Their home turf may be soft (poll, below), but their defense is not. These folks quash QBs (linebacker James Harrison, above, has 14 sacks), pilfer passes (Troy Polamalu's got six picks) and steamroll running backs. And they do it with a conscience. After safety Ryan Clark hammered Patriots receiver Wes Welker during a Steelers rout on Sunday, Clark apologized.
This isn't the guy you're thinking of—though Peyton Manning has led the Colts to five straight wins. Broncos rookie Peyton Hillis (right) rushed for 129 yards versus the allegedly mighty Jets, not bad for a seventh-rounder. He said it was a birthday gift for his father, Doug, who turned a ripe ol' 44.
Two goals one night, three the next, the Penguins' Crosby (12 points in five games) is in one of those zones. "You can see the fire in his eyes," said coach Michel Therrien. Nor is hockey's top star engaging in any LeBron-to-Broadway-style hype; Sid says he feels "fortunate" to be appreciated in Pittsburgh.
Cincinnati's finest wrapped up the Big East title and a trip to a BCS bowl by stomping Syracuse 30--10. Ranked a best-ever No. 13, the Cats are in a state of what receiver Mardy Gilyard called "utter bliss."
Not even the mystique of Lambeau Field on a wintry afternoon could help the Pack win a close one. A 35--31 cough-up to Carolina was 5--7 Green Bay's fourth loss this season by four points or less. "We didn't make plays in crunch time," said QB Aaron Rodgers (above). Now, less than a year removed from a 13--3 season—they had a different QB then—their playoff hopes are dim.
Here's the guy you remember. Just when it seemed Bears QB Kyle Orton could stay out of trouble (he'd gone six games without throwing an interception) he was back to his old self, throwing three late picks in a costly loss to Minnesota. Said Chicago coach Lovie Smith, "Kyle will learn from this day."
He started fast—no one had swifter training runs before the World Cup opener at Lake Louise, Alberta, last week—but finished slow. Sixteenth place in the downhill was a bummer for Bode Miller; losing a ski and failing to finish in the Super G.... No wonder he didn't talk to reporters.
Cincinnati's lowest sank lower still after getting their "heads kicked in" (coach Marvin Lewis's words) in a 34--3 loss to Baltimore. What may be the worst Bengals offense ever now slouches toward a showdown in Indy.
SI PLAYERS NFL POLL
Which team has the NFL's worst playing surface?
Steelers (Heinz Field) 27%
Raiders (McAfee Coliseum) 13%
Eagles (Lincoln Financial Field) 7%
Dolphins (Dolphins Stadium) 7%
Chiefs (Arrowhead Stadium) 6%
Players could not vote for their own team's stadium.... Heinz Field's hybrid grass surface has long been criticized, never more than after rain, and wear and tear, turned it into a mass of mud during a Steelers-Dolphins Monday-night game last year; Pittsburgh won 3--0.... Dolphins Stadium also finished fourth (7%) in a poll asking which team has the best playing surface (SI, Dec. 1).
[Based on a survey of 320 NFL players] • For more on the poll, and to comment on it, go to SI.com/players.
BOB ROSATO (HARRISON)
HEINZ KLUETMEIER (RODGERS)
DAVID BERGMAN (HILLIS)
DAVID E. KLUTHO (CROSBY)
TODD KOROL (MILLER)
DAVID N. BERKWITZ