By Jason Keidel
» More Columns
The start of any NFL season is ripe with overreaction. So let’s indulge.
Those of us who supported Victor Cruz deserve a quick tip of the cap. The wide receiver is clearly back, and as fresh and feisty as ever, salsa dancing to the delight of MetLife.
And those of us who said his Giants should be favored to win the NFC East look a little smarter than we did three weeks ago.
We didn’t say Big Blue would run the table, or should have their mail forwarded to Houston, the site of this year’s Super Bowl. Nor are two games a season make.
But while Sunday’s win against the Saints didn’t match their pyrotechnic prequel last year — when Eli Manning and Drew Brees threw 13 total touchdowns and their teams combined for 101 points — it was the very type of game they lost many times in 2015. And they are, for the moment, the lead dogs of their division.
It’s not so much that Big Blue reminds you of their 1986 behemoth as it is impossible to invest in any other NFC East club.
Some of us didn’t buy the Washington Redskins, last year’s division champs. Kirk Cousins got hot during the second half of the season and led them to the NFC East crown, yet his own employer didn’t have enough confidence to sign him for more than one year.
And their trepidation seems justified. The team is 0-2 — with both losses coming at FedEx Field — and you don’t see Cousins storming into the locker room belching his signature “You like that!” battle cry. In two games, he has thrown one touchdown and three interceptions — including one in the red zone late in Sunday’s game against the Cowboys — with a pedestrian passer rating of 78.5. Already there are reports of dissent among his teammates.
So far, Carson Wentz has justified the Eagles’ faith and his status as the second pick in the NFL Draft. Indeed, he’s the first quarterback since 1970 to win his first two starts without throwing an interception. But he’s still a neophyte in a league that often feasts on rookie QBs.
So far he’s vanquished the Browns and Bears, both bottom-feeding, top-five-drafting afterthoughts who are a combined 0-4. Let’s see how Wentz fares against the carnivores of the league (like this weekend, when he plays the Pittsburgh Steelers.)
Then we have the Cowboys, the NFL’s ultimate novella, America’s Team in title only. Forget that they haven’t come close to a Super Bowl in 20 years, or that their record is at or near .500 ever since. They travel as far as Tony Romo takes them, and he has become way more brittle each year. This time, Romo didn’t even wait until the season started to break his back.
Which introduces a second QB variable, along with Wentz. Dak Prescott became the preseason darling in Dallas. And he certainly looks seasoned beyond his years. But he has yet to throw a regular-season TD pass, and beating the Redskins isn’t nearly the statement it would have been a year ago. And remember the Giants already beat Prescott and the Cowboys in Week 1.
The Eagles may share the pole position with the Giants today, but it’s hard to back a rookie head coach/quarterback tandem as a playoff team. Frankly, Dallas has the more talented roster, the best offensive line in football and better skill players than those in Philadelphia. But even when Romo returns, is anyone confident he will finish the season? At 36, Romo is at the age when quarterbacks not named Manning or Brady often decay.
Give me Eli Manning, the best receiver not named Antonio Brown (Odell Beckham Jr.), a fast-rising rookie (Sterling Shepard), perhaps the Comeback Player of the Year (Cruz), an underrated running back (Rashad Jennings) and an improved defense that thwarted Brees for the bulk of four quarters.
After Brees scorched the Giants for 511 yards and seven TDs last year, Big Blue held him to one touchdown and 263 yards, and sacked him twice. Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple — two fresh faces from the offseason’s defensive overhaul — led the team in tackles (with seven and six, respectively).
The defense will get better. Manning will develop a rapport with Shepard. Beckham is, well, Beckham. And Cruz will soon slap all the rust from his game, if he hasn’t already.
With another loss this weekend — this time to the Giants — Washington will become as dysfunctional as our presidential election. Dallas has a rather dubious defense and has a two-decade penchant for implosion. And Philadelphia still has to prove itself.
Sure, we’re getting ahead of ourselves, but that’s what September is for. And right now, Big Blue see blue skies on their way to January.
Follow Jason on Twitter at @JasonKeidel