Throughout the NFL season, Metro football writer Jeff Howe will rank all 32 teams from top to bottom. Don’t like his calls? Want to pat him on the back for giving props to your favorite team? E-mail jeff.howe@metro.us. (Teams’ record and movement from last week’s rankings are in parentheses.)

 

1. Saints (9-0, even). After opening the season with five “2012”-style destructions of their opposition, the Saints have had to claw and scratch to win their last four games. Most notably, they haven’t played anyone all that good, so it looks like New Orleans might be coming back to earth. They do have an easy one Sunday against the Buccaneers.

 

2. Colts (9-0, even). Of Peyton Manning’s 40 career fourth-quarter game-winning drives (including Sunday’s), 29 have come since Tom Brady became the Pats’ starting QB. Brady also has 29.

 

3. Vikings (8-1, even). We’re starting to wonder if WR Sidney Rice’s talent was suppressed by bad QBs in Minnesota. The South Carolina product has 44 catches, 786 yards and two TDs in 2009.

 

4. Bengals (7-2, +3 spots). RB Cedric Benson’s fantasy owners were salivating over upcoming games against the Raiders, Browns and Lions. Then, of course, Benson injured his hip. Ouch.

5. Patriots (6-3, -1 spot). We’re guessing that Red Sox closer Jonathan Papelbon watched the Patriots cough up a manageable lead against Indy on Sunday night and said, “See, not so easy, is it?”

6. Steelers (6-3, -1 spot). QB Ben Roethlisberger after Sunday’s loss to Cincinnati: “Something was weird about the day.” Yeah, the Steelers got swept by the Bengals. That’s as weird as weird gets.

7. Chargers?(6-3, +4 spots). After scoring a TD on Sunday, WR Legadu “Romeo” Naanee ran out of the end zone, got down on one knee and gave the football to a cheerleader. Almost as good as Boise State.

8. Cardinals (6-3, +7 spots). Why the big jump? Here’s why: The Cardinals have won five of their last six games, and every other team in this range either lost or had a bye week last time out.

9. Ravens (5-4, +5 spots). They don’t have any overly impressive victories so far this season, but their losses have come to three of the best teams in football: Bengals (twice), Patriots and Vikings.

10. Cowboys (6-3, -2 spots). Credit the overachieving Cowboys for grabbing the NFC East lead, but it’s disconcerting to see them get handled by a team that had just lost to the lowly Bucs.

11. Eagles (5-4, -2 spots). After suffering his second concussion in a month, RB Brian Westbrook’s season could be over. Philadelphia can’t win the NFC without its star coming out of the
backfield.

12. Giants (5-4, even). While his team was on a bye week, New York RB Brandon Jacobs spent his time promoting the Pacquiao-Cotto boxing match. That totally makes sense to you, too, right?

13. Texans?(5-4, even). Houston offensive lineman Eric Winston, who’s married to a Lowell, Mass., native, tweeted Sunday night to place blame on Laurence Maroney for the Patriots’ loss.

14. Broncos (6-3, -8 spots). The Patriots worked out QB Chris Simms after Tom Brady went down in 2008. Now, Josh McDaniels might need Simms to replace Kyle Orton. That’s a definite downgrade.

15. Falcons (5-4, -5 spots). One of the biggest disappointments thus far in 2009, three of the Falcons’ next four games are against the Giants, Eagles and Saints. Only one way to turn it around.

16. Packers (5-4, +3 spots). QB Aaron Rodgers is getting more pre-snap responsibility in Green Bay. The Packers have given up 41 sacks this season, and Rodgers will now call out protections.

17. Jaguars (5-4, +3 spots). Speedy RB Maurice Jones-Drew’s heady decision to take a knee temporarily kept the Power Board’s fantasy team out of the playoffs. Still, we’ll move them up three spots.

18. Titans (3-6, +3 spots). After 86-year-old owner Bud Adams flipped off Bills fans and was fined a quarter of an indecent proposal, LB Stephen Tulloch said “it’s cool” to have an owner like that.

19. Dolphins (4-5, -2 spots). Beating the Buccaneers is nothing to brag about, but QB Chad Henne’s game-winning drive made him look like another Michigan quarterback. A lot like that Brady guy in Foxboro.

20. 49ers (4-5, +2 spots). They forced five interceptions by Chicago QB Jay Cutler, and San Francisco still had to wait until the final gun to exhale in a win against the Bears. Nothing’s ever easy.

21. Panthers?(4-5, +4 spots). There was an amazing story this week in the Charlotte Observer newspaper about the challenges overcome by Rae Carruth’s son. Make sure to check it out.

22. Bears (4-5, -6 spots). QB Jay Cutler deserves his criticism, but his receivers are not without fault after dogging their routes with the game on the line against the Niners. The Bears have lost four of five.

23. Jets?(4-5, -5 spots). The Jets are 0-3 against teams from Florida this season, and they’ve still got Tampa Bay on the schedule in Week 14. Florida’s three teams are a combined 10-17, by the way.

24. Redskins (3-6, +2). The great thing about watching lost teams like the Redskins is they've got no hesitation to run consecutive trick plays on special teams, like they did Sunday.


25. Seahawks (3-6, -2). Because of Seneca Wallace's success as a fill-in QB and Seattle's 2009 voyage to nowhere, why not give the guy a serious look in the last seven games?

26. Bills (3-6, -2). Their offensive line was an evident weakness heading into the season. But 22 false starts out of the group? Are they in a rush to get out of the stadium?



27. Chiefs (2-7, +1). According to a K.C. report, Larry Johnson jerseys are on sale for less than 10 bucks. By the way, Johnson's future team, the Bengals, play the Chiefs in Week 16.



28. Raiders (2-7, -1). Only four Raiders have double-digit catches. Just one of them, Louis Murphy, is a wide receiver, and he's got a whopping 16 of them.



29. Buccaneers (1-8, even).
If former Bucs coach Jon Gruden remains with Monday Night Football, he's got a chance to be the NFL's version of Lee Corso. Gruden's passion is awesome.



30. Lions (1-8, even).
One Detroit writer believes the Lions' veterans are "resentful" of rookie QB Matt Stafford, who gets little help from his teammates on Sundays.



31. Browns (1-8, even).
Browns fans were trying to stage a boycott of their team's game against Baltimore. Yet, the rest of America was forced to watch them on Monday Night Football.



32. Rams (1-8, even).
Steven Jackson has 414 rushing yards and two touchdowns in the Rams' last three games after he rushed for 501 yards and no touchdowns in their first six games.