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Week 13 Judgements: Cowboys need to be wary of Giants in NFC East

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist
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1. Dallas may be the best team in the NFC East, but that doesn't mean the Cowboys shouldn't be concerned. They should. In the last three weeks, they escaped Washington and Miami before bowing to Arizona -- all also-rans with losing records. But that's not the worst of it: Their secondary surrendered 14 passes of 20 or more yards to Rex Grossman, Matt Moore and Kevin Kolb. In the next month, they face Eli Manning (twice) and, presumably, Michael Vick, and you tell me what happens. Bottom line: Your team might be 6-6, Giants' fans, but it's not out of the playoff picture.

2. OK, so the Giants just dropped their fourth straight. I'm not sure why, but their loss to Green Bay reminded me of another 38-35 defeat that pushed New York forward. That was the last game of the 2007 season, and it launched the Giants to the Super Bowl. I can't believe this one will, but it could stop the bleeding. In fact, it may convince Big Blue it can play with the league's best -- which is always helpful considering that it plays Dallas twice in the next month.

3. Baltimore-San Diego is the scheduled Dec. 18 night game, but there's no way the NFL doesn't flex in something better. Consider New England at Denver that something. First of all, the most viewed game of the year -- and the second-most viewed program, period -- was Dallas-New England. Second, there's Tebowmania. Third, San Diego is in the jar. Add them up, and I guarantee the NFL makes the switch to New England-Denver.

4. I'm not sure who should feel worse: Chicago or its star running back, Matt Forte. With Forte's knee injury, the Bears are cooked. They must make a stretch run not only without starting quarterback Jay Cutler, but now without their MVP ... and good luck. Forte could've been -- no, should've been -- in line for a huge pay hike. Now he could have a season-ending injury. Yeah, I know, he could also return after two weeks, but why play hurt? He played when the Bears wouldn't pay. And this is his reward? Life is not fair.

5. It's time the NFL addresses the competitive disadvantage of teams making cross-country trips on short weeks. In the last 15 years there have been 13 instances where clubs that played Sunday traveled 1,500 miles or more for a Thursday night game. All 13 lost. That's not a coincidence. It's a trend. This year that group includes San Francisco, the Jets and Philadelphia, and enough's enough. Level the playing field and stop this stupid practice.

6. People kept telling me Tim Tebow isn't behind Denver's resurgence; that it's really the Broncos' defense, that Tebow was along for the rid and he'd be exposed if/when the Broncos' defense sprung a leak. Except it just did ... and Tebow responded, three times leading Denver from eight-point deficits and scoring a game-tying two-point conversion. That makes five fourth-quarter comebacks for Tebow in 10 career starts, and, yeah, I'd say that says something about the guy. So does this: The defense that was 1-4 with Kyle Orton is the same defense that's 6-1 with Tebow.

7. So now I want to hear from Boomer Esiason. No, I want to hear from Merril Hoge, too. Those two torched Tebow this summer, with Esiason saying "[Tebow] can't play. He can't throw," and Hoge going one step farther with, "It's embarrassing to think the Broncos could win with Tebow!" Maybe that makes for good sound bites, but here's what we know, fellas: Tebow is 6-1, the Broncos are tied for first in the AFC West and the quarterback who can't play and can't throw has 10 touchdown passes and one interception in seven starts. Project that over 16 games, and you have 13.76 wins, 22.4 touchdown passes and 2.3 interceptions. I think someone needs to admit he was wrong.

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8. New England will wind up with one of the AFC's two first-round byes and may gain the home-field advantage, but I continue to insist that it can't make it to a Super Bowl with a pass defense that can make Dan Orlovsky look like Dan Fouts. So that's a stretch. But he only missed on seven of 37 passes while the Colts tied their season high with 24 points. Of course, New England having to play a second wide receiver (Matthew Slater) at defensive back doesn't help, but that's how desperate its secondary is.

9. Yes, that was a significant win for Baltimore, and I'll tell you why: Because the Ravens didn't blow a gimme on the road. This is the club that lost at Tennessee, at Jacksonville and at Seattle. So it should've won at Cleveland ... and it did. Hallelujah.

