- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 8, 2009

STORY OF THE WEEK

The New York Giants suddenly have made the NFC East a lot more interesting.

After enduring a 1-5 skid that cost them the division lead, the Giants rallied from a 10-point deficit late in the second quarter and then held off the visiting Dallas Cowboys 31-24 on Sunday after the Philadelphia Eagles crushed the Atlanta Falcons.

With four weeks remaining in the regular season, the Washington Redskins (3-9) are an afterthought, but Dallas and Philadelphia are tied for first at 8-4, a game ahead of New York. No other division has three winning teams. In fact, the NFC South, NFC West and AFC East only have one team apiece above .500, and Indianapolis already has clinched the AFC South.

This week the Giants play host to the Eagles, who pounded them 40-17 in Week 8. The Cowboys finish the season against the Eagles, whom they surprised 20-16 on the road in Week 9. And the Redskins, who pushed the Cowboys, Eagles and New Orleans Saints to the brink the past three weeks, could be spoilers in Weeks 15 and 16 against New York and Dallas.

The NFC East has been better, but no division should be more fun to watch down the stretch.

TEAM OF THE WEEK

ARIZONA CARDINALS

A week after surrendering a 99-yard, game winning drive to the Tennessee Titans, the Cardinals rebounded to play their best game since Super Bowl XLIII, upsetting Minnesota 30-17 in a matchup of likely division winners. Thirty-eight-year-old Kurt Warner, back from a concussion that sidelined him against the Titans, bested 40-year-old Brett Favre in a duel of aging, Hall of Fame-bound gunslingers. Arizona’s offensive line deserves major kudos for keeping NFL sacks leader Jared Allen and the rest of Minnesota’s league-leading pass rush away from Warner. That only can enhance the resume of line coach Russ Grimm, a perennial head-coaching candidate. The Cardinals likely will clinch the NFC West again this week.

FIVE TRENDS FROM WEEK 13

UP: Cincinnati stayed at least two games ahead of runner-up Baltimore in the AFC North by beating Detroit 23-13. In the process, the Bengals (9-3) clinched just their second winning season in 19 years and tied the 1963 Oakland Raiders and 1999 Indianapolis Colts for an NFL record eight-win improvement through 12 games of a season.

DOWN: On a day when New Orleans survived against Washington, Minnesota needed to win at Arizona to stay a game back in the race for home-field advantage in the NFC playoffs. The Vikings (10-2) now can plan on hitting the road for the conference title game after losing 30-17. At least they’ll still be in a dome either way.

UP: Miami’s roller-coaster season hit its highest point yet as the host Dolphins picked off Tom Brady twice, racked up 416 yards and rallied from an 11-point third-quarter deficit to surprise the Patriots 22-21. Miami (6-6) now trails AFC East leader New England by just one game.

DOWN: Houston is not only down, it’s all but out after losing a fourth straight to fall to 5-7. The Texans’ 23-18 loss to Jacksonville was also their fourth in as many weeks in the AFC South. This only will increase the rumors of Mike Shanahan heading to Houston.

UP: They have been crushed by the Giants, New York Jets and Houston. They’ve lost to lousy Kansas City. But the Raiders (4-8) erupted for three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to stun the Steelers 27-24 for just their second victory in Pittsburgh since 1980.

NEXT MAN UP

List of big injuries from Week 13:

LB E.J. Henderson (leg), Minnesota: The Vikings could win their first Super Bowl, but their top linebacker will be a spectator after breaking his left leg during the fourth quarter of Sunday’s loss at Arizona. Rookie Jasper Brinkley is Henderson’s backup.

WR Devin Hester (calf), Chicago: The Bears lost their leading receiver and punt returner during the second quarter of their 17-9 victory over visiting St. Louis. Rookie Johnny Knox has been Chicago’s third receiver, while Earl Bennett, who starts opposite Hester, is next in line to return punts.

QB Matthew Stafford (shoulder), Detroit: The Lions’ rookie quarterback, who missed two October starts with an injury to his nonthrowing shoulder, aggravated it during the fourth quarter of the 23-13 loss to Cincinnati. With the Lions 2-10, Stafford might watch Daunte Culpepper for a game or two as he heals.

OT Jason Peters (head), Philadelphia: Having already lost top running back Brian Westbrook to a pair of concussions, the Eagles are sure to be cautious about rushing their left tackle back even though they’re thin on the offensive line and are in the hunt for a playoff berth.

CB William Gay (head), Pittsburgh: The Super Bowl champs not only lost a fourth straight game in a shocking home defeat to Oakland, they lost Gay to an apparent concussion on a fourth quarter helmet-to-helmet collision with teammate Ryan Mundy. Former starter Deshea Townsend is Gay’s backup.

NUMBERS GAME

Interesting stat about the Week 13 games:

21 Consecutive regular-season victories for AFC South champion Indianapolis, tying the 2006-08 New England Patriots for the longest streak in NFL history. The Colts (12-0) can break the tie Thursday night at Jacksonville.

HOT SEAT

Whose performance in Week 13 puts them in the spotlight for next week:

MIKE TOMLIN

He’s not in danger of getting fired, not after leading Pittsburgh to a Super Bowl victory last year. However, all is far from well for the Steelers, who have lost four in a row for the first time since 2003 and just the second time this decade. Losing to AFC North leader Cincinnati and losing at Baltimore without Ben Roethlisberger can be explained, but blowing late leads to lightweights Kansas City and Oakland? Sunday’s loss to the Raiders was the biggest shock. The Steelers simply don’t lose at home with so much at stake. At 6-6, Tomlin’s team might have to run the table to reach the playoffs and defend its title.

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