I said it in another place, but I may as well say it here: winning the NFC East in 2012 is like being valedictorian of summer school.
The New York Giants have dropped 2 straight to fall to 6-4, losing to the hapless Bengals this time around. New York was the first opponent of Cincinnati this season to not even intercept Andy Dalton once.
Now they get to watch from home, during the final slate of byes, to see if the second place team can move within one game of the division lead.
That team, if they win, will be a mere 5-5.
The 4-5 Dallas Cowboys should, SHOULD, be able to defeat the Cleveland Browns, but seeing as Cleveland beat a pair of 4-5 teams in Cincinnati and San Diego, a win here isn't guaranteed.
As for the bottom of the barrel, the 3-6 Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins are playing not to further a playoff cause, but rather to avoid dwelling alone in the basement.
The only thing notable about that game is the first career start of Nick Foles. When Foles faces Robert Griffin III, it'll be the first battle of rookie QB's in the NFC East since December 29, 2002, when Chad Hutchinson (Dallas) faced Patrick Ramsey (Washington).
Washington was 6-9 going in, and Dallas was 5-10, which is a nice parallel.
So much for the NFC East being the "glamour" division, eh?
1. Why the Eagles will Beat the Redskins
My knee-jerk reaction is to bloviate with "they HAVE to! They haven't won since September 30! The Eagles don't do losing streaks like that!"
But in the NFL, anything is possible, and so's a six-game losing streak for Andy Reid's writhing birds.
Nick Foles, however, has a chance to make good in his first NFL start. There were some strong elements to his relief efforts on Sunday against Dallas, most notably affirmation that he makes quicker decisions and boasts a better snap-release than Michael Vick. His decision-making still leaves lots to be desired, but hope is there.
That quick release, though, may as well be a war hammer against the Redskins, whose secondary takes more punishment than the average renaissance-era whipping boy.
Opponents are averaging 312 yards and 2 touchdowns through the air on Washington over their first 9 games, who gives up 25.1 PPG overall.
Teams facing the Redskins also boast a 95.37 passer rating. Four quarterbacks had ratings of 100.0 or better against them: Sam Bradford (117.6), Andy Dalton (132.9), Ben Roethlisberger (121.0), and Cam Newton (100.1).
While Foles is the great unknown, if the football Gods wanted him to have the easiest game imaginable for his firs career start, they set him up rather nicely.
To make up for this lack of defensive prowess, Washington has had to rely on its rookie leader, Robert Griffin III.
The Redskins over-reliance on RG3 has been evident during this 3 game losing streak of theirs, as his rushing average has dropped to 5.77 YPA (down from his season average of 6.53 YPA). If Griffin's wearing down, that's a benefit to an Eagles defense who could use a breather.
It also stands to reason that the Eagles have not allowed a 100-yard rusher this season. Ray Rice sniffed it with 99, and Ryan Williams had 83 for Arizona, but that doesn't speak well for Alfred Morris' odds.
2. Why the Redskins will Beat the Eagles
Because EVERYONE beats the Eagles! Goodnight everyone, you've been great! Try the veal!
Alright, alright, I have to rationalize the title of this bullet point with stats, so let's do that. But trust me, I may be wasting my time stating the obvious.
RG3 and Morris can still be kryptonite to the Eagles: in 4 of Philadelphia's 9 games, the Eagles have failed to get even a single turnover. They're also on pace for only 25 sacks as a team down season, down from 50 a year ago.
As Todd Bowles (a man used to winning in Washington) tries to get a firm grasp on what his defense can succeed at, opposing offenses continue to pummel at the lack of hustle, heart, and continuity that the Eagles bring.
The Eagles' run-stopping unit was actually a plus for them earlier in the year, but are now allowing 4.21 YPA. Their pass defense is just as middling, allowing 6.30 yards per attempt, with only 7 picks to compensate.
Philadelphia has not intercepted a pass since October 14 against Detroit, when Nnamdi Asomugha made an easy end zone snag.
That's not to mention the yang to Nick Foles' yin, the fact that he isn't guaranteed to play well, even against Washington's lousy defense. There were a number of bad passes that Foles threw against Dallas that could have been, or were, intercepted.
Even his own teammates aren't used to him; Jason Avant got beaned in the helmet from a Foles pass that he wasn't ready for. Guess Avant was used to Michael Vick either being sacked or needing an hour to decide his throw.
3. Dallas Nearing Striking Distance of Giants
For every speculative story that paints Dallas into a corner, every rumor of Tony Romo staring down benching in favor of Kyle Orton, every insider tale of Jerry Jones' discontent with Jason Garrett....
....here's the Dallas Cowboys, only a game and a half out of first place in the NFC East.
And here they are, matched up with one of the four worst teams, by record, in the league.
