A former hockey coach of mine used to say before every game, “Do you know what today is? It’s the biggest game of your life.” Now granted he would say this before every single game of the entire season, in a season that featured 50+ games before the playoffs, it was really a stretch of a rhetorical question/answer combo. But that statement is very relevant in the NFL week in and week out. And like I have said in the past, this weekend is the biggest weekend in the NFL. But then again isn’t every weekend?
Think about the close games and blown calls and turnovers in games weeks ago that at the time resulted in a loss, but in the bigger picture really resulted in a season of no playoffs for some franchise. Think about the teams that will miss winning their division or clinching a wild card spot by one game, one missed field goal, or one untimely interception. Every game in the National Football League matters and that is the beauty of a sport with a 16-game schedule.
This weekend could be the end for some teams. The Cowboys, Jets, Patriots, Eagles, Falcons, and Redskins HAVE to win. The Colts, Ravens, and Vikings NEED to win. And the Panthers, Bucs, Steelers, and Broncos WOULD LIKE to win. The difference in those three scenarios? Just look at the standings.
The Bears were faced with a must-win game at Soldier Field against the Saitns on Thuirsday night and they came back with a couple minutes left on the clock to send it to OT and then brought it home with a field goal. The Bears and Saints both needed to win. The Bears did and they stay alive for another week, hoping that the Vikings lay an egg in the final three games. The Saints came up short and even though their path to the playoffs was a narrow one, they officially ended their 2008 season.
The margin of error in the league has dwindled down to the point of one incorrect decision on offense or one blown tackle on defense could mean the entire season. The Redskins were 6-2 looking to play around .500 football for the final eight games to make the playoffs. Instead they have gone 1-4 and need a Christmas miracle to somehow leap frog three other teams and make the postseason.
The Cowboys were once 5-4 and about to have an “x” for eliminated placed in front of their team name on the standings page. But then they ripped off three straight wins only to blow a lead late in Pittsburgh. The difference in winning and losing last week at Heinz Field? Their season is now on the line at Texas Stadium in what is the second to last game to ever be played there. Because if the Cowboys lose tomorrow they no longer control their own destiny, but rather the Eagles do. And to think that the Week 16 game against the Ravens in Dallas, the last at that historic football stadium, might mean nothing.
Now with the G-Men coming off only their second loss and looking to make it three straight wins against the ‘Boys, the city of Dallas and state of Texas has declared a state of emergency. Terrell Owens is looking to punch his ticket out of a third city while Tony Romo jersey sales might hit the skids if another disappointing performance comes on Sunday night. And with Jason Witten playing with broken ribs and a nagging wide receiver and Jerry Jones calling out his injured running back, the Dallas Cowboys have gone from billion dollar sports franchise to mid-afternoon, weekday soap opera.
With both Brandon Jacobs and Marion Barber out this weekend, the Giants and Cowboys will be looking to their backups (Derrick Ward) and backups of their backups (Ahmad Bradshaw and — Choice). So the passing game will be present on Sunday night in Dallas and with both Eli Manning and Tony Romo coming off their worst performances of the season, both franchise QBs will try to bounce back. But with the injured defense of the Cowboys, it might be easier for Eli to return to Eli than for Tony to return to Tony.
We have seen Eli in big games and we have seen him be successful in the clutch, time and time again. We have watched Eli stage last minute comebacks and late-game drives many times in his four-plus seasons in the NFL.
But Tony the Great hasn’t had as much success in his two-plus seasons as a starter. The biggest game of Tony’s career came last January against the Giants in the playoffs and he came up short in the Cowboys losing effort. The biggest game before that? The playoff loss to the Seahawks in ’06 where he was the goat as well. So, while a bounce back game for Eli is expected, it isn’t as likely for Romo.
Adam Duerson of SI.com broke down this week’s game between the two NFC rivals and had an interesting stat.
“Over the last two years Manning has been pretty money down the stretch. And Romo? Not so much. In his 15 December and January games between 2006 and 2007, including playoffs, Manning’s Giants are 9-6, and he’s thrown an impressive 22 touchdowns against 10 interceptions. In the same period Romo’s Cowboys are 4-7 while he’s tossed 11 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. Thirty-seven percent of his career regular season interceptions have come in the last quarter of the year.”
In a game that could come down to the quarterbacks, the advantage clearly goes to the G-Men.
There are just as many people choosing the Giants this weekend as there are the Cowboys. The Giants enter the game as three point underdogs and with the Cowboys as the “desperate” team, they are just suppose to win as if their competition is going to lay down because they are desperate and hoping to win out and make the playoffs.
It’s going to be a battle in the Big D on Sunday Night Football. But the better team will come out on top, not the desperate one.
Giants 24, Cowboys 20
J! E! T! S! CHOKE, CHOKE, CHOKE
The Jets had the Dolphins and Patriots up against a wall with nowhere to run, but someway, somehow, Miami and New England turned the tables and suddenly the Jets are up against the wall with the Bills wanting so badly to make something of their season by endings the Jets. Miami should beat the 49ers and the Patriots should destroy the Raiders, but the Jets might not necessarily defeat the Bills this Sunday.
One month ago at Gillette Stadium, the Jets almost collapsed worse than the Giants did against San Fran in the ’02 playoffs. But they survived the Patriots comeback, pulled off an OT win, took control of their division and had the world believing in Brett Favre and the New York Jets. The following week they went to Tennessee and knocked off the undefeated Titans. The world didn’t need to believe anymore, as they now had full proof that the Jets were the team to beat in the AFC.
But since that glorious day in Tennessee, the Jets have been embarrassed at home by the inconsistent Broncos before flying cross-country to get humiliated by Mike Singletary, Shaun Hill, and the 49ers. The Jets are a Sunday loss at home against the Bills from apologizing to a fan base that watched their beloved organization send Chad Pennington packing for the future Hall-of-Famer. A fan base who believed it was their turn to win the AFC East once Tom Brady went down. A fan base who watched their team in a blink of an eye go from disappointing to Super Bowl bound to rock bottom. A loss Sunday to the Bills would likely end the 2008 New York Jets. The definition of the word “devastation” awaits Gang Green in East Rutherford Sunday afternoon.
This week there is not a chance any football fan should think about doing anything else than staying tuned to the 14 games on Sunday and one on Monday. Because after 1:00 PM EST on Sunday, everything will change. There are divisions to be clinched, playoff byes to be had, wild card berths to be won, elimations to be handed out, and spoilers to be celebrated. Week 15 is the biggest week of the season. That is until Week 16 arrives.