A few quick observations from the ninth week of the season:
• The strange statistical similarities between the seasons Andrew Luck and Peyton Manning are having have been widely reported this week. And while I think Manning has retaken his spot among the top five quarterbacks in the league, I'm not sure there's a great distance between him and Luck today. Luck was awesome Sunday, going 30-of-48 for 433 yards and 2 TDs in a 23-20 win over the Dolphins that was pivotal to the AFC wild-card race. Reggie Wayne's resurgence, Robert Mathis' quiet 6-sack season and, yes, the win-for-Chuck-Pagano factor all have played a part in the Colts being 5-3 after going 2-14 last season. But Luck is the real difference maker.
• Speaking of rookie quarterbacks who elevated their level of play in critial games for the playoff picture, not nearly as much has been made of Russell Wilson's 16-for-24, 173-yard, 3-touchdown game in a 30-20 Seahawks win over Minnesota as Luck's masterpiece. Wilson wasn't as spectacular as Luck, but he was quietly efficient, which is much more than can be said for the Vikings' Chrisitian Ponder (11-of-22 for 63 yards with a pick). As encouraging for the Seahaws was Marshawn Lynch rushing for 100-plus yards for a third straight game. The Seattle offense is showing some life, and when paired with that defense and a friendly schedule, it is enough to make the Seahawks the favorite for the final NFC playoff spot.
• Say what you want about Jason Garrett the head coach, and plenty is being said. He's supposed to be some brilliant offensive guy, and his Cowboys rank 26th in points scored and 29th in rushing offense. They're third in passing offense, but you wouldn't know it from the way they sleepwalked their way through three-plus quarters Sunday night at Atlanta. When Garrett was finally forced into unleashing Tony Romo late in the game, the quarterback responded with a brilliant two-minute drive. It was too little, too late in a 19-13 loss that has the Cowboys a big underdog to make the playoffs. Forget being a head coach; I don't think I'd want Garrett as my offensive coordinator at this point.
• I suppose I should tip my hat to a Steelers team I've maintained isn't very good. That's an impressive 24-20 win at the Giants, and an impressive fourth quarter in particular. How much of Eli Manning's 10-for-24, 125-yard, no-touchdown effort should be credited to the Steelers defense, however, is debatable. Manning himself is certainly not playing his best football. As a Hakeem Nicks fantasy owner, I know very well what a non-factor he has been. The pixie dust may be wearing off of Domenik Hixon and Ruben Randle, who were both held without a catch Sunday. Right now, it's basically Victor Cruz or nothing for the Giants, and as good as he and Manning are, that's not a formula that is going to equal an elite passing game.