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NFL Report: Redskins, Cowboys, Giants eye title

FLAWED NFC EAST STILL HAS INTRIGUE

BY STEVE DeSHAZO

THE FREE LANCE-STAR

It’s a far cry from the glory days of 1986–95, when the New York Giants, Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys combined to win seven Super Bowls in a decade.

None of those teams looks like a potential champion in 2012. But in a season largely devoid of playoff suspense—five of eight division races are already decided—the NFC East race is suddenly intriguing, with all three teams at 8–6.

A month ago, the defending NFL champion Giants had a stranglehold on the division. Now they’re the only one of the three contenders that needs help to win the division.

If Washington wins in Philadelphia and Dallas beats New Orleans on Sunday, the winner of the Redskins–Cowboys game Dec. 30 at FedEx Field will be crowned division champion. That would make it the most meaningful matchup in a formerly bitter rivalry since the NFC championship game after the 1981 season.

With Seattle at 9–5 and Minnesota and Chicago (along with the Giants) at 8–6, the Redskins–Cowboys loser could miss the playoffs entirely. And if Dallas or Washington stumbles this week, the Giants still have a shot at the division title.

The Redskins—who last won the division in 1999—technically lead the East with a 3–1 division record. Dallas is 3–2, the Giants 2–3.

Both Washington and Dallas have shown unexpected resiliency.

After molding their offense around Robert Griffin III’s unique skill set, the Redskins tweaked it for fellow rookie Kirk Cousins, who passed for more yards against Cleveland Sunday (329) than Griffin has in any game. And a porous pass defense has bent as far as possible without breaking.

Dallas, meanwhile, has overcome a rash of key injuries and the untimely death of practice-squad player Jerry Brown (killed in a crash while riding with nose tackle Josh Brent) to win three in a row.

You can question receiver Dez Bryant’s maturity, but not his toughness—not after he caught a touchdown pass Sunday against Pittsburgh with a fractured pinkie.

Part of the surprise contenders’ success may be the inconsistency of the rest of the league. Remember that these are the same Redskins who lost at home to Carolina less than two months ago. And the same Cowboys who have trailed late in each of their last three games, only to rally and win them by a combined nine points.

Still, both teams are ahead of the Giants—in terms of both tiebreakers and psyche. New York essentially failed to show up in last Sunday’s 34–0 loss at Atlanta.

The schizophrenic Giants follow the lead of quarterback Eli Manning. His late-season surges carried New York to Super Bowl titles after the 2007 and 2011 seasons. But he followed up a sensational game against New Orleans with a dreadful one against Atlanta (161 passing yards, two interceptions, a 38.9 passer rating).

Still, victories in their last two games (against the reeling Ravens and the dreadful Eagles) would earn the Giants at least a wild card berth. And this is a team that won the NFC title as the sixth and final seed five years ago.

In fact, New York’s recent January surges serve as inspiration to their division brethren. Dallas owner Jerry Jones cited that after last Sunday’s overtime win.

“You can legitimately look at how the Giants played last year, what they did at the end of the year and how they took it all the way,” Jones told reporters. “And that’s not unrealistic to think that that can happen to you.”

UPSET PICK

The Pick (2–12) will take a shot on Arizona (a 5-point road underdog) to use its stout pass rush to add to Chicago’s late-season misery.

Steve DeShazo: 540/374-5443

sdeshazo@freelancestar.com

    COUNTDOWN

    1. 49ers (10–3–1)

    Seahawks will test them.

    2. Broncos (11–3)

    Playoff bye is in sight.

    3. Falcons (12–2)

    Answered some questions.

    4. Texans (12–2)

    Red zone issues linger.

    5. Patriots (10–4)

    Can’t spot 49ers 28 points.

    6. Packers (10–4)

    Sticking with K Crosby.

    7. Seahawks (9–5)

    No one wants to face them.

    8. Redskins (8–6)

    Concerns on offensive line.

    9. Colts (9–5)

    Played like a young team.

    10. Ravens (9–5)

    Injuries, losses mounting.

    11. Vikings (8–6)

    Peterson still needs help.

    12. Cowboys (8–6)

    Lucky or resilient?

    13. Bears (8–6)

    Will skid cost Smith’s job?

    14. Bengals (8–6)

    Steelers have their number.

    15. Giants (8–6)

    No one saw that coming.

    16. Steelers (7–7)

    Dissension in the ranks?

    17. Saints (6–8)

    In rare role as spoilers.

    18. Rams (6–7–1)

    Progress is gradual.

    19. Panthers (5–9)

    Can they save Rivera’s job?

    20. Buccaneers (6–8)

    Unexcused absence Sunday.

    21. Browns (5–9)

    Richardson criticizes coach.

    22. Jets (6–8)

    The end for Rex, Sanchez?

    23. Dolphins (6–8)

    Goal is a .500 finish.

    24. Chargers (5–9)

    Let the changes begin.

    25. Titans (5–9)

    Defense came up big.

    26. Bills (5–9)

    No playoffs for 13 years.

    27. Cardinals (5–9)

    A rare chance to smile.

    28. Lions (4–10)

    Johnson chases Rice’s mark.

    29. Eagles (4–10)

    Will Vick follow Reid?

    30. Raiders (4–10)

    Will QB Pryor get a shot?

    31. Jaguars (2–12)

    Time to clean house?

    32. Chiefs (2–12)

    Come on, No. 1 pick.

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