Sim­i­lar to last sea­son, crown is up for grabs

Giants’ loss and wins by Washington and Dal­las cre­ates a 3-way tie with 2 weeks left.

Austin American-Statesman - - NFL -

By Rob Maaddi PHILADEL­PHIA — There’s two weeks left in the NFL sea­son and the NFC East is up for grabs among three teams. Sound fa­mil­iar? It was the same sit­u­a­tion last year with the New York Giants, Dal­las and Philadel­phia fight­ing it out. Now, RGIII and the Washington Red­skins are in the mix while the Ea­gles try to play spoiler.

That sce­nario worked out nicely for the Giants in 2011. They won two straight do-or-die reg­u­larsea­son games, three more in the con­fer­ence play­offs and then beat New Eng­land for the sec­ond time in five years in the Su­per Bowl. Can they do it again? “Th­ese are the cir­cum­stances you want to be in,” two-time Su­per Bowl MVP Eli Man­ning said. “You want to be fight­ing to make it in the play­offs and that’s just foot­ball and you un­der­stand it’s tough to make the play­offs. You’ve got to work. You’ve got to win games. You’ve got to win im­por­tant games and this is a chance.”

The Giants, Red­skins and Cow­boys each are 8-6 and con­trol their play­off fate. Win and they’re in — ei­ther as the di­vi­sion cham­pion or a wild card. The Red­skins clinch the East if they win out be­cause they hold tiebreaker ad­van­tages.

“Ev­ery game we go into now we be­lieve we can win and that has to be your mind­set,” coach Mike Shana­han said. “When you win close games, you ex­pect it.”

The Cow­boys’ di­vi­sion hopes came down to the fi­nal game at New York last year. The Giants won 31-14. Dal­las could be in the same po­si­tion this sea­son, play­ing for first place in Week 17. Only dif­fer­ence is the game is at Washington.

“I think our foot­ball team has devel­oped that men­tal tough­ness that no mat­ter what’s go­ing on dur­ing the game, as bad as it may look or what­ever, we get to that fourth quar­ter, we have a shot to win the game,” quar- ter­back Tony Romo said af­ter an over­time win against Pitts­burgh. “We be­lieve that we can do that. We have had a lot of come­back wins this year.”

Here’s a break­down for the top three teams in the East:

• The Giants were sit­ting com­fort­ably atop the stand­ings at 6-2, but have lost four of six in the sec­ond half. They’ve been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team over the past month, al­ter­nat­ing im­pres­sive wins with lack­lus­ter losses. A con­vinc­ing 38-10 romp over Green Bay on Nov. 25 was fol­lowed up with a 17-16 loss to the Red­skins. The Giants re­bounded with a re­sound­ing 52-27 rout over New Or­leans only to come back with an abysmal ef­fort in a 34-0 loss at At­lanta.

The Giants en­tered their last two games last year off a dis­ap­point­ing loss to Washington. Then they beat the Jets to keep their play­off hopes alive and whipped Dal­las to se­cure the di­vi­sion ti­tle.

The Giants visit the reel­ing Baltimore Ravens (9-5) on Sun­day. The Ravens al­ready clinched their fifth con­sec­u­tive trip to the play­offs, but have lost three in a row and are des­per­ate to straighten things out.

• The Red­skins were counted out by their own coach when they were 3-6. But Robert Grif­fin III has them in po­si­tion to earn their first play­off berth since 2007. Their five straight wins in­clude vic­to­ries over the Cow­boys, Giants and Ravens. Even with RGIII side­lined by a knee in­jury, the Red­skins rolled over Cleve­land with an­other rookie, Kirk Cousins, at quar­ter­back.

Grif­fin could be back for this week’s game at Philadel­phia. Th­ese aren’t the same Ea­gles who looked pa­thetic in a 316 loss at FedEx Field last month. But th­ese clearly aren’t the same Red­skins, who started their win­ning streak with that lop­sided vic­tory against Philadel­phia. A win over the lowly Ea­gles would set up a po­ten­tial all-or-noth­ing match-up against Dal­las.

• The Cow­boys were 3-5 mid­way through the sched­ule and headed nowhere be­fore win­ning five of six and three in a row. They have a dif­fi­cult test coming up against Drew Brees and the New Or­leans Saints (6-8).

Above left: Dal­las’ Ja­son Wit­ten (82) con­grat­u­lates Bran­don Carr af­ter Carr’s in­ter­cep­tion in a 2724 OT vic­tory over Pitts­burgh. TONY GUTIERREZ / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

RICK OSENTOSKI / AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Above right:

Washington QB Kirk Cousins (12) greets wide re­ceiver Leonard Hanker­son af­ter a 54-yard TD pass against Cleve­land.

Left: ED PRESS JOHN AMIS / AS­SO­CIAT-

Giants QB Eli Man­ning mo­tions to re­ceiver Vic­tor Cruz in their 34-0 loss at At­lanta.

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