Musings, observations and the occasional insight as we enjoy a Week 14 of frosty, see-your-breath NFL venues and games chock full of playoff-race implications ...
• It's December now, and all I keep thinking is they're doing it again. Watch those Philadelphia Eagles, football fans, because it's the time of year when they perennially go from left-for-dead to still a factor, almost without us noticing.
Two weeks ago, the Eagles were 5-5-1, in last place in the NFC East, and
Get the feeling we've seen this movie before? Like in 2006, when the Eagles were collectively buried by one and all at 5-6, only to win their final five games and steal another division title when no one was looking. Or even to a lesser degree last season, when the debate over whether McNabb and coach
And keep this in mind: In each of the past two years, a 5-6 or 5-7 team has come out of the NFC East to make the playoffs. As we noted above, Philly was 5-6 in 2006, but won its last five. And last year, Washington overcame a 5-7 start to win four straight and earn a wild-card slot at 9-7. So while the Eagles may not have known it at the time, they were relatively ahead of the game at 5-5-1.
These Eagles, at 7-5-1, very much have a pulse in the NFC playoff race, and that ignominious 10-10 tie they suffered at Cincinnati in Week 11 could wind up being their saving grace. If Philadelphia can win-out in December -- which is not a far-fetched scenario at all --a 10-5-1 record might be enough to beat out both Dallas and Washington in the pursuit of the lone wild-card spot the NFC East likely will produce.
Even better, the Eagles might wind up controlling a good deal of their own fate. They have a winnable game at home next week against woeful Cleveland (4-9), then play at Washington and home against Dallas in the season's final two weeks. That would give them the opportunity to climb over the two teams they need to beat, and possibly set up a delicious winner-take-playoff-berth Week 17 showdown against the Cowboys at The Linc.
Not only could it happen, I'm beginning to think it will. With three weeks remaining, I like the position the Eagles are in better than I do the vantage points of either the Cowboys or Redskins.
Dallas, of course, might have to play its best just to make sure its regular-season finale means everything. The Cowboys (8-5) lost a heartbreaker to the Steelers on Sunday, and now face the Giants and Ravens at home in Weeks 15-16 before the Philly finale comes into focus. The Redskins (7-5) also have tough games in Sunday night at Baltimore and Week 16 at home against the Eagles. Earning an 11th win and beating out the Birds won't be an easy task for
If the Eagles do make it to the playoffs, it'll be yet another reminder that Reid's never-panic style is the right approach for the week-to-week volatility of the NFL and, in particular, the rough and ready NFC East. We've written Reid's club off prematurely before, and someday maybe we'll learn that Philly is nothing if not resilient. When December rolls around, the Eagles will be playing meaningful games. Once again, we're starting to question how we ever thought otherwise.
• I know it's going to be the easy (snap-judgment-like) postgame take, but put me down for not buying the Giants lost to Philly because they were distracted by the never-ending
New York had played at an extremely high level of efficiency for all but one game this season and merely was due a clunker. And as noted, the Eagles are no slouches right now. In this year's NFC East, especially in December, anybody can beat anyone, anywhere.
So while I'm sure the Burress-as-distraction angle will get thrown liberally at
The spin will be that dealing with the Burress saga all week wearied the Giants, in a way it couldn't possibly do before last week's win at Washington, which took place less than two days after Burress shot himself in the thigh. But that's just something to talk about, and assign blame to. Burress, I believe, had nothing to do with Sunday's outcome. The Giants didn't lose focus because of Plaxico's legal troubles. They just lost.
• It would appear that
Give Westbrook an inch of daylight, and he will run away from people. He did it twice on Sunday -- scoring touchdowns on a 30-yard run and a 40-yard reception -- and he also got all the tough yards, running a career-high 33 times for 131 yards, while adding six catches for 72 yards.
• The Jaguars have to be absolutely sick about giving quarterback
Garrard was a shaky 19 of 38 for 178 yards, with a killer early interception in the Jaguars' 23-10 loss at Chicago. That makes it four consecutive losses for Jacksonville (4-9) and six out of seven.
In 13 games this season, Garrard has thrown 11 touchdowns and 10 interceptions, after having just three interceptions and 18 scoring passes a year ago. He's also up to 36 sacks this season, and his passer rating has slipped to 80.9.
• There might not have been a bigger win in relief for any quarterback in the league this year than the one Minnesota's
Subbing for the injured
Welcome back to the fight, T.J. The Vikings absolutely had to have that eighth if their playoff dreams are to come true.
• The Lions have to be smelling it now. They're 0-13, and no way, no how they win at red-hot Indianapolis next week. The Colts have won six in a row and they'll put Detroit out of its misery early. Then the Lions have the high-scoring Saints in their 2008 regular-season home finale and a trip to frosty Lambeau looming in Week 17.
Somebody tell the 1976 Bucs to move over. They're about to get replaced in ignominy.
• Just wondering, but why would the good people of Toronto even want the bedraggled Bills about now? Canada to Western New York:
• Just a hunch, but I don't think
• Frauds. The Jets are frauds. After winning at New England and Tennessee in Weeks 11-12, me and every other NFL pundit were preparing everyone for a New York, New York Super Bowl. But after losses at home to Denver and at San Francisco, these Jets seem like they can't stand prosperity.
The Jets are now 0-2 this season when they play in the Bay Area (losing at Oakland in Week 7), and 8-3 everywhere else.
• Stop messing with the likes of
• What a monster
• If the Saints career of
• Fairly big game of desperate 7-6 teams scheduled for Thursday night in sure-to-be-windy-and-cold Solider Field: Saints at Bears. For obvious reasons, just typing the name of those two teams reminds me of
• Twelve consecutive quarters now for the Browns without a touchdown. And to think we still have one more primetime appearance to look forward to from Cleveland, next Monday night at Philadelphia.
• I'm more convinced than ever that Indy is headed for a 12-4 finish and keeping its streak of 12-win seasons alive -- a remarkable accomplishment given the Colts stumbling 3-4 start. And the best news of all for Indianapolis on Sunday against Cincinnati was that its pass rush produced five sacks, a combined four by defensive ends
• Four quarterbacks played in the Vikings-Lions game: Frerotte, Jackson, and Detroit's
• It may be time to blow up that Packers defense and start over. Houston totaled 549 yards in its 24-21 win at Green Bay, with quarterback
The defense has been the team's Achilles' heel all season, but that's as low as things have gotten all year in Green Bay.
• With a three-game winning streak when he needed it most, the Texans'