Wow... what a horrible list.
1. New Orleans Saints  — Overwhelming favorites to win the NFC South. They have a three-game lead, a head-to-head win over their only serious competition, and the easiest remaining schedule in the league. The Saints have proven in consecutive weeks that they are good enough to overcome four turnovers, even against tough opponents. But if they're going to be a serious contender in January, they need to take better care of the ball. Drew Brees is the Saints' best player every time they take the field, but defensive end Will Smith played a whale of a game on Monday night.
2. Indianapolis Colts  — Would you believe their defense, which leads the NFL in points allowed, is better than the offense? Fine, I don't believe it either, but this team can play on both sides of the ball. Dwight Freeney is having his best season in years (8 sacks), Robert Mathis is right there with him (6), and Bob Sanders is healthy again. Only one opponent (Miami) has scored 20 points in a game against the Colts this year.
3. New England Patriots  — Is it a little bit of a concern that their only road win this season is against 0-7 Tampa Bay? Big divisional game next week against Miami: the Dolphins gave New England trouble last season, stealing the AFC East and keeping the Pats out of the postseason. The Dolphins look like their main competition again this year, but a win in Week 9 would give New England a three-game lead and a very good chance of winning the division.
4. Pittsburgh Steelers  — Is there a more competitive division this season than the AFC North? I guess maybe the NFC East, which is actually very similar. Both divisions have a recent Super Bowl winner (Steelers and Giants), a perennial playoff team (Ravens and Eagles), a chump with no offense (Cleveland and Washington), and a team we're not really sure about yet, loaded with both talent and question marks (Cincinnati and Dallas).
5. Denver Broncos  — No one questions the defense, ranked first in yards allowed and second in points. Offense, however, is an issue. They're just not getting much production on that side of the ball. The offense has played virtually mistake-free; the Broncos aren't going to beat themselves. But against good teams, sometimes you need to put points on the scoreboard, and I just don't think that's something you're going to see from a Kyle Orton offense. Denver has scored 30 points in a game only once this season, when Eddie Royal contributed 2 touchdowns on special teams.
6. Minnesota Vikings  — As good as this defense is reputed to be, you would expect it to rank in the top 10. It doesn't. In fact, the Vikings' defense is statistically below average, 19th in both yardage and points. A good pass rush has failed to cover up their deficiencies in coverage, and opponents have averaged 28 points per game against Minnesota in the last three weeks. The only opponents they've held under 20 were the Lions and Rams; even the hapless Browns posted 20 (a season-high) against the Vikings.
7. Miami Dolphins  — Don't sleep on the Dolphins. They don't win pretty, and they actually have a losing record (3-4). But they've played a horrific schedule (.635) — Buffalo is their only opponent under .500, and the Dolphins won that game by four touchdowns. They've won three of their last four (scoring at least 30 points in each game), with the loss to New Orleans.
8. Arizona Cardinals  — They remind me of the Eagles. Good defense, offense that lives and dies with the passing game, and wildly uneven performances from week to week. The Cardinals are still a good team, they just need Kurt Warner to not turn the ball over six times.
9. Houston Texans  — I like Steve Slaton a lot, but after Sunday's game, I don't see how he can be the starting running back. Slaton already has a season's worth of fumbles (7, including 5 lost). And that's a bad season. LaDainian Tomlinson only has 7 fumbles in the last five seasons combined. Slaton has only averaged 3.1 yards per attempt, and Ryan Moats (126 rush yards, 3 TD) was clearly Houston's Week 8 MVP. Moats should start next week.
10. Atlanta Falcons  — Matt Ryan's passer rating the last three weeks: 68.4, 66.1, 46.6. He has not been playing well recently. Steve Young said after Monday's loss that Ryan "is the best sophomore quarterback in the history of the game." This is utterly untrue, to the point that it's not even a legitimate opinion. I think there is a great deal of question whether Ryan is even a better sophomore quarterback than Joe Flacco, and he certainly doesn't compare to Dan Marino, who in his second season set NFL records for passing yards and touchdowns, led the NFL in passer rating, won league MVP, and guided his team to a 14-2 record and Super Bowl appearance. That was probably the greatest season by any quarterback in NFL history. Ryan is a good QB, but let's stay in the realm of reality here.
11. Baltimore Ravens  — Broke a three-game losing streak by routing a previously undefeated opponent. Last season, four Ravens topped 250 receiving yards. This season, five Ravens are already above that mark: Derrick Mason (421), Ray Rice (349), Kelley Washington (325), Mark Clayton (303), and Todd Heap (278). Rice, this year, has probably passed Brian Westbrook as the greatest dual threat in the NFL. Rice leads all RBs in receiving yards.
12. Cincinnati Bengals  — The next two weeks will be critical for Cincinnati. In Week 9, the Bengals host Baltimore, and in Week 10, they travel to Pittsburgh. Winning both games would not only give the Bengals a solid lead in the AFC North, it would also insure that Cincinnati wins any tie-breakers for the division crown.
