1. Kansas City (9-0). Tweeted this Saturday night and brought out the venom, but hey, facts are facts. When the Chiefs faced opening-day third-string Buffalo quarterback Jeff Tuel Sunday in Orchard Park (Matt Flynn would have been my choice), it was the fifth week in a row that K.C.’s defense went against a quarterback who in training camp was a backup. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrelle Pryor, Case Keenum, Jason Campbell and Tuel. Credit to the winners: They can only play who’s put in front of them. But after next week’s bye, the first three foes will change that dynamic. Kansas City faces Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Peyton Manning coming out of the break—in a 15-day span.
2. Indianapolis (6-2). Any doubt left that the Colts made the right pick in the 2012 first round?
3. San Francisco (6-2). Looks like Michael Crabtree (Achilles rehab) will miss one or two more games, then be back for the stretch run. Not bad for a team that’s scored 31 or more five games in a row.
4. Denver (7-1). Godspeed, John Fox.
5. New England (7-2). Good news: Four straight games of 27 points or more on offense. Bad news: Three of the last four foes have scored 27 or more on what was supposed to be a much improved defense. Shows how much New England misses Vince Wilfork, Jerod Mayo and Aqib Talib. But scoring 55 on the Steelers, and eclipsing 600 offensive yards, vaults the Pats.
6. Seattle (8-1). I have no idea what to think of this team. In the span of six days, the Seahawks play two teams with a combined record this morning of 3-14. They need a last-play stop to win one game, and a 21-point comeback to beat the other in overtime. I’m not big on style-point wins, but let’s be real here.
7. Green Bay (5-2). You’ve got to like the signs for the Pack tonight at Lambeau. Green Bay’s held three of the last four foes under 20, and Josh McCown’s playing in place of the groin-torn Jay Cutler.
8. New Orleans (6-2). Rob Ryan’s 0-5 against his brother. I’ve got a feeling that’s the least of the Saints’ thoughts this morning. Sean Payton’s got to figure out how to protect Drew Brees better when he comes up against good pass-rush teams like the Niners and Seahawks.
9. Cincinnati (6-3). A leaky line, receiver drops, the loss of Geno Atkins for the year. All in all, Thursday night’s 22-20 overtime loss to Miami was as bad a regular-season loss for all reasons as the Bengals have had in recent years.
10. Detroit (5-3). If I’m Matthew Stafford, I’m not sure I’d have wanted my bye coming off the high of last Sunday. Two outdoor tests await: at Bears, at Steelers.
11. Carolina (5-3). Imagine, six weeks ago, seeing the Panthers handle Atlanta with ease and thinking: That’s absolutely what I expected. Football is a funny game. Panthers are at the Niners and hosting the Patriots in the next two weeks. Now it’s getting serious.
12. Dallas (5-4). Tony Romo led a winning drive inside of three minutes. I mean, I’m just saying.
13. Chicago (4-3). Rusty Bears. Chicago’s played one game in the last 24 days entering tonight’s tilt at Green Bay.
14. New York Jets (5-4). Win-loss-win-loss-win-loss-win-loss-win. They’re here because of the last two wins: over the Patriots and Saints, with a defense that terrorized Brady and Brees.
15. Philadelphia (4-5). Eagles at home: 0-4. Eagles on road: 4-1. Chip Kelly must be thrilled he’s taking the team to Green Bay next week.
The Award Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Nick Foles, quarterback, Philadelphia. The NFL’s been around 94 seasons, and only six players had ever thrown a league-record seven touchdown passes in a game before. Foles became No. 7 on Sunday in a 49-20 win at Oakland. (Peyton Manning did it in Week 1, and it hadn’t been done for the previous 43 years.) Foles’ line: 22 of 28—amazing: more touchdown passes than incompletions—for 406 yards, with the seven TDs and no interceptions.
