By Curt Macysyn
This just in, the NFC east division race cannot be confused with a beauty contest. Every team has warts. Then again, it seems like the entire NFL has warts these days, even bucolic Green Bay has garnered some controversy with Packers’ quarterback Aaron Rodger’s sex life being called into question. Really?
By taking a look at all four teams in the NFC east, perhaps we can answer this question: Can the Giants maintain a hold on the NFC east division?
Ironically, if the Giants were able to hold onto the game against the New England Patriots, the might be considered to have a lock on the division right now. Unfortunately, Big Blue lost, while the Washington Redskins (4-5) dismantled the New Orleans Saints 47-14 to pull within 1/2 game of the division lead. The Philadelphia Eagles (4-5) threw away a game (20-19) against the Miami Dolphins, or they would have become top dog in the division. Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys keep losing and dropped to 2-7, but get a shot in the arm with getting Tony Romo back from injury.
New York Giants (5-5)
The Giants hold the slimmest of margins atop the division, and that actually can be erased this weekend, while the team enjoys its bye week. New York currently has the best quarterback in the division, and if Eli Manning continues to play as he has, the Giants will be a force to be reckoned with week-in and week-out, regardless of the challenges on defense. The interior of the offensive line is very good, while the left tackle is improving. Right tackle Marshall Newhouse has been a liability, and that should be a concern for Big Blue moving forward.
The combination of Jerome Cunningham and Will Tye are a work in progress, and hopefully they can stay away from bad penalties and bad drops. Manning does often go to the open receiver, so these guys have to be ready to make a few catches each game. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo needs to make a decision to feed one running back, either Orleans Darkwa or Rashad Jennings, the ball on a regular basis, and actually establish a running game. If the problem has been Eli Manning checking out of running plays, then do not allow that.
Even the most optimistic fan of the Giants could not expect Jason Pierre-Paul to have the kind of impact that he has had with the team. If his first two games of 2015 are any indication, JPP has lifted the spirits of the defensive line, and the unit has been more productive since his return. The Giants may have hit pay dirt with Jasper Brinkley at middle linebacker as he brings a speed dimension that has inexplicably never existed at that position in the recent past.
A healthy Devon Kennard is also key to a defensive resurgence, as the entire linebacking unit has played better than it has in several years with Jonathan Casillas, Mark Herzlich and a healthy J.T. Thomas. The cornerback play has been serviceable lately, and should get a boost from the return of Prince Amukamara. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has been rock solid, so getting Trumaine McBride and Jayron Hosley into more suitable part-time roles is key. Safety play needs immediate improvement, as continued growing pains by Landon Collins and lackluster play by Brandon Meriweather has been noticeable. The G-men have the best kicker in the division with Josh Brown.
PREDICTION: Best quarterback in the division, along with a top shelf coaching staff. Can they close out games down the stretch? In driver’s seat for division title.
Washington Redskins (4-5)
After years of dysfunction in Washington, the Redskins have given their fans some hope at least. The drama behind the Robert Griffin III decision is not yet behind the franchise, but it gets closer every week. Kirk Cousins leads a bunch of no-names who are outshining the team’s big names. Cousins is completing 68 percent of his passes with 14 touchdowns and nine interceptions. He cannot carry this team to the playoffs, but he can lead it there. Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder and Jordan Reed have become dependable targets for Cousins, with Reed being a verified red zone threat with six touchdowns. The running back duo of Alfred Morris and Matt Jones has been solid, but can improve.
Defensively, the Redskins have not yet seen the best of Ryan Kerrigan, who typically saves his best for the Giants. Reclamation project, Dashon Goldson, leads the team in tackles with 71, while the Robinson duo (Trenton, Keenan) have been stout as well. In addition to the undefeated Carolina Panthers this weekend, the ‘Skins must play the Cowboys twice with Tony Romo back at the helm.
PREDICTION: Be careful of a team on a roll, but is this really a roll? This week’s game against the Carolina Panthers is a yard stick for the Redskins. Most likely they are third-place material.
Philadelphia Eagles (4-5)
Perhaps general mangers should repeat this phrase every so often: Injured players always seem to get injured! Ask the Giants how well the oft-injured Jon Beason is performing for them? How about Will Beatty? But we digress. Seemingly it was only a matter of time before quarterback Sam Bradford got injured, and the Eagles would have to thrust Mark Sanchez into the quarterback position. With Nick Foles getting benched in St. Louis, maybe it was a roll of the dice that was worth it, but betting that Mark Sanchez can get the job done is a bad bet.
This season the Eagles appear to be a collection of talent, but not a team. Getting rid of DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin in back-to-back seasons was too much fire power without replacing it. Jordan Matthews is a good receiver, and Zach Ertz is improving at tight end. The Eagles need to keep Kiko Alonso and Mychal Kendricks on the field, and get more production from Connor Barwin. Fletcher Cox has played well in the interior, but he needs help.
PREDICTION: Eagles have lots of talent, and Chip Kelly is an innovative coach. Time will tell if Kelly got too cute with an existing playoff roster. We are not ready to put money on Sanchez-led squad down the stretch. Second-place finish.
Dallas Cowboys (2-7)
The Giants have played the Cowboys twice, so they are done competing in the regular season. Dallas could not gain a victory while Romo was on the injured list with a broken collar bone, yet Maurice Jones-Drew of the NFL Network actually believes the Cowboys will run the table and win the division. Really?
We all understand the game about protecting your players, but calling Greg Hardy a leader shows how detached that Jerry Jones really is. When you sell your soul to the devil to win football games, usually the devil wins.
Having Romo back does help, and they have Dez Bryant healthy as well. But the hole that DeMarco Murray left by going to Philadelphia, still has not been adequately filled by Darren McFadden, and gone are Lance Dunbar, Joseph Randle and Christine Michael. The Cowboys’ combustible locker room does not seem conducive to a playoff run, with Dez Bryant, Greg Hardy and company one bad play from a total meltdown.
PREDICTION: A couple of wins down the stretch, but no where near running the table. Last place.
Curt Macysyn has been covering the New York Football Giants for the past four seasons for Examiner.com, and he is a member of the Pro Football Writers of America (PFWA). Born and raised in New Jersey, Curt attended Seton Hall Prep School in South Orange, N.J. and is a graduate of Rutgers University – New Brunswick. Follow him on Twitter @CurtMac23 for the latest NFL and New York Giants news.