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Ralh Vacchiano


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Ralph Vacchiano

December 27, 2008

Big Blue rooting guide for Week 17


The Giants are going to win tomorrow. Or maybe they’ll lose. Who can tell, really? And who cares? It’s a meaningless game in which the starters may or may not play for very long, which makes it impossible to handicap. So I won’t try. I’ll just point out that I’m 12-3 so far this year picking Giants games. And I’m comfortable resting on those laurels.


But just because the Giants game isn’t important doesn’t mean there aren’t a slew of important games to watch tomorrow. The No. 1 seed in the NFC and the No. 4 seed (Arizona) are the only things sewn up. And there could be as many as six games that will be in play to help determine the other four:


Carolina Panthers (11-4) at New Orleans Saints, 1 p.m. - After coming within one gust of wind on a 50-yard John Casey field goal attempt of winning at the Meadowlands last week, it’s a good bet the Panthers wouldn’t be scared of a return trip to Giants Stadium in mid-January. They are the second-best team in the NFC and are the No. 2 seed with a win. But they can slip all the way to the fifth-seed with a loss. So root for the Saints because the harder the Panthers’ road and the more games they have to play to get to the NFC championship the better. It increases the odds that the Giants will have to face somebody else.


St. Louis Rams at Atlanta Falcons (10-5), 1 p.m. - The Falcons are having a remarkable year, but it’s probably just too much to ask for a rebuilt franchise and a rookie quarterback to reach the Super Bowl. It will eventually turn midnight on this Cinderella story, so all the better if it happens in the NFC championship game. So root for the Falcons, and let them have the No. 2 seed with a win (and a Carolina loss), giving them a shot at a divisional-round upset. Does anyone think Ryan is good enough, right now, to beat the Giants in the Meadowlands on Jan. 18?


Giants (12-3) at Minnesota Vikings (9-6), 1 p.m. - Yeah, it doesn’t matter and sure you’re going to root for the Giants anyway. But there’s a more practical reason than a desire for the team’s first 13-win season in 18 years. There’s a good bet that, win or lose, the Vikings will learn something against the Giants tomorrow - maybe something small and seemingly insignificant, but probably something that will help them just a little if they have to face the Giants again in three weeks. They are in with a win, and out with a loss and a Bears win. It’ll be much better to face an opponent in the playoffs that hasn’t seen the Giants before.


Chicago Bears (9-6) at Houston Texans, 1 p.m. - A win by the Bears, coupled with a Vikings loss and the Bears win the NFC North. So root for the Bears because it gets rid of the Vikings. And just in case they end up in the NFC championship game, wouldn’t you feel comfortable with Eli Manning vs. Kyle Orton?


Oakland Raiders at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (9-6), 1 p.m. - The Bucs are a bit of a dangerous team defensively, but they have no offense to speak of which means they’re not likely to be much of a playoff threat. And if they win and the Cowboys lose to the Eagles, the Bucs are in and the two NFC East teams are out. So root for the Bucs, because it’s like rooting against Dallas and Philadelphia


Dallas Cowboys (9-6) at Philadelphia Eagles (8-6-1), 4:15 p.m. - There aren’t many teams in the NFC who would come into Giants Stadium in mid-January feeling confident, knowing their opponent, and understanding how to beat them. But these are probably the top two on that list. It’s not that the Giants aren’t better than both of them, but both of them have already beaten the Giants this season and you know these NFC East battles are crapshoots. I’ve got to believe the worst thing that could happen to the Giants is to have an NFC East team show up in the divisional round, on a roll and primed for an upset. So root for the Eagles because the Cowboys get in with a win and are out with a loss. And if the Eagles win, they still need help to get the sixth seed.


If all that happens, the NFC seeds would be: 1. Giants, 2. Atlanta, 3. Chicago, 4. Arizona, 5. Carolina, 6. Tampa Bay, with the Eagles, Cowboys and Vikings - three very dangerous teams - on the outside, looking in.


And the first-round playoff games would be Tampa Bay at Chicago and Carolina at Arizona.


Yes, that just might set up a Panthers-Giants rematch in the divisional playoffs, which could be dangerous. But don’t count out Arizona winning a home playoff game or the Bucs winning at Chicago, which would send someone else to the Meadowlands. Besides, there’s a good chance the Giants will have to play the Panthers at some point, so better to do it early, when the Panthers haven’t had a chance to rest and had a tough road game (and long flight) the week before.


Still, the most important part of this scenario to me is that the Eagles, Cowboys and Vikings would all be out of the way. That makes the path much, much clearer for the Giants on their way to Super Bowl XLIII.

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