THE NFL knows its officials aren't perfect. That said, it doesn't take kindly to players and coaches publicly criticizing the zebras, or worse, impugning their integrity.

Which is why several Baltimore Ravens players, including linebacker Bart Scott and cornerbacks Chris McAlister and Samari Rolle, and Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end Paul Spicer, are expected to be slapped with significant fines any minute now for their rants against the officials earlier this week.

The Ravens were furious with the officiating by referee Walt Anderson's crew in their 27-24 loss to New England on Monday night. They were penalized 13 times in the game, compared to just four against the Pats. Scott was hit with two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and angrily flung an official's yellow flag into the stands at one point.

After the game, Scott made an "NBA" reference to Anderson's crew. The reference clearly was to former NBA ref Tim Donaghy, who pleaded guilty in August to conspiracy to commit wire fraud as part of a scheme to defraud the NBA and conspiracy to transmit wagering information across state lines.

McAlister accused the officials of trying to help the undefeated Patriots win.

"It's hard to go out there and play the Patriots and the refs at the same time," the Ravens cornerback said. "They put the crown on top of them. They want them to win."

Rolle accused head linesman Phil McKinnely, who, like Rolle is African-American, of repeatedly calling him "boy."

Meanwhile, Spicer, who wasn't happy with the officiating in the Jaguars' 28-25 loss to the Colts, suggested that referee Terry McAulay's crew was paid off by Colts general manager Bill Polian.

"We are in Indianapolis," he said after the game. "Polian gave them a little extra in their check [to make favorable calls for the Colts]."

The NFL occasionally will look the other way when coaches and/or players question calls. But not this time. These comments go way over the line and might draw record fines.

Around the league

-- The Texans took a lot of abuse last year when they selected defensive end

Mario Williams

with the first pick in the draft rather than running back

Reggie Bush

. But that decision isn't looking nearly as bad now as it did 18 months ago. Williams has 8 1/2 sacks, which is second to Kansas City's

Jared Allen

among AFC defensive ends. Bush, meanwhile, is averaging just 3.7 yards per carry for the Saints. While he's second in the NFC in receptions with 73, he's averaging just 5.7 yards per catch. He also has eight fumbles in 12 games. That's more than any other nonquarterback in the league.

And questions about his maturity are starting to surface in the Big Easy. Upset after his errant pitch to Devery Henderson on a reverse ended up costing the Saints a likely win over Tampa Bay, he pulled a Randy Moss and started heading for the locker room with 6 seconds left in the 27-23 loss. With the Saints' offense due back on the field, coach Sean Payton had to chase Bush down and tell him to get in the huddle.

-- One blue-chip player who probably is going to make it to the March free agent market is Patriots cornerback Asante Samuel. By virtue of the Patriots winning their 12th game Monday, the team can't place the franchise or transition tag on Samuel in 2008. The Pats designated him as their franchise player this year. After sitting out most of training camp, he reported only after the team agreed not to franchise him next year if it won 12 games or Samuel played 60 percent of the team's defensive snaps.

-- When the NFL competition committee gets together in the offseason to discuss possible rules changes, there is expected to be considerable conversation about deep-sixing the force-out rule on receptions. Titans coach Jeff Fisher, who is co-chairman of the committee along with Falcons GM Rich McKay said his group has come close to recommending doing away with the force-out rule twice in the last 3 years. "It's really the only part of the game where you're asking somebody that's trying to be objective throughout the game to make a subjective call on whether there was contact enough to get the receiver out of bounds," Fisher said. "The downside, if you eliminate it from the game, depending on what your perspective is, is that you're going to reward the defensive player for a good [offensive] play."

-- The season-ending loss of linebacker Rosevelt Colvin could be troublesome for the Patriots' defense. With Colvin out, they've moved Adalius Thomas outside in their 3-4 alignment. But that means a lot more snaps for their two aging inside 'backers, 38-year-old Junior Seau and 34-year-old Tedy Bruschi. The other option is to play more 4-3, which they started off doing Monday night against Baltimore. But the Ravens gashed it pretty good, rushing for 166 yards.

-- Vince Young is starting to play better. But the second-year Titans quarterback is throwing too many interceptions. He's 33rd in the league in interception percentage, averaging one every 21 attempts. On the other end of the scale, Jaguars quarterback David Garrard has the league's best interception percentage. He's thrown just one pick in 238 attempts.

