1. Denver (8-1). If Kansas City’s offense was just a little better, I wouldn’t put Denver here; I’d have kept K.C. No. 1. But in the last 11 quarters, Denver has 12 offensive touchdowns and the Chiefs three. Now, if Peyton Manning’s MRI comes back bad today, I’ll change my tune.
2. Kansas City (9-0). K.C., idle Sunday, has to play better on offense than three offensive touchdowns in its last 30 possessions. It’s going to be very close Sunday in Denver because of the stingy K.C. defense. I just need to see the offense score more.
3. Seattle (9-1). Russell Wilson: 19 of 26 with two touchdown passes two weeks in a row.
4. New England (7-2). Seven weeks left in the season. Two-game lead in the AFC East. Anyone surprised?
5. New Orleans (7-2). On a night like last night the Saints looked like the best team in football. Eight days ago they lost to a team on the road that was coming off a 40-point loss to Cincinnati. So, I’m not sure
6. Carolina (6-3). Panthers D breathing down Kansas City’s neck. Carolina allowing 12.8 points a game, K.C. 12.3.
7. Indianapolis (6-3). Enough of the fourth-quarter magic wand stuff. The Colts are falling behind too much and looking to get bailed out by Andrew Luck too much. In the last two weeks Indy’s fallen behind two teams that won’t make the playoffs, by 21-3 and 28-0 at halftime.
8. San Francisco (6-3). I don’t know who Colin Kaepernick is anymore.
9. Detroit (6-3). A short trip from Goat of the Week to near-Defensive Player of the Week for Nick Fairley.
10. Philadelphia (5-5). Nick Foles in 2013: 16 touchdown passes, no interceptions, 132.5 rating. This is getting ridiculous.
11. Chicago (5-4). Jay Cutler added a sprained ankle to a strained groin Sunday. The Bears are 0-2 against the Lions and wounded now, and Cutler doesn’t know if he’ll be healthy enough to face the Ravens Sunday at home.
12. New York Jets (5-4). A stat you never thought you’d read on Nov. 11: Bilal Powell/Chris Ivory, 783 yards; Chris Johnson/Shonn Greene, 574.
13. Green Bay (5-4). In the last seven days, by not playing, Aaron Rodgers has made a heck of a case for being the NFL’s MVP.
14. Arizona (5-4). When the Cards rush the passer the way they have the last two weeks, you start to think: Maybe those last two games of the year (at Seattle, San Francisco at home) really might mean something.
15. Dallas (5-5). Dallas’ hopes for the postseason might have gone limping off the field with Sean Lee and DeMarcus Ware Sunday night. That Lee hamstring injury didn’t look like a two-week job. He’ll be lucky to be back for the four-game home stretch, beginning four weeks from tonight against Chicago.
The Awards Section
Offensive Players of the Week
Mark Ingram, running back, New Orleans. Is it possible that was the first 100-yard game of the former first-round pick’s NFL life? Let’s check. Going into Sunday night against Dallas, he’d had a 91-yard game and a 90- in his 29-game NFL career, but never 100. And against Dallas, in a beatdown of 2009 proportions, Ingram ran 14 times for 145 yards and you thought: So that’s why they picked him in the first round in 2011.
Golden Tate, wide receiver, Seattle. The stat line from Tate’s role in the Seahawks’ rout of Atlanta was just okay—six catches, 106 yards, one touchdown—but his six-yard touchdown catch in the left corner of the end zone was the prettiest grab of the day. The one-hander while getting both feet down near the end of the first half gave Seattle a 23-3 lead at crestfallen Atlanta.
Calvin Johnson, wide receiver, Detroit. I’ve run out of words to describe his greatness. Some historical perspective: Sunday’s 21-19 win over Chicago was Johnson’s 100th career game. He has 8,740 yards, which is the most in NFL history for a player in his first 100 games. (Lance Alworth had 9,019 yards in his first 100 games, and though it counts as a record, Alworth’s first 100 games came in the American Football League.) The average of 87.4 yards per game is an NFL-best, and Johnson added to his lore with two terrific touchdown catches while keeping his feet inbounds in the end zone at Soldier Field Sunday.
