of the Week
Sam Martin, punter, Detroit. Martin, a fifth-round rookie from Appalachian State, entered Sunday with the league’s third-best punting average. And when he lined up to punt from the Detroit 23 with 34 seconds left in the fourth quarter of a 24-24 game against Cincinnati, all he had to do was boom the punt downfield so Andy Dalton would have too far to go in, say, the last 25 seconds of the game. But expecting an all-out punt rush, he hurried the punt—there was, in fact, no heavy rush; the Bengals lined up for a return—and shanked it 28 yards to the Cincinnati 49. Dalton threw two passes to get it to the Detroit 26, and then Mike Nugent booted a 54-yard field goal to win it as time expired.
Brandon Sowell, left tackle, Arizona. The lowest-rated tackle in the respected Pro Football Focus rankings (74th of 74 tackles before Sunday’s games) was the biggest problem in Carson Palmer’s major struggles Thursday night in the loss to Seattle. On one play, Seattle rusher Chris Clemons pushed Sowell back hard into Palmer. For the game, Sowell allowed two sacks, two quarterback knockdowns and five quarterback pressures. As Lawrence Taylor once said to Ken O’Brien: “Gotta do better than that, son.”