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What we know, and don't know, after 14 weeks of action

With three weeks left in the regular season, this is what we still know about the NFL:

The New England Patriots are great enough to go 16-0

Anthony Smith's prediction of a Pittsburgh Steelers win was silly, offering unnecessary fuel for the most powerful machine in football. But I could see where he was coming from. After watching the Patriots struggle in back-to-back games against Philadelphia and Baltimore, the Steelers should have believed they had a good chance of coming out on top. The Pats were looking a little tired, maybe a little worn down by the mammoth physical and mental task of staying perfect.

Sure they were.

The Patriots' play-action passing game was a nightmare for the Steelers' less-than-stellar safeties, Smith and Tyron Carter, who started for injured Troy Polamalu. As usual, Tom Brady made it look ridiculously easy, throwing four touchdown passes, two to Randy Moss, on the way to the Pats' 34-13 victory. It didn't matter that New England's defense allowed Willie Parker to run for 124 yards. The Patriots stonewalled Pittsburgh when it counted, mounting a goal-line stand early in the fourth quarter.

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With remaining games against the Jets, Dolphins and Giants, there is every reason to believe the Pats will finish 16-0. It's fair to say even playing mostly reserves in the final two weeks (if that's the case) New England has a very good shot at winning out. Besides, the Giants could easily have a wild-card spot locked up and be going with their backups by the time they face the Pats.

The Miami Dolphins are horrendous enough to go 0-16

How bad are the Dolphins? Their starting quarterback, rookie John Beck, tripped and fell for a four-yard loss on his first snap of Miami's 38-17 loss to the Buffalo Bills. Later in the first quarter, Beck managed to lose the ball without being touched; he simply let it flip into the air while attempting a pass. Buffalo's George Wilson grabbed the fumble that resembled an interception and ran for an easy touchdown.

How bad are the Dolphins? After a mercifully quick hook on Beck, Cleo Lemon stepped in and proceeded to throw two interceptions. How bad are the Dolphins? Their defense allowed a Bills team that had struggled to find the end zone for most of the season to score a season-high 38 points. They gave up not one but two 100-yard rushing games, by Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch. They also had no answers for Buffalo's rookie quarterback, Trent Edwards, who threw four touchdown passes (and became the first rookie quarterback to throw for three first-half scores since Jim Plunkett in 1971).

The Dolphins are a dysfunctional group with players who seem to have lost all faith in rookie coach Cam Cameron. It takes no stretch of the imagination to see them closing the year with losses to Baltimore, New England (gulp!) and Cincinnati.

The Dallas Cowboys are the best team in the NFC

I can hear the Packers fans grumbling already, but save it. The issue was decided when the Cowboys convincingly beat your team on Nov. 29. Dallas merely reinforced its stature as the class of the conference by staging an impressive rally in the final seconds Sunday for a 28-27 triumph over the Detroit Lions to capture the NFC East crown. When pushed to the brink, top teams respond that way (see New England's wins over Indianapolis, Philadelphia and Baltimore).

Never mind that the Lions have lost five in a row. They managed to give a strong performance, something reminiscent of the way they were playing earlier in the year. They were stoked to play their best against an elite opponent, but it wasn't good enough, because the Cowboys were good enough to overcome the challenge.

Tony Romo's ascension to the upper-tier among NFL quarterbacks is amazing. Not only does he have big-play ability, in throwing for two touchdowns (including the decisive 16-yarder to Jason Witten with 18 seconds left), but he has the precision and poise to lead a winning, 83-yard scoring march. And Marion Barber gave a big-time performance of his own by sprinting 20 yards for one touchdown, walking in from a yard for another and caching a third.

Yes, yes, the Packers deserve plenty of credit for rebounding from their crushing loss at Dallas to pound the Oakland Raiders 38-7. But the road to the Super Bowl is likely to travel through Texas, and that isn't likely to be any easier for Green Bay to negotiate in January than it was in November.

The Seattle Seahawks don't need an effective running game to win

As long as they have Matt Hasselbeck throwing the ball, the Seahawks are in business. Shaun Alexander? Maurice Morris? Well, maybe the Seahawks do need to have a couple of runners around to prevent Hasselbeck's golden arm from getting tired. Otherwise, the Seahawks are all about their quarterback, who threw four touchdown passes in a 42-21 victory over Arizona that gave them their fourth consecutive NFC West title. Give the Seahawks' defense some props for intercepting Kurt Warner five times, with Marcus Trufant returning one of his three picks 84 yards for a touchdown. But it's clear that Seattle's postseason hopes rest firmly with Hasselbeck's ability to light it up through the air.

