What a difference a few weeks make. With the entire NFC jumbled up, I take a comprehensive look at the playoff picture as relates to the Redskins, Giants and Cowboys, (sorry Eagles. Actually, not really).
WASHINGTON AND NEW YORK
Did you ever out of the corner of your eye think you saw a breathtaking, sun-dressed, hour-glassed feminina sit across from you on the bus?...But when you tried to check - to make sure she was enjoying her day, and unencumbered with any unwanted interruptions, of course - a hairy, lardaceous gentleman, whose blue Captain America t-shirt was stuffed through the brim of his earth-shaped gray sweatpants, was standing between you and the endearing vision, spraying grease on all sides as he buried his scruffy, pimply face into bucket of fried chicken resting on top of his cartoon-shielded paunch?
The NY G-men, the primary obstruction between us and our NFC East championships dreams, once again look like World-Beaters.
That's why, although I'll try and delve into the increasingly open division and wildcard outlooks, I got to pause, first, and state the obvious: this next one is a big game. In five days time, we've got to defend our home turf and beat the defending SB champions on Monday Night Football.
We couldn't look past this one if we tried.
The future is now. Here is a partial list of the questions this game will answer:
1.) Does Robert Griffin III push into another gear when facing a division rival? (Griffin against NFC East so far: 3 games, 2 wins, 769 passing yards, 202 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, 76% completion percentage.)
2.) Are the Redskins a bad match-up for the Giants the way the Giants are a bad match-up for the Packers, or did we just catch the Giants napping twice last year?
3.) Are Eli Manning's recent struggles against Washington a trend? (Eli's last 5 against the ‘Skins: 8 interceptions, 2 touchdowns)
4.) Will Jim Haslett dial up the pressure, or try and bate Manning into making mistakes against lots of men in coverage?
5.) Did the Redskins fumble away a game they dominated in week 7 - or did they over-perform against a superior team to even make it close?
7.) Are the Giants dynamic pass-rushers ill-equipped to deal with the Redskins zone running game? (Redskins have racked up 372 rushing yards in their past 2 games against the Giants.)
8.) Can any Redskin hang with Victor Cruz?
9.) Are the 2012 Redskins for real? Were these last two games a mirage?
10.) Are the Robert Griffin era Redskins formidable...right now?
For answers to all these questions and more...tune into your local ESPN television station this Monday Night.
You may be asking...So, this it, right - this is the season?
Well - as big as it may seem - in actuality no, it's not. Believe it or not both teams have scheduled four games for after Monday's titanic showdown.
And it's likely there is still going to be a whole lot to play for.
If we win - we're still a game behind the Giants in the division with four to play. Remember the last time the Redskins beat the Giants in December (last year), the Giants didn't lose again that season. Tough schedule and all, the Giants winning their final four is very much in play.
--- @ Washington Redskins (5-6)
--- vs. New Orleans Saints (5-6)
--- @ Atlanta Falcons (10-1)
--- @ Baltimore Ravens (9-2)
--- vs. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8)
The way the Giants seem to show up against good competition, and the way the Ravens and the Falcons have won recently despite sub-standard performances, I would suspect the Giants would perform well in both of those road games and my guess is they win both. Remember Tom Coughlin has a stellar road record with the Giants. The Eagles don't count - so that's another win. That means the Saints playing in New Jersey could our best bet to hand the Giants that crucial extra loss.
If the ‘Skins lose on MNF, believe it or not, we're not entirely out of it either. The division crown would be all but out of our reach, but the way the second-tier of the NFC is breaking down - literally - it looks like there might be a few other paths to the playoffs, almost all of which include us winning out and finishing, the often predicted, seldom believed, 9-7.
Without getting too far ahead of ourselves, it looks like we will have a decent shot of a playoff berth if we can get to 9 wins, thanks mainly to the fact we've beaten most of the other teams in the wildcard hunt.
Currently, there are three 6 and 5 team in front of us for the second NFC wild-card spot: the Seattle Seahawks, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Minnesota Vikings. Each of these teams lost this past weekend and each are significant road underdogs for week 13:
(6-5) Seattle (+4) @ (8-3) Chicago
(6-5) Minnesota (+9) @ (7-4) Green Bay
(6-5) Tampa (+7) @ (8-3) Denver
In the final quarter of the season, each of these teams will have at least one tough ask remaining. Excluding bad teams, here is how the final four weeks shake-out for the 6-5 NFC teams:
***Seattle's tough games: Week 15, @Buffalo. Week 16, San Francisco.
---The Seahawks (5-0 at home, 1-5 on the road) have a relatively easy road with three games left at home. Don't be surprised, though, if they can't get it together against a feisty Bills squad in the howling winds of Lake Erie.
---Also, the Seahawks will likely have to play at some of these games without their best defensive backs, Richard Sherman and Brandon Bowner, both of whom tested positive for Adderall and are currently appealing their four-game suspension. Head Coach Pete Carroll expects both to play this week against the Bears, however.
