NFC East Spin cycle: Setting up a D.C. showdown

Posted Dec. 24, 2012 @ 3:05 a.m.
Posted By Eric Edholm

The Giants can’t win the NFC East. But the Redskins and Cowboys both have a shot to claim the division, and they both could make the postseason. Find out how it happened, in thrilling fashion, in this Week 16 division roundup.

COWBOYS

What we learned: Tony Romo and Dez Bryant were tremendous (again), but the running game let them down and the pass defense was a mere rumor. Drew Brees threw for 446 yards in the Saints’ 34-31 overtime win. Despite climbing out of a 14-point hole — yet another double-digit home deficit — the Cowboys couldn’t finish the Saints off and now have some work to do to make the postseason.

What’s in store next: The Cowboys played in the NFL’s first regular-season game in Week One with a trip to face the Giants and they’ll conclude the league schedule, Game No. 256, with a trip to D.C. for all the NFC East marbles. It will be Romo and the Cowboys vs. Robert Griffin III and the Redskins with the division at stake. The last time they met, back on Thanksgiving, a 28-point Redskins flourish in the second quarter, led by Griffin’s explosive performance, was the difference. Is Griffin fully healthy? We’ll find out.

What the heck? DeMarcus Ware missed most of the second half and overtime — save for one play in OT — with a hyperextended elbow and a shoulder that continued popping out of place. Without him on the field, the Cowboys had no chance of rushing Brees. Sure, he gets rid of the ball quickly, but the Cowboys weren’t even disrupting most of his passes or making him move off his spots. They were supposed to have solved this problem with Anthony Spencer having a career season, but he and the rest of the Cowboys had little success penetrating the backfield.

GIANTS

What we learned: Tom Coughlin was right: The Giants probably needed to win their final four games to make the postseason. Losing Sunday 33-14 to the Ravens in Baltimore eliminated the chance to win the NFC East, and though the playoffs remain in the realm of possibility, it appears fairly remote at this point. The Giants managed to make the Ravens look great offensively, with CB Corey Webster and the Giants’ pass rush looking particularly miserable.

What’s in store next: The Giants must beat the Eagles at home in Week 17 and get help: a Cowboys loss or tie, a Vikings loss and a Bears loss. Fat chance. It likely will be the final game of the Andy Reid era for the Eagles, and they might be bad but they have not quit on their coach. A loss puts the Giants at 8-8, a win at 9-7.

What the heck? The Giants’ Week 16 loss was somehow more offensive on offense than the shutout loss the week prior in Atlanta. After putting up a sad 256 yards against the Falcons, that number dropped to a paltry 186, with 80 of those coming on the Giants’ final drive with the Ravens leading 33-7 in the late stages. For the first time in his career, Hakeem Nicks was held without a reception. Victor Cruz was held to three meaningless catches for 21 yards. When Eli Manning was not being sacked, he was being pressured and hit. It was a pathetic performance all around on offense against a Ravens defense that has taken several hits.

EAGLES

What we learned: The Eagles were much tougher against the Redskins in the rematch after getting blasted 31-6 in Week 11, but a final botched series prevented the upset in Week 16 as the Redskins prevailed, 27-20. Nick Foles had his second 300-yard game in three weeks but also had two turnovers, underthrew an open Jeremy Maclin in the endzone for the would-be tying TD in the final seconds and struggled in general the deeper the Eagles got into Redskins territory.

What’s in store next: By all accounts, it will be Andy Reid’s final game as Eagles head coach when the they travel to the Giants in Week 17. All that’s at stake for the Eagles at this point is draft status, but they can forgo the higher pick for the chance to drive a stake in the Giants’ wild-card designs — for what that’s worth — and send Reid out a winner.

What the heck? The talk around Philadelphia is that the along with death of the wide-9 defensive alignment went  any struggles against the run. That talk was before Sunday’s loss. Even with Robert Griffin III hobbled with a knee injury and his mere four yards rushing, the Eagles couldn’t contain Redskins RB Alfred Morris and an attack that totaled 128 yards against them. Morris chewed them up in a momentum-changing opening drive of the second half.

REDSKINS

What we learned: This team has some magic. It wasn’t all pretty, but the Redskins came up with enough big plays on each side of the ball to escape Philadelphia with a much-needed victory that sets up a Week 17 showdown for the NFC East. Robert Griffin III wasn’t much of a threat running the ball, slowed by a bulky knee brace, but the Redskins found a running game and a passing game in the 27-20 thriller over the Eagles in Philadelphia.

What’s in store next: It’s win and in. Beat the Cowboys next Sunday night in D.C. (the game was flexed to the late slot on NBC) and the Redskins are NFC East champs for the first time since 1999. It would be their seventh straight win and the first 10-win season since 2005 for the franchise. Basically, it’s a massive game — as big as any in recent Redskins history.

What the heck? How big has PK Kai Forbath been? Seriously. For a franchise that has been as plagued by bad kicking as any in recent years, Forbath’s arrival has been a revelation. With conversions from 45 and 42 yards, Forbath now is 17-for-17 on FG attempts — a record for most consecutive makes at the start of a career. His 42-yarder almost came up short (yikes) because of the wind, but as usual he found a way to push the kick through the uprights.