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Giants are team to beat in NFC East

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Recent posts by Eric Edholm

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Posted Dec. 05, 2011 @ 4:08 p.m. ET
By Eric Edholm

Despite losing four games in a row, the Giants, not the Cowboys, appear to be the most balanced and dangerous team in the NFC East race right now. Balance might appear to be a funny choice of words, given the team's defensive problems of late and their 32nd ranking running the ball.

However, Sunday's loss to the Packers showed that the Giants have the firepower to battle the NFC heavyweights in the playoffs and to march into Dallas next week and make a claim for the division title.

The PFW Spin

On the surface, the Giants have lost four in a row and appear to be in playoff peril at 6-6. But the rest of the division has done the Giants a favor — including the giant Cowboys slip-up in Arizona on Sunday — by playing mediocre football. Now only a game down heading into the Cowboys game in Dallas in Week 14, the Giants can get into a tie for first place. If they play the way they did in Week 13, matching the Packers blow for blow, the Giants most certainly can run the table.

"We played hard and did a lot of good things but we didn't win," Giants head coach Tom Coughlin said. "There is no hanging your head. It is a tough business and you have to do the things you have to do to win the game."

The connections to the Giants' last battle with an unbeaten team this late in the season is obvious. The Giants knew in 2007 that they could match up with the vaunted Patriots, and that confidence buoyed them through a string of upsets in the playoffs. As then-Giants QB coach Chris Palmer (now the Titans' offensive coordinator) told PFW last week, "In December (the assistant coaches) were brushing up our résumés. We thought it was a one-year thing. Two months later we were champs. Tom (Coughlin) made us believe we could win it all."

In fact, it was Coughlin's finest coaching job, and he still might have similar tricks up his sleeve for this playoff run. There is plenty to manage, however, with an offensive line in flux, a shaky CB situation with Prince Amukamara (with three weeks' practice time) and Will Blackmon (signed off the street last week) rotating and playing heavy roles and a pass rush that alternates between hot and cold with injuries and ineffectiveness playing roles to that end.

What has remained constant has been the excellent play of QB Eli Manning. Amid all the trouble running the ball and faulty protection, Manning has had his most consistent and explosive season to date. He has helped turn Victor Cruz into a bona fide No. 1 option much in the way Manning previously fed Steve Smith, who now languishes on the Eagles' bench. Manning also has had faith in previously trivial TE Jake Ballard and opened Sunday's scoring fest with a bomb to Travis Beckum, the lost man in the equation this season, for a career-long (by 38 yards) 67-yard reception and tone-setting TD catch.

It's the mark of great quarterbacking to adapt to adversity, much in the way that Packers QB Aaron Rodgers continued to target receivers who dropped passes Sunday (as well as he did in Super Bowl XLV), and Manning has done it all season long. He has shown fourth-quarter heroism, and though Manning hasn't been able to finish them all off perfectly, close losses to the 49ers in San Francisco and to the unbeaten Packers have shown that the Giants are not to be trifled with. They are to be feared down the stretch, just like in 2007.

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