Defensive Players of the Week
Luke Kuechly, middle linebacker, Carolina. This could have gone to so many: Charles Johnson or Greg Hardy, who penned in Colin Kaepernick so well; Drayton Florence, whose late interception killed the final Niners chance and helped hold San Francisco to 46 net passing yards; or Thomas Davis, the turnover-inducing linebacker. But give me Kuechly, with 11 tackles, a sack, another tackle for loss, a pass defensed and two quarterback pressures. This Panthers defense is absolutely legit.
Will Blackmon, cornerback, Jacksonville. In the grand scheme of things, a Jacksonville victory is scintillating and fun but has little impact on the football world. However, the play by Blackmon to seal this victory is one of the best individual plays in the league this year and deserves major props, particularly since it clinched the first win by the last winless team in the AFC. With 2:32 left and the Jags nursing a 22-20 lead, Jacksonville sent Blackmon on a corner blitz, and he strip-sacked quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, recovered the ball at the Titans’ 21 and ran it in for what turned out to be the winning score.
Chris Long and Robert Quinn, defensive ends, St. Louis. What a combo platter Long and Quinn have become. The Colts saw it first-hand in the ridiculously lopsided St. Louis win Sunday. Long and Quinn had three sacks for a loss of 33 yards, added four quarterback pressures, forced a fumble and Long returned a fumble 45 yards for the first touchdown of the day. Name a better bookend combination of pass rushers in the game today. I don’t think you can.
Kevin Williams, defensive tackle, Minnesota. Williams’ dominant days are nearing an end (he’s 33), but he had a very good night against Washington: seven tackles, 2.5 sacks, two more quarterback pressures. He exposed the poor guard play of Washington. Think of Williams getting in on three sacks of the well-rehabbed Robert Griffin III, whose speed and quickness should have been too much for him. A great night—maybe Williams’ last one. If it is, he can put that in the time capsule to show the grandchildren one day.
Special Teams Players of the Week
Tavon Austin, punt-returner/wide receiver, St. Louis. I could have given him Offensive Player of the Week, too. In a 12-minute span on the game clock, Austin high-wired a 98-yard sprint down the right sideline with a Pat McAfee punt for a touchdown, caught a 57-yard strike from Kellen Clemens for another touchdown, and then made an 81-yard catch-and-run of a short Clemens pass for a third TD. When the Rams traded up to get Austin in the draft last April, they did so with performances like this in mind. For the day, Austin caught two balls for those 138 yards, and returned four punts for 145 yards and one kickoff for 27 yards. Not bad: 310 yards for the rookie.
Shane Lechler, punter, Houston. Seven punts in the desert Sunday: 53 yards, 61, 62, 55, 60, 65 and 56 yards. No touchbacks. Fairly hard to have a better day at the position.
Coach of the Week
Gus Bradley, head coach, Jacksonville. See above. The Jags lost to fall to 0-8 two weeks ago in London, and they lost decisively. Coming off the bye, Bradley focused on what he’s hounded the team about all season—personal improvement, not winning or losing. “This team loves playing for Gus,” said Maurice Jones-Drew, the veteran running back. It showed in Nashville, in the first win of Bradley’s NFL coaching career.
Goat of the Week
Houston play-calling on the last series in Arizona. I assume offensive coordinator Rick Dennison should wear the goat horns. With a first down at the Houston 28 at the two-minute warning, down 27-24, Case Keenum threw deep down the right side on the first play (incomplete), then deep down the left side on the third play (also incomplete) in an incongruous four-play series against heavy pressure that showed Houston’s over-reliance on Andre Johnson. Plenty of time to use underneath throws or the screen game, and the Texans looked like all they wanted to do was go for it all instead of being patient.