It should be apparent to all that the 2008 New York Giants mean business. The Giants destroyed the Romo-less Cowboys 35-14 at home yesterday to move to 7-1 on the season. And what should be worrisome for the rest of the league is that the Giants played far from perfect (on offense) and still have areas where they can improve. If not for a miscommunication by Eli Manning and Plaxico Burress that resulted in an interception pick-six, and another horrific 3rd-down personal foul call against Tuck which extended a drive that resulted in a TD, the Giants would’ve won 35-0. And defensively, the league is finding out just how good this unit really is. Led by DE/DT Justin Tuck, who might be the most underrated defensive player in the NFL, this defense really gets after the QB and is now forcing multiple turnovers per game. The rest of the way won’t be easy - their remaining strength of schedule is the most difficult in the league (.620 + winning %-age) - but right now, it’s difficult to envision them not winning the NFC East and securing home field throughout.
The other team in that game, the Dallas Cowboys, are now on a precipice, and will be fighting for their playoff lives from here on out. It’s not inconceivable to think that they could win 5 of their last 7 games (to reach 10 wins) with the return of QB Tony Romo, CB Terrance Newman and a few others, but with the way they’re playing now, in all facets of the game, that scenario seems highly unlikely. Couple that with Romo’s poor December record and it looks like there will be no controversy this January when Romo takes his sweetheart, Jessica Simpson, to Cabo San Lucas for a mini-vacation.
Onto the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who really saved their season yesterday with a furious 4th quarter rally to defeat the Chiefs 30-27 in OT. Just a few weeks ago, after they shellacked the Panthers 30-7, a lot of us felt that this Bucs team had the look of a serious contender in the NFC. Oh how long ago that seems now. Last week they lost 13-9 to the Brad Johnson led Cowboys and yesterday the hapless Kansas City Chiefs took them to the brink. I think in order for the Bucs to make the post season, they’ll have to win the division. The reason being is the NFC East will probably field three playoff teams. So if Gruden doesn’t figure out his team’s problems, and soon, the Bucs are going to be watching Carolina in January because that’ll be the representative from the NFC South.
Switching to the AFC. The Tennessee Titans advanced to 8-0 with a 19-16 victory over the Green Bay Packers yesterday. I don’t know about you, but even though they’re the last remaining undefeated team in the league, I can’t endorse them as the best in the AFC because they’re so blah on offense. Defensively they’re as good as anyone, and they do have quite a running combo with RB Chris Johnson and RB LenDale White, but if this team was down by six, with two minutes left in the AFC Championship Game, could you really count on QB Kerry Collins to lead them down the field for the GW TD? I don’t think I could. They’re almost certain to win the division now ( 4-game lead at halfway point) and will most likely have home field advantage throughout, but I’m not conceding the AFC to them just yet.
The Indianapolis Colts saved its season, at least for one night, with an 18-15 victory over the New England Patriots. And they only pulled off the W because WR Jabar Gaffney dropped a wide open 40+ yard TD pass late in the game that would’ve given New England the lead. Bill Belichick employed a smart game plan featuring draws and short passing plays with the idea of having long drives in order to keep Peyton Manning and the offense on the sidelines, and QB Matt Cassel executed it perfectly. But in the end, The Colts did a little more than the Patriots to move to 4-4.
Something that has to be very disconcerting to the Colts is its pass rush. Star DE Dwight Freeney, coming back from a Linsfranc injury which cost him the 2nd-half of last season, hasn’t been able to regain his pass rushing form and the Colts are unable to get to the QB. This allows opposing QB’s time to find the open receiver and keep drives going, thus wearing down Indy’s undersized defense late in games. Until they get this figured out, don’t expect too much from them in 2008.
Lastly the San Diego Chargers. You might ask why I am highlighting a team that didn’t play yesterday, but in truth, they had the best week in their division. Earlier in the week they fired DC Ted Cottrell which should help correct their defensive problems, and then on Sunday, every other team in the AFC West lost while the Chargers, idle, were able to gain ground. It’s almost unfathomable to think that a 3-5 team could be only one game out of 1st at the midway point, but that’s parity at its finest.