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Chris Simms nearly was perfect, the NFC North was unbeatable and the Chiefs fell on their face against Buffalo.

So much for logic.

Week 10 gave the rankings a new twist, with the ballyhooed NFC East going 1-3 and shaking up the Top 12. Thanks to improbable wins by Green Bay (over Atlanta) and Minnesota (over the Giants), the upper reaches of the rankings saw some shuffling. Seattle rose to No. 4 and claimed the NFC's top ranking – a perch that seems to change hands every other week. And the NFC North finally reappeared in the Top 12, with the Bears establishing the division's first foothold since the Vikings dropped out after Week 2.

The Packers' win over the Falcons also changed the complexion of the Bottom Five, vaulting Green Bay into the Muddled Middle and making room in the cellar for the Jets. New Orleans now has the dishonor of being ranked the NFL's second-worst team, but the Saints shouldn't fret – the bottom of the rankings is popular real estate. It's only a matter of time before Arizona, Tennessee and the Jets sink even lower.


1. Indianapolis Colts (9-0) – If the Colts can win a Super Bowl, this might end up being the best quarterback/running back/wide receiver combination of all time. Statistically, they already are there.

2. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-2) – After seeing Sunday's beautiful 51-yard touchdown pass by Antwaan Randle El, the Steelers might want to work in a couple of packages that feature him as the quarterback. Bill Cowher should be doing anything he can to keep defenses on their toes.

3. Denver Broncos (7-2) – Rookies Darrent Williams and Domonique Foxworth have been tremendous additions. Along with Champ Bailey, Denver might have the NFL's best trio of young cornerbacks.

4. Seattle Seahawks (7-2) – As good as Shaun Alexander has been this season, Walter Jones and Steve Hutchinson have been all-world on the left side of the offensive line.

5. Carolina Panthers (7-2) – Julius Peppers has 5½ sacks in the last four games, but it's been the improved play of the outside linebackers that has really made the difference defensively.

6. Cincinnati Bengals (7-2) – It sounds like a pipe dream, but if Cincinnati beats Indy this week, the Bengals have a legitimate shot at securing home-field advantage throughout the playoffs.

7. Dallas Cowboys (6-3) – Roy Williams' game-winning interception for a touchdown makes amends for his part in the stunning loss to Washington earlier in the season. Dallas is in the pole position to win the NFC East.

8. New York Giants (6-3) – William Joseph's injury is a huge loss for New York's defensive line. His presence has played a big part in defensive end Osi Umenyiora's rise.

9. Atlanta Falcons (6-3) – The defense has been far too sloppy recently. Edgerton Hartwell's injury hurt, but Ike Reese hasn't added much, either.

10. San Diego Chargers (5-4) – The injury situation is getting better, and the Chiefs are fading. But with Jacksonville's soft schedule, San Diego's run for the AFC's final playoff spot is a long shot at best.

11. Jacksonville Jaguars (6-3) – The Jaguars reached 30 points in a game for the first time since Abe Lincoln was in the White House. Considering how Greg Jones has looked lately, Fred Taylor might be splitting carries by the time he gets back.

12. Chicago Bears (6-3) – Forget just playing to get into the postseason. This team is competing for a home game, or possibly even a first-round bye. Beating Carolina this week would go a long way in the quest.


Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-3) – Considering his offensive line, Jon Gruden's decision to go for two points Sunday was even crazier than the call Dick Vermeil made a week earlier. But Gruden got lucky. After seeing all the replays, it didn't look like Mike Alstott scored.

THE MUDDLED MIDDLE (in alphabetical order)

Buffalo Bills (4-5) – Angelo Crowell's development is the silver lining from the season-ending injury to Takeo Spikes. A strong Buffalo defense is only going to get better when Spikes and Crowell are starting next season.

Cleveland Browns (3-6) – Trent Dilfer's accuracy has plummeted in recent weeks, from a 66.7 completion percentage over the first four games to 51.4 percent in the last five.

Detroit Lions (4-5) – Now that is the Roy Williams we remember from early last season. But a win over Arizona doesn't resurrect Joey Harrington's career in Detroit. That's why Jeff Garcia is still this team's No. 1 quarterback.

Green Bay Packers (2-7) – Considering his resume, Samkon Gado's performance against Atlanta is one of the most astounding individual performances of the season.

Kansas City Chiefs (5-4) – In six weeks, we could be looking back at the Buffalo loss as the dagger in Kansas City's playoff hopes. Considering what the offense looks like when he's not playing, Willie Roaf might be the Chiefs' MVP.

Miami Dolphins (3-6) – First-and-goal on the five-yard line with the game hanging in the balance, and Miami fizzles with four Gus Frerotte incompletions in the end zone. Ever heard of a 230-pound running back named Ronnie Brown? That's crummy play-calling on the final drive in back-to-back weeks.

Minnesota Vikings (4-5) – It was a scary moment, but there never will be a more perfect metaphor than Mike Tice getting flattened on the sidelines by the one of the Giants' special teams players.

New England Patriots (5-4) – With center Dan Koppen possibly lost for the season, the Patriots have to be experiencing one of the worst runs of injuries ever by a defending Super Bowl champ. Tom Ashworth may end up being the only remaining player on the offensive line who started the majority of the 2004 season.

Oakland Raiders (3-6) – Rookie linebacker Kirk Morrison's dropped interception could have changed the complexion of Sunday's loss. But it's one of only a few things he's done wrong this season.

Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) – Despite what people are saying, the playoff hopes aren't dashed just yet. But the Eagles are going to need to get to 10-6, and that's a tall order with Donovan McNabb looking like he's a hit away from a long stint on the bench.

St. Louis Rams (4-5) – The botched fake field goal smacked of Mike Martz's play-calling. The front office must not have done a thorough enough pat-down to weed out all the cell phones in the coaching box Sunday.

San Francisco 49ers (2-7) – He's had some flashes, but Julian Peterson clearly isn't fully recovered from last season's Achilles injury. There's plenty of work left for the 49ers, but nothing is more important than getting Alex Smith back so he can make some progress before the offseason.

Washington Redskins (5-4) – Joe Gibbs can complain about the officiating all he wants, but what is his excuse for making Chris Simms look like a Pro Bowler?


Baltimore Ravens (2-7) – Brian Billick says Baltimore's offensive problems are about execution, which is exactly what a coach says when he's anchored to a quarterback who simply can't cut it in the NFL.


28. New York Jets (2-7) – The season isn't over yet, so did anyone really expect Herm Edwards to say he was interested in coaching the Chiefs next year?

29. Tennessee Titans (2-7) – For a team in need of impact wideouts, Tyrone Calico's injuries and underachieving have been a huge disappointment. If he can't put something together by the end of this season, his time in Tennessee likely will be finished.

30. Arizona Cardinals (2-7) – He's not getting the attention that he deserves, but Larry Fitzgerald has developed into one of the top five wide receivers in the NFL.

31. New Orleans Saints (2-7) – Now that they firmly are entrenched in the Matt Leinart sweepstakes, the Saints have to figure out how Adrian McPherson factors into their future. There may not be a way to do that without getting him some playing time in the final weeks.

32. Houston Texans (1-8) – Injuries and play-calling have hurt, but Andre Johnson's disappearance has to be one of the season's most mystifying things.

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