***Tampa Bay's tough games: Week 15, @New Orleans. Week 17, @Atlanta.
---If the Bucs don't beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos this week at Mile High, they will likely have to beat Drew Brees in New Orleans to make the playoffs. If the Falcons are in position to rest their starters in Week 17, that becomes a very winnable game for Tampa.
---So, if you're keeping track at homes, that means Redskins fan should root for the Niners to win-out, so that the Falcons have something to play for, so that they can beat the Buccaneers in week 17, which will slightly improve the Redskins chances of making the playoffs. No, sirs and ladies, you are not allowed to like or root for any of these teams based on their own merit.
***Minnesota's tough games: Week 14, Chicago. Weeks 16, @Houston. Week 17, @Green Bay.
---The Vikings, frankly, have no shot at the post-season. In fact, I'll go as far as to say the Vikings are done winning games in 2012. It's a shame, too - because I think A.D. deserves some serious MVP consideration.
With the Vikings facing murderers row, the Seahawks and Buccaneers look poised to finish 9 and 7, with an outside chance they can do one better. The Redskins hold the head-to-head tie-breaker over the Bucs (and the Vikings), and the Seahawks are currently 0-3 in division games- which is the second NFL playoff tie-breaker. That means if we can finish tied with either team in terms of overall record, we most likely will advance into the post-season.
(If Seattle somehow skirts by and makes the playoffs, for the 2nd time in 3 years, it has been reported that Pete Carroll will sacrifice his long-snapper to an orca whale on behalf of the football gods. If you thought going to the playoffs at 7-9 seemed like B.S. this would be a whole-nother-level of non-sense.)
Regardless of what any of these teams do, the Redskins will have to finish strong if not win-out.
--- vs. NY Giants (7-4)
--- vs. Baltimore Ravens (9-2)
--- @ Cleveland Browns (3-8)
--- @ Philadelphia Eagles (3-8)
--- vs. Dallas Cowboys (5-6)
The Giants game aside, the Maryland Region Bowl should be a good contest, and a winnable game. These Ravens aren't your older-brother's Baltimore Ravens, currently sitting at 26th in the league in rushing yards allowed (129 yards per). And rushing is what we do! (165 yards per). Of our final three games, can someone please tell me why @Cleveland scares me the most?
DALLAS AND PHILADELPHIA
For all the (valid) talk about the NFC's dominance over the AFC this season, the AFC North has represented itself well in its cross-conference slate against the NFC East. Excluding games against the woeful Browns (who are 0-3), the AFC North boasts a robust 6 and 1 record against the NFC East, winning by an average score of 27 to 22.
Only the Eagles Week 2 win at home to Baltimore kept the AFC North's elite from a cross-conference sweep.
--- vs. Philadelphia Eagles (3-8)
--- @ Cincinnati Bengals (6-5)
--- vs. Pittsburgh Steelers (6-5)
--- vs. New Orleans Saints (5-6)
--- @ Washington Redskins (5-6)
Of all the teams in the hunt for the NFC wild-card, the Cowboys are the only team not set to face a team who currently has seven wins or more. That said: few Cowboys fans can like their chances of a late run, especially now with Bruce Carter joining Sean Lee on IR, and Miles Austin joining DeMarco Murray on the perennially questionable list.
The defensive injuries in particular will make it hard for the Cowboys to keep pace with the offensively potent Bengals and Saints, with the latter game played at home against a dome-friendly opponent.
By the way...Maybe everybody covering every division says this by season's end - but what's up with injuries in the NFC East?
Possibly the only teams more riddled with injures than the Redskins this season are our divisional rivals Cowboys and the Eagles. As Jon Gruden pointed out toward the end of a dreadful Monday night game against the Panthers: Andy Reid's (former?) offense took the field for a crucial late game series without their starting quarterback, without starting running back, without their #1 and #3 receivers (both now on IR) and without 4 opening day starters on their offensive line. That's 8 out of 11 potential starters out. #Ouch.
--- @ Dallas Cowboys (5-6)
--- @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers (6-5)
--- vs. Cincinnati Bengals (6-5)
--- vs. Washington Redskins (5-6)
--- @ New York Giants (7-4)
Unfortunately, the reeling Eagles play three of their remaining five games against teams we want to lose. Come on guys. Win one for Andy! - (except not in week 16.)
Hard to believe with all those offensive players MIA, the most glaring lack of production in Philly has come from its defense, which has forced only 3 turnovers in its past 10 games.
The Giants, who have by far held up the best, lost their starting free safety for six weeks and have had a ton of games missed at their skill positions.
I'm not going to go through the Redskins that are out for the year. You can't make me.
Whose injury situation in the division do you think has been most detrimental? Who you think will make the playoffs?