13. Dallas Cowboys  — Dismissed as a contender after a couple of rough outings from Tony Romo, but we've known all along that this was an up-and-down, inconsistent team. Now the Cowboys are 5-2, with a chance to take sole possession of first place in the NFC East by winning in Philadelphia next week. I mention this every week now, but they really should run the ball more often. As a great running team (5.4 yds/att) with three viable ball-carriers, why do you call more passes than runs in a three-touchdown blowout?
14. Philadelphia Eagles  — Some of us feel that the Eagles could be more effective by doing certain things differently — balance in the offensive play-calling comes to mind — but they have an identity. This is a team that wins with big plays, on both offense and defense. Philadelphia is an NFL-best +12 in turnovers, and on Sunday, the team had three TDs of more than 40 yards.
15. New York Giants  — Three straight losses and three obvious problems. One is pass defense. I don't know if the Saints exposed a weakness, or if it's been there all along and teams like Oakland and Kansas City just couldn't exploit it. But the Giants have allowed 112 points in their last three games, and their vulnerability to big plays has become particularly apparent. Second, they're committing too many turnovers. Eli Manning has thrown 8 interceptions, and the Giants are tied with Houston for most lost fumbles. Third, although this remains a pretty good team between the 20s, its success in gaining and preventing yards isn't translating to the scoreboard. We were all excited about Steve Smith's emergence as a top receiver to replace Plaxico Burress, but he doesn't have Burress' play-making ability. Kicker Lawrence Tynes leads the NFL in scoring, mostly because the team can't find the end zone and keeps settling for field goals.
16. Green Bay Packers  — Was there really a question about how Packer fans would greet a self-centered, traitor QB this weekend? Of course they booed him. They're good fans. The Packers are hard to rank, because the Vikings are the only team with more than one win whom they have faced in the last six weeks.
17. San Diego Chargers  — Cut Chris Chambers just a year after trading a second-round pick for him. Chambers always showed potential, but never demonstrated the consistency teams look for in a go-to receiver, posting only one 1,000-yard season in his eight-year career. Chambers will get picked up somewhere else, but he's 31 and his best days are behind him. Part of the reason San Diego cut Chambers is the emergence of Vincent Jackson. Only Reggie Wayne has better receiving statistics than Jackson right now. He's having a Pro Bowl-worthy season.
18. Chicago Bears  — Clearly a better team at home than on the road. At Soldier Field, the Bears are 3-0, with a win over Pittsburgh and a pair of blowout victories against overmatched cupcakes. Away from Chicago, the Bears are 1-3, with the win a last-second victory over Seattle.
19. San Francisco 49ers  — They've lost three in a row, and four of the last five, but against a killer schedule. Subtract St. Louis (whom they beat 35-0), and the other four opponents boast a combined record of 23-7 (.767). They lost to the Vikings, Texans, and Colts — all ranked in my top ten — by 3, 3, and 4, all on the road. It's still too early to say much about the quarterback change to Alex Smith, but Frank Gore and Michael Crabtree make this a much more dangerous offense.
20. New York Jets  — Out-gained Miami 378-104, but if you add return yardage, the difference is only 538-422. Include net punting yards, and it's 773-719, virtually equal. Special teams are a crucial part of the game, and coaches ignore them at their own risk. Rex Ryan has the potential to be a very good head coach in this league, but if he really thinks the Jets outplayed Miami on Sunday, he's not paying enough attention to the kicking game. His defense played a great game, but you can't give up three return touchdowns (2 kickoffs, 1 fumble recovery) and expect to win.
21. Carolina Panthers  — Juggernaut alert! The Panthers have won three of their last four, and the running game has finally gotten on track. The problem: those last four games were against 2-5 Washington, 0-7 Tampa, 3-5 Buffalo, and 4-3 Arizona. Hey, three wins are great, but I'll be impressed when you do it against teams with a better winning percentage than .310.
22. Seattle Seahawks  — Not competitive against good teams. The Seahawks have been blown out in three of their last four games. Injuries have been an issue, and the team still has yet to rebuild a running game that collapsed after the departures of Steve Hutchinson and Shaun Alexander.
23. Buffalo Bills  — With a good game against Houston, Ryan Fitzpatrick might have been able to spark a quarterback controversy. After his 117-yard, 2-interception performance, I think Trent Edwards' job is safe. Rookie DB Jairus Byrd intercepted two more passes this week, and is now tied for the NFL lead, with seven on the season.
24. Tennessee Titans 
25. Jacksonville Jaguars 
26. Washington Redskins 
27. Oakland Raiders 
28. Kansas City Chiefs 
29. Cleveland Browns 
30. St. Louis Rams 
31. Detroit Lions 
32. Tampa Bay Buccaneers