Let the playoff positioning begin

ON THE NFL

Monday Morning Qb

Ravens Gameday

November 19, 2007|By KEN MURRAY

Back in Week 1, after they cut Byron Leftwich, turned the offense over to unproven David Garrard and lost the season opener, the Jacksonville Jaguars looked to be in disarray.

It's Week 11, though, and they're looking pretty good.

Fresh off an impressive 24-17 beating of the once-formidable San Diego Chargers, the Jaguars are nipping at the heels of the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC South.

And even if they don't catch the defending Super Bowl champs, the Jaguars (7-3) are in great position to win one of the two AFC wild-card berths.

It's never too early to start calculating the playoff seeds. Here's a two-minute drill with where the top teams stand right now.

AFC

1. New England Patriots (9-0): The only question is whether they can run the table for a perfect season. It's hard to find a team capable of beating them.

2. Colts (8-2): There are cracks in Peyton Manning's armor. He has thrown 11 interceptions this season, eight in the past three games. But we counted them out a year ago because of atrocious run defense, and we won't do that again.

3. Pittsburgh Steelers (7-3): They're probably not as good as their record, and they always seem to be on the verge of disaster. But they're still the best team in the AFC North.

4. Chargers (5-5): Most disappointing team in the NFL in the AFC's worst division. A .500 record might even win the wretched West.

5. Jaguars (7-3): They are one game behind the Colts in the AFC South and one game ahead of the Tennessee Titans. Garrard has shown the wisdom of the team's decision to dump Leftwich.

6. Titans (6-3): They've got a big game at Denver tonight against the Broncos (4-5). But unless Vince Young starts playing better, their playoff prospects are a moot point.

NFC

1. Dallas Cowboys (9-1): Their only loss was to the Patriots, and they're 7-0 against the NFC. What's more, Terrell Owens, who carried the Cowboys in a 28-23 win over the Washington Redskins yesterday, is starting to scare people again.

2. Green Bay Packers (9-1): The Packers have won five straight since an October loss to the Chicago Bears. Brett Favre looks rejuvenated (fewer turnovers), but sooner or later, they'll need to run the ball, and that's going to be a problem.

3. Seattle Seahawks (6-4): They beat Tampa Bay in Week 1 to earn this spot over the Buccaneers, and they've been playing better. But without Shaun Alexander, who looks like he's done, the Seahawks are a pass-only team, and that's not going to take them very far.

4. Buccaneers (6-4): Jeff Garcia has made a big difference, but the NFC South has sunk to new lows. With their soft finishing schedule, the Buccaneers shouldn't have any problem winning the division.

5. New York Giants (7-3): Who can forget how they collapsed after a 6-2 start last year? Who's to say that won't happen again?

6. Detroit Lions (6-4): They're winning on a wing (Jon Kitna's) and a prayer. Except neither worked in yesterday's 16-10 loss to the Giants. They could easily get bounced by the Redskins or Eagles, both of whom are 5-5.

Around the league

It's easy to second-guess Atlanta coach Bobby Petrino for starting Leftwich after Joey Harrington won two straight games for the struggling Falcons. What was he thinking? That Leftwich is a franchise quarterback and could step right in? Leftwich has fallen so far so fast, he's not even a good backup quarterback now. Say what you will about Harrington, but at least he can move around in the pocket.

Jacksonville's 24-17 victory over the Chargers showed some resourcefulness. Knowing they were about to lose Marcus Stroud to a four-week steroid suspension, the Jaguars signed massive nose tackle Grady Jackson, cut earlier in the year by Atlanta. Jackson threw his weight around enough against the Chargers, and his weight was considerably above the listed 345 pounds.

If not a bust, Arizona cornerback Antrel Rolle has not measured up as the eighth pick in the 2005 draft for the Cardinals. But in Cincinnati against the sad-sack Bengals, Rolle had a career day. He picked off Carson Palmer three times and returned all three for touchdowns of longer than 50 yards, but lost the last one to a penalty. Palmer threw four interceptions, another sign of the futility in Cincinnati.

The Chargers' Philip Rivers made another big mistake that cost his team yesterday. With the game on the line in the final two minutes, he stared down his receiver on a simple slant and didn't see the defensive back who intercepted the ball. Rivers has thrown more interceptions (12) than touchdown passes (11) this season, which goes a long way toward explaining San Diego's record.

ken.murray@baltsun.com

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