Cowboys’ season not a failure

I hate the Cowboys.

As much as any self-respecting fan of a non-Dallas NFL team, I have an extreme dislike of the Dallas Cowboys. It’s the only team to ever make me inflict damage to my own possessions – an innocent basement wall that had nothing to do with the Giants allowing a game-winning TD to slow-but-somehow-always-open Jason Witten in 2015.

 

And so life goes on. That was the season-opener of a year in which Tony Romo was injured and the Cowboys finished 4-12. Satisfying enough. But then, Dallas drafted Ezekiel Elliott with the 1st pick of the 2016 draft, and with Romo expected to return, suddenly looked like a team primed to reclaim its 1st-place form of 2014.

The rest of the story is well known: Romo is re-injured in the preseason, Dak Prescott emerges as Dallas’ QB of the future with one of the more improbable rookie seasons, the offensive line remains a juggernaut, and Elliott was everything he was advertised to be.

The Cowboys weren’t supposed to make it this far. Expectations of a turnaround hinged on the return of Romo. An almost all rookie-led run to the playoffs was unforeseen. And yet, here we are, the day after Prescott went head-to-head in the Divisional Playoffs as the No. 1 seed with arguably the game’s best QB, Aaron Rodgers, and almost won. Not to mention, the reason Dallas lost was less his fault than the defense and offensive play-calling.

When Romo went down, conventional wisdom said the team would repeat 2015. Instead, they went 13-3 (Giants sweep – hehehe) and received a 1st-round bye. At the end of such a successful season, it’s reasonable to expect a more fitting ending. But in proper perspective, this season was already a success when the team clinched the division and more in the regular season. This playoff game was merely a necessary get-knocked-down moment for a new regime led by Prescott and Elliott, and they’ll be hungrier than ever to get back next year.

 

So rejoice now non-Cowboys fans alike, because this team will give us plenty of nervous moments in the future. All we can hope for is that our teams (*cough* Giants) come back just as motivated.

Oh, and after a few down years, the NFC East is back.

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Breaking down the 2016 New York Giants schedule Pt. 2

The Giants go 5-3 through the first half of the season and are riding a three-game win streak as they approach the second half. This is a team full of confidence and momentum, and while things won’t get easier, New York has two games remaining of a three-game home stand. The Giants have a chance to pad their schedule.

Week 10: Monday, Nov. 14 at 8:30 p.m.

W vs Cincinnati Bengals (2015: 12-4)

The Bengals are still a very good, playoff contending team. And they’re coming off of a bye week. The Giants have plenty of momentum and confidence, however, and they’re tired of losing prime time games. This is when the NFL is put on notice of how dangerous New York can be. Andy Dalton never finds a rhythm, while the Giants use a balanced attack to control time of possession and win a tough game at home.

Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 20 at 1 p.m.

W vs Chicago Bears (2015: 6-10)

The Giants play bad enough to lose this game, in one of those letdown performances New York fans have become accustomed to. Fortunately, Chicago is low on confidence from playing a tough schedule, and plays worst. The Giants escape this game with a lucky win and improve to 7-3.

Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 27 at 1 p.m.

W @ Cleveland Browns (2015: 3-13)

Robert Griffin III has always given the Giants a hard time, and if he plays in this game, he’ll do it again. Either way, the Giants prove to be more talented than Cleveland and win their first road game on U.S. soil. The win streak is up to six games.

Week 13: Sunday, Dec. 4 at 4:25 p.m.

L @ Pittsburgh Steelers (2015: 10-6)

This game has the potential to be New York’s most lopsided loss of the season. Pittsburgh is well-rested after playing a Thursday night game the previous week, and New York is perhaps a little overconfident. The offense never gets into a rhythm and Antonio Brown is a constant threat as New York falters for the first time since Week 5.

Week 14: Sunday, Dec. 11 at 8:30 p.m.

L vs Dallas Cowboys

The Giants face another opponent playing on extended rest after a Thursday night game. Dallas has re-established a running attack by now and beats the Giants differently than it did in Week 1. Most people wondered which team was better, but after losing another prime time game, the Giants fail to fight off questions of Dallas’ superiority.

Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 18 at 1 p.m.

