The New York Giants can keep their post-season big intact when they visit the Washington Redskins in a big NFC East clash tonight.
Betfair Moneyline: New York Giants 2.0, Washington Redskins 1.98
Just when you thought that the NY Giants were glowing hot at the right time, their momentum stalled at home in a last-minute defeat to Dallas. Big Blue have made a habit of timing their attack runs to perfection (Super Bowl champs in 2007 and 2011) after modest regular seasons. Yet this year, even by Eli Manning's Himalayan standards, it seems they have a mountain to climb to get back into play-off contention.
Having lost six on the spin at the start of the current campaign, the Giants have rallied with four wins out of five. However, the latest setback, coming as it did at the Meadowlands and against a leading divisional foe, could have lasting repercussions in the NFC East, where both Dallas and Philly now hold tie-breaker advantages.
If the Giants (4-7) can somehow scrap their way to 9-7, though, they might still have a sniff. The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, are hanging on to a Hail Mary of a prayer at 3-6. Perhaps Skins quarterback, Robert Griffin III, is taking such hopes of divine intervention too literally. Time and time again this term he has mindlessly heaved the ball up into the skies and washed his hands of responsibility.
Abandoning reason and relying on solipsistic faith is an all-too-human characteristic upon which many a religion has preyed. However, it's taking RG3 longer than most to realise that the planets don't actually align in order for him to propel the ball into the safe arms of his receivers. If anything, it appears rival defenses are instead the grateful recipients of his errant passes.
As a rookie - offensive rookie of the year no less - Griffin did a good job protecting the pill, coughing up only five interceptions in 2012. This year, however, his account for picks already stands at 11. QB no-nos don't come much bigger than throwing cross-field on the run and hurling it into double-coverage, but RG3 has refused to bend to probability theory. Dire results have inevitably followed, with the 23-year-old spilling the ball and failing to repeat the rushing touchdowns and twin-threat versatility of his breakout campaign.
Granted, much of the latter bias can be attributed to a change of tactics at the Skins, whereby coach Mike Shanahan is trying to instil some drop-back passing into Griffin's game. Stepping up in the pocket clearly doesn't come naturally to the youngster, while he also has to hit the books for reading the blitz and other defensive coverages. So while Griffin could yet become the multi-purpose weapon the Redskins crave, chances are he'll be kept back after class for the immediate future. The metamorphosis won't happen overnight. Catch the butterfly-to-be next year instead.
Not that Manning the Younger is in a position to judge - ahem, those two Super Bowl rings excepted. Eli threw a whopping 15 interceptions in the Giants' opening six games, but most of those came when chasing a losing cause. Ever since his offensive co-leaders returned from the treatment table remind him that the Giants play in blue, Manning has cleaned up his act considerably (just two picks in his last five outings and 14 total TDs from a standing start).
Some will counter that New York have benefitted from a soft recent fixture list. Well, Washington are hardly about to buck that scheduling trend, while all the buds of improvement are blossoming in the Giants' side of the field. Andre Brown and Brandon Jacobs look relaxed and recharged in the backfield, picking up a combined 202 yards against Dallas. And then there's wideout Hakeem Nicks - absent against the 'Boys with a persistent groin strain - who is reported was back on song after midweek practice. Nicks could prove the top target man for Eli, but Jacobs also has some useful previous when Tom Coughlin wants to play it safe in the red zone.
Although the Skins won't lack for motivation in front of a home-for-the-holidays crowd, they have blown all their primetime assignments this year (0-4) and could crumble again when the national spotlight burns brightest. Conversely, Eli and his Giants thrive on the attention. Don't expect it to be a high-scorer, however, with their restorative ground gains sure to eat up the clock.
Back New York Giants to win @ 1.91 or better at Betfair
Back New York Giants to win @ 1.91 or better on First Half Moneyline at Betfair
Back Under 46.5 Total Match Points @ 1.91 or better at Betfair
Back H.Nicks to Score First Touchdown @ 8.0 or better at Betfair