New commissioner Roger Goodell prefers the term “competitive balance” to parity.

How about mediocrity?

This was the week for whatever term you prefer. For us, it’s the latter.

In eight of the 13 games, underdogs won straight up, topped by Miami, 1-6 entering Sunday, handing Chicago its first loss. Two other lowly teams, Houston and Cleveland, beat the spread on the road. They certainly scared the highly rated Giants and Chargers even if they didn’t beat them.

With all that, one team now stands out: Indianapolis. So what if the Colts can’t stop the run? When you go on the road and beat Denver and New England in consecutive weeks, you are clearly the NFL’s best team, something also reflected by an 8-0 record for the second straight year.

“Don’t bring that up again. Go away!” team president Bill Polian said in the team’s locker room in Foxborough after Indy’s 27-20 win. He was smiling.

So was Peyton Manning, reminded that during training camp he suggested the team wanted “to fly under the radar” this season. He shrugged and said: “I guess not.”

Some things, never change. Except, the Colts hope, in the postseason.

So, the weekend that was and what it all meant:

Miami 31, Chicago 13: No more comparisons with the ’85 Bears, who played during a time when there were truly outstanding teams. That Chicago team had to compete in the NFC with Bill Walsh’s 49ers, Bill Parcells’ Giants, Joe Gibbs’ Redskins and other quality sides. This Chicago team almost lost in Arizona, then was torn up at Soldier Field, where it was supposedly invincible, by a 1-6 team.

What stands out? Ronnie Brown running for 157 yards against that defense, which is fast rather than big. Jason Taylor, reverting to his old form, returning an interception for a touchdown and sacking Rex Grossman to force a fumble. Grossman reverting to his Arizona/Monday night form, throwing three interceptions.

As for the Chicago defense, Mike Brown is out (foot) and Brian Urlacher hurt his foot against Miami.

So NBC’s marquee game this week, Bears at Giants, now lacks some of its glamour and could lack the two biggest defensive names.

Washington 22, Dallas 19: Blame this one on Parcells and Jerry Jones.

Jones brought in Terrell Owens, who incurred a 15-yard penalty for an end-zone celebration by mocking himself falling asleep in meetings. Then he dropped a long, sure TD pass. Then Jones held court in the locker room – is he the coach? – and talked about his 4-4 team, two games behind the Giants in the NFC East.

Yes, the ending was crazy: a missed field goal by Washington’s Nick Novak leading to Troy Vincent’s block of Mike Vanderjagt’s attempted winning kick, leading to Sean Taylor’s return, a 15-yard facemask call on Dallas’ Kyle Kosier, and a 47-yard winner by Novak.

But none of that might have happened if Parcells hadn’t decided to go for a 2-point conversion after his team took a 6-5 lead early in the second quarter. If he’d simply kicked and everything played out the same, the Cowboys would have been up 20-19 in the final minute. There would have been no need for Vanderjagt’s try.

“I go by the chart,” Parcells said.

Come on, Bill, you’ve never been a guy to “go by the chart,” and almost all coaches now know you don’t go for a 2-pointer early in the game. It can haunt you later, and it did.

One other thing. How much longer will Tuna tolerate “the player?” Or tolerate Jones, who brought him in?

Parcells is 65. His facial expressions and his demeanor say this is his last year.

So does going by the chart.

Denver 31, Pittsburgh 20: A simple stat explains why the NFL will have a new champion this season. Pittsburgh now has 24 turnovers, one more than it had in 16 games last year. Six came Sunday, when the Steelers went down 14-0 in less than four minutes and played catch-up all day. Can’t do that against the Broncos’ defense; it leads to turnovers, of course.

New Orleans 31, Tampa Bay 14: The Saints are serious. Consider Marques Colston making 11 catches for 123 yards and a touchdown. Consider Reggie Bush having 11 rushes for minus-5 yards. Colston now has 700 yards receiving, fourth in the league. At midseason, who’s the offensive rookie of the year? The seventh-round pick from Hofstra or the second overall pick from Southern Cal.

And Drew Brees, signed as a free agent, went 24-of-32 for 314 yards and three touchdowns. Who’s second to Manning in the MVP race? Why not Brees?

New York Giants 14, Houston 10: Mario Williams had another sack for the Texans and now has 41/2 in his last five games. Maybe the Texans weren’t so dumb after all when they chose him No. 1 over Bush.

Detroit 30, Atlanta 14: Michael Vick, seven TD passes in his previous two games, threw for 163 yards and had two interceptions and one TD. Yes, he ran for 80 yards, but produced just two TDs against one of the NFL’s worst defenses. The Falcons are just another maddeningly inconsistent team. Or a mediocre team.

Kansas City 31, St. Louis 17: Herm Edwards has turned around the Chiefs, who are 5-1 after an 0-2 start, although they play in a division with Denver and San Diego. No wonder that every spring the Chiefs try to get the owners to expand the playoffs by two teams.

Damon Huard, who started all five wins, threw just 15 times against St. Louis on Sunday, but had three TD passes. That’s 11 TDs and one interception for the season, second in passer rating only to Manning. Edwards says that when Trent Green recovers from his concussion, he’ll be the starting QB. Green, who like Huard was a career backup until he finally got a chance, is likely to remain injured for a while.

Huard and the Chiefs are the perfect symbols of this year’s NFL.

With Green hurt, tackle Willie Roaf retired and a historically weak defense, they were expected to be mediocre. Right now, they are better than that.

For this week, at least.

AP-ES-11-06-06 1557EST


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