Each Friday, columnist Dan Daly and Redskins beat writer Ryan O’Halloran debate a football issue. This week’s topic: How different will the NFL standings look in eight weeks?
Dan Daly: Not a lot. In the NFC, the Giants, Carolina and Arizona — all first-place teams at the moment — will win their divisions. The first two are just too solid, and the Cardinals, amazingly, have little competition in the West. I can’t believe the year Kurt Warner is having. Matt Leinart might drown in a hot tub before he gets a chance to play again. The North is the toss-up with Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota all battling it out. The Packers are the only club in the division still starting the same quarterback they started in Week 1, so I’ll go with them.
Ryan O’Halloran: I can’t argue with too much from the NFC standpoint. It’s pathetic that two divisions in one conference are so completely inferior. The West and North will have teams hosting playoff games against teams with far better records. I’ll go with the Giants, Carolina, Chicago and Arizona to win the divisions. The AFC picture will be far more interesting in December. Only the AFC South (with Tennessee) isn’t up for grabs. The teams aren’t great, but they’re near equal.
DD: I wonder whether DeAngelo Hall, just cut by the Raiders, will make a difference for one of these teams. He’s a pretty good cornerback when he feels like it. I still see the Patriots coming out of the East, basically because they have owned the Bills lately and already have beaten the Jets on the road. Denver is in free fall. One of the sports columnists out there wrote the other day that it might be time for Mike Shanahan to go. So San Diego wins the West, and Pittsburgh takes the North. I’ll be curious to see whether the Colts can rally and grab a wild card. I say yes, at 9-7, thanks to a final game against Tennessee that the Titans will mail in.
RO: New England, Tennessee, Pittsburgh and San Diego are also my AFC picks. The Chargers will come back from their bye rested for the stretch run, and Ron Rivera should be able to turn things around a little bit on defense. I’ll be watching the Titans to see how they react once they lose a game and how much longer Kerry Collins can stay upright. The Steelers became a team to watch after they slapped the Redskins in the mouth Monday night.
GAME OF THE WEEK
GIANTS (7-1) AT EAGLES (5-3)
Sunday, 8:15 p.m.
TV: Chs. 4, 11
Line: Eagles by 3
Outlook: The Giants put more distance between themselves and Dallas last week by thumping the Cowboys; they can do the same Sunday night when they play their first division road game. The Eagles have come on lately, but this is a must-win if they harbor any hope of winning the NFC East. New York is just too tough right now. The pass rush will find ways to get to Donovan McNabb, and the offense won’t give Philadelphia any gift turnovers.
The pick: Giants 23-17.
RAVENS (5-3) AT TEXANS (3-5)
Sunday, 1 p.m.
TV: Chs. 9, 13
Line: Texans by 2
Outlook: Houston can’t win on the road, but the Texans went 3-1 during a four-game homestand earlier this season — the reason why they’re the tepid favorite over Baltimore. The Ravens rallied from a two-touchdown deficit to win at Cleveland last week and have won three straight overall since getting slammed at Indianapolis. The Ravens probably aren’t good enough to beat Pittsburgh but are good enough to move to 6-3.
The pick: Ravens 16-9.
THIS WEEK’S LOCK
SEAHAWKS (2-6) AT DOLPHINS (4-4)
Sunday, 1 p.m.
Line: Dolphins by 3.
Outlook: Jim Zorn got out of Seattle at just the right time because the Seahawks — still without Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback — are just awful. Their only wins this year are over St. Louis and San Francisco, and they have been outscored 98-26 in three trips to the East Coast. The Dolphins are one of the league’s pleasant surprises, starting the second half just one game out of the AFC East lead. Remember, they were 1-15 last year.
The pick: Dolphins 34-17.
Must-watch non-Redskins games over the final eight weeks
1.New York Giants at Philadelphia, Sunday: The Eagles have played well lately but are still 5-3 and can’t afford to fall three games behind the Giants.
2.Pittsburgh at New England, Nov. 30: The Steelers showed Monday night they are capable of making a run in the AFC because it looks like they’re playing with 15 guys on defense.
3. New York Giants at Dallas, Dec. 14: The Cowboys might be finished by this point; if not, the Giants can bury them for good.
4. Pittsburgh at Baltimore. Dec. 14: If the Ravens continue winning, the AFC North could be at stake for the teams’ second meeting.
5. Detroit at Green Bay, Dec. 28: Barring an upset somewhere along the way, the Lions could be 0-15 when they travel to frigid Lambeau Field.
INSIDE THE NUMBERS
A look each week at one statistic and whether it was the difference between winning and losing. This week: fourth-quarter scoring.
6 Of 10 teams that won the fourth quarter also won the game last week: Baltimore (17-0 in quarter), Chicago (7-0), Philadelphia (6-0), Miami (10-7), Tampa Bay (14-3) and Pittsburgh (7-0).
INSIDE THE AFC
• The Jaguars are officially in turmoil. Jacksonville entered the year with Super Bowl aspirations but crawls into the second half with a 3-5 record and an embarrassing loss at Cincinnati. The Jaguars play at Detroit this week. Coach Jack Del Rio juggled some players’ locker locations and sent linebacker Mike Peterson home. Jacksonville’s defense is 20th overall but 27th against the run and 29th in sacks.
• Quirky statistic of the week: Baltimore leads the league in time of possession (33:39) despite ranking 19th in yards and 26th in yards a play.
• Granted, DeAngelo Hall was struggling in his transition to playing primarily zone coverage from man, but Oakland’s decision to cut him eight games into a seven-year, $70 million contract shows how dysfunctional the Raiders are under Al Davis. “I’ve never been in a situation when you cut one of your best players,” safety Gibril Wilson said. “It’s almost like we’re throwing in the towel.”
INSIDE THE NFC
• Detroit remains the only winless team in the NFL (0-8), and it’s officially desperation time for the Lions. Quarterback Daunte Culpepper got his playbook Monday, signed a two-year contract Tuesday and, according to players, split the first-team snaps Wednesday. He is expected to play Sunday against Jacksonville. “We’re throwing him in the fire right away,” defensive tackle Cory Redding said. Culpepper has 10 starts with Oakland and Miami the last two years.
• David Tyree’s season ended with more books (one) than catches (none). The Giants receiver, who made the spectacular catch in last year’s Super Bowl win over New England, was placed on injured reserve this week. Knee surgery shelved him for the first two months, and a hamstring problem forced the Giants’ hand. “I can’t say I was shocked,” he said.
• Already with a three-game lead in the NFC West, the Cardinals can take a huge step toward their first playoff berth since 1998 with a win Monday night over San Francisco. Arizona really has no excuse for not winning the division. That’s how well Kurt Warner is playing and how bad the 49ers, Rams and Seahawks have been this year.