NFL Week 9 Power Rankings

Five Quick Hits

* Jeff Triplette is this week's bad ref, for his interpretation of "irrefutable visual evidence" on Chris Henry's third-quarter TD. That was pretty clearly a make-up call.

* It was awesome when Dan Marino did it, but quarterbacks have got to stop faking the spike.

* No one talks about parity in the NFL any more. That was pretty much a three-year fad.

* Halfway through the season, my choice for defensive player of the year is Troy Polamalu. He'll have to keep up this level of play while James Farrior is out.

* Kudos to CBS for picking up the end of the Chargers/Jets and Chiefs/Raiders games.

***

I don't like writing about Terrell Owens, and with any luck, this is the last time you'll read his name in my column this year. That said, his suspension this week merits attention. For those who somehow missed it, the Eagles have suspended Owens without pay for four games — the maximum allowed under the collective bargaining agreement — pending a challenge from the union. When the suspension is over, Owens will not return to the team. Most likely, the team will de-activate him for the remainder of the season and release him at the end of the year.

Owens' latest offenses — insulting the Eagles organization and Donovan McNabb, in separate incidents — were not, taken alone, unforgivable offenses. But as part of a pattern of behavior, and specifically a pattern of failure to respect his coach's warnings and requests, Owens had to go. The guy just doesn't get it. Everyone respects him as an athlete and a player, but I don't think anyone in the NFL respects Owens as a person.

T.O. is emotionally immature to the point of ridiculousness. He's the Michael Jackson of the NFL, living in a fantasy world where only his own desires matter. It's normal for children to go through an egocentric stage, perceiving the world only as it relates to themselves, but in a grown man, it's somewhere between sad and frightening.

I tried to think this weekend of a team where Owens would be happy. As in, Owens wants every team he plays on to be the Joe Montana 49ers. But even Montana's Niners had down years, so I thought of the John Unitas Colts, but that's not any better, and Vince Lombardi's Packers didn't throw enough. Paul Brown's Cleveland teams had too much talent to go around, so Owens wouldn't have gotten much credit. In short, I don't think professional football ever has or ever will see a team on which Owens would be happy for any extended period of time.

Some team will overpay for him this offseason, but the sooner he goes away, the better everyone will be. The NFL is hugely popular, and while Owens has been a rollercoaster sideshow the last few years, the league doesn't need him. I may be mesmerized by a train wreck, but that doesn't mean I want it to happen. Terrell Owens is a train wreck.

On to the Week 9 power rankings. As usual, brackets indicate last week's rank.

1. Indianapolis Colts [1] — Haven't won by fewer than 17 points since Week 3. Their opponents this season have a combined record of 27-42 (.391), and their only game against a winning team was Week 2 at home against 5-3 Jacksonville, a 10-3 victory. I loved their second play from scrimmage on Monday night, the long pass to Marvin Harrison. It was vintage Manning, exactly the kind of play he hasn't been able to make against the Patriots in the past. The Colts are the best team in the NFL, with breathing room, but they aren't going 16-0. I think they'll win at Cincinnati, but watch out for Pittsburgh on MNF, at Jacksonville in Week 14, and San Diego at home the week afterwards.

2. Denver Broncos [2] — Mike Shanahan's squad can put itself in great position in the AFC West with a win this week, which would move them to 3-0 in the division. I'll do my annual Pro Bowl column in a couple weeks, and a number of Broncos will be getting a close look, particularly the offensive line and linebacking corps.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers [3] — Clearly not the same team without Ben Roethlisberger, but they can still beat the league's Green Bays, and probably its Clevelands. I'd sit Big Ben against the Browns next week, line up Antwaan Randle El at QB, and make sure Roethlisberger is going to be healthy for big games at the end of the season. And yes, I am joking about Randle El. Kind of.

4. Seattle Seahawks [5] — LaDainian Tomlinson is having an MVP-caliber season, but Shaun Alexander is Jim Taylor to Tomlinson's Jim Brown, or Marcus Allen to Tomlinson's Eric Dickerson. Alexander is sensational, the total package. The Seahawks have won four in a row and can effectively clinch the division with wins at home against the Rams and at San Francisco in the next two weeks.

