By Jonathan Comey
Cold, Hard Football Facts anti-grinch
And through 15 games, the NFL's No. 1 scoring defense belongs to ...
What? The Patriots?
Yes, the Patriots have ridden a stingy December surge to find themselves tied with the Buccaneers with a league-low 239 points allowed for the season.
New England's D hasn't generated a whole lot of publicity – and probably isn't deserving of the scoring defense title even if they do win it. They're well behind the league leaders in yards per play allowed at 4.9, and much of their defensive success can be traced to the incredibly efficient performance of the offense.
Still, they are right in the mix to claim the title of league's stingiest defense. But it'll be a dogfight: The Steelers are right behind at 242, with the Colts at 246 and the Seahawks at 247.
Who will eventually stand as the scoring defense champ? It's a crapshoot, considering the amount of garbage time that will be played by all of the contending teams in Week 17.
Tampa Bay is probably the front-runner, hosting punchless Carolina in its finale, although the Steelers should also put up a nice small number against a Baltimore team that has scored 22 points over the past two weeks.
If the Patriots do lead the league in scoring offense and defense, they'll become just the fifth team to do so in the Super Bowl Era – only one of them since 1972.  

The 1967 Rams (398 PF, 196 PA) were crushed in the playoffs by the Packers, 28-7, setting up the immortal Ice Bowl between Green Bay and Dallas.  
The 1969 Vikings (379 PF, 133 PA) were embarrassed by the AFL's Chiefs in Super Bowl IV, 23-7.
The 1972 Dolphins (385 PF, 171 PA) closed out their perfect season with a 14-7 victory over the Redskins in Super Bowl VII. Believe it or not, the football world held the undefeated Dolphins, the team with the top scoring offense and scoring defense in football that year, in such low regard that they were underdogs to the Redskins in the Super Bowl.
The 1996 Packers (456 PF, 210 PA) rolled through the playoffs and concluded the season with a 35-21 win over the Patriots in Super Bowl XXXI.
The AFC South wrapped up the best division record in the Super Bowl Era thanks to their two non-division wins Sunday (JAX over OAK, TEN over NYJ).
With all four AFC South teams facing each other in Week 17, the South is guaranteed a final record of 42-22 (.656 winning percentage) -- beating the 1975 AFC Central's .643 winning percentage.
Right behind the South is the NFC East, which won all four of its games out of the division this week and have a record of 38-22. If they go 2-0 out of division in Week 17 (NE at NYG, BUF at PHI), they'll finish 41-23 (.641), which would be the third-best divisional performance in history.
By the way, what was the AFC South's reward for all of its historic excellence? Only nine Pro Bowl selections, better only than the blanked NFC South. The NFC East led the way with 17 nods.
The Vikings and Browns both laid huge eggs yesterday in games with huge playoff implications. Now, both teams will have to sweat out the final week of the season and neither controls their own destiny.
Their shared problem? Young quarterbacks buckling under pressure.
Cleveland's Derek Anderson threw four INTs, and Minnesota's Tarvaris Jackson threw two in the playoff-like atmosphere against Washington, pointing out for the millionth time that good QB play is the overwhelming key to victory in the NFL.
Assuming that Tennessee and Washington hold serve and make the playoffs, 9 of the 12 teams in the promised land will feature quarterbacks with at least one Pro Bowl trip. Only Eli Manning, Todd Collins and David Garrard haven't been to Hawaii, and Garrard might end up there by the time the Pro Bowl bowing-out process is said and done.
The Ravens have lost nine games in a row, including five losses by 14+ games and a loss to the Dolphins. Not a proud run for a team that was 13-3 last year.
Factor in their disappointing 6-10 season of 2005, and this is a team that's been flat-out bad in two of the last three seasons and non-competitive for the second half of this one.
Will Brian Billick be back in 2008? For all the talk about how he'll definitely be back, no one in the Ravens organization has every publicly given Billick a vote of confidence – the source for the "Billick will be back" stuff came from a source to the Baltimore Sun.
Here's a suggestion: how about a coach-for-coach trade?