W vs Detroit Lions

Detroit’s defense is stingy and its offense is not as inept as people assumed it might be without Calvin Johnson, but by now the Lions playoff chances are slim to none. The Giants are still positioning themselves and come out strong to snap a two-game losing skid.

Week 16: Thursday, Dec. 22 at 8:25 p.m.

L @ Philadelphia Eagles

It’s a short week for New York, which finally takes it turn in a Thursday night game. The week is just as short for Philly, but with the season all but over, the Eagles would love nothing more than to disrupt New York’s playoff chances. The Giants know they have another game to seal things up next week and underestimate the Eagles fire in a close loss.

Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 1, 2017 at 1 p.m.

W @ Washington

Happy New Year! The Giants open 2017 on a high note after defeating Washington for the second time this season and clinching a playoff spot, likely by locking up the division. The extra days of preparation, and especially rest, from last week’s Thursday game benefitted New York. Because of prime time losses, however, the Giants playoff chances are underestimated. But with one of the more experienced playoff quarterbacks, the Giants are a team no one wants to play.

Giants second half record: 5-3

2016-17 record: 10-6, 3-3 NFC East

Breaking down the 2016 New York Giants schedule Pt. 1

The NFL released the 2016-17 schedules on Thursday, which gives me an awesome opportunity to kick off this blog by breaking down each game. Based off of last season’s records, the Giants are tied with Green Bay for the second easiest strength of schedule, but now that we have the order of those games, it’s easier to determine where fortunes may be better or worst depending on short or long weeks, and early or late games. Check out my breakdown of the Giants through half of the season below. My second half will be released tomorrow.

Week 1: Sunday, Sept. 11 at 4:25 p.m.

L @ Dallas Cowboys (2015: 4-12)

For the fourth time in five years, the Giants will open the season against Dallas, and like the last two games, it’s at AT&T Stadium. These games are always close, but the Giants have found a way to lose each of the previous three openers to Dallas. This year will be no different as New York’s new defensive additions get used to Steve Spagnuolo’s system. Eli Manning and company will do enough to keep the game competitive, but a re-energized Cowboys offense with Tony Romo back under center will do enough to exploit the defense. Cowboys win another nail-biter.

Week 2: Sunday, Sept. 18 at 1 p.m.

W vs New Orleans Saints (2015: 7-9)

The Giants return to New Jersey for their home opener against New Orleans in a rematch of last year’s shootout. Most people believe the Saints are in decline, and I tend to agree, but this game won’t be a waltz. I don’t think Manning and Drew Brees will produce a combined 13 passing touchdowns like last year, but they’ll exchange scores until Manning’s offense comes up with the final dagger.

Week 3: Sunday, Sept. 25 at 1 p.m.

W vs Washington (2015: 9-7)

The Giants stay at home in Week 3 for their first shot at last year’s NFC East champions. The game will be Washington’s first on the road, and unfortunately for Washington, New York’s first as a cohesive defensive unit. The Giants rattle Kirk Cousins in a game easily won.

Week 4: Monday, Oct. 3 at 8:30 p.m.

L @ Minnesota Vikings (2015: 11-5)

Minnesota is a team on the rise although its MVP, Adrian Peterson, may be in decline. Either way, he’s still really good and will prove to be too much for a Giants defense that hadn’t yet been tested against the run. It’ll be a close game, but New York loses on the road in its first prime time game of the season.

Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 9 at 8:30 p.m.

L @ Green Bay Packers (2015: 10-6)

New York faces its third straight opponent which made the postseason in 2015 on a shortened week, on the road. To make the task of playing Green Bay  in prime time more daunting is the fact that the Packers had plenty of time to prepare, coming off of a bye. The Giants put up a fight but Aaron Rodgers is too much in a two-score loss that drops New York to 2-3.

Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 16 at 1 p.m.

W vs Baltimore Ravens (2015: 5-11)

Baltimore hits the road for the first time since Week 3, but runs into a Giants team determined not to fall too far behind the eight ball. Joe Flacco is a sitting duck and Baltimore’s defense is uncharacteristically weak. New York wins by two scores to gain momentum before taking a long flight.

