It was somewhat inevitable. As soon as we were awarded the honorary standing as the best in the NFL, the New York Giants responded by losing power … on and off the field.
So, we are again left with a league in which you can’t be comfortable with anyone at No. 1. It’s more like 1A and 1B.
And 1C. And 1D, 1E, 1F, etc.
Will the Falcons emerge? Can New England play more games like it did versus Pittsburgh? Are Rex Ryan and his band of merry men showing signs of backing up their talk? Maybe, but for now there’s only one choice.
1. Michael Vick‘s Philadelphia Eagles: 6-3 (4)
The Good: The truth is, in Michael Vick they have a guy who has been the outstanding player in the league this year.
The Bad: They’re not dependent on Vick, but if he gets injured they’re just another good team. Can his frame continue take the abuse it has thus far?
The Ugly: The insinuation in this little piece that this team is all about Vick. The truth is, even without him they have some extremely good players — including the league’s most consistently good defensive player, Trent Cole. There’s nothing ugly about the Eagles right now.
2. Atlanta Falcons: 7-2 (5)
The Good: In beating a team like Baltimore, they cemented their status as a genuine contender — and they did it with Matt Ryan’s poise and arm.
The Bad: They let teams back into the game all too frequently.
The Ugly: With a relatively easy schedule, you feel confident in the Falcons as a team ready to get one of the top seeds in the NFC. Yet, given how things have gone this year, when any team builds momentum that you almost know something is going to go wrong.
3. New England Patriots: 7-2 (7)
The Good: They got back on track with a win that was more convincing than the scoreline suggested. To beat a team like the Steelers on the road is the sign of a team that can beat anyone anywhere.
The Bad: Or is it? How much of that victory was down to the Patriots’ odd ability to beat the Steelers? And are the Steelers actually that good?
The Ugly: With the consistent week-to-week changes in how personnel are used on defense, it’s a tough call to characterize the Patriots as still experimenting, or merely making the most of matchups. Probably some of both, and it’s a risky time to be working out the kinks.
4. New York Jets: 7-2 (9)
The Good: Good teams pull off wins when they aren’t at their best.
The Bad: How many times are we going to say that about the Jets? It’s going to catch up with them eventually.
The Ugly: The receiving corps has a lot of talent, but is just too inconsistent right now. So is the quarterback.
5. Baltimore Ravens: 6-3 (2)
The Good: They showed a lot of character to get back into it against the Falcons. There isn’t a team in the league they can’t compete with.
The Bad: That diminished defense. They’re not playing as well as they need to be, and the offense isn’t putting together a 60-minute game to lighten the load.
The Ugly: That no-call on pass interference was dubious, but Terrell Suggs getting penalized for a facemask penalty while being facemasked? U-G-L-Y.
6. New York Giants: 6-3 (1)
The Good: With the lights going out, it made it easier to distract from a performance that was coming.
The Bad: This is a team that, for all it’s playmakers, makes too many mistakes on offense. Dropped passes, interceptions and fumbles. They do it all.
The Ugly: Getting humped by a divisional rival is bad. Getting humped by a 1-7 divisional rival is embarrassing.
7. Pittsburgh Steelers: 6-3 (3)
The Good: Finally, Ben Roethlisberger awoke from his slumber with a display that didn’t get the credit it deserved.
The Bad: Have you seen the state of that offensive line?
The Ugly: They’re very close to becoming the team they were last year: a team that played to an elite level at times while being overly reliant on their QB and linebackers. That formula didn’t equal the playoffs last year and it may not this year.
8. Indianapolis Colts: 6-3 (8)
The Good: They’re winning games without playing all that well, and they walked away Sunday without losing any more players.
The Bad: The injuries appear to be starting to take their toll.
The Ugly: They came very close to letting the Bengals back in it. They should be better than that.
9. Green Bay Packers: 6-3 (10)
The Good: In a bye week, they got to sit by and watch one of their divisional rivals drop by the wayside. If you had to pick one sure divisional winner right now it would be these guys.
