Like the CHFF staff charging toward an open bar, here come the Colts, charging maniacly through a crucial stretch of the regular season schedule, tossing aside all the teams without a drinking problem that stand in their way.
Remember Week 8? Indy lost at AFC South rival Tennessee to fall four games out of first place in the division and drop below .500 for the first time since before Jim Mora cried "Playoffs?!
Worse, the Colts barely won two of the three games credited to them, couldn't stop the run and had someone under center who looked less like Peyton Manning and more like Cooper Manning. Middle child Peyton, seemingly playing hurt and already down a receiver thanks to the ghost of Marvin Harrison lining up opposite Reggie Wayne, looked lost.
But the past two games have brought rejuvenation. In Weeks 9 and 10, Manning led the Colts to season-saving victories over the Patriots and Steelers, two first-place teams with five Quality Wins between them. Combined, he completed 42 of 69 passes for 494 yards and 5 TDs.
Suddenly, with the second half of the season upon them, the Colts look like the Colts again. They are back over .500 (5-4) and join the powerhouse Titans and Giants as the only teams in the NFL with four Quality Wins
. And they rise from No. 15 in our rankings last week to No. 8 this week.
The future looks good, too: Indy is not scheduled to face a team with a winning record until Week 17's rematch with the Titans.
By the time we've sobered up from the office Christmas party, Indy may again be in the playoffs.
THE DOMINANT DOZEN
1. TENNESSEE (9-0, previous rank: same)
Last week: Completing 30 of 41 passes for 289 yards and 2 TDs, Kerry Collins posted his best performance since 2005 and kept the Titans perfect with a 21-14 win in Chicago.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Tight end and leading receiver Bo Scaife continued to be Collins's favorite target, posting a career-high 10 catches for 78 yards and a touchdown against the Bears.
Week 11 matchup: at Jacksonville. Tennessee is 15-12 against the Jaguars since Jacksonville joined the league in 1995, outscoring their division rivals 519-503 over that span.
2. N.Y. GIANTS (8-1, previous rank: same)
Last week: The Giants ripped off another 200-yard effort on the ground (219), running up 401 total yards and holding the ball for over 39:10 in a 36-31 road win over Philly.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: The Eagles scored the second-most points the Giants have allowed all season (Cleveland, 35), but the G-Men held Philly's best player, Brian Westbrook, to just 59 total yards.
Week 11 matchup: vs. Baltimore. It will be strength on strength, as the Giants rank first in rushing (168.9 YPG) and the Ravens rank first in stopping the run (65.4 YPG).
3. CAROLINA (7-2, previous rank: 4)
Last week: Jake Delhomme carved out a turkey three weeks early (7 of 27 for 72 yards, tying a career-high with 4 INTs, and a 12.3 passer rating), but Carolina still managed to win in Oaktown, 17-6.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Carolina's second-ranked defense (14.8 PPG) padded its stats, forcing three turnovers, registering five sacks and holding the Raiders to just 259 total yards.
Week 11 matchup: vs. Detroit. With a game at NFC South foe Atlanta looming in Week 12, the Panthers will try to avoid the proverbial trap against the winless Lions.
4. TAMPA BAY (6-3, previous rank: 5)
Last week: Bye. The Buccaneers took time off to fine-tune an offense that is ninth in total yards (350.3 YPG) but only 16th in scoring (22.2 PPG).
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Eight different defenders have at least one interception this season, led by rookie Aqib Talib's 3.
Week 11 matchup: vs. Minnesota. The Bucs haven't lost to the Vikings, their former NFC Central rivals, at home since 1997.
5. WASHINGTON (6-3, previous rank: same)
Last week: Bye. The time off allowed Clinton Portis (200 rushes, 995 yards, 8 TDs) to rest his sprained knee.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Jim Zorn may be an offensive guru, but his defense ranks fourth overall (272.1 YPG), and the Redskins allow only 18.7 PPG, good for eighth in the league.
Week 11 matchup: vs. Dallas. After rushing for 121 yards on 21 carries (5.8 YPA) in Washington's Week 4 win in Big D, Portis now has 625 yards on 154 carries (4.1 YPA) against the Cowboys in his career.
