This is a no-frills team, balanced and built for the long haul. Coach TomCoughlin has found his voice, DE Justin Tuck his groove and QB Eli Manning hiscomfort zone. New York could chant its We get no respect mantra all the way toTampa.
After the training-camp fight between WR Steve Smith and CB Ken Lucas, thisteam has come together. Though not as deep as the conference champs of 2003,the Panthers are similar in two respects, especially: They're tough andunpredictable.
Green Bay has the weapons to beat anybody—the Pack nearly took out theTitans—but has trouble closing out games. QB Aaron Rodgers will be judged bywins and losses in December, and he'll do enough to get the Pack to thepostseason.
If QB Kurt Warner was a borderline candidate for the Hall of Fame before theseason, he has a much stronger case now. The Cardinals can score from anywhere,and their defense is respectable. It won't be a deep playoff run, but it'll befun while it lasts.
5. REDSKINS (WILDCARD)
With coach Jim Zorn channeling Joe Gibbs and RB Clinton Portis chewing up yardslike John Riggins, Washington does a superb job moving the chains and milkingthe clock. Other than the odd gadget play, the Skins thrive on theconventional: run the ball, stop the run, win the game.
6. EAGLES (WILDCARD)
With images of Cole Hamels and Ryan Howard dancing in their heads, the Eagleswill ride the good vibes of the champion Phillies and give the NFC East itsthird playoff entry—provided RB Brian Westbrook stays upright.
Eagles over Packers, Redskins over Cardinals
Giants over Eagles, Panthers over Redskins
Giants over Panthers
Tennessee is the league's only undefeated team because it runs the ball(league-high 15 TDs), keeps opponents out of the end zone (league-low 103points allowed) and doesn't beat itself (just eight giveaways). Plus, coachJeff Fisher isn't afraid to make a bold call—see Kerry Collins for Vince Youngat QB.
They've beaten every team in their division and get two of the three rematchesat home. They have a stingy D, a strong running game, an elite QB and solidspecial teams. In other words, they're built to win in the cold and the muck.But can the O-line keep Ben Roethlisberger clean?
The Brady-less Pats play solid on defense and avoid mistakes on offense. Still,they're going to need more from Matt Cassel down the stretch. He's thrown onlyone TD pass in four road starts.
Three-win San Diego showed its desperation last week by replacing defensivecoordinator Ted Cottrell with the more aggressive Ron Rivera. The offenseremains one of the best—and should improve with RB LaDainian Tomlinson and TEAntonio Gates finally getting healthy.
5. JETS (WILDCARD)
If Brett Favre can resist the temptation to keep "hitting on 20"—coachEric Mangini's blackjack analogy for taking unneeded chances—the schedule setsup nicely after mid-November games at New England and Tennessee.
6. COLTS (WILDCARD)
After beating New England, the Colts now face only two more teams with winningrecords, Pittsburgh and Tennessee. And the Titans might be resting theirstarters for the playoffs when the clubs meet in the season finale.
Patriots over Colts; Chargers over Jets
Titans over Chargers, Steelers over Patriots
Titans over Steelers
Raymond James Stadium, Tampa; Feb. 1, 2009
GIANTS 16, TITANS 13
KURT ANSWER Warner has the Cards airborne.
ED WOLFSTEIN/ICON SMI
BRETT GAIN Favre's proved his worth to the Jets.