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Division Rundown: Three-Way Tie With Two Games Remaining
With just two weeks left to play in the season, the drama only continues to build in the NFC East, as three teams are tied for the division lead.
Washington Redskins 8-6
Dallas Cowboys 8-6
New York Giants 8-6
Philadelphia Eagles 4-10
I’ve been writing this Division Rundown since the fourth week of the season and nearly every week there has been some implication that the Redskins will finally, you know, stop doing what they’re doing and admit it’s not their time yet.
Well, they’ve climbed all they way out of the bottom of the division and now are sitting atop it with their destiny in their own hands.
Last week’s 38-21 victory over the Cleveland Browns might not seem all that impressive on first glance, but then when you realize that they did it without Robert Griffin III, you have to admit that this team might actually be more than just a historically good, exciting, multi-threat, rookie quarterback.
Even without Griffin, the Redskins defeated the Browns by a larger margin than either the Cowboys or Giants did. His replacement was fellow rookie Kirk Cousins, who was actually quite impressive in his own right. In fact, he certainly outplayed Browns’ rookie quarterback Brandon Weeden, who had been starting all season.
Cousins threw for an impressive 329 yards and posted a passer rating of 104.4. The Redskins were also able to stay within their unique offensive scheme and ran Cousins out for a number of bootleg passes. Even without the legs of Griffin, the Redskins were able to rush for 128 yards.
It didn’t exactly seem likely at various points in the season, but everything is coming together for the Cowboys at the right time. They are tied atop the NFC East and lately they have been winning the grinding, down-to-the-wire games that they are supposed to lose, according to the pundits.
There was nothing easy about the Cowboys’ 27-24 overtime victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Both teams badly needed the victory and both were banged up on defense.
The game featured perhaps the two most elusive quarterbacks in the pocket in Ben Roethlisberger and Tony Romo. And at the end of the day, the teams relied on their quarterbacks and it came down to who could outplay the other.
While Roethlisberger was especially impressive at times, it was Romo who was sacked the least, and it was Romo who put up the more impressive statistics. Romo was able to earn 341 yards, two touchdowns, zero interceptions and post a passer rating of 111.3 against a defense that rarely allows good games to opposing quarterbacks.
Perhaps just as impressive was that the Cowboys’ banged up defense was able to hold their own against the Steelers’ offense. It was not exactly the highly touted defense that the Cowboys were boasting in training camp. Guys like Alex Albright, Danny McCray and Don Connor were asked to play crucial parts in getting the defense off the field.
But at the end of the game it was their $50 million free agent acquisition, Brandon Carr, who made the overtime interception to all but seal the victory for a Cowboys team that is starting to show signs that they can be consistent.
The Giants have played this game before. In past years they have had dominant regular season games only to take their foot off the pedal and then have to sneak into the playoffs at the end of the campaign. This year that act just might cost them the NFC East title.
Many people came into Sunday’s Falcons/Giants game thinking that Atlanta would be exposed as an unworthy top seed in the NFC. But quite the opposite was true as the Falcons throttled the team that knocked them out of the playoffs last season, 34-0.
There was not a lot that looked good for the Giants. Eli Manning threw two momentum-killing interceptions and had a passer rating of 40.7. Even more apparent was the fact that Matt Ryan was able to pick apart the Giants secondary with ease. The Falcons had 16 first downs through the air and Ryan finished with three touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Knowing the Jekyll and Hide personality of this Giants team, they should be prepared for a tough game against Baltimore this week, but they are now in a situation where the division title is out of their control. If the Cowboys or Redskins win out then either one is the division champion. However, the Giants have won the necessary games to be in control of their wild-card fate. In other words, if they win out then they will find themselves in the postseason.
For a couple of weeks the Eagles, led by rookie quarterback Nick Foles and rookie running back Bryce Brown, were starting to look promising. In their 34-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals, though, those two players simply looked like rookies.
Foles was unable to get any real offense going and he posted a passer rating of 62.9. Brown, who had been unbelievably explosive at times this season, only managed to rush for 34 yards in the entire game.
The Bengals were able to dominate the Eagles by running the ball down their throat (157 rushing yards in the game) and knowing that Philadelphia would make mistakes before they did.
The Eagles have two games left to determine what route they want to go at quarterback next season. In their last two contests, they will have the chance to affect the Redskins playoff hopes and knock the Giants out of the playoffs. With that on the line, it’s hard to imagine the Eagles conceding the season early.
Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys won partly due to Dez Bryant’s ability to play through a fractured index finger. Bryant proclaimed after the game that he would be suiting up Sunday versus New Orleans. Morris Claiborne did not play against the Steelers due to a concussion, but claimed he just needed to pass one more test to get the OK. Meaning, he will likely be ready next Sunday.
New York Giants: Giants’ running back Ahmad Bradshaw missed last Sunday’s game with a knee injury, but stated that he is healing faster than expected and will play on Sunday against the Ravens. Their right guard, Chris Snee, injured his hip in the game and it is uncertain what his status will be for the Baltimore matchup.
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles have opted to sit the majority of their veteran players with various injuries for the remainder of the season. It is unlikely that Michael Vick, LeSean McCoy or DeSean Jackson are seen on the field again this year. Instead, the Eagles are going with younger players.
Washington Redskins: The Redskins may have won without Griffin on Sunday, but they also took hits to their offensive line. Center Will Montgomery injured his MCL and the extent of the injury is unclear. Guard Tyler Polumbus suffered a concussion and will have to go through NFL protocol before being allowed to play against the Eagles. Many expect Griffin to return from a knee injury to suit up against the Eagles, but no announcement has been made.
NFL.com Power Rankings:
#8– Washington Redskins (previously #11)
#10– New York Giants (previously #5)
#11 – Dallas Cowboys (previously #14)
#28 – Philadelphia Eagles (previously #27)
ESPN.com NFL Power Rankings:
#8 – Washington Redskins (previously #12)
#10 – Dallas Cowboys (previously #13)
#12 – New York Giants (previously #7)
#29 – Philadelphia Eagles (previously #27)
• If the Cowboys and Redskins win on Sunday, then the final game between Dallas and Washington will decide the division title.
• If Washington loses on Sunday then the Cowboys would be able to lose as well and still have a chance to win the division in the final week against the Redskins. However, that scenario would also give the Giants the chance to win the division if they were to win their final two games.
• Regardless of what happens with the Redskins and Cowboys, the Giants will make the playoffs as a wild card if they win their final two games.
New Orleans Saints @ Dallas Cowboys
Sunday, Dec. 23, Noon CT (FOX)
Washington Redskins @ Philadelphia Eagles
Sunday, Dec. 23, Noon CT (FOX)
New York Giants @ Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, Dec. 23, 3:25 p.m. CT (FOX)