Mike James, running back, Tampa Bay. Drafted in the sixth round last April by the Bucs after a part-time starting career at the University of Miami, James, in his seventh NFL game, had the best day of any back in football Sunday: 28 carries, 158 yards, 5.6 yards per rush … in Seattle, against a team that had been respectable in run defense. By quarters: 37, 45, 58, 16, and two yards rushing in OT. But it was James’ touchdown pass—the play of the day in the NFL, in my opinion—that made him a lock here. He threw a Tebow-esque two-yard jump-pass touchdown to Tom Crabtree to give the Bucs a 21-0 lead in the second quarter.
Chris Ivory, running back, New York Jets. Against his old mates, Ivory moved the chains for four quarters and made a shaky game by Geno Smith tolerable. His 18-carry, 139-yard, one-touchdown performance was vital in the Jets’ 26-20 stunner over New Orleans.
Jason Campbell, quarterback, Cleveland. The numbers were nice—23 of 35, 262 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions—but it’s significant for two reasons. One: The Browns were 0-11 against the Joe Flacco Ravens entering Sunday, and much of that was due to the abysmal state of Cleveland quarterbacking over the last six years. In all ways, Campbell outplayed Flacco. Two: He did it all with either bruised or broken ribs. “He was hurting out there and kept fighting and made some big plays and big-time throws,’’ said coach Rob Chudzinski. You can say that again.
Defensive Players of the Week
Lawrence Guy, defensive end, San Diego. Normally, if you’ve been waived three times by age 23, you might be thinking, “Time to find another line of work.” Not Guy. Cut once by Green Bay and twice by Indianapolis, all in the last 15 months, Guy was signed by the Chargers 26 days ago to provide roster depth at defensive end. He did more than that on Sunday at Washington. In a scoreless game in the first quarter, he blocked a chip-shot 25-yard field goal attempt. A few minutes later, with Robert Griffin III pinned at his 1-yard line, Guy batted a Griffin pass up in the air, and defensive tackle Sean Lissemore intercepted it for a touchdown. Memo to Guy from Charger brass: You don’t have to worry about being cut this year.
Cameron Wake, defensive end, Miami. A knee sprain had limited Wake to 28 snaps a game, on average, in the Dolphins’ first seven games. Thursday night he played 69. The 69th was one of the great plays of a starry career. As Andy Dalton faded to pass near his own goal line midway through overtime in a 20-20 game, Wake overpowered right guard Kevin Zeitler and burst through the guard-center “A” gap. Dalton had no chance. Safety. “That’s why I love playing this game. It’s you, it’s a guy across from you and there’s the goal, quarterback, ball, whatever it may be,’’ Wake said after the game. “Every play, the guy across from you is saying, I’m better than you. I’m going to beat you. And every play I’m saying the same thing. There’s no in-between in football. You either get the job done or you don’t.” This time, he won. And for the game, Wake had three sacks, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
Special Teams Player of the Week
Mike Scifres, punter, San Diego. No contest. Not close. First two punts of the day at Washington dropped at the 1-yard line, one downed and the next coffin-cornered. A beautiful display by Scifres. For the day, Scifres had four punts for a 40-yard average. But when two of them die at the 1, you’ve had a good day.
Coach of the Week
Mike Shula, offensive coordinator, Carolina. Shula’s taken his share of shots since walking in the door at Carolina with Cam Newton in 2011. But his teaching and patience have paid off in the past four weeks. Carolina won its fourth straight game and scored in the 30s for the fourth straight game in burying Atlanta 34-10. In the 16 quarters of the winning streak, Newton’s thrown two interceptions. Both came Sunday, but the Panthers are good enough to survive a couple of errors now.
Goat of the Week
Sean Payton, coach, New Orleans. Eight minutes to play, Saints down two scores (26-17) to the Jets, 3rd-and-1 at the New York 36-yard line. Third down: incomplete pass to the fullback. Fourth down: an end-around to the third-string tight end, Josh Hill. Loss of eight. Jets take over on downs. There are times to shock the world with cute. This was not one of them.