Week 14 proved there’s no mega-team in the NFL this year. Actually, Weeks 13 and 14 have proven that, particularly with America’s Teams — Dallas (Foes 25, Dallas 24 in the past eight quarters) and Oakland — struggling. And New England might be great, but the last time they played a good team (Seattle a month ago), they got beat in Foxboro. Some dangerous teams, Pittsburgh and Green Bay and Baltimore, might not even make the postseason. I want to join the party in Detroit, but four things stand in my way: the dislocated middle finger on Matt Stafford’s throwing hand and three remaining games — at the Giants, at the Cowboys, and Green Bay in Week 17. Yikes.
This is all you need to know about this season: It’s Dec. 12, and Tampa Bay and Tennessee are tied for first place in their divisions with three weeks to go.
So it’s just the way the NFL wants it. Mystery. Half the league has somewhere between a prayer (Tennessee, Baltimore), a shot (Seattle, Atlanta, Tampa Bay) and real hope (Kansas City, Dallas) of playing deep into January. With three-plus weeks left, look at the slate each week, and you’ll find intrigue.
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• Tonight: Baltimore at New England.
• Week 15: Detroit at the Giants … New England at Denver … Tampa Bay at Dallas.
• Week 16: Minnesota at Green Bay (Christmas Eve) … and the Christmas Day double-header, Baltimore at Pittsburgh and Denver at Kansas City.
• Week 17: Green Bay at Detroit … the Giants at Washington … New England at Miami … Oakland at Denver.
Sit back, relax, enjoy the fight.
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The Cowboys got vulnerable in the past two weeks because they played two very good defenses that pressured Dak Prescott and took away his best receiving weapons. The Giants likely gave Jerry Jones a sleepless night on the way home from Newark early this morning. In two games against the Giants this year, the 11-2 Cowboys had these problems:
• Dallas averaged 13 points and 294 yards in going 0-2 vs. New York.
• Dak Prescott recorded his two worst games of the season. Composite rating: 58.6.
• Prescott threw 14 passes to Dez Bryant in the two games. Bryant caught two.
• The Giants defense, particularly Sunday night in Jersey, was sound and physical and full of fury. “We played phenomenal,” said cornerback Janoris Jenkins. He’s absolutely right. The Giants never let Dak Prescott breathe Sunday night.
• The Cowboys got to Eli Manning, forcing four total turnovers. But the Cowboys turned those four interceptions into just one touchdown.
And there’s this weapon that Dallas just doesn’t have. Well no one does. Kansas City might — with Tyreek Hill — but it’s a little early to put him in Odell Beckham Jr.’s class. In three NFL seasons, Beckham has 34 touchdowns in 40 games. Make no mistake: On Sunday night, the Giants don’t sweep the Cowboys without this play by Beckham.
It’s a play he’s run 500 times. Sixteen minutes to play, Dallas up 7-3, Giants unable to sustain a drive, second-and-10, ball at the New York 39. Beckham split left, vet cornerback Brandon Carr ready to joust with him at the line, and Eli Manning calling for the snap.
Beckham dekes left-right-left and starts for the post, Carr a quarter-step behind. But this is the important thing: If Beckham gets inside Carr’s inside shoulder, his left shoulder, he knows he can win this — as long as middle ‘backer Sean Lee, so instinctive, doesn’t come over to deflect the pass away. The pass has to be fast, and on him, NOW. The pass arrives at the 45, a little high, but easy to catch, and it’s happened so fast that Carr is a full step behind now. Running at full throttle, Beckham splits linebacker Anthony Hitchens and rookie corner Anthony Brown.
On the phone from the Meadowlands, Beckham picks it up.
“I used to catch that ball,” he said, “and I’d be a little timid. I’d want to be sure I had the ball and secured it. But the game is so fast. You’ve just got to hit it. Hit it! I took it around midfield, and I hit it, and I knew I had to just open it up.”
He did, as usual. That speed is rare, and Carr flailed at him and dove around the 7-yard line, but Beckham was gone. Beckham is David Ortiz; the Red Sox have gone down feebly for eight innings and trail by a run in the ninth, but Ortiz bombs a two-run homer to win. Beckham is Steph Curry; down by five with 50 seconds left, Curry hits a pair of threes to save the Warriors. Beckham is an odd dude, but he’s as dangerous a weapon as exists in football today.
And the Giants have him, and the Giants are 9-4 and will be playing in January in large part because of him. And that defense.
I asked Beckham if he thought the Giants might be in the Cowboys’ heads now, with the rest of the league being 0-11 against Dallas and the Giants being 2-0. Maybe in a headier day Beckham would have taken the bait. But not now.
“I don’t know,” Beckham said. “We beat ‘em two times, and we’ve played pretty well, but our focus is on Detroit now. We’ve got work to do. We’ve got so much talent, and we know we can play better.”
The Giants joined the club Sunday night, the club of teams with a legitimate chance to play deep into January. The fortified defense will keep them in games like this one. The home-run hitter, Beckham, will win them.