Send Billick to Cincinnati and Marvin Lewis to Baltimore. Both men are well-respected, but both seem to have reached the end of their rope in their current home. The offensive Billick will finally get some offensive pieces to work with, the defensive Lewis will finally get a defense to work with.
They're both familiar with the AFC North, and both would probably be breaths of fresh air in their new towns.
Sound good? Great. Now, make it happen.
Tennessee DE Kyle Vanden Bosch left little doubt that he deserved a Pro Bowl nod, coming up with three sacks and 10 tackles in the Titans' huge 10-6 win over the Jets. Seattle's Patrick Kerney also shored up his numbers with a sack and two forced fumbles.
San Francisco's Patrick Willis, a somewhat controversial choice as a rookie, had 20 total tackles, two sacks and a forced fumble vs. Tampa, silencing any critics he might have had.
Not looking as Bowl-rific were Joseph Addai, who had his seventh straight non-100-yard game while Jacksonville's Fred Taylor had his fifth straight 100-yard game.
Also, Minnesota's C Matt Birk, G Steve Hutchinson and FB Tony Richardson didn't shine in the national spotlight, as the Vikings ran for 3.5 yards a carry in their must-win loss vs. Washington.
The Lions hired head coach Rod Marinelli in 2006 to bring toughness to Detroit's defense.
In 2005, the Lions were No. 21 in scoring defense and No. 20 in total defense. The year before, it was No. 18 and No. 22 -- respectable, if subpar showings.
So, what has Marinelli done with his tenure in Detroit? Well, not much -- the Lions are No. 32 in both scoring defense and total defense this year after finishing No. 30 in scoring defense in 2006.
Sounds like (gulp!) offensive coordinator Mike Martz has had more to do with the team's "success" (by Detroit standards) in 2007 than Marinelli, and the Lions certainly didn't show much toughness in losing six in a row to plummet out of the NFC playoff picture.
Warner has had a hell of a season in Arizona. Although he hasn't quite been able to erase the stain of Cardinal history from the 2007 unit, he has been consistently excellent.
In his nine complete starts (he left one game after two passes with injury), Warner has had five passer ratings of 99 or better, plus two above-average starts in the 80-90 range. For the season, he's a shade under 90, which any team in the NFL would be happy with from their QB.

Not bad for an aging backup being asked to throw the ball an average of 37.2 times a game.
Warner has gone on record as saying he wants to start for someone next year, and he's proven that he should get that opportunity.      
You already know that parity has more or less died this year: there are a handful of great teams, led by perhaps the greatest of all time, battling against a league of lesser competitors. It's just like the good ol' days.
The have-and-have-not nature of the league is evident in one of the most uncompetitive playoff races in history.
Seventeen teams had already been eliminated from playoff contention heading into the final two weeks of the season. Or, to put it another way, just 15 teams could entertain Super Bowl dreams with two games to play. It was the fewest number of postseason contenders with two weeks to play since the NFL went to a 12-team postseason format in 1990.
Last year at the same point in the season, 24 teams were still in contention and only eight had been eliminated.  
And nothing was resolved this week. The same 15 teams are still in Super Bowl contention: 10 teams have already wrapped up a postseason spot, while five teams will fight on the final week of the season for the final two playoff spots – three in the NFC (Washington, Minnesota and New Orleans) and two in the AFC (Tennessee and Cleveland).
Last year, only 12 teams had been eliminated from the playoffs heading into the final week of the season. Which means there was a whole bunch of postseason jockeying heading into the final week of the season.
This year? Not so much.
Year  2 Weeks to Play  1 Week to Play 
 2007 15  15 
 2006 24
 2005 17  14
 2004 26  17
 2003 17  14
 2002 21  19
 2001 16  13
 2000 17  16
 1999 20  16
 1998 19  14
 1997 18  14
 1996 21  13
 1995 21  18
 1994 22  15
 1993 18  16
 1992 16  14
 1991 18  13
1990  20 15
 * All data comes from the 2007 NFL Record & Fact Book