1. Falcons 2. Texans
3. Bears 4. 49ers
Saints (3-5) over Falcons (8-0)
As good as Atlanta is, it won't go undefeated. And a desperate Saints team at home could pull off the victory.
Quote of the week
"It's not every day you're on the field with a running back of his caliber. You hear about Jim Brown, Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders. Adrian Peterson (left) is a first-ballot Hall of Famer. I can't come up with enough adjectives to describe how special of a running back he is."
Seahawks defensive end Red Bryant on the Vikings' star running for 182 yards and two touchdowns against his team last week
On the rise
It didn't seem that long ago that the Steelers defense was looking old and their season grim, especially after losses to the Raiders and Titans. But they have bounced back with three straight wins, including at the Giants last week.
Houston and Baltimore are the only AFC teams with a better record than Pittsburgh, which still has two matchups with the suddenly vulnerable Ravens.
"We're definitely headed in the right direction," receiver Emmanuel Sanders, above, told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "If we're a championship-caliber team, we'll win on the road. We'll win the games necessary for us at the end of the season to be Super Bowl champs."
Times wires contributed to this report.
Second City showdown
Considering the Bears' hot — and somewhat surprising — start, they've seemingly flown under the radar. After all, who picked them to be leading the NFC North midway through the season?
But they take center stage tonight in a showdown with the Texans in a potential Super Bowl preview.
"You don't win anything when you start 7-1, but it helps," Bears coach Lovie Smith said. "We don't have a lot of injuries, and I feel like our arrow is pointing up. We are pleased where we are."
There are plenty of similarities between the teams; from stout defenses and strong running backs to their only losses coming to the same team, the Packers. The Bears have a league-best plus-16 turnover margin while taking advantage of a bounce-back season from receiver Brandon Marshall.
But the key for Chicago will be protecting Jay Cutler, who has been sacked 28 times, from Texans' tenacious defense that includes star end J.J. Watt.
"I see opportunities for sacks against every offensive line," said Watt, the league leader with 10½ sacks. "I've watched the film. You see opportunities. You get excited."
Not so fast
The Falcons are 8-0 for the first time in club history and the league's last undefeated team. With a win over New Orleans today, they become the ninth team since realignment in 2002 to begin a season 9-0.
Of the first eight, four went to the Super Bowl and two (2006 Colts and 2009 Saints) won it all. But some are not sold on the Falcons — at least not yet.
"They're solid on offense, solid on defense, special teams, the whole thing," Hall of Fame coach John Madden said on Sirius XM. "They have the best record. But I'm not really ready to say, 'Okay, the Super Bowl is theirs. They are the world champions.' "
Peyton who? Most expected the Colts to be in for a lengthy rebuilding process when they decided in the spring to start over, including cutting ties with future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning. • Even if Manning is 36 and coming off four neck surgeries, he was the Colts, having transformed the franchise into a Super Bowl champion and being partly responsible for their new stadium being built. • But the Colts knew they were going to draft quarterback Andrew Luck, above, with the top pick and build around him. So they released Manning before he was due a $28 million roster bonus. • Who would have thought the move would become a win-win for both sides? • Indianapolis is one of the league's biggest surprises — and most inspirational stories — with Luck playing like a veteran and the team rallying around coach Chuck Pagano, who is battling cancer. • Meanwhile, Manning is having an MVP-like season, leading the league in quarterback rating and putting the Broncos atop the AFC West. • "I don't think there was a decision. You had to take Andrew Luck, and you had to let him play," NFL Network analyst Daniel Jeremiah said. "And it worked out great for Peyton. The crazy thing is (the Colts) are totally building, and going to the playoffs in the first year with this kid, he's been so good. It's worked out great for both parties. • "I'd love it if they played in the first round (of the playoffs). Talk about a ratings grab."