This was an NFL weekend tailor-made for U2's "Sunday Bloody Sunday."
Six of the 10 teams in the Top 12 suffered a loss last weekend, throwing a dash of chaos into the rankings. And after Monday night's win over San Diego, Pittsburgh threw a major wrench in the "who-beat-who" factor that is typically useful when sorting out the league's elite. The Steelers lost to New England at home, but edged a San Diego team on the road – the same Chargers team that thumped the Patriots in Foxboro only a week ago. Figure that one out.
What I did walk away with from Sunday is the feeling that Denver is far better than most people (including yours truly) anticipated. While the Broncos' win over Washington was dangerously close, it gave Denver wins over four tough teams and proved the Broncos can win a tight game on defense – not to mention one when Jake Plummer doesn't contribute much.
As for the rest of the Top 12, the Patriots shuffled their way back into the top four, while the Jaguars and Cowboys reappear after knocking off two of the best teams in the league. Meanwhile, the quickly deteriorating Ravens have made their first appearance in the Bottom Five, while Green Bay's big 52-3 devastation of the Saints didn't quite spring the Packers from the cellar.
THE TOP 12
1. Indianapolis Colts (5-0) – The defense has held opponents to 5.8 points per game. But their first five opponents have a combined record of 9-14, so there will be plenty of skeptics until the Colts face New England in Week 9.
2. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-1) – Trouble on the horizon? If Ben Roethlisberger is out for any length of time, they'll turn to Charlie Batch who has thrown eight passes in slightly more than three years. And Jacksonville and Cincinnati are next up on the schedule.
3. Denver Broncos (4-1) – The defense is playing well and Denver is plus-six in turnover margin. What's more impressive is that all four of the Broncos' wins have come against teams that should be in playoff races down the stretch.
4. New England Patriots (3-2) – It's been years since Bill Belichick looked so happy following a regular-season win. Considering he motivated the team with a tape of Marvin Hagler hanging tough against Thomas Hearns, you get the feeling he's digging deep into his bag of mind tricks.
5. Philadelphia Eagles (3-2) – When Terrell Owens donned a Cowboys jersey with Michael Irvin's name on it after Sunday's loss to Dallas, he insulted every one of his teammates. Nobody seems to make losing games more painful for his own franchise.
6. Cincinnati Bengals (4-1) – The Bengals may have lost in Jacksonville, but they had opportunities to pull the game out late in the fourth quarter. The linebackers were out of place far too much against the Jaguars.
7. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-1) – Ronde Barber should have been tossed for hitting an official, even if it was an accident. The league is reviewing the film, and don't be surprised if he gets a healthy fine for the mistake.
8. Atlanta Falcons (3-2) – Ed Hartwell wasn't putting up huge numbers for Atlanta's defense, but he gave it an emotional nastiness it lacked last season. He'll be missed. Anyone else think the Falcons are going to have a tough decision to make down the road when it comes time to trade Matt Schaub?
9. Jacksonville Jaguars (3-2) – After giving up 13 sacks in the first four games, the offensive line looked as good as it has all season on Sunday. But fans might want to let rookie Khalif Barnes get a few games under his belt before anointing him a savior at left tackle.
11. Dallas Cowboys (3-2) – Drew Bledsoe and Terry Glenn have been reborn. Julius Jones was supposed to be the centerpiece, but the passing game has elevated this offense to the NFL's seventh-ranked unit.
12. Washington Redskins (3-1) – Santana Moss may not have the size of a No. 1 receiver, but he has the production of one. For all the talk of the defense (fifth in the NFL), the Redskins' offense isn't far behind (eighth).
Seattle Seahawks (3-2) – Meet the No. 1 offense in the NFL. Matt Hasselbeck is off to the best start of his career, and the Seahawks are finally seeing dividends from the immense talent of tight end Jerramy Stevens.
THE MUDDLED MIDDLE (in alphabetical order)
Carolina Panthers (3-2) – Forget the stats. Steve Smith is the NFL's best receiver not named Randy Moss or Terrell Owens. It's hard to believe a defense with so much talent is ranked 24th in the league.
Cleveland Browns (2-2) – It's still early, but Romeo Crennel and his staff are doing a great job keeping this team competitive. And give some props to Phil Savage for bringing in Trent Dilfer, who has become the leader of a gritty team.
Kansas City Chiefs (2-2) – Plenty of good news from the bye week: Offensive tackle Willie Roaf will finally return and former starting cornerback Eric Warfield's suspension has ended. With Dexter McCleon starting in his spot, Warfield will be a high-quality addition in the nickel role as the season goes on.
Miami Dolphins (2-2) – Ronnie Brown may have sealed Sunday's loss with his fumble, but he's already looking like a player Nick Saban can count on to carry the load. That is exactly what Brown needed to prove before Ricky Williams returns from his suspension.
New Orleans Saints (2-3) – Ever heard the cliché about there being "no quit" in a football team? The Saints sure haven't. With Deuce McAllister out, this team is going to fall apart having to depend on Aaron Brooks.
New York Jets (2-3) – For all the talk about Vinny Testaverde's debut, the win belonged to the defense. If the Jets can win their next two games and make it to the bye week at 4-3, they'll be in the playoff chase.
Oakland Raiders (1-3) – It's frightening to contemplate how the Raiders' pass defense is going to match up with San Diego this week. And Randy Moss or not, Oakland isn't getting much of a return on that healthy contract given to Jerry Porter this offseason.
San Diego Chargers (2-3) – Finally, some payoff on Shawne Merriman's potential. With three of the next four games on the road, we might look back on Monday's last-minute loss to the Steelers as the dagger in San Diego's playoff hopes.
St. Louis Rams (2-3) – Mike Martz is making the right call by taking time off. Don't be surprised if he sits out the rest of 2005. Meanwhile, it was ridiculous to see the Rams yield 37 points and 316 passing yards to a Seattle team starting its third- and fourth-best receivers.
Tennessee Titans (2-3) – Steve McNair reached his 25,000-passing yards milestone and looked good doing it, but you have to wonder how much longer this will be his team. If you saw tight end Ben Troupe on Sunday, you know why the team thinks he could be one of the most potent at his position.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
28. Green Bay Packers (1-4) – The offensive explosion was needed, but it was far too costly considering Najeh Davenport's broken ankle. And before you say this is the same predicament Green Bay was in last year, consider how much worse the injuries are this time around.
29. Baltimore Ravens (1-3) – Brian Billick can say whatever he wants about the officials, but most of Baltimore's wounds in the loss to Detroit were self-inflicted. Now the Ravens have to win their next two games if they have any hopes of salvaging the season.
30. Arizona Cardinals (1-4) – It's not even midseason and the mercurial Dennis Green has already given up on J.J. Arrington. On the bright side, Josh McCown may have solidified the quarterback spot for the rest of this season.
32. Houston Texans (0-4) – Giving up seven more sacks (now 27 and counting) is bad enough, but going 0-for-13 on third down was a new low. Andre Johnson's injury only worsens the worst start of his career.
- San Diego