Monday Morning Hangover

More like a Monday Afternoon Hangover, but nevertheless, here it is.

The New York Football Giants are back. It took them back-to-back losses to division opponents to find themselves, but the Giants proved on Sunday night that they have gone nowhere and are still the best team in the NFL.

After losing games to Philly and Dallas and with Carolina ripping off wins to tie the Giants at 11-3, the world had turned upside down and suddenly the country was painted in teal and black (or whatever hideous colors the Panthers wear). But after a Sunday night victory over Carolina in the biggest game of the season for both teams, there should be no doubt left as to who is the class of the NFC and the NFL for that matter.

It hurts to know what the Giants could have done last week in Dallas if Brandon Jacobs had played and the offensive line had show up. Because the Carolina Panthers are clearly a superior team to the Cowboys and Derrick Ward can rack up 215 yards against the Panthers and Jacobs can get into the red zone three times, then imagine what could have taken place last Sunday in Dallas, in nice weather. But forget that game. The focus of the week is the return of Big Blue just before the postseason begins.

Eli Manning did an excellent job of managing the game and creating reasonable third downs, something that was not present against the Cowboys. His receivers didn’t have any significant drops and because of that, the defense once again had to focus on Domenik Hixon, Steve Smith, and Amani Toomer, rather than stacking the line to stop Jacobs and Ward.

The only negative thing about the Giants would have to be their first half defense that looked non-existant in giving up 21 points before the half. From DeAngelo Williams running wild to Jake Delhomme just lofting up interceptions that would find receivers, the defense looked to be taking a night off, on a night the offense finally returned. But come the second half, the defense buckled down and only allowed a touchdown over the second half and overtime.

And for once we are going to talk about special teams. I don’t care that Domenik Hixon is now a starting receiver on the team. He needs to be the kickoff returner and the punt returner. Not Sinorice Moss, not Ahmad Bradshaw, and certainly not R.W. McQuarters. Last season Hixon was the returner and his ability to find holes and breakaway led to the team’s surge in the postseason and all the way to their championship. Now Hixon is being limited because of his role as wide receiver. Do you see New England telling Wes Welker he can’t return because he is a main receiver? R.W. McQuarters better never return a kick again, actually he should never dress again.

John Carney is the man when it comes to field goals, but his kickoffs are simply not cutting it. Every kick is to the opponents 10, so instead of running back to the 20-25 they are taking it to the 30-35. One time this season Lawrence Tynes took the kickoff responsibilities and not since then. If roster spots are so important, then why not make McQuarters an inactive and have Tynes return to the kickoffs. The excellent field position of the opposition is putting the Giants at a major disadvantage every game.

The Giants needed to win last night to prove, yet again, that they are in fact the real deal. But they didn’t need to just win, they needed to win in the exact same fashion they that actually did win. In a gusty, comeback performance, when everyone thought they were finished. Because right now, they look more like the 2007 Giants than ever before. And we know how their story finished.

So now with the first round bye and home field advatage in hand, the Giants have accomplished all their regular season goals. But the real goal, the one that sits on that first Sunday in February is still three wins away. But right now the Giants are playing their best football once again. And their best football is better than any other team’s best in the entire NFL.

LEAVING ON A JET PLANE.
How about the Jets? About to pull off a collapse that has the Mets thinking their past two seasons weren’t so bad after all. The Jets have now lost to Oakland, Denver, San Francisco, and Seattle. Four of the worst team in the league. And they nearly lost to Kansas City if not for a last minute touchdown.

On Sunday the Jets will be playing for their lives. But the Patriots will also be playing for their lives and the Jets’ lives in Buffalo, since the Jets no longer control their own destiny. Instead Chad Pennington’s Miami Dolphins control their own and the only team sitting in front of Chad and a division title is his former employer, led by Brett Favre, the man he was released for.

The best scenario is that Miami wins and Baltimore beats Jacksonville. That would give Miami the East and Baltimore the No. 6 seed and knock out the Jets and Patriots. It would be a glorious way to end the 2008 season.