Week 7: Sunday, Oct. 23 at 9:30 a.m. (Wembley Stadium in London)

W at Los Angeles Rams (2015: 7-9)

Both teams are looking for a win before heading into the bye, but the more talented quarterback prevails. The Giants wreak havoc on whoever is under center for the Rams, Janoris Jenkins plays with fire against his former team, and Eli Manning make Los Angeles wish it kept Jenkins. The Giants play a game unusually clean for a team playing in London and improve to 4-3 heading into the break.

Week 8: Bye

Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 6 at 1 p.m.

W vs Philadelphia Eagles

Philadelphia is better than most people thought it would be, but still lacks the collective experience to close out games. This one will be no exception. The Eagles play New York close as can be expected from a division rival, but the Giants prove to be too talented for Philadelphia to keep up with over four quarters.

Giants midway record: 5-3

Washington’s bright future not guaranteed

I get it. Football fans are generally optimistic about the futures of their favorite teams, specifically fans of teams that made the playoffs in the previous season. So when it comes to fans of the professional football team in Washington, D.C., this theory is enhanced by ten.
Washington fans were already irrationally optimistic, and after losing to the Packers in the wild-card round of the playoffs, their optimism is at an all-time high. Their heads are so in the clouds that they were barely upset after losing to the Packers, because “nobody expected us to be here” and “we’ll be back next year.” Only New England fans are as sure.
Now, while even I have to admit Washington showed some promise for the future, there’s cause for pause that the fans aren’t heeding to.
The first, and most glaringly obvious issue, is the one at quarterback. Kirk Cousins played amazing down the stretch this season but as has been noted time and time again, he has yet to win a game against a team with a winning record in his career.

Is he the quarterback of the future? With Cousins’ impending free agency, Washington will have to pay him to find out. If Washington doesn’t, somebody else will, so naturally they’ll pay him and either prosper for the next four to five years or set the franchise back as much.
I’m of the belief that he’ll be a decent enough quarterback, though. Not as good as he was in the second half of 2015, but not terrible either. He’ll be good enough to win with, which leads me to my next issue. The way he earned the starting quarterback position in the first place.
Robert Griffin III will be gone next season. He’ll finally be a non-issue in Washington, the distraction that was but no longer is. The other person who contributed to the RGIII circus, however, is still around – Jay Gruden.
Gruden deserves SOME credit for carrying a four-win team in 2014 to a 9-7 playoff team the following season, but it was only a playoff team for winning the NFC East. No one’s giving Bill O’Brien any praise for winning the AFC South and the NFC East was just as bad. Let’s hold on to our Gruden praise for when he actually deserves it. And I’m not as sure whether he’ll ever earn that type of praise.
Are we sure Gruden is a good head coach with the way he originally mismanaged the most important position on the team? It wasn’t a matter of knowledge with him, it was matter of dealing with people, the same thing that got Chip Kelly fired. Gruden clearly made the right decision in who to start, but the way he arrived to that point was a mess. A lot of talk was made that if his decision to start Cousins didn’t pan out, he would be out of job. Well, Cousins beat up on bad teams and saved Gruden, but are we sure he won’t mismanage more of his players in the future? Let’s not forget that he’s only still around because of a quarterback that still hasn’t beaten a winning team. There are still a lot of question marks.
The final reason Washington fans should temper expectations for 2016 is the most obvious. The ‘skins aren’t the best team in a division that seems to turnover every year. There hasn’t been a back-to-back winner of the NFC East since Philly did it from 2001 to 2004. Not even the team fans were so excited about in 2012, behind the now exiled RGIII, could repeat – and I think that team was better than this one.
As much as it pains me to say as a lifelong Giants fan, I think Dallas is still the team to beat.
Obviously, the Cowboys have their own coaching issues, but with that offensive line still in tact and a healthy Tony Romo and Dez Bryant returning, Dallas automatically leap frogs everyone in the division.
In addition, Cousins is still just the third best quarterback in the division, at best, behind Romo and Eli Manning. And New York’s offense will keep it in the division picture, especially if the Giants hire the right head coach.
As bad as New York was defensively, only two teams scored less than Washington did in either of its two games against the Giants. Cousins threw just two touchdowns against the Giants in 2015, and he threw for as many interceptions when New York won the first game 32-21. Washington won the second game 20-14.
So, congratulations Washington fans, you made the playoffs and I know its as much success you can fathom, but your best best was to go on a magical run this season, because getting back next year isn’t a sure thing.