Here are 5 THINGS TO WATCH FOR in the NFC East Division in Week 17 of the 2012 NFL season:
· RG3 vs. Romo
It’s not a total do-or-die game for both teams (Washington can make the playoffs with a loss and help from other teams, although Dallas does have to win in order to reach the playoffs), but it’s close enough.
Tony Romo has made a reputation for coming up short in big games in his career; Robert Griffin III will be playing in his first truly HUGE pro game. And it will be televised on Sunday night for the entire country to see.
Welcome to the big stage, RG3.
As for Romo and the Cowboys, they faced a similar all-or-nothing scenario last season, against the Giants in Week 17, and Dallas could muster no offense in the first half. The Cowboys punted on their first five possessions, and missed a long field goal just before halftime, to head into the locker room trailing 21-0.
Dallas got within a TD in the fourth quarter, before losing 31-14. And then, of course, Jerry Jones & Co. had to watch as the Giants marched all the way to the Super Bowl.
When Romo has been bad this season, he’s been very bad; 11 of his 16 INTs have come in three games – all losses – including a 2-INT (plus 3 TDs) game vs. Washington in Week 11. In that game, the Redskins took a 28-3 lead into halftime, before holding onto a 38-31 win. Bottom line: Romo has to be sharp from the start, and the Cowboys cannot afford to get behind big, early.
· Dez vs. The Rookies
Which offensive play-maker(s) will take the day in the Redskins-Cowboys game?
Dez Bryant has finally arrived as an elite wide receiver this season. Bryant has 1,311 receiving yards (8th in league) and 12 TDs (2nd – one behind James Jones).
But Bryant has really made his mark in the last 6 games, where he has averaged 120.2 YPG – including last week’s monster 224-yard outing. Bryant is also working on a seven-game TD streak (with a total of 10 TDs in those games).
Stat of the day: Of the top receivers in the league, only Calvin Johnson (918 yards) and Andre Johnson (860) have posted more yards over the past six weeks than Bryant (721). The two Johnsons have tallied seven combined TD catches, while Bryant has 10 by himself.
Bryant will be facing the 30th-ranked pass defense in the league on Sunday. He’ll obviously be Romo’s main target (with an assist from Jason Witten, who will attempt to improve upon his own single-season record for catches by a tight end). With no running game to speak of, Dallas will pit it’s big-time pass-catching play-maker against the rookie-led rushing attack of Washington.
Alfred Morris needs just 87 yards to reach the 1,500-yard rushing plateau. Morris is 4th in the league with 1,413 yards. Add to that RG3’s 752 yards on the ground – not to mention the fact that all the quarterback production this season for the ‘Skins has come from rookies (Griffin and Kirk Cousins) – and it’s clear that for Washington to win on Sunday, the rookies will have to come through again.
Morris has averaged 108.8 YPG the past five games, including a 113-yard outing (on 24 carries) against the Cowboys in November.
· The Giants vs. the Odds
Yes, New York (8-7) has to take care of its own business first, before doing some serious scoreboard watching. The Giants meet the lousy Philadelphia Eagles (4-11) in a 1 p.m. game on Sunday – and certainly should be able to win the game (although with Michael Vick starting at quarterback for possibly the final time in an Eagles uniform, not to mention Andy Reid likely coaching his final game for the City of Brotherly Love after 14 years, anything seems possible).
THEN, the Giants have to root for …
- Chicago (which is fighting for a playoff spot) to lose to 4-11 Detroit in a game that also starts at 1 p.m.
- Minnesota (also fighting for a playoff spot) to lose at home to Green Bay (11-4)
- Finally, for Dallas to lose to Washington on Sunday night.
Stranger things have happened in the NFL, but it’s certainly a long-shot for the New York Giants.
· Vick vs. The Future
Can Michael Vick pull out one more sensational performance, for old time’s sake, if nothing else?
Vick will start his 35th, and most likely last, game for Philadelphia on Sunday. He made his first start for the Eagles on Sept. 19, 2010 – beating Detroit – and has won three of four starts against the Giants as an Eagle. Nothing has worked out for the organization – or for Vick – since the 2011 season began with such high expectations.
Vick started just one playoff game for the Eagles, a 21-16 home loss to Green Bay in January, 2011. Vick’s short rushing TD to pull Philly within 5 late in the game could be looked at as the high-water mark for his tenure in Philadelphia.
- The NFC East vs. The Super Bowl
Aside from New York’s two Super Bowl titles in the past five years, no other team in the division has won it all since … Dallas’ mini-dynasty ended in 1995 with a SB win over Pittsburgh. Washington has not played in a SB since 1991 and Philadelphia lost to New England in the big game in 2004.
The Giants have done all the heavy lifting in the division in recent years. With the possibility of the East sending two teams to the postseason, perhaps one of them can make a run deep into January. The Giants most likely won’t have the chance, so that leaves it up to Washington and/or Dallas.