THE WORST DIVISION EVER.
How about the San Diego Chargers? Actually how about the Denver Broncos? For what seems like nine years, all the Broncos needed to do was win a game or have the Chargers lose a game and neither of those things happened. As you all know I despise the Chargers and their overratedness (a new word), but the Broncos are giving them a run for their money.

Someway, somehow, the Chargers/Broncos showdown this week now means something, when only a few weeks ago San Diego was 4-8 with a 0.0000001 chance of making the playoffs. Then, Norv Turner went out and bought a Power Ball ticket and hit it big. Because if the Chargers win on Sunday, Norv might have saved his job. And the funny thing is, the AFC is so terrible that the Chargers could actually go into the postseason and take some teams down. Just disgusting.

PHILLY, OVER AND OUT.
You have to love the Philadelphia Eagles. This team ties the Bengals, then pulls off three wins in a row to put themselves in position to control their own destiny, and then they go and put up THREE points against the Redskins who are just counting down the days until the offseason. That performance says a lot about the Eagles yesterday and how they truly are not a good football team because good football teams don’t lose to an inferior opponent when their season is on the line.

And now at 8-6-1, the Eagles are done. And for the second straight season they will not make the playoffs. And isn’t it fitting that the last meaningful play of their ’08 season, the last play to give them a chance to win or go to overtime, was a catch centimeters shy of the goal line. And with no timeouts the clock and the Eagles season expired. The end could be near for Donovan McNabb and Andy Reid.

THE ONCE MIGHTY PATRIOTS.
Instead of everyone talking about the Patriots and how good of a coach Bill Belichick is, shouldn’t they be talking about a way to make the AFC more competitive. There is no way that a team who lost their starting quarterback should be able to replace him with a guy who’s last start came in fifth grade flag football and win 10+ games in a season. Granted the Patriots had the 32nd (out of 32 teams) hardest schedule entering the season, but really, they play some just awful teams. But the good thing to know about the Patriots is that they will not win in the postseason if they can get there. Because for the entire season they have won the games they are supposed to win and they have lost the games they are supposed to lose. The Patriots have had zero wins against better teams, but they haven’t lost to a lesser team either. But come playoff time with the Titans, Steelers, Colts, Ravens, and whoever else gets in, the Patriots will not last long, if they get in.

NO ONE TO RUN WITH.
And while talking about the Patriots, let’s talk about the team they just demolished: the Arizona Cardinals. What happened to this bunch? Well, I will tell you. It’s easy to pretend to be good in the NFL when you play six combined games against the Rams, Seahawks, and 49ers. But once you play professional teams, it’s a different story. The Cardinals have no running game. And I am not saying their running game is bad, I am saying that it is doesn’t exist. Tim Hightower is not a No. 1 back in the NFL, but for some reason they have put Edgerrin James on the backburner. But the 30-year old Edge has more talent and ability in one of his feet at the age of 30 than Hightower does now at 22 or will ever have.

So considering the fact that the Cardinals are one-dimensional with no running game, they are already at an enormous disadvantage. But then you have to factor in how terrible their defense is. And what you are left with is a team that consists of Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and Anquan Boldin. And when they have to play in the elements, away from their perfect paradise in their air conditioned dome in the desert of Arizona, they get embarrassed.

The Cardinals at one point were 7-3. Now they are 8-7, having gone 1-4 over their last five. And on top of that five of their eight wins have come against, who else, the Rams, Seahawks, and 49ers. Have fun losing in the first round.

PLAYOFF PREVIEW.
And finally here are your current playoff teams and games:

NFC
#1
New York Giants - bye
#2 Carolina Panthers - bye

#3 Minnesota Vikings vs #6 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
#4 Arizona Cardinals vs #5 Atlanta Falcons

AFC
#1
Tennessee Titans – bye
#2 Pittsburgh Steelers – bye

#3 Miami Dolphins vs #6 Baltimore Ravens
#4 Denver Broncos vs #5 Indianapolis Colts

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