10. Someone tell me how Cleveland has improved over last year ... or the year before that ... or the year before that ... or ...

11. Tony Sparano won't save his job in Miami, but you'd never know it watching his Dolphins now. Not only have they won four of their last five; they outscored opponents 139-54 in that time ... and that's with Matt Moore at quarterback. It's always nice to try to save the season, but there is a catch, Dolfans: Your club is blowing its chance for one of the top quarterbacks in the draft. Remember, it was owner Stephen Ross who reportedly wanted Andrew Luck "in the worst way." Well, that's what it took to get one of the draft's marquee passers: The worst way. The Dolphins were there once. Not anymore.

12. The New Orleans Saints continue to play like the second-best team in football. One problem: The best team is in Green Bay, which means New Orleans might have to go to Lambeau Field for the NFC championship -- and that's as good as a death sentence. Dome teams don't win championship games outdoors. It just doesn't happen.

13. No matter what happens to Andy Reid, look for him to make a play for Steve Spagnuolo as his next defensive coordinator.

14. Make that the third 100-yard rushing performance by Tennessee's Chris Johnson in the last four games, which is terrific ... except can you imagine what would've happened if it hadn't taken him half a season to get started?

15. For the record, since Rex Ryan shook up Mark Sanchez by practicing Mark Brunell with the first-team offense, Sanchez has five touchdowns, one interception and a 2-0 record. The Jets don't have a winning opponent on the schedule that's left, but appearances are deceiving: They finish the year at Philadelphia, home to the Giants and at Miami. There's not a slam dunk in there.

FIVE THINGS I LIKE

1. Gary Kubiak's faith in his running game. It's fourth-and-1 at the Atlanta 9, with the score tied and 7:30 to play. Time for a field goal, right? Nope, Kubiak leaves his offense on the field, dials Arian Foster, who responds with a 7-yard run. Two plays later he scores the game-winning touchdown. A gamble? You bet. But the Texans practiced Foster's run all week against multiple fronts and had it set to go sooner when an illegal procedure took Houston out of the call. "They're just too good on offense," Kubiak said of the Falcons, "and I think right there we needed to make a statement that we can get a yard. It was going to take more than three [points] to win that game."

2. Cam Newton's versatility. He can run. He can throw. He can catch. You heard me. On an afternoon where he threw for one touchdown, ran for three more, he also caught a 27-yard pass.

3. Aaron Maybin's renaissance. The linebacker/defensive end was a first-round bust with Buffalo, so they canned him. Now, he's "Mayhem" once again with the Jets, leading the team with six sacks and four forced fumbles. I think I speak for all of Jets' Nation when I say, "Thank you, Buffalo."

4. Tampa Bay coach Raheem Morris' quick hook. After defensive lineman Brian Price drew a 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct in the third quarter, he was removed from the game. But not by officials. By Morris. "Yes, I sent him to the locker room," he said. "I told him to go home ... because it's foolish, it's selfish to your teammates, to everybody in your organization, to your fans. It's terrible."

5. Willis McGahee's rebirth. File this one along with Maybin. McGahee was supposed to be finished, winding down a career that promised more than it delivered. At the age of 30 he's having one of his best seasons ever, with six 100-yard performances, a rushing average of 4.9 yards per carry and five TDs. The more you see the Broncos, the more you marvel at the job John Fox is doing.

FIVE THINGS I DON'T

1. Atlanta's play calling. For some reason, the Falcons kept ignoring running back Michael Turner when they had one yard to gain. On third-and-1 in the second quarter they passed. Incomplete. On third-and-1, again in the second quarter, they passed. Incomplete. On third-and-1 in the fourth quarter, they passed again. And again it was incomplete. Once, on a second-quarter drive they wised up and gave him the ball, and Turner responded with a 16-yard gain. What part of this is so difficult to understand?

2. The Raiders playing linebacker Rolando McClain. Yeah, I know, he's not guilty of anything ... not yet ... but the guy got arrested, and the circumstances are disturbing. The Raiders indicated that things may not be what they seem, but I don't care. McClain put himself in a situation he shouldn't have. He's not a child. He's someone who should know better. If he doesn't get it, make him understand. Sit him down.

