Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Giants Win the Super Bowl in October / Bye Week / Turning It Around

One of the many reasons I live is to see the day when pompous asses like Mike Garafolo of the Newark Star Ledger eat crow.

Giants fans in the New York area such as Garafolo are already celebrating a Giants Super Bowl victory this year. In a column published today that nearly spans the entire front page, Garafolo ticked off the Giants wins and losses over their remaining ten games, and he has them running away with the division at 12 - 4, locking up the second seed, and earning a first-round bye. Yet, he only confers the second seed upon the anointed Giants despite the fact that he says they will beat the Bears in November. No worry, he says, because if one thing has been made clear,
it's that you can go to Chicago in January and win.

And, here is what he had to say about the last game on the Giants schedule, the one against the Redskins on December 30:
If only Washington were still in it. What a treat this game would have been. Instead, the only fun Giants fans will have is watching Jason Campbell run for his life. Prediction: (Giants) Win.

Now, I'd like to make a little prediction: Giants fans have gotten WAY ahead of themselves; they will need a lot of luck just to win the division.

Garafolo thinks the Giants will beat the Bucs, Bears, Cowboys, Eagles, Saints, and Redskins--that's six wins in tough games--in addition to wins against the Titans and Texans. Of the six wins against tough opponents that the omniscient Garafolo has conferred upon the Giants, I think the Giants will need an enormous amount of luck just to go 4 - 2. I'm talking humongous luck...luck like the kind they found in Philadelphia this year, but which is unlikely to be repeated. And, if those two losses come against the wrong teams--say the Redskins, Eagles or Cowboys--the Giants may not even win their division. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised if the Giants lost three of those six games and fell one game short of the division title.

It will likely only take ten wins to win the NFC East this year, and it is still anyone's division when only two wins separate the top of the division from the bottom and there are ten weeks of football left to play.

What is it going to take for the Redskins to step up and take the division? In a word, health. They need to get their defensive starters back—all of them. You can’t have six starters out for some part of the year and expect to do well. Redskins fans are wailing about the lack of offense and calling for Brunnell’s head, but the offense has actually been about as productive this year as last year despite not yet fully absorbing Saunders playbook and missing Portis for most of two games. And, Brunnell actually has a higher passer rating and is ranked higher in the NFC this year. Through seven games, the Redskins have actually scored five more points this year compared with last year and that comparison is made tougher when one considers that the 2005 stats include a game against a horrible 49ers team in which the Redskins scored fifty-two points.

No, the culprit for their poor start has been their defense and that is only because of the inordinate number of injuries they have had on that side of the ball. Here are the statistics from the Washington Post:

After seven games last year, the Redskins were sixth overall in total defense, giving up 283.1 yards per game. This year, they are 26th, at 350.1 yards per contest. In two of the last three games, the Redskins have given up more than 400 yards…After seven games in 2005, the Redskins were first in pass defense at 152.7 yards per game. This year, the defense gives up an average of 239.4 passing yards per game, good for 29th of 32 teams.

So, the Redskins find themselves in the middle of a 2 – 5 streak. Fans should remember that last year they had a 2 – 6 streak and still won ten games, made the playoffs, and were one play away from playing in Joe Gibbs’s sixth NFC championship game in fourteen years of coaching. Wow. And, remember, the Giants were watching that Redskins playoff game on TV at home.

Fans should also try to remember how they felt at the end of that 2 - 6 streak last year when they lost to the Chargers. Talk show host were calling into shows they weren't even hosting and screaming about the loss to the Chargers and saying the Skins were dead. Nearly everyone on posted that the Redskins were dead. Washington Post writers said the Skins were dead. Post columnists like Sally Jenkins said that only delusional fans who named their pets after Skins players still believed the Redskins could make the playoffs. Oh, and then she conferred a deep playoff run on the Giants. Oops. It is no different this year.

Fans who now wail about this year’s home loss to the terrible Titans, and who use that loss as evidence that the Redskins cannot win the division this year, should try to remember last year’s home loss to the awful Raiders that came in the middle of that 2 – 6 streak. Fans who think that this year’s offense is terrible compared with last year’s should try to understand that this year's offense has scored more points than last year's and it still hasn’t come close to fully utilizing all of its weapons.

Finally, another reason for optimism is that the Redskins have made major upgrades at special teams and have already scored a touchdown on punt and kickoff returns. Special teams win in January. The only thing that is worse off this year is the defense.

Will this week’s bye help them heal enough for a playoff run? The Giants credit their recent success on having an early bye week to heal and fix their problems. I think Redskins fans will be saying the same thing about the Redskins in about a month. What will Garafolo say then? Probably something similar to what Sally Jenkins said after the Redskins won their tenth game last year and secured a playoff spot:

We could all take a lesson from Brunell. And we could all take a lesson from the Redskins' ability to rebuild themselves in the span of a mere month. Like Brunell, they stowed their complaints, and erased their mistakes. The things they previously did wrong, they suddenly did right...They weren't sentenced to failure. Just because you make a mistake once doesn't mean you have to make it twice. I made a mistake of my own when I wrote five weeks ago that the Redskins were done for the season. They weren't, not by a long shot. For one thing, I didn't take into account the deep competitive nature of their quarterback.


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