The Bad: Even a bye week can only do so much. There are still a multitude of players on IR
The Ugly: The sight of me trying to strain my brains and think of something wrong with the Packers without resorting to “their players are all injured.” Oh wait, I did that.
10. New Orleans Saints: 6-3 (11)
The Good: When you’ve played as badly as the Saints have at times and only lost three games, things are better than they probably should be.
The Bad: Two of their wins have come against the Panthers.
The Ugly: They’ve put themselves in a position where they’re likely going to need to beat Matt Ryan in the Georgia Dome to be NFC South champs. That has happened once so far.
11. Miami Dolphins: 5-4 (15)
The Good: Beating a strong Titans team isn’t easy. Doing it with your third-string quarterback is downright impressive.
The Bad: The shoulder injury to Jake Long looks like a factor, but will affect his All-Pro play? He’s the best player on that team and the best at his position in the league.
The Ugly: Two quarterbacks down, what happens if Tyler Thigpen falls? Before Chad Henne was benched, could you ever imagine the Dolphins being down to Patrick Ramsey as a legitimate possibility?
12. Tennessee Titans: 5-4 (6)
The Good: We’re starting to see Chris Johnson get going.
The Bad: Randy Moss’ best play was run blocking and he almost whiffed on that.
The Ugly: Two defeats on the bounce? The Titans are in danger of falling into category of competitive teams who come up short when it matters, and there are too many teams that come up big in the same spots.
13. Oakland Raiders: 5-4 (13)
The Good: The offseason moves they’ve made over the past few years have started to work out big-time, and no more so than on the defensive line.
The Bad: It’s the Raiders, how long can it last?
The Ugly: The reaction of Raider fans when it all goes wrong.
14. San Diego Chargers: 4-5 (14)
The Good: The Chargers have played their worst and are still within touching distance of their nearest rivals.
The Bad: They’re near totally reliant on Philip Rivers right now. The defense isn’t as great as the stats would suggest, and the running game is … inadequate.
The Ugly: Only a bye week kept the Chargers from getting another punt blocked. Look out!
15. Kansas City Chiefs: 5-4 (12)
The Good: Their early season form still makes them playoff contenders.
The Bad: Do playoff contenders really get beaten that badly?
The Ugly: Whether the Broncos were bad sports or not, Todd Haley has to be a better loser than that.
16. Cleveland Browns: 3-6 (16)
The Good: There’s no shame in losing to the Jets.
The Bad: But there is plenty of frustration in losing a game your should have won.
The Ugly: From the penthouse to the outhouse. Chansi Stuckey, step forward. His run was huge in beating the Pats, and his fumble even bigger in losing to the Jets. Doing it against the team that cut you, that was the biggest.
17. Chicago Bears: 6-3 (19)
The Good: Did you see Jay Cutler’s throw to Greg Olsen for a touchdown? Ridiculous!
The Bad: Did you see Jay Cutler’s red-zone interception? Ridiculous!
The Ugly: The Bears need to start beating teams with winning records on a regular basis. Four of their wins have come against teams with a combined six victories.
18. Tampa Bay Buccaneers: 6-3 (18)
The Good: They’re 6-3. Who cares who they’ve faced to pick up those wins?
The Bad: I care, that’s who.
The Ugly: Bucs fans with Super Bowl dreams. Sorry, Pewter Nation. You need more than what the Bucs have to be there in the end.
19. Jacksonville Jaguars: 5-4 (20)
The Good: David Garrard is quietly playing some very good football.
The Bad: You get the feeling the Jags will miss the playoffs and end up in this exact same situation next year. They’re not getting worse but have they really improved recently?
The Ugly: A win cures all ill, but how do you leave Andre Johnson that far alone, that often? Is it a joke we’re not in on?
20. Houston Texans: 4-5 (17)
The Good: They have enough talent to make up the two games they’re behind.
The Bad: Even when the Texans’ defensive backs do the right thing, it doesn’t work out for them.
