1.) San Diego (13-3) [+2]
Is there any doubt that San Diego is the most prepared team in the AFC, as well as the best right now? There shouldn't be. Not only did they go out on top, they did so on an 11-game winning streak. Better to finish strong than limp into the playoffs like Indy and New Orleans, I think. Philip Rivers may merit MVP consideration, but after seeing the tumble that the aforementioned teams took without their star QB's, I think it may only strengthen their cases to onlookers.
2.) Minnesota (12-4) [+4]
It appears that the Vikings did what they had to in order to stifle the dismay of fans and others everywhere with their win at home against the Giants. It's a good thing they won, too, since they lost last Monday in an OT game that should have been theirs. Favre and co. are off next week since they're the #2 seed in the NFC. That's probably a good thing, but we'll see how it turns out.
3.) Dallas (11-5) [+2]
The Cowboys didn't swoon in 2009 (though 2-2 in December is hardly cause for celebration), and started 2010 off quite well with their second consecutive shutout of a division rival. They can make it three-in-a-row next week, same Bat time, same Bat channel. I don't like their chances of shutting out Philly again, but I don't see any reason why they can't beat them for a third time this season.
4.) Green Bay (11-5) [+5]
Green Bay made a big jump since I didn't have rankings out last week. Plus, they won both their games rather convincingly, especially this week's romp in Arizona. They have to go there again next week, and here's hoping they bring that same game.
5.) Indianapolis (14-2) [-4]
One of the more disappointing teams the last couple of weeks has been the Colts. They pulled their starters out of what could have been a fairly easy win, and then failed to show up yesterday in Buffalo. True, I wouldn't have wanted to show up either, considering how bad the weather was. But honestly, that's no excuse for professionals of any stripe. I highly doubt that they'll show up well in the playoffs, considering that they have yet another week off and will likely face a feisty team looking to make a name for themselves by knocking off the #1 seed in the AFC.
6.) New Orleans (13-3) [-4]
The Saints came off starting 13-0 by losing the next three games. In addition to hardly showing up for any of those, they have another week off since they're the #1 seed in the NFC. Trouble looming ahead for NOLA? Perhaps. My gut tells me that they're in the same boat as the Colts; they won't be able to turn it back on and will lose their first playoff game. Even if they don't do that, they won't make it to the Super Bowl, thus casting a pallor on what could have been fabulously great seasons.
7.) Philadelphia (11-4) [-3]
I'm not sure how much I can blame Philly for essentially not showing up yesterday. After all, my Cowboys did the same thing last year in the final game of the season. Also, the Eagles come back to Dallas next week with significantly more on the line than a division title. On the whole, a much better season than I expected from them, the shellacking by New Orleans notwithstanding.
8.) New England (10-6) [-1]
The Pats lost Wes Welker and eventually lost a very winnable game to the Texans, giving them and their fans a few hours of false hope. Thankfully, the Jets also won, which keeps the Texans out of the playoffs. But I digress.... Tom Brady and co. aren't on their best legs going into the playoffs, especially with the loss of Welker and the continuing malaise that has surrounded them almost all season. They might win a game in the playoffs, but an extended run seems very unlikely.
9.) Arizona (10-6) [-1]
This offseason might be a good time to address that backup QB situation the Cardinals have. Kurt Warner won't be around forever, and this week's game was proof positive that Matt Leinart is NOT ready to take over the starting job any time soon. I don't really like their chances in the playoffs either, since they just got shellacked by the opponent they'll be facing next week. Plus, it's not like the Packers defense will be any less great against Warner than they were against Leinart. Warner has trouble getting the ball to his best receivers on a good day; with Clay Matthews et al bearing down on him, it's hard to see how he gets the ball out successfully.
10.) Cincinnati (10-6) [no change]
The worst game of the day was undoubtedly Cincinnati's lay down lack of effort against the Jets last night. Why they bothered traveling to New Jersey, I won't know. And let's make one thing clear: Carson Palmer is not and will never be an elite QB in this league or any other. Cedric Benson is what makes this team go, and if their opponents stop him, there's nothing Palmer can do to win a game. The Bengals will be extremely lucky to win a game in the playoffs, and if they have to face San Diego, there's no way they're moving on.