We have nearly arrived at December 4th on the calendar, and Week 13 on the NFL Schedule. That takes us to Giants Stadium for a noon kickoff which may decide the NFC East. Somehow, the Philadelphia Eagles have been kind enough to allow two other teams compete for the division title, and the Giants and Cowboys have stepped up to the task.
So, can the Cowboys put their boot on the neck of the division with a win? If they do, they will have a one game lead, because of tie-breakers will actually be a two game lead. Of course, their final 4 games appear stiffer than the Giants.
Dallas opponents the remaining 4 games: 25-19
New York opponents last 4 games: 21-23
But, you can’t play those games until you play this one. And this is a big one. The Cowboys can still fulfill pretty much every aspiration they have for this season if they win on Sunday. If they don’t, they will be forced to scramble just to make the playoffs. If they make it, they will be forced to play a road game in the Wildcard round, and then a road game in the divisional round. Certainly, not impossible, given the beatable NFC this season, but not a preferred route. Win the division, and you can enjoy a bye week (in theory) and then enjoy a nice home game.
But, to do that, you must win on Sunday. And to do that, they will have to do something that they have not done since the Arizona game on October 30th: dominate the offensive line of scrimmage. One thing I cannot get out of my melon is that whether the opponent has been Philadelphia, Detroit, or Denver in October, the offensive line of the Cowboys have been looking like they are holding on for dear life and trying to avoid getting Drew Bledsoe killed.
With Flozell gone, with Al Johnson hurting, and with the two young tackles being abused on a semi-regular basis, I fear for the stretch drive. This was my key to the team in July, and it is clearly my key to the team in December. Tucker, Allen, Johnson/Gurode, Rivera, Petitti, Campbell, and Witten need to figure out how to find the continuity and endurance to bring this fine start home. If they don’t, this thing could crumble in short order.
Sadly, I am not holding my breath. New York 24, Dallas 20.
Shockey is ready to roll …
Shockey is one of many Giants who has voiced a determination this week not to let it happen again. Especially when the opponent is the Dallas Cowboys and when first place in the NFC East is at stake.
"I wish we could play it tomorrow and get it over with," Shockey said yesterday. "Everybody in this locker room is looking forward to this game. We know it's going to be a close game. We know we've got to finish. Hopefully it doesn't come down to the wire, but usually these games do."
The last Giants-Cowboys game - Oct.16 - was decided in overtime when the Cowboys kicked a field goal after the Giants waited until the fourth quarter to unveil their offense. They also rode Eli Manning's fourth-quarter magic act last week, as well as in a 24-21 loss to the Vikings on Nov. 13.
"It'd be nice to start well," coach Tom Coughlin said with some rancor. "We had scored six times in a row on the first possession [earlier in the season] and we haven't done that in a while. So that would be a nice thing to have happen - to start fast and finish."
Manning, son of Manning, hoping to find success …
And when you draft a franchise quarterback like Eli Manning, you expect to see him play in important football games, as quickly as possible.
It doesn't always work out that way. Eli Manning knows that as well as anyone.
Thirty-five years ago, the Saints drafted a franchise quarterback named Manning and figured that was just the first step in turning New Orleans into the Team of the Seventies.
The problem was, the Saints never bothered to take any other steps. And so Archie Manning spent the first 10 years of his career playing on Saints clubs that went 4-8-2; 2-11-1; 5-9; 5-9; 2-12; 4-10; 3-11; 7-9; 8-8 (also known as "the glory year") and 1-15.
Those teams were out of optimism by Columbus Day and out of steam by Halloween and out of hope by Thanksgiving.
"It's a good thing I liked football," Archie told me last December, able to smile now that he's not running away from untouched pass rushers. "Or else I might have wondered if someone was playing some kind of cruel practical joke on me week after week, season after season, year after year."
Osi Umenyiora is a great bookend with Strahan …
I'm impressed recently with No.72 [Umenyiora]," Cowboys coach Bill Parcells said. "I don't know that I can say his name properly, so I'm not going to mention on how to say it. But I think he's a good young player."
In his third season flanking Michael Strahan, one of the great defensive ends of this era, Umenyiora has become a force.
"They have to acknowledge him now," Giants defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy said. "They have to account for him. If they don't, it's them just being stupid."
Umenyiora, who had eight sacks in his first 29 games, leads the NFC this season with 10 sacks following Sunday's exploitation of Seahawks left tackle Walter Jones, a perennial Pro Bowl selection.
Andrew, by the way, sent in a phonetic pronunciation of #72:
There was a time, not too long ago, where you would watch the little Mavericks play the big, bad Spurs and the teams looked like two teams on separate levels playing separate brands of basketball. After watching two games (both in Dallas, mind you) between the teams in the 2005-06 season, I am convinced that the Mavericks have raised their game to a level where it looks like two teams on a very similar level. They defend, they scrap, and they compete on a Spurs-like level. Now, to claim they have caught them may be absurd, but to claim that they are in the Spurs vicinity I think is very reasonable.
