Commentary: Packers close in on contenders

A Sunday without a Packers game is like Christmas without presents. At 4-4 at the bye, the Packers would seem to be a middle-of-the-pack team. Just how do they stack up with the rest of the league? Here's one man's 1-to-32 rankings at the midpoint of the season.


1. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-1)

Duh. Pittsburgh whacked undefeated New England 34-20 then destroyed undefeated Philadelphia 27-3. In those two games, the Steelers outgained their opponents 473-28 on the ground. Ben Roethlisberger is undefeated as the starting cornerback, the running game is clicking regardless of who's carrying the football, and the defense is a wrecking crew.

2. New England (7-1)

Despite getting trounced by the Steelers, the Patriots may still be the best team in the league. The reason is coach Bill Belichick, who proved his genius again Sunday at St. Louis. With both starting cornerbacks out of the lineup at the pass-happy Rams, the Patriots dominated anyway. Week in and week out, the Patriots are the most-prepared team in the league.

3. Philadelphia (7-1)

The Eagles were the best team in the league for the first five weeks, but struggled past Cleveland and Baltimore before getting thumped at Pittsburgh. Certainly, the addition of Terrell Owens has energized the offense, but the running game is a question mark and the defense was bullied by Pittsburgh.


4. Minnesota (5-2 before Monday's game)

It's a huge dropoff from the first three teams to the rest of the league. When Randy Moss is healthy, the Vikings are unstoppable. The defense is better on paper than it is in reality.

5. San Diego (6-3)

The league's laughingstocks for about a decade are suddenly unstoppable. Free-agent-to-be Drew Brees probably won't be a Charger next season — first-round pick Philip Rivers isn't getting $40 million to hold a clipboard — but is guiding an offense scoring a league-high 32.8 points per game.

6. Atlanta (6-2)

Sure, the Falcons gave up a million points to the Chiefs a couple weeks ago, but the Falcons are running away with the NFC South even though Michael Vick is a West Coast offense novice. If he gets a better grasp of things in the next eight weeks, watch out.

7. Green Bay (4-4)

There are a lot of teams with better records, but most of them aren't playing as well as the Packers. If the bye helped Al Harris and Darren Sharper heal but didn't take away the momentum, the Packers are going to be a handful.

8. New York Jets (6-2)

The Jets tumble with Sunday's loss at woeful Buffalo. Curtis Martin is having a big year, but at some point age has to catch up to the aging running back. Still, the defense is giving up just 17.3 points per game.

9. Baltimore (5-3)

The Ravens absolutely cannot score, but Ray Lewis is the game's most indomitable personality. If Jamal Lewis gets going and quarterback Kyle Boller can complete a few passes, this could be a clone of the Trent Dilfer-led Super Bowl champions.

10. Seattle (5-3)

Mike Holmgren is a winner, and the Seahawks can light it up with Matt Hasselbeck and Shaun Alexander. It looks like the Seahawks survived their three-game losing streak. If a young defense gels even a little, the Seahawks could be the contenders the prognosticators thought they would be.


11. Denver (6-3)

The Broncos can run the ball. As long as quarterback Jake Plummer isn't stupid, Denver can outscore its opponents.

12. Jacksonville (5-3)

Quarterback Byron Leftwich is a budding star. Fred Taylor is a big-time runner. Still, the Jaguars have been outscored in their eight games. Either the Jaguars are lucky to be 5-3 or are primed to take off in the second half.

13. Indianapolis (4-3)

The Colts' offense is practically unstoppable. The defense can't stop anyone. With just modest improvement on the defensive side of the ball, the Colts could be a Super Bowl contender. Don't bet on it, though.

14. New York Giants (5-3)

The Giants were one of the league's best teams until losing at home to Detroit and Chicago in consecutive home games. Kurt Warner is regressing to the sack- and fumble-prone quarterback who lost his job in St. Louis.


15. Detroit

The Lions can't win at home (1-3) but are dynamite on the road (3-1). The Lions' running game is dreadful — 31st out of 32 teams with 3.3 yards per rush — which means they can't be a consistent winner.

16. Houston (4-4)

The Texans rank just above the Lions in yards per rush, but quarterback David Carr is showing why he was the No. 1 pick in the 2002 draft.

17. St. Louis (4-4)

Who can figure this team? The receivers are great, the quarterback is good, the running backs are good. The defense has talent. Maybe the problem is coach Mike Martz. The Rams had a bye week and still got thumped by a New England team forced to play a wide receiver regularly on defense.

18. Tampa Bay (3-5)

Who would have thought Brian Griese would be a difference maker? The Bucs are 2-1 when Griese has played, and he was dynamite in a loss at St. Louis.


19. Tennessee (3-5)

On reputation alone, maybe the Titans can turn it around. Steve McNair is a great quarterback; Jeff Fisher is a great coach.

20. Buffalo (3-5)

The Bills have won two straight since Willis McGahee became the starting running back. An 0-3 road record is a problem.

21. Kansas City (3-5)

With offense alone, the Chiefs are a force to be reckoned with.

22. Chicago (3-5)

The Bears are winning with Craig Krynzel at quarterback. The Bears can run the ball and the defense is young and improving.

23. Cincinnati (3-5)

Not bad considering Carson Palmer is a first-year starter.

24. Washington (3-5)

The offense is pathetic. Quarterback Mark Brunell is one of the worst starters in the league. The coaching hasn't been what you'd expect with Joe Gibbs. Yet the Redskins are hanging around .500. There's nowhere to go but up.

25. New Orleans (3-5)

A lot of talent here but not enough wins. So long, coach Jim Haslett?


26. Dallas (3-5)

Not even Bill Parcells can turn around this mess. The quarterback is 100, they have no running back and the cornerbacks can't cover.

27. Arizona (3-5)

The Cardinals' defense isn't so bad and Emmitt Smith is playing like a 12-year veteran instead of a 15-year veteran.

28. Cleveland (3-5)

Signing Jeff Garcia to be the starting quarterback has worked out as poorly as this scribe predicted.

29. Oakland (3-6)

There are a lot of proud, old players on this team. Emphasis on the old.

30. Carolina (1-7)

Poor Carolina. Most of the guys that led the team to the Super Bowl are injured.

31. San Francisco (1-7)

The 49ers have been outscored by a league-high 79 points.

32. Miami (1-8)

Thank you, Ricky Williams.

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