-- Packers general manager Ted Thompson is expected to sign a contract extension before the end of the month. Thompson is in the third year of a 5-year deal that he signed in January '05, when he was brought in to replace Mike Sherman. The new deal is expected to run through 2010. Thompson, who currently earns $1 million a year, is expected to see his annual salary jump to about $2.5 million.

-- The Cowboys' new $1 billion palace will include 15,000 club seats in the lower level, between the 5-yard lines. There will be a one-time license fee for those seats, ranging from $16,000 to $150,000. The seats themselves will cost $340 per game.

By the numbers

-- The Chiefs have not scored a point in the fourth quarter of their last four games, three of which were at home. Their five-game losing streak is the team's longest since 2000.

-- Rams wide receiver Torry Holt needs just 56 yards to become the fifth wide receiver in history to record 1,000 receiving yards in at least eight straight seasons. The four who've already done it: Jerry Rice (11 straight), Tim Brown (nine), Cris Carter (eight) and Marvin Harrison (eight).

-- The Patriots are 24-6 in the month of December under Bill Belichick.

2-minute drill

From the lip

-- "It's just alarming what has taken place. We've been dominated in that quarter. There have been some good things going on in the other quarters. That's a quarter we have to deal with." - Texans coach Gary Kubiak, whose team hasn't scored a touchdown in the third quarter since Week 2

-- "The game is an emotional game. Sometimes, things can get away from you. I'm not excusing that. You can't do dumb things. But I don't think this is an undisciplined group and I don't think we have an undisciplined structure. Everything we have to the contrary says otherwise." - Ravens coach Brian Billick, responding to suggestions that his team is undisciplined after being penalized 13 times Monday night against the Patriots

-- "I felt that this was the first time all year that we got bullied. We can't allow teams to run the ball and pound it like that. There are times when it was a mano a mano battle and they were winning it." - Patriots safety Rodney Harrison, after getting gashed for 166 rushing yards in a 27-24 win over the Ravens

-- "I feel good, like I could play 10 more years. I don't think that's really feasible. But it's hard to explain how good my body feels." - Cowboys wideout Terrell Owens, who turns 34 today

THUMBS DOWN:

To Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb, who just won't let up with his "nobody knows the criticism I've seen" act. When asked at his Wednesday news conference how he thinks he will be welcomed by the crowd on Sunday, McNabb said: "It's really none of my concern. I can't waste my energy worrying about how people feel about me. A lot of you have written articles to get me out of here, and I'm still here. I'm interested to see the reaction of how you guys go [write] after this wonderful [news] conference.'' For a guy who says he doesn't waste energy worrying about what people think of him, it seems as if he does nothing but worry about it. Buy a pair of freaking earplugs and stop reading the paper, will ya, fella.

BELIEVE IT OR NOT:

The Bills have managed to win six of their first 12 games despite ranking 31st in total offense and 30th in total defense and having 12 players on injured reserve. Dick Jauron deserves some coach of the year consideration.

Domo's ranking

1. Patriots 12-0 (1 last week)

2. Cowboys 11-1 (2)

3. Colts 10-2 (3)

4. Steelers 9-3 (5)

5. Packers 10-2 (4)

6. Jaguars 8-4 (6)

7. Seahawks 8-4 (7)

8. Chargers 7-5 (8)

9. Bucs 8-4 (10)

10. Giants 8-4 (11)

11. Browns 7-5 (9)

12. Saints 5-7 (12)

13. Titans 7-5 (15)

14. Vikings 6-6 (18)

15. Cardinals 6-6 (19)

16. Broncos 5-7 (14)

17. Bills 6-6 (21)

18. Eagles 5-7 (13)

19. Redskins 6-7 (20)

20. Lions 6-6 (16)

21. Bears 5-8 (17)

22. Ravens 4-8 (25)

23. Texans 5-7 (22)

24. Panthers 5-7 (26)

25. Bengals 4-8 (23)

26. Raiders 4-8 (28)

27. Rams 3-9 (27)

28. Jets 3-9 (30)

29. Chiefs 4-8 (24)

30. 49ers 3-9 (29)

31. Falcons 3-9 (31)

32. Dolphins 0-12 (32)