As the Giants doom themselves with their recurring November nightmare, the Cowboys can continue to make up ground against the Cleveland Browns, winner of just 2 games so far this season.
That's not to say that Cleveland doesn't play teams tough. They've beaten the middling Chargers and Bengals, and didn't lose by much to winning teams in Baltimore and Indianapolis. For a team that has 3 rookies in prominent roles on offense (Brandon Weeden, Trent Richardson, and Josh Gordon), they don't roll over easily.
Both teams have losing records, so it's not a cakewalk for Dallas. But in a battle of the trenches, I take Big D.
Cleveland is indeed better at running the ball (3.92 YPA to 3.62) and avoiding sacks and picks (a 7.43 percent fail rate to Dallas' 8.09), but the Cowboys are far superior in third down success (42.11 percent to Cleveland's pathetic 31.5 percent).
Dallas maintains the defensive edge as well. They're better at stopping the run (4.06 YPA allowed against the Browns' 4.28 YPA), and can stop third downs more efficiently (33.93 percent to Cleveland's 37.69 percent). Cleveland does get the drop on sacks/picks, though (8.38 percent of plays to Dallas' 7.61 percent).
4. Bye Week Blues: New York Edition
Here’s a look at the New York Giants on their bye week, and what the road ahead looks like.
Combined Record, Remaining 6 Opponents: 31-23
Record Against Next 4 Opponents, 2008-Present: 9-6 (Includes playoff wins over Packers and Falcons from 2011)
Causes for Faith
-They're the leader of a division with self-defeating troglodytes beneath them
-Running game has big boost compared to last season, with Andre Brown's emergence
Causes for Concern
-Eli Manning has badly slumped over past 4 games (1 TD, 6 INT)
-3 of final 6 opponents have winning records and pose a serious threat
Team MVP: Andre Brown (7 TD, 5.4 YPA rushing, has been reliable as both a change-of-pace running back, as well as picking up the load with Ahmad Bradshaw battling injuries)
Biggest Disappointment: Eli Manning (11 INT against just 12 TD, 81.8 passer rating, hit a slump out of nowhere. Of course, he can still make up for it)
Outlook: At this time a year ago, the Giants were 6-3, having just dropped a contest to the surging 49ers. The Giants would then lose 3 more games to make their futility streak a 4-gamer, dropping them to 6-6. After that, New York went into Popeye-eats-spinach mode and uppercutted everyone in their path (save for one last loss to the Redskins) en route to the Super Bowl title.
Going back to the 2009 season, the Giants' November record is 4-10. They end the month of elections and turkey this year hosting the Packers, who haven't lost since October 7. They also have revenge from the 2011 playoffs in their mind.
Can the Giants keep their head above water and avoid another freakish slump?
Their 6-game slate to close out the regular season has many bumps in it. The Packers will not be an easy target. The Redskins almost beat them once. The Saints are in the midst of an impressive comeback from an 0-4 start. The Falcons may be playing for home field come Week 15. The Ravens may be playing for home field come Week 16. And the Eagles would like to end this disaster of a season on a high note, especially if the Giants' playoff hopes rest on that game.
Contrast this run to last year, when the Jets and Redskins couldn't find their ass with either hand, and Dallas rolled over and played dead in the clincher.
9-7 will be good enough for a playoff spot, thanks to their putrid division competition. I think the Giants beat the Eagles and Redskins, and I can see them upending New Orleans and even Atlanta. A 6-0 run to end the year isn't impossible, but it's unlikely. The Giants will head into the playoffs strong, thanks to some reaffirmation and rededication. Do they win it all? Who's to say?
5. Mini Power Rankings
1. New York Giants (6-4)
Discounting his rookie season, the narrowest gap that Eli Manning has had between touchdowns and interceptions was the year he went 23 and 20 in the respective categories. That year? 2007, when New York snuck into the playoffs and won it all.
2. Dallas (4-5)
At least someone's grateful for the inept Eagles; Dallas hadn't scored 38+ points in a game since they slapped Buffalo around in November 2011, 44-7. Washington (twice) and New Orleans are ahead, and can give up just as many points.
3. Philadelphia (3-6)
Trent Cole started only 7 games in his rookie season of 2005, and had 5.0 sacks for the year. This season, the usually-trusty Pro Bowler has just 1.5 sacks, putting him fourth on the team behind Jason Babin (3.5), Cullen Jenkins (2.0), and rookie Fletcher Cox (2.0).
4. Washington (3-6)
14 quarterbacks have started in Washington in Daniel Snyder's 14 season run, and RG3 has started more games than 6 of them, including Jeff George and Shane Matthews. By year's end, he'll pass Donovan McNabb, Tony Banks, and tie Rex Grossman for fifth.