The foggy NFL picture is becoming clearer, so it is time to look at where the teams rank:
BEARS: With their schedule, this team could go 16-0. The only tough matchups the rest of the way are at the Giants, at the Patriots, and at the Rams. The way they beat up on the Seahawks three weeks ago (37-6) shows they can play with the big boys. The way they beat the Cardinals last night shows they can find ways to win (and a little luck never hurts).
THE "ALMOST" ELITE
SEAHAWKS: Even without Shaun Alexander, they manage to win, with their only loss coming to "da Bears".
PANTHERS: This ranking is based strictly on the presence of Steve Smith. With him, they are 4-0, including wins over the Saints and Ravens. Without him, they are 0-2, losing to the Falcons and Vikings.
SAINTS: Aside from a squeaker they lost to the Panthers in Carolina, this Saints team has been dominant. Winning against the Eagles showed they can win the big ones.
BRONCOS: After their week 1 loss to the Rams, the Broncos have rolled through their schedule, including consecutive wins over the Patriots and the Ravens.
COLTS: Until they lose, the Colts have to be considered up there. However, their only decisive victory came against the hapless Texans. In their favor, the Colts did manage to beat the Jaguars in a close game; however, their defense is weak, and their running game is questionable. But as long as Peyton Manning is there, they have a chance.
CHARGERS: San Diego is a borderline "almost elite" team. Their loss to the Ravens almost drops them a notch, but the Chargers take care of the bad teams with ease.
EAGLES: Another borderline "almost elite" team. Losses to the Saints and Giants are holding them down, but they MUST be respected.
PATRIOTS: This team is still hard to peg. They lost to the Broncos, but they also beat the Bengals.
GIANTS: Why aren't the G-Men rated higher? Because they can't beat the "almost elite", having lost to the Colts and Seahawks. Add in some really sloppy play, and this rating may be generous.
RAVENS: Their win against the Chargers showed how good they can be. The last two losses to the Broncos and Panthers showed they are not quite ready for the "almost elite".
JAGUARS: Another hard team to peg, but they are good. I just can't rank them higher after that loss to the Redskins two weeks ago.
FALCONS: A borderline "good" team. With their only losses to the Saints and the Giants, and some dominant wins over lesser teams, it is hard to be certain which Falcon team is real.
BENGALS: Their loss to the Buccaneers was a head-scratcher. However, they may drop to average, or rise to "almost elite", in the next five weeks, with games against the Panthers, Falcons, Ravens, Chargers, and Saints. That is a brutal schedule.
STEELERS: How can a 2-3 team be called "good"? They lost to the Jags, Bengals, and Chargers. With Pittsburgh seemingly coming out of their funk against K.C., this rating may actually be a little low.
BUCCANEERS: Only one win? But it was against the Bengals. Their losses to the Ravens, Falcons, Panthers, and Saints, tell me they are NOT a one-win team. They might even be good.
COWBOYS: Losses to the Eagles and Jags leave the Cowboys here.
JETS: They lose to good teams (Pats, Colts, and Jags) and beat bad teams (Titans, Bills, and Dolphins). I would call that the definition of average.
RAMS: If you consider the Rams week 1 victory over the Broncos a fluke, then they have to be ranked here. They lost to the 49ers!
VIKINGS: Ignoring the OT win over the "Steve Smith"-less Panthers, the Vikes have beaten the Redskins and Lions. Nothing to get excited about here.
REDSKINS: How do they beat the Jags and lose to the Titans? Parity is a cruel mistress.
CHIEFS: When your only wins are against the 49ers and Cardinals, calling you "average" is kind.
BROWNS: I know. Only one win, and that was against the Raiders. But look who they lost to: Saints, Bengals, Ravens, and Panthers. They may have the most brutal schedule in the NFL.
BILLS: Almost average. Beating the Vikes was a good sign. Losing to the Lions was not.
TEXANS: They have played poorly, but they have had some tough games: Eagles, Colts, Redskins, and Cowboys.
CARDINALS: They almost beat the elite team, and they might even be better than this. But only beating the 49ers doesn't put you high up in the rankings.
49ERS: They are getting better. At least the 49ers are fun to watch now.
DOLPHINS: If Culpepper ever gets healthy, this is a better team. Until then...
PACKERS: Time to retire Brett. Sure they have lost to some good teams. But the way they looked, I am not sure it would have made a difference.
LIONS: If the Lions resurrected Vince Lombardi as their head coach...they would still lose.
TITANS: The Redskins game was a fluke. They are REALLY this bad. However, with a few more wins, they might move up to average.
RAIDERS: Sorry Raider fans. But if you look at this team, you know it is true. I just hope they can sneak in a win somewhere.