By Jeremy Gottlieb, Patriots Daily Staff
Giants/Cowboys. Cowboys/Giants. Sunday Night Football. For the NFC East and a playoff berth. Winner goes on. Loser goes home.
Can you imagine picking this game? If there were odds on which team would puke on its own shoes less, it would be as hard to get it right as picking winning lottery numbers. There aren’t too many other teams as unreliable in big games than the Cowboys and the Giants.
But since someone has to win this battle of notorious chokers, take the Giants and give the points. For starters, the game is at the New Meadowlands, giving a nice, cozy, homefield advantage to the G-men. And, even though it’s been four years since they won anything of consequence (which they did as an underdog all the way) and have failed to meet expectations with regularity over that stretch as well, the bottom line is that they have won big games – the biggest of big games – before, with this coach, this quarterback and for the most part, this defense.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, have won one playoff game in the past 17 seasons. This isn’t technically a playoff game but it may as well be and that doesn’t bode well for Dallas. The last time these two teams played, it took the Cowboys just under three minutes late in the fourth quarter to piss away a 12-point lead, at home for that matter, which is the reason why this week’s game is for all the marbles. They also have a coach who is completely overmatched in Jason Garrett, a QB who has made a career out of flaming out spectacularly in big moments in Tony Romo and a defensive coordinator who’s last name is Ryan, which means that he talks a lot about winning but has never actually, you know, won.
Oh and how could we forget the Cowboys owner/GM/director of media relations/de facto head coach/stadium elevator operator/head concessionaire? Yep, that would be Jerry Jones, who if he was given the choice of not saying a single word over the length of an entire season and winning a Super Bowl or the exact opposite, would choose the latter every single time.
This couldn’t be a better situation for the Giants, who after they win on Sunday night will get a home game against either Atlanta or Detroit, which should set them up nicely for a Divisional Round sequel to one of the best games of the year against Green Bay. They’ve probably been praying to get the Cowboys under these circumstances for weeks. Eli Manning is 10-5 in his career against the Cowboys (including playoffs) and 6-2 in his last eight meetings with the former “America’s Team.” Given Dallas’s ongoing propensity not to be able to get out of its own way, you can mark it 11-5 and 7-2. Bet on it.
This Week’s Five Best Teams
1. Green Bay: The Packers didn’t really, truly need their Christmas Night win over the Bears, but that didn’t stop Aaron Rodgers from throwing five more TD passes (and zero more INTs) in a 35-21 win. That makes 45 TDs against six picks for a one-loss team. MVP.
2. New Orleans: Drew Brees broke Dan Marino’s 27-year old record for passing yardage in a single season on Monday night in a 45-16 win over Atlanta. He’s pretty good. And while we’re here, the Saints have won seven straight, five by double digits.
3. San Francisco: No letdown for the Niners on a short week in Seattle even though their ferocious defense allowed a rushing TD for the first time all year. All that stands between this team and a first-round bye is the St. Louis Rams. Make your tee times for next week now, fellas.
4. New England: Despite their flaws, the Pats just keep on winning and they can improbably clinch homefield throughout the AFC playoffs with a win over Buffalo on Sunday. The question is, can they do that without three-fifths of their offensive line and potentially (gulp) Tom Brady?
5. (tie) Pittsburgh/Baltimore: The Ravens are 11-4 and can clinch the AFC North for the first time in five years with a win in Cincinnati on Sunday. So why does it feel like they aren’t that good? Because they played down to their opponent again last week, letting Cleveland hang around despite the game’s being in Baltimore, and getting yet another stinkbomb (11-of-24, 132 yards) out of mediocre QB Joe Flacco. As for the Steelers, despite Ben Roethlisberger’s injury costing them that Monday nighter in San Francisco last week, they can still win the division with a win over the Browns and a Ravens loss.
This Week’s Five Worst Teams
1. St. Louis: The Rams have scored a total of 26 points in their last four games and just 166 all season. By comparison, the Patriots, the last team for whom Josh McDaniels was the offensive coordinator, score 31 points every time they take the field.
2. Tampa Bay: Make it nine straight losses for the Bucs, who have completely and totally quit on soon-to-be fired head coach Raheem Morris. Since beating the Saints (???) in Week 6, Tampa has allowed at least 24 points in every single game its played.