5. New York Giants [7] — Good no-call by Peter Morelli's crew late in the second quarter, when the crowd wanted pass interference on Gibril Wilson's incidental contact with Brandon Lloyd. The Giants continue to use Brandon Jacobs in short-yardage situations, and while I think it makes sense to give Tiki Barber a rest, it's a mistake to take him out of the game in key situations. On 4th-and-1 or near the goal line, the ball should be going to Barber. On important downs, you go to your money player, not the guy who replaced Ron Dayne.

6. San Diego Chargers [4] — At the midpoint of the season, Tomlinson is my choice for league MVP. Drew Brees is having another solid season, and Antonio Gates, whom I wasn't crazy about last year, is clearly the best tight end in the NFL. I would like to see a little more from the defense, and it would help if they ran the ball more often. You don't want to wear Tomlinson out, but Michael Turner or Darren Sproles could probably take a few more carries.

7. Dallas Cowboys [10] — Won three of their last four, including two division games and a blowout win against Arizona. The loss was by a field goal at Seattle, the game decided by Drew Bledsoe's late interception and Josh Brown's 50-yard field goal. I don't have a great deal of faith in Dallas — the top six are pretty solid and it's closely bunched after that — but they can show something big with a season sweep over Philadelphia Monday night.

8. Jacksonville Jaguars [6] — Let Houston stick around much too long, taking their first lead with under three minutes left in the game. The Jags came back from their bye totally deflated. In Weeks 5 and 6, they beat the Bengals and Steelers. They were off in Week 7, and since then they've lost to the Rams and barely beat the Texans. If they don't put away the Ravens on Sunday, I'll probably drop them out of the top 10.

9. Carolina Panthers [15] — If the real Panthers are the ones who have outscored opponents 72-27 the last two weeks, Carolina should probably be ranked sixth or seventh. If the real Panthers are the ones who barely beat Arizona in Week 5 and needed a controversial replay ruling to defeat the Lions in Week 6, they should still be 15th. Their next test of any kind is at Chicago in two weeks, but the game everyone wants to see is the division matchup against Atlanta in Week 13.

10. Atlanta Falcons [8] — Dominated Sunday's game in a way the score doesn't reflect, but lost the turnover battle to keep things close. The Falcons have three should-win games before the showdown against Carolina, which they'll have extra time to prepare for because of a Thursday Thanksgiving matchup in Detroit.

11. Washington Redskins [11] — Undefeated at home, including wins against 5-3 Chicago, 6-2 Seattle, and the Eagles, plus the 52-17 humiliation of the 49ers. The whole division is strong at home, a combined 14-1, with the sole loss being Washington's last-minute defeat of the Cowboys on MNF in Week 2.

12. Kansas City Chiefs [13] — Gutsy call at the end of the game, one I probably wouldn't have made. The Chiefs have allowed at least 20 points in six consecutive games and are in the middle of a five-game stretch in which they play on the road four times. When it's over, they play New England, followed by five straight games against teams with winning records to close the season. Ouch.

13. New England Patriots [9] — They eased up later in the game, but for the entire first quarter, Dwight Freeney was double-teamed on every play, and New England did a pretty nice job against the Colts' defensive line. I didn't care for Bill Belichick's gamesmanship on his replay challenge in the fourth quarter, the one that puzzled the announcers so much. Belichick threw the red flag to buy some time for his defense to prepare for the two-point conversion. It's as good as a timeout, but it takes even longer and there's a chance someone like Triplette will overturn the TD.

14. Cincinnati Bengals [14] — Haven't beaten anyone. They won at Chicago way back in Week 3, but the Bengals lost to Jacksonville and Pittsburgh, and I don't see anything special to show that they can play with the big boys. Carson Palmer's having a nice season, but he hasn't been great in either of the games I've seen this year.

15. Philadelphia Eagles [12] — I feel bad for McNabb. He's a classy guy and one of the best players in the NFL, but he's run into unfair criticisms ever since he was booed when his name was called on draft day. I've talked to lots of Eagles fans who claimed that they were booing the pick, not Donovan, but that's a pretty subtle distinction. If you see tape of that day, his face fell and his smile faltered. It still makes me sad. Now Terrell Owens is treating McNabb the same way he did Jeff Garcia, and McNabb is handling the incident with class and surprising restraint. Even if you don't like the Eagles, it's tough not to like McNabb. The Eagles aren't going to the playoffs this season, and L.J. Smith's injury won't make things any easier, but I look forward to the old Donovan and the old Eagles, pre-T.O., who you may recall were pretty good.

