The Giants currently hold a one game lead over the Cowboys and Redskins in the NFC East. With three games to play, let’s figure out who claims the 2012 division title. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Obviously, the Giants have the inside track. If they win out, they win the division and the automatic playoff berth. If they falter, though, and the Redskins and/or Cowboys continue to win, the Giants could find themselves in trouble as they can only finish 3-3 in the division where as the Cowboys and Redskins can both finish 4-2 (‘Skins can even finish 5-1).
Schedules play a big role in determining playoff fates. Many times, it’s the team with the tougher schedule that finishes stronger. A tougher schedule demands more focus, a higher level of play, and a playoff intensity that many teams struggle to find against lesser opponents. In this case, the schedules favor the Cowboys and Giants. If you think the softer schedule is more favorable, the Redskins have a clear advantage.
We’ll start with the New York football Giants. At Atlanta. At Baltimore. Home against Philadelphia. Well this much is true: If the Giants do repeat as division champs, they’ll certainly have earned it. Say what you will about the Falcons (I say they’re frauds all the time), but they’re still a good team and an even better team at home. Everyone and their mother have called the Falcons overrated in one form or another over the past month. The Falcons know they’ve been tossed aside for the Giants and 49ers. This is their chance to cripple the Giants playoff chances and make a statement of their own. Then again, the Giants live for games like this. The Falcons live to die in them. Either way, we get a playoff game in Week 15, so we’re all winners.
Baltimore may not be the imposing team they were two months ago, but winning in Baltimore is one of the league’s toughest tasks. Regardless of what happens in Week 15 against Denver, the Ravens will have plenty at stake. If the Ravens beat the Broncos, they’ll still have a shot at a first round bye if New England slips up. If Denver wins, the Ravens will still need another win to hold off the Steelers and Bengals.
And then the Giants have the Eagles at home. At quick glance, this looks like an easy win the for the G-Men, but any Giants fan knows better. For whatever reason, the Eagles love upsetting the Giants in the Meadowlands/MetLifeStadium. In fact, the Giants haven’t beaten the Eagles at home since September 2007. Some of the lowlights for Giants fans: Eagles upsetting the Giants in December 2008 behind a throwback Brian Westbrook performance, keeping the Eagles playoff hopes alive. A month later, the Eagles marched into the Meadowlands and again bullied the Giants, this time ending the Super Bowl favorite’s bid to repeat as champs. December 2010: Michael Vick, DeSean Jackson and the Eagles score 28 unanswered points in the final eight minutes to win. (This game still sits on my DVR. It’s therapy for tough seasons like this one.) November 2011: The Eagles shock the Giants on Sunday Night Football behind Vince Young. Read that again… Vince Young. Yes, it really happened. So yeah, the Giants and their fans don’t want anything riding on that Eagles visit in Week 17.
I just spent 500 words on the Giants three remaining games. Time to speed this up. The Redskins visit Cleveland and Philadelphia before hosting the Cowboys to end the season. The Browns have been one of the NFL’s tougher teams over the last month. Teams don’t go into Cleveland and blow out the Browns. Wins come ugly. Add Robert Griffin III’s injury to the equation and Sunday’s must win against the Browns is a coin flip. Week 16 against the Eagles is unpredictable, too. If Nick Foles is still rolling and the team hasn’t quit on Andy Reid, an Eagles victory wouldn’t surprise me. Philly’s defense stopping the Redskins offense, however, would. Here’s the NFL’s ideal scenario for the Redskins Week 17 matchup with the Cowboys: Both teams enter the week at 9-6 with either the division title on the line or perhaps even a Wildcard berth. The NFL gets to put two flagship franchises on Sunday Night Football to close the season with the possibility of sending two of it’s most marketable teams in the biggest markets to the postseason. (It’s important to note the Cowboys have virtually no shot at a Wildcard spot unless the Bears and/or Seahawks completely fall apart. Dallas lost to both teams earlier in the season and would lose any tiebreaker if tied.)
The Cowboys are the only team of the three to play two of their last three at home. Though, hosting the Saints and Steelers is hardly comforting for Dallas fans. On the positive side, the Saints quit on the 2012 season two weeks ago and the Steelers are almost as injury-riddled as the Cowboys… almost. I believe in this Cowboys team more than most, and that includes Dallas fans. I could see the Cowboys winning both at home. I really could. I could also see the Cowboys pack it in and use all the mounting injuries as an excuse for yet another failed season.
So here it is. The Giants finish 2-1 and end up at 10-6. The Redskins trip up and finish 1-2. The Cowboys finish 2-1 and miss out on a playoff berth due to the aforementioned losses to Chicago and Seattle. It’s worth noting that I think there’s a 45% chance the Giants go 1-2 and finish tied with Dallas at 9-7. If that happens, the Cowboys win the NFC East based on a better division record or a better record in common games. Either one happens if both teams finish at 9-7. It’s complicated and I’m too lazy to spell it out, so you’ll just have to trust me. Just know that the Cowboys winning the NFC East would be the most shocking outcome of this entire scenario.