Forget the talk about an undefeated season. There's a more pressing question everyone in the NFL world is asking about the Colts.
Can they go wire-to-wire atop the rankings?
If Indianapolis gets past Pittsburgh on Monday night, it just might happen. Even a late-season loss might not dislodge the Colts at this point – unless it's a catastrophic meltdown. As it is, Indianapolis is creating history in the Top 12. The Colts already own the record for most consecutive weeks in the top spot at 11 and counting.
That sort of puts all the early season complaining about Indy's No. 1 ranking in perspective. I heard ranting from everywhere, particularly readers in places like Pittsburgh, New England and Philadelphia. Now all those cries have faded, leaving Indianapolis to grapple with one team: the 1972 Dolphins.
THE TOP 12
1. Indianapolis Colts (10-0) – As if the offense didn't have enough to work with, tight end Dallas Clark has finally come back to life with three touchdown catches in the last four games. The defense still isn't perfect, as evidenced by Cincinnati's 37 points last Sunday, but the Bengals might have the NFL's second-best offense.
3. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3) – I can understand not making Jerome Bettis your featured back, but not giving him the ball in third-and-one and fourth-and-one situations? Those are the kinds of decisions that lead to an overtime loss to a team like Baltimore.
4. San Diego Chargers (6-4) – It's an uphill climb to the playoffs, but this is a team that looks capable of it. The Dec. 31 game against Denver could end up being for the AFC West title.
5. Seattle Seahawks (8-2) – Rocky Bernard has started only two games this season, yet he leads all defensive tackles with 7½ sacks. If the Seahawks beat the Giants this weekend, there shouldn't be any more questions about the NFC's top team.
6. New York Giants (7-3) – It's a brutal schedule down the stretch, but the NFC East might be decided in two weeks when the Giants host Dallas.
7. Dallas Cowboys (7-3) – Rookie DeMarcus Ware has slowed down a bit, failing to post a sack in the last four games. And I get the whole "focus" thing, but Bill Parcells seems to sound constantly miserable. An occasional positive remark about your team can be motivation, too.
8. Cincinnati Bengals (7-3) – All of those people who second-guessed Chris Perry's selection by the Bengals should see the tape of the Indianapolis game. He's looking like one of the rare players who has another gear in the open field.
9. Chicago Bears (7-3) – Muhsin Muhammad thinks the Bears have a Super Bowl caliber team. And with Chicago's defense and running game, he might be right. But what happens when Rex Grossman is fully healthy by late December?
11. Jacksonville Jaguars (7-3) – Quietly, Byron Leftwich is having the best season of his short career. With Matt Jones and Ernest Wilford stepping up, Leftwich has seven touchdowns and one interception in the last four games.
New England Patriots (6-4) – It's not against the greatest competition, but the Patriots are winning games despite having no running back the last two weeks. Unless you consider Heath Evans a realistic option.
THE MUDDLED MIDDLE (in alphabetical order)
Cleveland Browns (4-6) – Sunday's shutout of Miami might have been Cleveland's most impressive win yet. With that in mind, Trent Dilfer should have just shrugged off Charlie Frye's debut rather than act irritated about it.
Miami Dolphins (3-7) – Nick Saban is notoriously hard on his assistant coaches. Considering the latest offensive problems and Gus Frerotte's nosedive, don't be surprised if Scott Linehan is the odd man out when the season ends.
Minnesota Vikings (5-5) – Four of the next five games are against teams with losing records, then the Vikings finish the season at home against Chicago. Not only do they have a shot at the playoffs – it's a good shot.
Oakland Raiders (4-6) – Randy Moss is putting up solid numbers, but he hasn't been the dominant force everyone expected. Injuries aside, he hasn't had a multiple-touchdown game this season and hasn't had a 100-yard receiving day since Oct. 2. He's also on pace for his fewest number of catches in a non-injury-shortened season.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-6) – Look on the bright side: The Eagles could end up with their highest draft pick since 2000.
St. Louis Rams (4-6) – Alex Barron has been a nice addition to the offensive line, but the Rams' quarterbacks are still getting knocked around far too much. Adding another piece has to be a top offseason priority.
Washington Redskins (5-5) – Clinton Portis said the Redskins have to go 5-1 to reach the playoffs, and he's right. Of course, they would only have to go 4-2 if Portis had been able to hold on to the ball against the Raiders.
THE BOTTOM FIVE
28. San Francisco 49ers (2-8) – Just what the 49ers need. A knee injury to Bryant Young, who has arguably been their best defensive player this season. Even if this team doesn't win another game, it's been a solid coaching job by Mike Nolan.
29. Tennessee Titans (2-8) – The next five months? Downtime before the draft.
30. New York Jets (2-8) – There isn't a bigger disappointment in the NFL this season. But with a few changes, this team could have a monumental turnaround in 2006.