Hey, doesn't anyone want to win this thing? The Giants, leaders of the NFC East, are 1-2-1 in their last four games. But they're hanging on at the top because the second-place Redskins blew one at home to the Rams.
The Cowboys, poor devils that they are, had the most bitter Dallas-haters feeling sorry for them after that Thanksgiving debacle against Tennessee when Emmitt Smith and Deion Sanders went down and Troy Aikman needed muscle relaxers just to get on the field so he could throw those three interceptions. But even at 6-7, the Cowboys are still in the race because the Giants and the Redskins can't open up any breathing room.
How about the Eagles, just about written off a few weeks ago when they were struggling at 4-6? Ray Rhodes decided he might as well look to the future and see what his young quarterback, Bobby Hoying, could do. Presto! Hoying became an instant success, and now Philly is 6-6-1 with a serious shot at the division title.
There are four head-to-head matchups between those four teams over the last three weeks, and I defy you to pick a champion for me. The Giants get a shot at Washington at home and Philly and Dallas on the road. New York could stay on top or miss the playoffs entirely. I think the Eagles will beat the Giants at the Vet on Sunday, because of the unchartable element—Hoying. How does a guy so young stay so cool? How did he have his reads down so well in that 44-42 shootout against the Bengals, when he drove his team 61 yards in the last minute for a game-winning field goal?
Beats me. Maybe it goes back to his days at Ohio State, when he had guys like Eddie George and Terry Glenn and Joey Galloway and Rickey Dudley in the lineup and he figured everybody's supposed to play like that. The Giants are sturdy battlers, but they just don't have the weapons to open things up.
The Redskins travel to Arizona and the Giants, then face Philadelphia at home. If they look ahead just a teeny bit, they'll get dumped by the Cardinals, who hung in tough against Pittsburgh and have a budding star, Jake Plummer. After Sunday's loss to the Rams, coming on the heels of that nutso tie against the Giants, the Skins seem to be falling apart. There's a strong temptation to pick Arizona, but I have too much faith in Norv Turner's ability to keep things together—at least for one more week. Washington is my shaky pick.
The Cowboys have Carolina at home in the Monday-nighter, Cincinnati on the road, then the Giants at home. You really think Dallas is out of it? I see a Cowboys blowout against the Panthers, who are doing all the bad things they avoided last year, like turning the ball over. Look at it this way. Last season Carolina put eight players in the Pro Bowl. Who are its Pro Bowl reps this year? Well, maybe tight end Wesley Walls and return man Michael Bates. Can you find any more?
Enough of this downbeat stuff. Let's go to a team on the upswing. I sat in the Giants Stadium press box on Sunday and watched Tampa Bay win a tough game against the Giants. Guys who cover the Bucs had told me the fear was that little Warrick Dunn was finally showing signs of wearing down from the long season. Not this day. Most of his 120 rushing yards came inside. On one play he was stuffed in the hole by Corey Widmer, but Dunn just put his head down and drove the 255-pound middle linebacker five yards downfield.
I heard that the weakest part of fullback Mike Alstott's game was his blocking. Not this day. He was drawing a bead on people and leveling them. With Horace Copeland out, Tampa Bay was shorthanded at wide receiver, but I saw some fluid catches from tight end Dave Moore, who was supposed to be a blocking specialist.
It's a funny thing. All during the game we kept hearing these announcements: "The temperature is now 44 degrees." "It is now 45 degrees on the field," etc. So I asked the guy next to me, "Did somebody turn on The Weather Channel?" He looked at me like, What potato truck did this guy fall off of? Then it dawned on me. The Bucs have never won a game when the temperature is 42� or colder. It was as if everyone was waiting for the thermometer to fall a few more degrees, then the Bucs' limbs would stiffen or something.