6. NEW ENGLAND (6-3, previous rank: 9)
Last week: The Patriots bounced back from their tough loss to the Colts by limiting the Bills to 168 total yards in a 20-10 home win.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Wide receiver Wes Welker became the first player in NFL history to catch six or more passes in the first nine games of a season. His 10 catches for 107 yards against Buffalo were both season highs.
Week 11 matchup: vs. N.Y. Jets on Thursday Night. First place in the AFC East will be on the line as the Patriots, who have allowed just 51 points in their last four games, face a Jets team that put up 47 last week and averages 28.3 PPG, third in the league.
7. ARIZONA (6-3, previous rank: 10)
Last week: Thanks to another vintage performance from MVP candidate Kurt Warner (32 of 42 for 328 yards and 3 TDs), the Cardinals survived a scare from their division rivals and took complete command of the NFC West with a 29-24 win.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: In his last three games, Warner has passed for 1,052 yards and seven touchdowns – with just one interception.
Week 11 matchup: at Seattle. The Cardinals were doubled up in their most recent trip to Qwest Field, losing 42-21 last December. This year, Arizona should have a field day, as the Seahawks field one of the worst pass defenses in the league and the Cardinals one of the best pass offenses.
8. INDIANAPOLIS (5-4, previous rank: 15)
Last week: On life support just two weeks ago, the Colts posted their second straight Quality Win by invading Heinz Field and beating Pittsburgh 24-20.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Indy rallied from a double-digit deficit for the third time this season and now boasts four come-from-behind victories.
Week 11 matchup: vs. Houston. When these teams met in Week 5 at Reliant Stadium, the Colts scored 21 fourth-quarter points during a 2:16 span in the final five minutes of an improbable 31-27 win.
9. PITTSBURGH (6-3, previous rank: 3)
Last week: Coming off a huge Monday night win at Washington, the Steelers blew a 10-point second-half lead and lost their second straight home game to a Manning, falling 24-20 to the Colts.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Granted, he's playing with a separated shoulder, a makeshift offensive line and a third-string running back, but Ben Roethlisberger has thrown eight interceptions in his last three games and ranks 13th in the AFC in passer rating (76.1).
Week 11 matchup: vs. San Diego. The Chargers haven't won in Pittsburgh since the 1994 AFC championship game, losing by double digits in each of their three visits.
10. ATLANTA (6-3, previous rank: 11)
Last week: The Falcons continued the curse of the visiting NFC South opponent, beating New Orleans 34-20 in Atlanta.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Saints QB Drew Brees passed for 422 yards, but the Falcons forced him into a season-high three interceptions, returning one 95 yards for a touchdown.
Week 11 matchup: vs. Denver. Atlanta's second-ranked ground attack (157.8 YPG) must be licking their chops at the thought of facing Denver's 27th-ranked run defense (146.3 PPG). Oh! The Broncos also suck on pass defense (103.2 defensive passer rating, 31st).
11. N.Y. JETS (6-3, previous rank: 19)
Last week: The AFC's leading rusher, Thomas Jones, carried for 149 yards and three touchdowns as the Jets cruised to the biggest win in franchise history, dumping St. Louis 47-3.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Brett Favre played his first game without throwing an interception since a Week 1 win over Miami.
Week 11 matchup: at New England on Thursday night. Against their former team, Jets coach Eric Mangini is 1-5 (2006-present) and newly re-signed cornerback Ty Law is 0-2 (2005).
12. BALTIMORE (6-3, previous rank: 13)
Last week: Led by two interceptions from Ray Lewis, the Ravens beat host Houston 41-13 for their fourth straight win and moved into a first-place tie with Pittsburgh in the AFC North.
Cold, Hard Football Facts: Willis McGahee's 112-yard performance marked Baltimore's third game out of four with a 100-yard rusher.
Week 11 matchup: at N.Y. Giants. Baltimore's four straight wins have come against Miami, Oakland, Cleveland and Houston, teams with an aggregate winning percentage of .361. New York's winning percentage is .889.
THE TEPID TWENTY
13. CHICAGO (5-4, previous rank: 8) — Bears fans long for the return of Kyle Orton after Rex Grossman's underwhelming performance against the Titans (54.1 completion percentage, 4.7 YPA, 64.4 passer rating).
