He never had running back Curtis Martin. He's starting two rookies (left tackle D'Brickashaw Ferguson and center Nick Mangold) on the offensive line. And he's dealing with a No. 1 wide receiver (Laveranues Coles) who has played most of the season injured. Yet, rookie coach Eric Mangini has turned the New York Jets into a top-10 team suddenly in the thick of the AFC's playoff race. And lest anyone overlook it, he went home this week and beat his mentor Bill Belichick, who hasn't gone out of his way to say anything good about Mangini since he left New England in January.
Considering all those mitigating factors – not to mention the fact that we weren't even sure who the starting quarterback would be four months ago – Mangini is pushing for some coach of the year votes. And you could argue he's done the best job of all the rookie coaches, including New Orleans' Sean Payton. And with only one team left on the schedule with a winning record (Chicago), we could be talking about Mangini driving the Jets into the playoffs.
As for the rest of the NFL, here is a look at how the league stacks up heading into Week 11.
THE TOP 12
1. Indianapolis Colts (9-0) – Rookie running back Joseph Addai's touchdown run against the Bills might be his most impressive scamper of the season. The narrow win over Buffalo helped Indy become the first team in NFL history to start back-to-back seasons 9-0. But that's meaningless when it comes to this team.
2. Denver Broncos (7-2) – Injured or not, Tatum Bell isn't doing much to change his image across the NFL as a finesse running back who can't cut it as a centerpiece. And get used to this idea Denver fans: quarterback Jake Plummer is going to kill this team in the playoffs again.
3. Chicago Bears (8-1) – Hopefully that win over the Giants will calm down schizophrenic Bears fans who were ready to push quarterback Rex Grossman off a cliff last week. Another plus, wide receiver Mark Bradley absolutely looks like he's going to be a player which means there is still going to be a starter across from Bernard Berrian when Muhsin Muhammad eventually retires.
4. Baltimore Ravens (7-2) – They stole a victory against Tennessee this weekend, plain and simple. Baltimore's defense should not have been that porous against Tennessee, even if linebacker Ray Lewis was out. Say what you want about overlooking the Titans, but the Ravens looked like a team that wasn't remotely prepared for quarterback Vince Young's mobility.
5. San Diego Chargers (7-2) – Commentator Dan Dierdorf's rant about safety Marlon McCree's hit on wide receivers T.J. Houshmandzadeh was out of line. First of all, it wasn't a helmet-to-helmet hit. Secondly, Houshmandzadeh's concussion was caused when his helmet hit the knee of another player, and not McCree's blow.
6. New England Patriots (6-3) – This team should be more composed than this after back-to-back losses though defensive end Richard Seymour's was right when he said the Patriots got outplayed and outcoached against the Jets. That said, the comment should have stayed inside the locker room. It's not something you expect one of New England's veteran leaders to say.
7. New York Giants (6-3) – How do you not have your team prepared for a potential runback on a long field goal like that? Blame the players all you want, but the coaching staff is at fault for not having its unit ready to react in case Devin Hester attempted a return.
8. New Orleans Saints (6-3) – The mediocre group of linebackers are starting to come back to Earth. And you have to be concerned with the offense's miscues against upper-tier defenses. The Saints have committed nine turnovers against Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Carolina.
9. Seattle Seahawks (6-3) – Defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs' trip to injured reserve ends yet another monumentally disappointing season. It might be a positive, considering that it's going to open up playing time for Craig Terrill. Terrill might only have half Tubbs' natural ability, but he's also produced nearly as many sacks (five compared to Tubbs' six) over the last 1½ seasons.
10. New York Jets (5-4) – How about that offensive line? The relatively young group has yielded six sacks in four games. And he's still not getting a lot of attention, but wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery, 24, is one of the impressive young talents still developing on the NFL level.
11. Kansas City Chiefs (5-4) – We said it one year ago and we'll say it again: This team absolutely has to find another impact wide receiver. Four touchdowns in nine games from the entire corps of wideouts is pathetic, even with tight end Tony Gonzalez on the team.
12. Dallas Cowboys (5-4) – That run defense is going to be in some serious trouble without linebacker Greg Ellis. It would be nice to see first-round pick Bobby Carpenter (zero tackles outside of special teams) finally start contributing to the defense.
Philadelphia Eagles (5-4) – Donte' Stallworth was said to be as healthy has he has been all season leading into Sunday's game against the Redskins and he looked it. With all due respect to the rest of the wide receiving corps, he's the only consistent difference maker.
THE MUDDLED MIDDLE (in alphabetical order)
Atlanta Falcons (5-4) – For a team that should be built to win now, the Falcons are maddeningly inconsistent. Is Jim Mora Jr.'s job on the line? It's starting to look possible, especially if this team falls out of the playoff race.
