Hardly dominating and barely unblemished, the Indianapolis Colts are back.
Who would have thought this possible: The Colts regaining the league's perch as best in the NFL, despite losing defensive tackle Corey Simon (injury), running back Edgerrin James (free agency), David Thornton (free agency), and watching defensive end Dwight Freeney notch only a half sack through eight games? And that's not even factoring in countless other injuries to key guys like wide receiver Brandon Stokley and safety Bob Sanders. Indeed, these aren't the Colts of the last few seasons. But in some ways, they might actually be better for it. Because for once – maybe the first time in quarterback Peyton Manning's career – the mostly finesse Colts are playing with some grit and nasty attitude. And a lot of it flows from Manning, who quite simply might be the best player of his generation, let alone in the league this season. Now we're left to wonder: Can they finish off an undefeated season now that they've already seen one go down the tubes? Only time will tell.
As for the rest of the NFL, here is a look at how the league stacks up heading into Week 10.
THE TOP 12
1. Indianapolis Colts (8-0) – Beating New England in Foxborough, Mass., was a great thing. Too bad the Bears have left the Colts to fend for themselves with the talk of an undefeated season.
2. New England Patriots (6-2) – Yes, New England crashed again against the Colts, but it says something when a team turns the ball over five times and only loses by seven points. Even with the loss to Denver earlier in the season, this still looks like the second-best team in football.
3. Denver Broncos (6-2) – It's safe to say we can start talking about cornerback Champ Bailey in fairly certain Pro Football Hall of Fame terms. When are teams going to realize that it's just foolish to throw his way?
4. Baltimore Ravens (6-2) – Getting a fullback in front of Jamal Lewis has been a nice wrinkle in the offense. One defensive concern needs to be taken care of: That secondary has given up six touchdown passes of 25 yards or more this season.
5. Chicago Bears (7-1) – Clearly, the Bears have some serious issues when quarterback Rex Grossman gets some dirt on his uniform. But in the interim, linebacker Brian Urlacher's toe injury is more frightening. He's the player they can least afford to lose going into the meat of the schedule.
6. San Diego Chargers (6-2) – The more you watch cornerback Antonio Cromartie, the more you become convinced he is destined to eventually become the best cornerback in football. Speaking of the best in football, can anyone question the Michael Vick for LaDainian Tomlinson draft day trade with a straight face anymore?
7. New York Giants (6-2) – Injuries are piling up fast. The Giants might be playing next week without both of their starting defensive ends (Osi Umenyiora and Michael Strahan). Rookie Mathias Kiwanuka has shown he's capable of picking up some slack, but losing Strahan for the next few weeks is going to hurt.
8. New Orleans Saints (6-2) – He rarely gets the attention, but Will Smith has developed into one of the league's best young defensive ends. And how about wide receiver Devery Henderson? At times, he makes you believe there should be life after Joe Horn.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (5-3) – Benching quarterback Damon Huard at this point would be a mistake. You can't take a guy who is winning games for you and sit him at this juncture of the season, particularly for a guy who hasn't seen game action in almost two months. Keep an eye on the injuries to safety Greg Wesley, linebacker Derrick Johnson and guard Brian Waters. They could be devastating.
10. Seattle Seahawks (5-3) – It was an OK win against a terrible Oakland team. In truth, this week's game against St. Louis will be the most important one Seattle has played all season long. Win that one and this team has cleared its most significant single-game hurdle left.
11. Atlanta Falcons (5-3) – The spine injury to safety Kevin Mathis is an unfortunate reminder how quickly this game can go wrong. It looks like his career may be over. He's lucky it's not worse.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-3) – Quarterback David Garrard is picking up steam as the starter, but it's only a matter of time before teams figure him out. In reality, Jacksonville's quarterback of the future may not even be on the roster.
THE MUDDLED MIDDLE (in alphabetical order)
Buffalo Bills (3-5) – That tipped pass by cornerback Nate Clements, which ended up in the hands of safety Ko Simpson, was a game-winning play. Clements has had flashes of his old self, but his career in Buffalo should rest on these final eight games.
Carolina Panthers (4-4) – Of all the problems with this team, something has to be done about the core of linebackers in the offseason. Dan Morgan's career may be over, and guys like Thomas Davis and Chris Draft aren't cutting it.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-4) – It's no bump in the road; this team is sinking fast. Wide receiver Chad Johnson had a mini-meltdown after catching only four balls against Baltimore. And he's right. He should be a focal point of this offense, not a player who is opening up the offense for fellow wideouts Chris Henry and T.J. Houshmandzadeh.
Cleveland Browns (2-6) – The Browns actually showed some grit in hanging around with the Chargers, but that defense has got plenty of issues in the middle of the field. And coordinator Todd Grantham may not be around after this season after surfacing on Michigan State's list of potential head coach targets.
Miami Dolphins (2-6) – Running back Ronnie Brown has gotten his season back on track the last three games. It should come as no surprise the Dolphins are 2-1 when he gets more than 20 carries in a game.
Minnesota Vikings (4-4) – Quarterback Brad Johnson's arm looks dead … again. And to make matters worse, there are some significant issues with wide receiver Troy Williamson, who continues to drop key passes.
New York Jets (4-4) – With some solid play at running back, this could be an interesting team down the stretch. Three players Jets fans should become acquainted with before the 2007 NFL draft: Oklahoma's Adrian Peterson, Louisville's Michael Bush, and Cal's Marshawn Lynch.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-4) – Two things have to happen in the second half if this is to be a playoff team. Coach Andy Reid has to commit to establishing a running game once and for all (and we're not just talking about Brian Westbrook) and that defense has got to find a way to bottle up opposing running backs.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-6) – Maybe no player in the NFL is having a more disappointing sophomore campaign than running back Carnell Williams. Speaking of disappointing, has wide receiver Michael Clayton fallen off the face of the Earth?
Washington Redskins (3-5) – And I thought last year's dramatic win over Dallas was something to behold. Sunday's finish has to be one for the ages.
Green Bay Packers (3-5) – The four turnovers Sunday were a killer. Particularly given the way the offense had its way with Buffalo (427 yards), yet the Packers still lost by 14.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
28. Houston Texans (2-6) – Don't be deceived by the close game against the Giants. New York was fielding a drastically stripped down defense and even though his diving touchdown run was impressive, quarterback David Carr still could have done more.
29. Detroit Lions (2-6) – The win over Atlanta is indicative of what this team is all about. They have talent to succeed in spots and raise the hopes of fans, but always seem to fall back to Earth one week later. It will be interesting to see if the offense can maintain its growth if offensive coordinator Mike Martz leaves in the offseason.
30. Tennessee Titans (2-6) – Since becoming a starter, quarterback Vince Young has a completion rate of less than 50 percent in four of his five games. Without a doubt, it looks like coach Jeff Fisher was right on this one: Young just wasn't ready to become a starter when he took the job over.
31. Oakland Raiders (2-6) – Here's a little note for the schedule makers to keep in mind: The Raiders have lost five straight Monday night games by a combined score of 116-27.
32. Arizona Cardinals (1-7) – Coach Dennis Green made it through the bye week, so he should be on board for the duration of the season. What about USC coach Pete Carroll running the Cardinals? The buzz of Carroll reuniting with quarterback Matt Leinart is starting to grow in some league circles.