14. PHILADELPHIA (5-4, previous rank: 7)
— With the game against the Giants on the line and three yards to gain for a first down, Eagles coach Andy Reid called two straight power runs even though his team a) ranks No. 22 in rushing (98.3 YPG) and b) was facing one of the league's top groups of Defensive Hogs
15. MIAMI (5-4, previous rank: 18) — The Dolphins, winners of three straight, scored all three of their touchdowns against Seattle on unconventional plays (a flea flicker and two runs from the Wildcat formation).
16. BUFFALO (5-4, previous rank: 12) — The Bills, who have squandered their 4-0 start by losing three in a row and four of five, have now scored 10 points or fewer in each of their last four games against the Patriots.
17. MINNESOTA (5-4, previous rank: 21) — Vikings backs Adrian Peterson and Chester Taylor combined for 338 of Minnesota's 361 total yards in last week's 28-27 win over Green Bay.
18. DALLAS (5-4, previous rank: 17) — Tony Romo steps under center again and the Beattie Feathers watch is back on with the return of rookie Felix Jones, who has 30 carries for 266 yards (8.9 YPA) and three touchdowns in just five games.
19. SAN DIEGO (4-5, previous rank: 20) — Phillip Rivers is the NFL's highest-rated passer (106.3) and leads the league in both touchdowns (21) and YPA (8.7). The problem is a defense that surrenders 264.9 YPG (32nd).
20. GREEN BAY (4-5, previous rank: 14) — One week after nearly upsetting Tennessee, the Packers executed poorly against Minnesota, giving up four sacks and two safeties, committing 10 penalties and averaging just 3.8 yards per play.
21. DENVER (5-4, previous rank: 23) — The Broncos lead the awful AFC West despite surrendering more points than they score (224 to 251), the only division leader with such an ignominious claim.
22. NEW ORLEANS (4-5, previous rank: 16) — The Saints' leading rusher against Atlanta last week was wide receiver Devery Henderson, who carried once for 30 yards. The team's leading rusher this season, Reggie Bush, is on pace for 523 yards.
23. JACKSONVILLE (4-5, previous rank: 24) — Maurice Jones-Drew gashed the Lions for 70 yards on just 11 carries and scored three touchdowns – as many as he had in his previous three games combined – helping the Jaguars avoid a horrendous trifecta of consecutive losses to Cleveland, Cincinnati and Detroit.
24. HOUSTON (3-6, previous rank: 22) — Mario Williams, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft, is among the league leaders with 8 sacks – which is much better than the fate of No. 2 overall pick in the 2006 draft Reggie Bush (see New Orleans, No. 22, above).
25. CLEVELAND (3-6, previous rank: same) — Bye-bye, Romeo. The former defensive guru's team has surrendered 38 fourth-quarter points in the last two weeks, blowing two straight double-digit leads in the process – both times at home.
26. KANSAS CITY (1-8, previous rank: 27) — The Chiefs keep coming closer to their second win of the season, losing their last three games in the waning moments by 4, 3 and 1. But at least Herm's Squad played to win the game against San Diego.
27. SEATTLE (2-7, previous rank: 28) — Despite losing five of their last six, the Seahawks are still ranked 13th in rushing, averaging a tidy 115.6 YPG.
28. ST. LOUIS (2-7, previous rank: 26) — Let's hope that interim coach Jim Haslett didn't decide to buy instead of rent after the Rams won his first two games at the helm. He's 0-3 since the comparisons to Vince Lombardi and Bill Belichick.
29. CINCINNATI (1-8, previous rank: same) — In their last game, a Week 9 win over Jacksonville, the Bengals gained 312 total yards, which is 74 more than the season average of the league's worst offense (238.2 YPG).
30. SAN FRANCISCO (2-7, previous rank: same) — Second-year 49ers receiver Jason Hill certainly responded to having his namesake, Shaun, starting at quarterback against Arizona, catching seven passes – three more than his career total coming in.
31. OAKLAND (2-7, previous rank: 32) — Only the Pop Warner Raiders could intercept four passes, record two sacks and allow just 219 total yards at home...and still lose by double digits.
32. DETROIT (0-9, previous rank: 31)
— Where's George Plimpton when you need him
? After signing and then starting Daunte Culpepper, who hadn't played since Week 12 of 2007, the Lions are considering open tryouts for all positions, "Invincible" style.