3. Indianapolis: Make it two straight wins for the Colts, who have basically booted away their chance at the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft by beating the Titans and Texans in the last two weeks. They can still get it with a loss to Jacksonville on Sunday and little bit of help and isn’t it funny to discuss ways to get the top draft pick like that, instead of just potential playoff scenarios?
4. Minnesota: The Vikings deserve a lot of credit for beating Washington on the road despite losing Adrian Peterson to a gruesome knee injury. The win represented the most character this team has shown in two years and with a very winnable game against the free-falling Bears on Sunday, Minnesota could well enter the off-season on a high note.
5. Jacksonville: The Jaguars are 4-11, need a new coach and are stuck with a rookie QB for whom they traded up to draft and looks like he doesn’t know how to play. But they do have a new owner coming in so the culture down there could well change for the better.
- Matthew Stafford, Lions: Detroit is in the playoffs for the first time in 12 years, having won three in a row to complete a remarkable, three-year turnaround from becoming the first team in NFL history to finish 0-16. There are many reasons for the Lions resurgence, but the biggest one has to be Stafford, the third-year QB who has completed 64 percent of his passes for 4,518 yards and 36 TDs against just 14 picks. Over this three-game run, Stafford has thrown 991 yards, nine TDs and zero INTs, his performance in last week’s post-season clinching win over San Diego (29-of-36, 373 yards, three TDs, 137.6 passer rating) the piece de resistance.
- Cam Newton, Panthers: Newton became the NFL’s all-time leading rookie passer last week against Tampa with 3,893 yards on the season. He’s also an amazing runner (674 yards, 5.6 YPA, 14 TDs) but what separates him from other QBs who can run (Michael Vick, Tim Tebow, etc.) is his arm. Vick has never put up a passing season like Newton is putting up this year, and Tebow never will.
- Reggie Bush, Dolphins: Getting out of New Orleans may have taken Bush from an excellent, winning situation to a haphazard, disorganized, losing one. But it’s turned him into an elite back. He’s topped 100 yards in each of his last four games (with over 200 two weeks ago against Buffalo) and broke the 1,000 barrier for the first time in his career last week against the Pats, averaging five yards per attempt while he was at it. It’s hard to tell if Bush’s body will hold up for a full season as a featured back (he has just three games with 20+ carries this season) but he’s certainly proven this year that he’s more than what his role was the Saints.
- Mike Shanahan, Redskins: No one has coached the ‘Skins to consecutive double digit loss seasons since Norv Turner until “elite coach” Shanahan came along. This past week, he said for at least the 300th time since taking over in D.C. that “it will take some time to do it right,” as far as his rebuilding the franchise goes. This will make seven consecutive seasons split between two teams that Shanahan will not coach in the playoffs. Hope those Redskins fans are patient.
- The Chargers: Needing a win at Detroit last week to stay in playoff contention, San Diego instead didn’t show up, getting blown out 38-10, a loss that should mercifully end Turner’s tenure as head coach. That’s not remotely surprising. What is surprising is that Turner, now seven games under .500 in 14 years as a head coach, lasted as long as he did.
- Tim Tebow, Broncos: The bloom is off Tebow’s rose following four picks in a blowout loss last week to the Bills, who hadn’t won in seven games. Now having presided over two straight losses and with the Broncos suddenly not assured a playoff berth, all of Tebow’s naysayers are mobilizing.
Let’s have a warm round of applause for Jets coach Rex Ryan, who saw yet another guarantee/round of bullying/chest-thumping session blow up in his face when the Jets lost to the Giants 29-14 last week, a game in which he allowed his limited QB, Mark Sanchez, to throw 59 passes. Ryan spent the whole week ripping the Giants, bragging about how his team was so much better and disparaging Giants coach Tom Coughlin, who has never said a single disrespectful thing about any opponent or opposing coach, with a series of unprovoked attacks. Then, when the game was actually played, his team went out and didn’t back up all of his big words. Afterward, Giants running back Brandon Jacobs hilariously (and accurately) called Ryan “a disrespectful bastard,” and told Ryan on the field after the game, directly, “it’s time to shut the fuck up, fat boy.” It’s a miracle no one has said anything like this to Ryan before; he certainly deserves it.
Now, unless the Jets win on Sunday while at least three other teams lose, another Ryan pre-season Super Bowl prediction will go up in smoke. Don’t expect Ryan to act any differently going forward, though. He was typically defiant the day after the game, saying that he stood by everything he’s said, and “I won’t change.” How comforting for Jets fans. How hysterically awesome for the rest of us.