They lost last night due to dumb play down the stretch, but they demonstrated that they can roll out their “B” game and still compete with the team perceived by many as the invincible Spurs. Hey, they are good, but Avery has this team headed in a direction where they don’t fear them anymore. They meet in San Antonio on March 2 and April 7.
Nowitzki is off right now …and it reminds us (Cowlishaw included) all of last spring…
Nowitzki's final miss left him with just 14 points on a line of 3-for-13. In the three games without Howard, the club's second-most important player, the most important has made 20 of 64 shots.
That's 31.25 percent or about 18-to-20 percentage points below where a 7-foot All-Star should be stroking it.
The effort to win the game and tie the Spurs at the top of the division was there. And San Antonio was without the injured Manu Ginobili, which certainly changed the look of its club.
But with no offense from Howard or Stackhouse and nothing positive from Nowitzki, the Mavericks were just too short at that end of the floor.
"When [Nowitzki] is struggling the way he is, the rest of us have got to find a way," Harris said.
They came close. But Nowitzki's struggles almost look like a continuation of his poor postseason performance. For the year, he's hitting just below 44 percent from the floor. That's his lowest figure since his rookie season and is reminiscent of his 40.2 against Houston and Phoenix last spring.
Johnson said before Thursday's game that the team can't always look to Dirk to be its top scorer, and he reiterated that point afterward.
"If he doesn't shoot well, we still have an opportunity to win," Johnson said. "This would have been a good night to win, not only with his poor shooting but some others."
Sports Guy looks at the NBA after a month …Here is his portion on the Mavs:
They beat Detroit and San Antonio by a combined 56 points this month ... and I'm still not sold on them. They seem soft to me. I guess we'll see.
(Most fascinating ongoing subplot: The Mavs have two expiring contracts for big bucks on the team -- Van Horn at $15 million, Jason Terry at $7.5 million (who's playing extremely well) -- and there could be a bunch of big chips moving around, starting on Dec. 15. For instance, what if the Kings decided to dump salary and offered them Brad Miller, Kenny Thomas and Corliss Williamson for Van Horn and DeSagana Diop? What if the Magic offered them Steve Francis and Grant Hill for Terry and Van Horn? What if the Celtics offered them LaFrentz, Scalabrine and Dan Dickau for Van Horn, as well as the chance to break the "Most white guys in one trade" record? Keep an eye on this one.)
Farnsworth is yanking the Rangers around!!! …and another thing, he isn’t that great! What happened to Carlos Almanzar and Frank Francisco? I realize they were both hurt, but we are going from that to an over-priced Farnsworth? Don’t worry. He is just using the Rangers to get more change out of the Yankees.
The question that remains is whether the 29-year-old Farnsworth, who pitched for Detroit and Atlanta last year, is really considering the Rangers' three-year offer with a vesting option for a fourth year or whether he's simply trying to use leverage in negotiations with the Yankees.
As of Wednesday, it was believed Farnsworth had a deal with the Yankees for three years and approximately $17 million. He communicated to Atlanta that he'd be joining the Yankees, according to Braves GM John Schuerholz.
"We received a call yesterday, and cut and dried, that's what was said," Schuerholz told an Atlanta reporter Thursday.
Gil Brandt with these interesting fun facts …
The Eagles will retire the No. 92 jersey of Reggie White before their game with the Seahawks. Earlier this year, Green Bay retired White's jersey during the Cleveland game.
Reggie White is the only NFL player to have his jersey retired by two NFL teams (Eagles and Packers).
Five teams have never retired a uniform number:
The following is lengthy, but worthwhile. John Sickles is one of the more respected minor league know-it-alls in the baseball community. Here are his thoughts on the Rangers farm hands as he reviews his Top 20 list from last spring. You will notice Edison Volquez is not in his Top 20. This shows how quickly someone goes from a suspect to a prospect or the other way around.
Rangers Prospects in Review …
Texas Rangers Top 20 PRE-SEASON Prospects in Review
1) Thomas Diamond, RHP
Pitched brilliantly for Class A Bakersfield, 8-0, 1.99 in 14 starts with 101/31 K/BB in 81 innings, but struggled after promotion to Double-A Frisco, going 5-4, 5.35 in 14 starts with 68/38 K/BB in 69 innings. Walk rate increased after promotion, and velocity reportedly down a bit from earlier in the year. Still very interesting but stock has dropped.
2) John Danks, LHP
Like Diamond, pitched great at Bakersfield but struggled after moving up to Double-A, going 4-10, 5.49 in 17 starts with 85/34 K/BB in 98 innings, 117 hits allowed. This is the second year in a row that he got off to a hot start, then struggled after being promoted. I think he will recover but he needs a consolidation season.
3) Ian Kinsler, SS
Hit .274/.348/.464 with 23 homers, 19 steals for Triple-A Oklahoma. Overall production down a bit from last year, although still a solid campaign.