The Minnesota Vikings are on fire

It isn't just that the Vikings won their fourth game in a row by beating up on San Francisco, 27-7. It is the fact the Vikings find different ways to win. Sometimes they do it with big plays on defense. Sometimes they do it with their powerful running game. Sometimes they do it with a little bit of everything.

Their win over the 49ers had a little bit of everything. It had big defensive plays, such as tackle Kevin Williams returning an interception 18 yards for a touchdown and tackle Pat Williams picking off a second pass (as part of a five-turnover performance by Minnesota). It had Chester Taylor ripping off an 84-yard touchdown run. And it had Tarvaris Jackson having an efficient passing day (16-for-25 for 163 yards and a touchdown).

The Vikings continue to show they are deserving of a wild-card spot. With games against Chicago, Washington and Denver, their remaining schedule isn't exactly easy, but the way the Vikes are playing in all phases, there is reason to believe they could win out.

Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback David Garrard is a rising star

If there weren't such a long list of quarterbacking performances vying for our attention, Garrard would easily be grabbing more attention. Still, even with the lights-out seasons by Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Brett Favre, Peyton Manning and Matt Hasselbeck, Garrard's play is impossible to ignore. The guy was shoved into the starting lineup just before the season began. He played extremely well before suffering an ankle injury that sidelined him for three games.

Since returning, Garrard has been at the top of his game, including his 20-for-36, 230-yard, two-touchdown outing in the Jaguars' 37-6 pounding of Carolina. All Garrard does is consistently make plays and avoid mistakes. He'll certainly gain more notice when the Jaguars reach the postseason, where they are bound to make a little noise.

This is what we still don't know:

If the New York Giants have what it takes to make it past the wild-card round

Sure, the Giants have won their last two games and are virtually assured of a wild-card playoff spot. But does this look like a formidable postseason team? I'm not convinced. They are beat-up in several key areas, although they seemingly make things more difficult on themselves than they should. Their 16-13 win over Philadelphia was the latest example. Other than Eli Manning's 20-yard touchdown pass to Plaxico Burress, the Giants could only manage field goals.

If the San Diego Chargers have what it takes to win the AFC West

Sure, the Chargers came up with a nice rally on the road to beat the Tennessee Titans 23-17 in overtime. But there is something troubling about the way the Chargers go about their business. The biggest problem is Philip Rivers, who is simply too careless with the ball. He has thrown 15 interceptions (including two against the Titans) and lost five fumbles this season. The Chargers' offensive line didn't help against Tennessee, with Titans pass-rushers often crashing into the pocket. As poor a division as the AFC West is, it shouldn't take all that much for the Chargers to win it. But Denver is a legitimate threat ... and the Chargers, even with LaDainian Tomlinson coming up as big as he did with the winning touchdown against the Titans, could find a way to blow it.

If the Tampa Bay Buccaneers can find a way to survive without Jeff Garcia

The Buccaneers have to be nervous. Luke McCown did not cost them their 28-14 loss to the Houston Texans. He just didn't do a whole lot to help them win, throwing for 266 yards and no scores. Put it this way: McCown was unable to outperform Texans' backup Sage Rosenfels, who threw for 209 yards and three touchdowns. It's no secret the Bucs have a more dynamic offense with Garcia, who has missed the last two games with a sore back. The Buccaneers are looking for his return for their Week 15 game against Atlanta. They can only hope he stays healthy the rest of the way.

If the Cleveland Browns have what it takes to reach the postseason

True, the Browns rose to the occasion with their 24-18 victory over the New York Jets. But should it have been that difficult for the Browns to dispose of the Jets? Should it have taken Joe Jurevicius recovering two onside kicks to keep the Jets from stealing the game away? The Browns showed some of their familiar offensive explosiveness, with Derek Anderson throwing for two scores. And Jamal Lewis came up big with a scoring catch and a 31-yard touchdown run with 1:22 left. Still, the Jets were in this until the end. The Browns will need a much better performance if they are to beat Buffalo in Week 15 to keep the surging Bills from yanking away the second wild-card spot in the AFC.

Have a question for Vic on anything NFL related? Don't just sit there -- send it to, and the best questions will be answered throughout the season right here on!

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