PHILADELPHIA – There’s two weeks left in the NFL season and the NFC East is up for grabs among three teams.
It was the same situation last year with the New York Giants, Dallas and Philadelphia fighting it out. Now, RGIII and the Washington Redskins are in the mix while the Eagles try to play spoiler.
That scenario worked out nicely for the Giants in 2011. They won two straight do-or-die regular-season games, three more in the conference playoffs and then beat New England for the second time in five years in the Super Bowl.
Can they do it again?
“These are the circumstances you want to be in,” two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning said. “You want to be fighting to make it in the playoffs and that’s just football and you understand it’s tough to make the playoffs. You’ve got to work. You’ve got to win games. You’ve got to win important games and this is a chance.”
The Giants, Redskins and Cowboys each are 8-6 and control their playoff fate. Win and they’re in — either as the division champion or a wild card. The Redskins clinch the East if they win out because they hold tiebreaker advantages.
“Every game we go into now we believe we can win and that has to be your mind-set,” Redskins Coach Mike Shanahan said. “When you win close games, you expect it.”
The Cowboys’ division hopes came down to the final game at New York last year. The Giants won 31-14. Dallas could be in the same position this season, playing for first place in Week 17. Only difference is the game is at Washington.
“I think our football team has developed that mental toughness that no matter what’s going on during the game, as bad as it may look or whatever, we get to that fourth quarter, we have a shot to win the game,” quarterback Tony Romo said after an overtime win against Pittsburgh. “We believe that we can do that. We have had a lot of comeback wins this year.”
Here’s a breakdown for the top three teams in the East:
• The Giants were sitting comfortably atop the standings at 6-2, but have lost 4 of 6 in the second half. They’ve been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team over the past month, alternating impressive wins with lackluster losses. A convincing 38-10 romp over Green Bay on Nov. 25 was followed up with a 17-16 loss to the Redskins. The Giants rebounded with a resounding 52-27 rout over New Orleans only to come back with an abysmal effort in a 34-0 loss at Atlanta.
The Giants entered their last two games last year off a disappointing loss to Washington. Then they beat the Jets to keep their playoff hopes alive and whipped Dallas to secure the division title.
Repeating won’t be easy.
The Giants visit the reeling Baltimore Ravens (9-5) on Sunday. The Ravens already clinched their fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs, but have lost three in a row and are desperate to straighten things out.
“We can draw on the experience. We did a year ago, six times in a row,” Giants Coach Tom Coughlin said. “That’s kind of what we have to do here. If we’re going to have an opportunity to get into the playoffs at all, we’ve got to win the next two games. Sort of the way it was a year ago.”
The Giants finish up with a home game against Philadelphia (4-10).
• The Redskins were counted out by their own coach when they were 3-6. But Robert Griffin III has them in position to earn their first playoff berth since 2007. Their five straight wins include victories over the Cowboys, Giants and Ravens. Even with RGIII sidelined by a knee injury, the Redskins rolled over Cleveland with another rookie, Kirk Cousins, at quarterback.
Griffin could be back for this week’s game at Philadelphia.
• The Cowboys were 3-5 midway through the schedule and headed nowhere before winning 5 of 6 and three in a row. They’ve overcome tragedy — the death of practice squad player Jerry Brown — and a slew of injuries, particularly on defense..
That injury-depleted defense has a difficult test coming up against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints (6-8) on Sunday. The Saints snapped a three-game losing streak with a 41-0 win over Tampa Bay that knocked the Buccaneers out of playoff contention last Sunday.