The Ugly: In essence, it’s looking for the typical Texans finish of or around 8-8. They’ve just not made the progress they should have by now.
21. San Francisco 49ers: 3-6 (26)
The Good: They may actually be the best team in the NFC West.
The Bad: Three wins.
The Ugly: A strong finish to the season and possible playoff spot will only be papering over the cracks of a franchise that needs an infrastructure shakeup.
22. St Louis Rams: 4-5 (23)
The Good: They played well enough against the 49ers to show the real tangible process they’ve made. This team is a couple of playmakers away from being legit.
The Bad: They still lost.
The Ugly: They have to find that extra something on the road. They’ve been in position to win their last two road games and walked away winless.
23. Seattle Seahawks: 5-4 (27)
The Good: That scoreline doesn’t do them justice. They owned the Cardinals in one of the most one-sided performances of the season.
The Bad: They don’t get to play Arizona again this season.
The Ugly: The Seahawks’ red-zone offense was beyond abysmal. They should have finished that game long before it ended.
24. Denver Broncos: 3-6 (29)
The Good: That’s how you fight for your coach. Impressive to put that many points up against a defense that had been as good as the Chiefs’.
The Bad: How do you explain how they’d played previously, when you consider this?
The Ugly: The AFC West is there for the taking and yet the Broncos find themselves playing catchup. They shouldn’t be in this position when you consider the healthy state Mike Shanahan left them in and the lottery ticket that is Brandon Lloyd this year.
25. Washington Redskins: 4-5 (22)
The Good: They’ve seen the last of Michael Vick this year.
The Bad: But only because there’s no way they make the playoffs.
The Ugly: Where do you start? If you didn’t see the game you probably heard the stories, and yes, it was that bad. Even uglier is Mike Shanahan’s refusal to play Albert Haynesworth regularly. He’s your best player. Play him, and sort the egos out later.
26. Dallas Cowboys: 2-7 (32)
The Good: How big was that win? It’s too early to say they turned the corner, but the signs are there.
The Bad: It just makes you wonder what if.
The Ugly: They may be one of the most talented 2-7 teams of all time, which is a bit being like the skinniest fat kid. Which means, no date to the big dance.
27. Minnesota Vikings: 3-6 (21)
The Good: In defeat, they can probably let go of those playoff ambitions and finally start thinking about a future they’ve neglected for too long.
The Bad: They haven’t fired their head coach, right?
The Ugly: That infamous flight to pick up Favre … how bad a move does it now look on the part of everyone involved?
28. Cincinnati Bengals: 2-7 (24)
The Good: They’re good at closing the gap once they fall behind.
The Bad: But not good enough to take the lead.
The Ugly: This team starts games like it wants to lose them and then once the pressure of expectation is off them they play well. Their performance last year probably saves Marvin Lewis, but is this franchise heading anywhere right now?
29. Detroit Lions: 2-7 (25)
The Good: They’re very rarely blown out.
The Bad: They just don’t know how to win games. Unless you practically hand it to them, they’re capable of losing from most spots.
The Ugly: There comes a time when being a better team isn’t good enough and you need to start winning games.
30. Buffalo Bills: 1-8 (31)
The Good: A first win, and they deserved it. Fred Jackson gets much of the credit for one of his good days.
The Bad: As is becoming the story with these guys, they almost found a way to blow it.
The Ugly: Paging Aaron Maybin. Mr. Aaron Maybin.
31. Carolina Panthers: 1-8 (30)
The Good: 2011 doesn’t seem so far away.
The Bad: But it really is.
The Ugly: That offense. It’s ugly and there’s no real end in sight.
32. Arizona Cardinals: 3-6 (28)
The Good: Derek Anderson is somehow still walking upright.
The Bad: The fans booed the Cardinals and while it’s a horrible practice it was completely justified. They were rotten and then some.
The Ugly: The whole third quarter. You may never see a team perform so ineptly as the Cardinals (especially their offense) did during that horrible 15 minutes we’ll never get back.