The best team in the NFL right now is … irrelevant |

The best team in the NFL right now is … irrelevant

Devon O'Neil / My $0.02
Breckenridge, Colorado

There won’t be any regular-season finale to preview the Super Bowl this year if the Giants and Titans continue on their course.

In its place, we can debate which team is the best in the NFL right now, a popular topic among pro football followers.

The pundits, it seems, are overwhelmingly in favor of the Giants. John Madden stated as much Sunday night, during New York’s impressive road win over Philadelphia.

Can’t say I agree. The rationale ranges from the obvious ” New York (8-1) got embarrassed on national television by inconsequential Cleveland; Tennessee (9-0) has yet to lose ” to the more subjective.

Both teams run the ball the way every other team wishes it could. They rotate backs. They set up their passing attacks ” which, as we’ve learned from both clubs, can win games on their own if need be. Both offenses are also run by quarterbacks who have played in the Super Bowl, ironically each for the Giants (Eli Manning won, Kerry Collins lost).

In addition, both teams play smothering, tooth-smashing defense. In the yards-per-game rankings, New York stands third in the NFL while the Titans are fifth. In points-per-game rankings (probably a better reflection of a defense’s effectiveness), the Titans lead the league (13 ppg allowed) and the Giants are seventh (17.8).

All that said, the edge at this point goes to Tennessee in my mind, primarily because they’ve been mentally prepared enough to avoid even one losing week. That counts.

But the good news is there’s a postseason tournament in pro football, so if all holds true, we’ll see the Titans and Giants decide this argument on the field, Feb. 1 in Tampa Bay. …

You could argue the Falcons or Ravens ” both 6-3 with a rookie quarterback and rookie head coach ” are the biggest surprise of the NFL season thus far. You’d get away with it.

But my vote goes to the Dolphins. Remember what a big deal it was last year when Miami won its first and only game of the year, beating Baltimore in overtime nine days before Christmas?

Well, this year’s ‘Phins are 5-4 and fearless. They hired Bill Parcells to build a new team. He, in turn, hired a first-time head coach and brought in what many believed to be a weak-armed, washed-up quarterback in ex-Jet Chad Pennington.

This is what Pennington, 32, has done. In his seventh year as an NFL starter, he’s posting the second highest QB rating of his career (92.6) and throwing more passes per game (30.9) for more yards per game (244) than any season before it. No other player has made as big an impact on Miami’s turnaround. …

Also of note, 31-year-old Ricky Williams is making the most of his second chance with the Dolphins. He pulled away from the Seattle secondary Sunday for a season-long 51-yard touchdown run, and six years after rushing for 1,853 yards, he’s on pace for about 700. Not bad for someone who missed three of the past four seasons with injuries and personal issues. …

What’s most impressive about the Lakers’ 5-0 start? Not the fact that they’re winning by an average of 22.4 points. Nor that they mopped the floor with Houston ” a team many have picked to challenge for the Western Conference title ” by 29 on Sunday.

No, it’s the fact that Kobe Bryant is only 10th in the league in scoring. You see the difference a healthy Andrew Bynum makes? …

How good has Eddie Royal been for the Broncos? With 52 catches in his first eight games (he missed the Jacksonville game), he’s caught more balls in that stretch than any NFL rookie in history. …

Which brings us to the most underrated aspect of 5-4 Denver’s first-place standing. Consider that Jay Cutler, with 2,616 yards passing, ranks second in the NFL in the category. And also remember the Broncos’ injury-depleted running game is no secret weakness among NFL defensive coordinators.

In short, everyone knows Denver is going to throw the ball. A lot. And yet Cutler has been sacked only six times all year. His release isn’t that quick. He can thank his offensive line. …

In parting, I cannot recall a more brutal loss than Tennessee’s 13-7 defeat ” at home, on homecoming ” to Wyoming on Saturday, a game the Cowboys led 13-0 at halftime.

Yes, the Volunteers were reeling from the news earlier in the week that Phillip Fulmer would be forced to resign at the end of the year. But still. Tennessee was picked to compete for the SEC title this year.

Wyoming? The Cowboys flew to Knoxville as the lowest scoring team in major college football (11.7 points per game), ranked 108th out of 119 FBS (formerly Division 1-A) teams.

” Breckenridge resident Devon O’Neil’s $0.02 column usually runs Tuesdays. He can be reached at

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