We came very close to seeing the top four teams in our weekly NFC rankings all lose last week. But the lab creation from MIT that is the New Orleans offense outscored Miami, 22-0, in the fourth quarter and rallied to defeat the Dolphins, 46-34, as the rest of the league collectively slapped its forehead.
Now it’s the Falcons’ turn to try to stop an offense that is averaging 39.7 points, 427.3 yards and 112.7 blown fuse boxes per week.
Behind the Saints, Minnesota, New York and the Falcons all lost. And that means some signifcant changes in this week’s rankings . . .
1. (1) NEW ORLEANS (6-0): A win means the Saints start 7-0 for the second time in franchise history. Earlier this week, running back Reggie Bush said on a radio show that the team was capable of going 16-0. I’d say that kind of statement can fire up a Falcons’ defense. The problem is they have to catch New Orleans first before they knock them down. Drew Brees actually had a bad game against Miami (three interceptions, five sacks) and he still threw for 298 yards and led a comeback win.
2. (2) MINNESOTA (6-1): The Vikings lost last week at Pittsburgh but they’re still easily the second-best team in the conference. The big question is whether Good Brett Favre starts to devolve into Psychotic Brett Favre. He had two turnovers — a fumble and an interception — in the fourth quarter that both were returned for Steelers’ touchdowns.
3. (5) GREEN BAY (4-2): The Packers have beat up on Detroit and Cleveland (combined score: 57-3) since losing at Minnesota and now get their return shot at Favre and the Vikings. But for all the talk about Favre’s return to Lambeau Field, the key matchup is the Packers’ defense (12th against the run) vs. Adrian Peterson (second in the league with 687 yards).
4. (8) DALLAS (4-2): I’m still not sold on this team in the long run, but Tony Romo showed against the Falcons what he can do when a defense lets him get into a rhythm. Rhythm won’t be a problem against Seattle Sunday. That means Dallas will be 5-2 going into consecutive road games against the Eagles and Packers.
5. (10) ARIZONA (4-2): The Cardinals are coming off a road win over the Giants, have won three straight and are starting to look like the team that went to the Super Bowl last season, all of which makes those of us with Kurt Warner on our Fantasy League team happy, happy boys. This week, they will score 78 points against Carolina, and I’m being completely objective about that.
6. (6) PHILADELPHIA (4-2): Should be an interesting game against New York. In the playoffs last January, Donovan McNabb taunted the Giants in the late minutes of an Eagles victory when, after being run out of bounds, he picked up a sideline telephone that was wired up to the Giants’ coaches box. If dealing with New York’s anger isn’t enough, McNabb also may not have Brian Westbrook (concussion) to give the ball to. Oops.
7. (3) N.Y. GIANTS (5-2): I’m not ready to make some grand declaration about the decline of the New York Giants. They’ve lost consecutive games to two good/great teams (New Orleans and Arizona). But you have to be somewhat concerned about a defense that allows 72 points and 10 touchdowns in two games, regardless of the opponent.
8. (4) FALCONS (4-2): They drop four spots in our rankings, not so much because they lost at Dallas, but because of the warning signs arising from how they lost at Dallas. Success of the offense is predicated on the running game, and something is off with Michael Turner. Defensively, they need to either cover better with the spare parts they have or get some semblance of a pass rush. Neither happened against the Cowboys. And now they face the best offense in football.
9. (7) CHICAGO (3-3): Jay Cutler’s leadership issues notwithstanding, the Bears’ defense just isn’t the same without Brian Urlacher. They saw the Bengals roll up 45 points last week and Carson Palmer go 20-for-24 with five touchdowns, which tells you he wasn’t feeling much pressure.
10. (9) SAN FRANCISCO (3-3): The 49ers, coming off a loss to Houston, have switched back to No. 1 draft pick Alex Smith at quarterback. But nobody should rush to claim him in their Fantasy drafts. Isn’t there a reason he wasn’t the best option to begin with?
11. (11) CAROLINA (2-4): I figured John Fox would make it through the season. But owner Jerry Richardson just saw his team lost to Buffalo, and he’s not a terribly patient man. And look at the rest of the schedule: Cardinals, Saints, Falcons, Dolphins, Jets, Bucs (OK, that one’s easy), Patriots, Vikings, Giants, Saints. How many wins are in that bunch: two or three?
12. (12) SEATTLE (2-4): Fresh off a bye, the Seahawks play Dallas this week. Then they have Arizona and Minnesota in November. How’s that Greg Knapp offense working out for you? Twenty-third.
13. (13) DETROIT (1-5): The Lions were off last week. In that sense, they separated themselves from the next three.
14. (14) WASHINGTON (2-5): Dan Steinberg, who writes the always entertaining “D.C. Sports Bog” for the Washington Post, has a hilarious summation of the Ugly Sign Police at Monday night’s loss to Philadelphia. Among the reported incidents: Two fans wearing “Dumb” and “Dumber” shirts with photos of owner Dan Snyder and VP Vinny Cerrato claimed security guards made them invert their shirts. The Redskins might be the worst organization in the NFL now, and I’m including the Raiders.
15. (15) ST. LOUIS (0-7): The Rams’ long snapper, Chris Massey, was injured covering a punt return in a 42-6 loss. If he’s out for the season, he’ll feel like he hit the lottery.
16. (16) TAMPA BAY (0-7): The Bucs lost to New England, 35-7, in London. Several fans met them at the airport. And refused to let them deplane.