4) Juan Dominguez, RHP
Went 4-6, 4.22 in 70 innings for the Rangers, with 45/25 K/BB. Component ratios need to improve in order for him to sustain success.
5) Adrian Gonzalez, 1B
Hit .338/.399/.561 in 84 games in Triple-A, but just .227/.272/.407 in 43 games in the majors. Little left to prove at the minor league level, but no obvious place for him to play.
6) Chris Young, RHP
One of the best rookie pitchers in baseball, went 12-7, 4.26 in 31 starts, 137/45 K/BB in 165 innings. I think his success is sustainable, although he may not improve much from his current level.
7) Vince Sinisi, OF-1B
Hit .363/.438/.600 at Class A Bakersfield, but fell apart after being promoted to Double-A, hitting just .258/.300/.343 in 65 games for Frisco. Lack of power a major disappointment, plate discipline also less than advertised. I have always been a bit skeptical about him, but I really have no idea what he is going to do now.
8) John Hudgins, RHP
5.87 ERA in 19 starts for Oklahoma, 77/37 K/BB in 103 innings, 127 hits allowed. Unfortunately, seems to be following the Justin Wayne career path for Stanford pitchers, rather than the Mike Mussina path.
9) Mike Nickeas, C
Hit just .202/.263/.302 in Double-A, though limited to only 68 games by injury. Another disappointment, although he has time to rebound if healthy.
10) Joaquin Arias, SS
Hit .315/.335/.423 with 20 steals for Frisco. A flashy player with good tools, doesn't strike out much, but needs to raise his walk rate at least a little. Power development uncertain, also needs to polish defense and baserunning. Best attribute is age, only 21 right now.
11) Eric Hurley, RHP
Went 12-6, 3.77 in 28 starts for Class A Clinton, 152/59 K/BB in 155 innings. Very solid performance. Needs to improve his command a bit more, but that is nitpicking at this point. Fine prospect whose stock has improved and was already very good.
12) Jason Botts, 1B
Hit .286/.375/.522 with 25 homers, 67 walks, 102 RBI for Oklahoma, then hit .296/.367/.296 for the Rangers. Strikes out a lot but power is real. But where does he fit?
13) Kameron Loe, RHP
Went 9-6, 3.42 in 92 innings for the Rangers, used as a swingman. Good rookie campaign, although 45/31 K/BB isn't great. Worried about low strikeout rate.
14) Josh Rupe, RHP
Pitched well in Double-A, awful in Triple-A, and did well in 10 major league innings. I have never had a good feel for this guy, and I have no idea what to expect from him in the future.
15) Matt Lorenzo, RHP
Struggled in Double-A (7.14 ERA in 47 innings), then traded to the Braves, where he will probably get buried in the farm system.
16) Mark Roberts, RHP
1.45 ERA in 10 games for Clinton, then 4.26 ERA with 15/4 K/BB in 19 innings for Frisco. Sample size at both levels too small to draw broad conclusions.
17) Anthony Webster, OF
Toolsy guy, hit .301/.346/.484 with 36 doubles, 11 triples, 11 homers, and 25 steals in 30 attempts for Class A Bakersfield. Doesn't draw a lot of walks but struck out just 55 times in 498 at-bats. I think he is intriguing. Not protected from Rule 5.
18) Wes Littleton, RHP
Bucked organization trend and actually improved at Frisco, after converting to relief. 3.97 ERA, 71/24 K/BB in 82 innings. Allowed 93 hits however. Pitched well in Arizona Fall League.
19) K.C. Herren, OF
Hit .264/.346/.417 for short-season Spokane. Good tools, but struck out 63 times in 57 games. Full-season transition in '06 will be interesting.
20) Marshall McDougall, 3B
Hit .341/.416//578 in 57 games for Oklahoma, went 3-for-18 in brief Rangers trial. Has absolutely nothing left to prove in the minors, but still looking for a bench job somewhere.
Since, I like to discredit myself as often as possible, here are my thoughts on Marquis Daniels in my season preview blog:
November 1st Blog …
Marquis Daniels: No one has milked 2 good months as well as Marquis has milked March and April of 2004. To call his play in 2004-05 awful is unfair to other awful things in this world. I was ready to cut him loose in a trade, but the Mavs want to roll with him again, blaming all of his poor play on that August 2004 ankle sprain. Much like the $5 milk shake in Pulp Fiction, while that sprain may have been good, I am just not sure it was THAT good that it would render an otherwise fine player worthless. Amputation? OK. But not a sprain, right? Anyway, they think he is great, and are convinced that I will be sorry I ever said anything bad about the kid. All I know is he is a shooting guard that can’t shoot or pass. Count me among the doubters, but his preseason accolades are numerous.
After watching the last few games, I am willing to concede that Daniels looks a lot better than I imagined he would. Not willing to concede defeat completely, but if the Mavs are going anywhere this year, Quisy will have to be doing a lot of it, and so far, he is.
In other news, Texas should murder Colorado tomorrow.