1. New England (1) - From wire-to-wire the top team in the NFL for the 2007 season. The Patriots are clearly
the favorite to regain the Super Bowl title, but a lot of things can happen over the five weeks.
2. Indianapolis (2) - The Colts, led by the great Peyton Manning, are poised to defend their Super Bowl title, but there are some major obstacles in their way. TE Dallas Clark and RB Joseph Addai are two very underrated offensive performers.
3. Dallas (4) - Although the Cowboys have not played well in recent weeks, they will have home field advantage for the entire NFC playoffs. RB Marion Barber, TE Jason Witten, WR Patrick Crayton, and Tony Romo developing offensive stars for the Cowboys.
4. Green Bay (3) - The Bears defense, special teams — along with the elements — were the difference in last weekend's matchup. Looking for a silver lining? Although severely trounced, the Packers allowed the Bears just 14 first downs and 240 yards in offense.
5. Jacksonville (5) - The Jaguars are a very talented club with balance on both sides of the football. The running combo of Fred Taylor, Maurice Jones-Drew, the passing of an ever-improving David Garrard and tough physical defense are this club's calling card.
6. San Diego (8) - The Chargers picked the right time of the season to put together their fifth straight victory. Antonio Cromartie, who has exceptional hands, is fast developing into one of the league's top corners.
7. Pittsburgh (9) - Any real chance of the Steelers advancing in the AFC playoff picture ended in St. Louis last Thursday with the first-quarter injury to prized RB
8. Seattle (11) - The Seahawks running game showed some life in last week's victory over the Ravens, but if they are to advance in the playoff round, it will depend on the right arm of Matt Hasselbeck and a veteran receiving corps.
9. Washington (14) - The Redskins hold their playoff destiny in their hands. Simply win and they're in! Sounds simple enough, except that ninth victory will have to come at the hands of their arch-rival, the Dallas Cowboys.
10. Tampa (7) - Defeating a club that was coming off a short week and that was dealing with distractions caused by a coach who quit on his team might not have been a great feat, but don't overlook the NFC South champions in next month's playoffs.
Giants offensive lineman Chris Snee
Jamie Squire/Getty Images
12. Cleveland (6) - Sunday's loss to arch rival Cincinnati was devastating and may well have ended the "Cardiac Kids" playoff chances. This Christmas all Browns' fans want is a victory over the 49ers and for the Colts to win their 14th game of the season.
13. Tennessee (14) - Like the upstart Browns, the Titans have played way above anyone's preseason expectations. Only the defending Super Bowl Champions stand in the way of a playoff run. And how about the play of Kyle Vanden Bosch?
14. Minnesota (10) - A Sunday evening loss at home to the wounded Redskins was a tough pill to swallow, but with the Skins hosting the NFC-leading Cowboys, the Vikings — who play the Broncos — are still very much alive in the playoff hunt.
15. Philadelphia (19) - It might be too little too late, but with their consecutive victories against the Cowboys and Saints, the Eagles have served notice to the rest of the league that they are a team in be reckoned with in 2008.
16. Houston (15) - The Texans made significant progress on both sides of the ball and are poised to make a legitimate run at a playoff spot in 2008. Second-year defenders Mario Williams and linebacker DeMeco Ryans are two very special performers.
17. New Orleans (16) - Longtime Saints super fan Roland Fournier put it best: "The 2007 Saints are just plain and simple not good enough. And if they had somehow made the playoffs, once again would only have broken our hearts."
18. Buffalo (17) - Injuries and the long NFL season got the better of this young Bills squad in the end. But the club also showed by their play that they are headed in the right direction and could contend in the not too distant future.
19. Denver (18) - Linebacker D.J. Williams and cornerback Champ Bailey should be commended again for their play in 2007. But overall, the performance of the defensive unit was very disappointing. Brandon Marshall continues to impress at the wide receiver position.
20. Arizona (21) - Few players in the game compete as hard as veteran QB Kurt Warner (36-53-361, 3 TDs, 0 INT last week versus the Falcons). Once again, Edgerrin James topped the thousand-yard mark in rushing, but young legs need to be found at the running back position.
21. Carolina (20) - Rookie quarterback Matt Moore might one day develop into a solid pro, but after just two starts he is not nearly ready to win at the professional level. Steve Smith has had to earn each and every one of those 954 receiving yards on the season.
Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher
Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
23. Detroit (23) - The Lions snapped a six-game losing streak and would like to finish on a winning note, but key injuries to Roy Williams and Kevin Jones, and a marginal offensive front have negated some of the early-season progress made by the Lions.
24. Cincinnati (24) - Which Bengals squad showed up from week to week during the season was anyone's guess. But with some smart retooling, this team could once again contend for the AFC North title.
25. Baltimore (25) - Both the Ravens and their NFC counterpart, the Bears, found out in 2007 that staying on top in the NFL requires year round reevaluation of one's personnel, understanding of team needs and playing philosophy.
26. St Louis (26) - The Rams from top to bottom are a classic case of non-football people at the top making football-related decisions that impact every aspect (coaching, player personnel) of the football operation.
27. NY Jets (27) - Based on what I saw in 2007, this Jet squad is not just a few personnel upgrades away from contending for a playoff spot in the competitive AFC. It all starts at quarterback, and nobody on the current roster gives them any real chance to compete.
28. Oakland (28) - The Raiders couldn't resist the temptation and started JaMarcus Russell last week versus the Jaguars. Based on what I observed, he is still light years away from helping the Raiders end their five-year downward spiral.
29. Kansas City (29) - Clark Hunt, son of the late Chiefs founder Lamar, will have some very important decisions to make after Sunday's finale versus the Jets. Who will lead, who will coach and who will play are very much up in the air at this time.
30. San Francisco (30) - The big question facing the 49ers this offseason is should they continue to throw good money after bad at the QB position? The cap hit would be significant, but I also see little chance of Alex Smith ever being the answer.
31. Atlanta (31) - Interim head coach Emmitt Thomas is certainly not the media's flavor of the month, but in football circles is a respected, talented, bright, individual who finally should be given the opportunity to lead a franchise as a head coach.
32. Miami (32) - Look for former Parcells disciples Tom Coughlin or Jason Garrett to lead the Dolphins in 2008. From a personnel standpoint, this current Dolphins club is a total train wreck and must be entirely revamped by the start of next season.