3. That thumb injury to Denver linebacker Von Miller. The Broncos need the rookie linebacker like Proctor needs Gamble. Miller will have surgery Tuesday, and I don't know what his status is for next weekend's game vs. Chicago. What I do know is that the Broncos just hemorrhaged 489 yards to Minnesota and came this close to losing without him.

4. The Giants' defense. Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell lit up his unit last week after it was buried by New Orleans, with Fewell questioning the effort of some of his players. So what happens? What happens is that the Giants throw a scare into Green Bay but fall when they can't stop Aaron Rodgers in the last minute. I know that happens. But it shouldn't happen like this: With two passes, Rodgers gained 51 yards, and with a third another 18. That's 69 yards on three last-minute snaps, a meltdown that was supposed to stop. Only it didn't.

5. The passing of Allen Wilson. Wilson was a beat writer and columnist for the Buffalo News and one of the best in the business. He died this weekend at the age of 49 after battling leukemia. His death is a loss to everyone who knew the guy, and if you didn't you will after reading Jerry Sullivan's poignant story.

FIVE GUYS WHO HAVE SOME 'SPLAINING TO DO

1. Dallas coach Jason Garrett. He calls a timeout just before a last-second field goal, which is not unusual -- except it was his own kicker. Huh? Don't ask me, either. Dan Bailey's first kick was good ... only it didn't count because of Garrett's time out. And the second? I think you know what happened. It was wide left. "I was glad they iced the kicker," said winning coach Ken Whisenhunt, "so I didn't have to do it."

2. Washington cornerback DeAngelo Hall. If Mark Sanchez is a "middle-of-the-pack quarterback" who stares down receivers, why couldn't the Redskins figure him out? Yeah, I know, Shonn Greene had three touchdowns, but Sanchez was efficient with his passing and produced the go-ahead touchdown with a strike to Santonio Holmes.

3. Oakland coach Hue Jackson. The Raiders are on schedule to set a league record for penalties, with 10 more vs. Miami, and at some point Jackson has to stop blaming officials and start taking responsibility for a team beating itself.

4. Atlanta cornerback Dunta Robinson. Someone tell him he's not with Houston anymore. It was hard to remember after Robinson helped propel the Texans to victory. It was his holding penalty that erased a Mike Peterson interception return for a touchdown that would've put Atlanta ahead in the fourth period. Instead, the Texans kept the ball and turned the series into a 19-play game-winning drive. Welcome back, Dunta.

5. Atlanta coach Mike Smith. He has a fourth-and-1 at the Houston 20 with 2:35 left when his offense takes a delay-of-game penalty. Bad, huh? Well, then he takes one of his two timeouts, which was worse. Had he saved it he could have saved himself another 40 seconds, and that might've come in handy on the Falcons' last series when they drove to the Houston 30.

JUST ASKING BUT ...

 Who has the more unstoppable offense -- Green Bay or New Orleans?

 Do all Florida teams change head coaches?

 What's with Detroit and stupid penalties?

 Where next for Donovan McNabb?

 Why can't anyone cover Rob Gronkowski?

NUMBERS ON THE WALL

3 -- Nate Burleson offensive pass-interference penalties
7 -- Arian Foster touchdowns last six games
8-11 -- Tony Romo on or after Dec. 1
14 -- Rob Gronkowski TDs
20.2 -- Average yards per completion by Tim Tebow
28 -- Second-quarter Pittsburgh points, tying a franchise record
34 -- Games without an opponent running for 100 yards on San Francisco
149.3 -- Tebow's passer rating vs. Minnesota
290 -- Yards rushing for Baltimore

MY TOP FIVE

1. Green Bay
2. New Orleans
3.
Baltimore
4.
San Francisco
5.
Pittsburgh

MY BOTTOM FIVE

32. Indianapolis
31. St. Louis
30. Jacksonville
29. Minnesota
28. Cleveland

NEXT WEEKEND'S THREE BEST GAMES

Houston at Cincinnati ... T.J. is A-OK.

Chicago at Denver ... Play it again, Tim.

N.Y. Giants at Dallas ... NFC East at stake.

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