The NFL season is now official: the New York Giants have entered their November slide.
This is a highly predictable event. There will always be stars in the sky, taxes, maybe death, a Lawrence Taylor arrest and a Giants midseason series of stinky games. This is what Tom Coughlin's Giants do.
The panic and harrumphing by fans and media are always amusing. It's like people forget this is what the Giants always do. The Giants are 30-6 in October and 13-21 in November under Coughlin. Eli Manning is 27-5 in October and 13-19 in November. We've seen this mess before with Coughlin's Giants. Déjà Big Blue all over again. Nice start, poor November, total domination when it counts.
(I also think this November was particularly unusual because of Hurricane Sandy. The Giants won't make excuses, but as someone who lives in the New Jersey area within a few miles of where most Giants players live, I'll make excuses for them, as it would be impossible to believe that lack of electricity, gas lines, gas restrictions and damage to homes didn't have a huge impact.)
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And there's a good chance that same pattern will follow again. There's a good chance we'll see the Giants appear in another Super Bowl. You know why? Three reasons:
• Look around the conference. Tell me which team is better. Don't say Atlanta. Love the Falcons coach (he's excellent) and love the organization (great front office, PR department) but it's difficult to trust the team after some horrendous postseason meltdowns. The Giants get the benefit of the doubt over them.
The Cowboys? Please. The Bears? Maybe. But quarterback Jay Cutler is too much of a wild card. He could throw four touchdowns in a game or four picks in a quarter. The Buccaneers? Hell no. The 49ers? Double hell no. The Giants have already whooped that ass multiple times. The Seahawks? Can't win on the road and they won't secure home-field advantage.
The team that's the biggest threat to New York is Green Bay. They're a battle-tested group but we've seen the Giants beat them in the postseason.
There's just no team in the conference that can match the Giants when they get hot and they will get hot again. Because they always do.
• Manning. His slump is significant, sure, and he looks like a different quarterback than the one that started the season so hot. Again, we've seen this before with Manning. As quickly as he goes cold, he goes supernova.
"You trust your skills, you trust your past experience and know that football is a crazy game," Manning said this week. "And it's tough and it's hard. Sometimes as a player you forget that because sometimes as a player you go out and you are catching every break, and even plays where guys shouldn't be getting open, they're getting open because the defense is making a mistake and you are hitting them, and everything is going your way."
That kind of perspective is why Manning is a Super Bowl MVP.
• Coughlin. A future Hall of Famer who has seen it all. Like Manning, the Giants' coach doesn't panic. He has seen the end of this movie too many times.
You would like the Giants to figure out why they're terrible in November, but no one has and no one ever will.
Midseason losing streaks, doubts and head-scratching followed by a Super Bowl appearance -- this is the Giants way under Coughlin.
Everyone should know this by now.
I covered Leftwich extensively in Jacksonville and he is probably the toughest player I've ever covered. I saw him take shots that left me wondering how he was able to walk. If you think Jay Cutler or Michael Vick takes abuse, Leftwich took more. Part of the reason was his fault -- his windup lasts longer than some TV series. He can also hold onto the ball too long.
Leftwich was in effect booted from the Jaguars and signed with the Steelers, where his smarts and lack of ego have made him a valuable component with the team. I always believed Leftwich got a raw deal in Jacksonville. He had no weapons around him, a bad offensive line and a coach in Jack Del Rio who didn't get offense.
It will be brutal for Leftwich. Based on what I'm hearing from officials close to the situation, the Steelers are planning for Roethlisberger to miss this week and maybe next. So Leftwich will be tossed into the fire quickly and have to adapt quickly. He'll have his detractors, sure. One thing I've noticed with Leftwich now and from his Jacksonville days is that he's more judicious with his throws, meaning he's making better decisions with the ball.
There will be doubters, yes. But doubt Leftwich at your own risk.
3. The Steelers will still make the playoffs. Don't fret, Steelers Nation, about not winning the division and getting home playoff games. The game has changed dramatically within the past decade. Home playoff games no longer determine Super Bowl winners. Look at teams like the Packers and Giants. They have won championships winning numerous road games. The Packers recently had home-field advantage throughout the playoffs and lost to New York. Home playoff games don't matter any longer. This is the new NFL.
4. Former wide receiver great Cris Carter (who should be in the Hall of Fame -- no brainer) tells a story I've heard before (but was never able to confirm until now) which shows what kind of excellent motivator coach Jim Harbaugh is proving to be.
When Harbaugh first met with Randy Moss, he had just one request of the wide receiver. He told Moss: I just want you to sit in the front of the meeting room, pay close attention, and be a good example in the meeting room for the rest of the team.
Moss, I'm told, has done that at every meeting. It was a brilliant psychological tactic by Harbaugh. In one fell swoop he was able to give Moss a modicum of leadership responsibility while also demonstrating to the team that Moss was not going to be a problem in the locker room.
I always believed Moss would be a cancer to the 49ers. I was wrong, and it's because of Harbaugh.
5. Not buying one bit that Sean Payton will end up in Dallas. At all. Don't think it will happen but there are a number of team executives who truly believe Payton will be with the Cowboys next year. One of many reasons this might not happen? In New Orleans, the general manager was a Payton puppet. Payton was basically the GM as well. He'll want some of that power in Dallas and Jerry Jones won't ever give any of that power up. Any of it.
6a. Champ of the week: Tampa Bay coach Greg Schiano. I said he would be an NFL bust, and here he is with the Bucs in the playoff hunt. I apologize, Mr. Schiano.
6b. Chump of the week: Me, for saying Schiano would suck.
6c. Tweet of the week: CBS Sports' Shannon Sharpe to a Twitter follower: "Don't u have better things to do. Ur Blocked now. RT @Amazing_23 @ShannonSharpe I think I saw your outfit on sale at Wal-Mart bro haha"
(I think Sharpe dresses rather nicely.)
7. Philadelphia Eagles player to me: "Everyone who has been blaming Mike Vick for the offensive problems will now see it wasn't totally his fault."
8. Nick Saban is making it clear to NFL friends he will not return to the pros next season, or the season after, or maybe ever. Which means he'll be back soon.
9. An increasing number of league officials are starting to wonder if the NFL will really expand to Los Angeles any time soon.
10. One last note on the Falcons falling from the ranks of the unbeaten. Some of the Dolphins from the last undefeated team, which happened in 1972, start following any team that goes unbeaten deep into the season, usually starting to watch closely around 7-0 or 8-0. That was the case this time with the Falcons.
When the Falcons lost, some of those Miami players phoned each other, and discussed how their record remained intact. There was no celebration. No champagne popping. Just smiles. And the legend of that '72 team lives on.