Buffalo Bills (3-6) – With the concentration on quarterback J.P. Losman, has anyone noticed that the tight end and wide receiver spots are a mess? Lee Evans is inconsistent and Peerless Price looks like just another mediocre wideout. Come to think of it, is there anything beyond running back Willis McGahee that looks promising on this offense?
Carolina Panthers (5-4) – It's hard to knock defensive end Julius Peppers anymore. He's the best defensive player in the league right now. And with seven games left for a player who typically is very strong down the stretch in the regular season, he's got a decent shot at making a run at the league's sack record.
Cincinnati Bengals (4-5) – If the Bengals hadn't figured it out before Sunday's crushing comeback win by San Diego, the secondary needs a serious infusion of young talent in the offseason. So does the defensive line, where it pretty much looks like tackle Sam Adams should just call it a career after this season.
Cleveland Browns (3-6) – Regardless of getting whipped 41-0 last season by Pittsburgh, wide receiver Braylon Edwards is killing his team by trash talking the Steelers. Someone should point out to Edwards that a player who has averaged about 36 yards per outing over the last six games doesn't have the right to talk smack.
Green Bay Packers (4-5) – Packers coach Mike McCarthy called quarterback Brett Favre part of the team's solution and not part of its problem. I buy the idea that he'd like to have him back another year. It still seems like long odds, but if Green Bay can piece together a little run to end the season, Favre might not be done just yet. One thing is for sure: Favre can't drag his decision out like he did last offseason.
Houston Texans (3-6) – Even snapping the 12-game road losing streak against Jacksonville couldn't come without issues. Offensive tackle Zach Wiegert and defensive tackle Travis Johnson look like they're done for the season. Defensive end Mario Williams could be consistently hobbled with plantar fasciitis, too.
Jacksonville Jaguars (5-4) – It looked like quarterback David Garrard had a bad game against Houston, but the reality is he was hung out to dry by his wideouts. Reggie Williams dropped a touchdown and Matt Jones botched a pair of passes that were picked off. With that in mind, Jones has been one of the biggest sophomore disappointments in the NFL this season.
Miami Dolphins (3-6) – The quarterback play still stinks, but this defense is starting to look like the one we expected at the start of the season. Of all the teams with a losing record, this might be the one nobody wants to play in the final seven games. Anyone else think it sounds like suspended running back Ricky Williams isn't all that interested in returning to the NFL?
Minnesota Vikings (4-5) – Hearing players complain about schemes heading into this point of season is a sure sign your team is in big trouble. Considering how the rest of the NFC is shaping up, Minnesota might need to go 6-1 to qualify for a playoff spot.
Pittsburgh Steelers (3-6) – The late-season push for the playoffs isn't going to happen, but the Steelers have plenty of time to get the offense right over the next seven games. With all the talk about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's struggles, has anyone noticed linebacker Joey Porter's struggles? He has two sacks and 19 tackles in his last eight games.
St. Louis Rams (4-5) – The loss of left tackle Orlando Pace for the season is a devastating blow to a run game that was showing signs of life the last few weeks. With four losses in a row, no team is sinking faster in the NFL right now. And with Seattle getting back quarterback Matt Hasselbeck and running back Shaun Alexander soon, the opportunity to seize the division has passed.
San Francisco 49ers (4-5) – People are talking playoffs in San Francisco. After a win against the Lions? Has anyone actually looked at the rest of the NFC? This team is a year away from making any serious noise.
Washington Redskins (3-6) – With running back Clinton Portis out for the next month or so, the season is cashed in. As a result, now is the perfect time to start second-year quarterback Jason Campbell. And it would be nice to see running back T.J. Duckett get one last look before he's sent to the free agent scrap heap this offseason.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
28. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-7) – Yes, quarterback Bruce Gradkowski is suffering with turnover woes (three in Monday's loss to Carolina), but what do you expect from a rookie sixth-round pick? This team should face reality. The offensive line still needs more talent and depth, the quarterback needs experience, and the defense is on the verge of a massive retooling.
29. Tennessee Titans (2-7) – Coach Jeff Fisher has a legitimate gripe. The officiating in the loss to Baltimore was atrocious at times. Wide receiver Drew Bennett finally had a big game with Vince Young at quarterback. If Bennett leaves Tennessee via free agency, he should get plenty of attention as a potential strong No. 2 wideout for a handful of needy teams.
31. Oakland Raiders (2-7) – Of all the stupid things that have happened this season, hearing quarterback Andrew Walter criticize the offensive scheme has to rank near the top. Then again, what has the coaching staff done to prove Walter and all the other internal critics wrong?
32. Arizona Cardinals (1-8) – Regarding that USC coach Pete Carroll buzz as Dennis Green's possible replacement, word around the league is that it's not going to happen. The Bidwill family isn't interested in paying the $5million-$6 million a season it would take to pry him away from the Trojans' program. Look for a safer, more economical choice, like Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera.
- Eric Mangini