16. Oakland Raiders [16] — I actually heard rumblings this week about Norv Turner's job, which is ridiculous. The Raiders haven't lost to anyone they shouldn't have, and they're keeping things close against everyone, playing hard, and showing progress. This won't be a playoff season for them, but they're worlds better than the last two years.

17. St. Louis Rams [17] — I don't have anything to say about the Rams this week (bye), but CBS had the double-header this weekend, and I've been seeing more of their studio crew this year. Shannon Sharpe is a clever guy, quick on his feet, and his talent is wasted in the studio. Shannon should be in the broadcast booth. I'd like to hear FOX's Howie Long and ESPN's Ron Jaworski do games, as well.

18. Chicago Bears [18] — Last week, I said nice things about Kyle Orton, so this week, he sucked, with a 43.3 passer rating and three turnovers. The defense bailed him out, as usual, and the Bears have won four straight. Thomas Jones' status for next week's game is up in the air, and Chicago will miss him if he can't go.

19. Buffalo Bills [20] — New England will probably win the AFC East, but Buffalo and Miami are only one game out. Don't look now, but the winner of this division could be every bit as bad as the winner of the NFC North.

20. Miami Dolphins [22] — Best point differential in the AFC East, at -5. The whole division is below zero. Miami went 0-for-9 on third downs against Atlanta.

21. Tampa Bay Buccaneers [19] — At the beginning of the season, they had a soft schedule (opponents with a combined record of 17-39, .304) and some luck. The second-half schedule isn't devastating, but it's tougher, and Brian Griese is out for the season. This team is in huge trouble, and I don't expect it to make the playoffs.

22. Detroit Lions [21] — Lost three of their last four, all winnable games, to fall out of realistic contention for a playoff spot. To make matters worse, Garcia probably won't be ready for next week's game, and he was their best hope to turn things around. Kevin Jones is also banged up, so their matchup against the Cardinals could end up much more exciting than it should be.

23. Baltimore Ravens [23] — The official screwed up on that inadvertent whistle that negated Will Demps' fumble runback, but it wasn't the crime against humanity that some are making it out to be. The whistle had clearly blown, so Cincinnati's defenders didn't put much effort into their pursuit of Demps, and it's likely he wouldn't really have scored a touchdown if they'd been trying.

24. Minnesota Vikings [28] — I'm not jumping on the Brad Johnson bandwagon, it's just that someone has to be ranked 24th. The Vikings have won two of their last three, so they get the nod.

25. New York Jets [29] — Topped 20 points for the first time this season, with 26 against San Diego. Brooks Bollinger was effective in relief of Vinny Testaverde and should remain the team's quarterback until Jay Fiedler returns, but Wayne Chrebet and Chris Baker were both lost for the season, and the Jets' running game ranks 29th in both yards and average. This is really a pretty charitable ranking.

26. New Orleans Saints [25] — Not surprisingly, the team without a home has the worst "home" record in the NFL this season. The Saints have lost five in a row, starting with that 52-3 thrashing in Green Bay.

27. Cleveland Browns [27] — The Browns are 3-0 this season when they score at least 20 points, but that's been a challenge for them. Cleveland is 30th in the NFL in points per game, ahead of Houston and Baltimore, but behind offensive powerhouses like the Lions and 49ers.

28. Tennessee Titans [26] — Four losses in a row. If you don't count beating Houston, and you probably shouldn't, they've lost six straight. Steve McNair seems like his best days are behind him.

29. Arizona Cardinals [24] — In two games against the Cardinals this season, Alexander rushed for 313 yards and 6 touchdowns with a 7.0 average. Arizona's offensive line is terrible, and the best player on defense, Bertrand Berry, is now out for the season.

30. Green Bay Packers [30] — The team is 1-7, but it leads the NFC North in points for (168) by a wide margin (Chicago is next with 139), and has outscored opponents this season.

31. Houston Texans [31] — Haven't topped 20 points all season, and David Carr got sacked six times on Sunday, more than Peyton Manning has all year. That brings the team's total to 43, and only one other team (Minnesota) is above 28.

32. San Francisco 49ers [32] — Worst point differential in the NFL, at -129. The 49ers lose by an average of more than 16 points, and haven't scored over 17 in a game since September.

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