It’s a big week for the NFC East, as two of the teams in the division will play in nationally televised games, while a third will likely be on in most of the country.

NFC EAST DIVISION

Week 9 Games:

  • Carolina (1-6) at Washington (3-5), Sunday, 1 p.m.
  • Pittsburgh (4-3) at NY Giants (6-2), Sunday, 4:15 p.m.
  • Dallas (3-4) at Atlanta (7-0), Sunday, 8:20 p.m.
  • Philadelphia (3-4) at New Orleans (2-5), Monday, 8:30 p.m.

Here are 5 THINGS TO WATCH FOR this weekend...

  • Manning vs. Roethlisberger

Two of the Big Three QBs taken early in the 2004 Draft square off at the Meadowlands, as Ben Roethlisberger meets Eli Manning for just the third time in their careers.  Each QB has won 1 game in the rivalry.

While Manning gets the attention for his fourth-quarter comebacks, Roethlisberger is not too shabby in that regard either.  Both QBs have two Super Bowl victories under their belts, although Manning is up 2-0 in SB MVP awards, while Roethlisberger has played in one more SB (losing to Green Bay).

Roethlisberger has been more efficient this year than Manning, with more TDs (14 to 12) and fewer INTs (3 to 8).  But Manning has his team in first place in its division, in contention for a first-round playoff bye.

Expect one of these two QBs to engineer a fourth-quarter comeback in this game, with the game possibly coming down to which QB has the ball last.

  • Sacks and picks

The Giants have rushers who can get to the QB, attacking opposing offenses with Jason Pierre-Paul (5.5 sacks), Linval Joseph (4), Osi Umenyiora (3) and Justin Tuck (1).  The Giants have posted 21 sacks (while yielding just 7), tied for 7th-best in the league.

In one fewer game, the Steelers have recorded just 12 sacks (led by Larry Foote and Jason Woirlds, with 3 each).

New York is tied with Chicago for most interceptions in the league with 16.  So while the Giants are giving up a ton of passing yardage (273.5 YPG, 26th in the NFL), they have been able to off-set to some degree by forcing turnovers.  Without playmaker Troy Polamalu for much of the season, the Steelers, on the other hand, are nearly dead last among 32 teams, with just 3 picks through seven games.

  • An end to perfection?

At 7-0, the Falcons are the last undefeated team in the league.  In order to get back to .500, the Cowboys will have to change that on the road.

Incidentally, Tony Romo’s top three performances have come on the road this season:

          Week 1 at New York Giants (W)         129.5 rating (307 yards, 3 TDs, 1 INT)

          Week 5 at Baltimore (L)                       97.1 rating (261 yards, 2 TDs, 1 INT)

          Week 6 at Carolina (W)                       98.5 rating (227 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT)

The big question, though, may be whether the Cowboys can generate a rushing attack against what has been a porous Falcons run-D.  Atlanta is 26th in the league against the run, allowing 136.4 YPG (and a second-worst 5.1 YPC).

For whatever reason, Dallas just isn’t running the ball enough; the Cowboys are 24th in the league in attempts per game (24.1).  Jason Garrett needs more production from his ground attack to take pressure off Romo, who has tossed a league-high 13 INTs this season.  DeMarco Murray, who should be healthy for the game, will give the offense a shot in the arm.

The Falcons are undefeated, but they are not unbeatable.  The Cowboys have a chance on Sunday to win and get back into the division race.  If they can establish a running game, control the clock, and keep the potent Atlanta offense off the field, they could do just that.

  • The Vick Watch

All eyes will be on Michael Vick as the Eagles try to stem the tide of negativity and stop their season from completely imploding.  The good news for the Eagles offense is that they’re going up against the worst defense in the league.

The answer for Philadelphia should be the same answer for Dallas – run the ball.  The Eagles have a premier back in LeSean McCoy, and even though he hasn’t racked up a ton of yards this season, he did score twice last week.  McCoy has rushed for 504 yards, averaging 18.1 carries per game, and a modest 4.0 YPC.  All three of those numbers should increase this week.

So while everyone will be following Vick’s every move, the key to the game – and Philadelphia’s season – may very well rest in the legs of McCoy.  The best way to slow down Drew Brees and the high-flying Saints offense is to keep them watching from the sidelines.

  • Newton vs. RG3

The rookie sensation from 2011 gets to meet the rookie sensation from 2012 as the Redskins attempt to climb back toward .500 against one of the worst teams in the league.

Cam Newton has certainly struggled this season, in terms of attitude, confidence and performance, and has taken a large step backward in his development as a pro.  It will be interesting to see how Robert Griffin III responds to his worst game in the NFL, a 27-12 loss to the Steelers last Sunday.  Pittsburgh limited RG3 to just 7 rushing yards, as well as the worst completion % of the season.  RG3 will try to rebounds against a Panthers defense that is allowing 343.9 YPG, but is only allowing 23.9 PPG.

The Redskins, who led the league in rushing prior to hitting the brick wall of the Steelers defense last week, slipped behind San Francisco, 168.6 – 166.2 rushing YPG.  Alfred Morris will seek his fourth 100-yard game this season.  The only other time the rookie was held under 60 yards, he rebounded with a 120-yard effort against the New York Giants.