New York Giants
It is a concept still hard to deal with, but the Giants can continue to lock down their lead in the NFC East this week when they return home to host the unsettled and unstable Vikings.
They'll return from San Francisco, where they pushed their record to 6-2 with a 24-6 thrashing of the struggling 49ers. The six victories at the halfway point of the season represent as many as they registered all last season.
They won't be quick to give away this advantage, either, because the game after the Minnesota tussle is another home affair, this one with the Eagles, thought to be the team to beat in the division but seemingly fading quickly.
The Giants limited the 49ers to 138 yards of offense and will look for similar results against the Vikings -- and once again facing a backup quarterback thrust into starting status by injury.
They were able to virtually shut out the 49ers' Cody Pickett, who was subbing for not only Alex Smith but also Ken Dorsey, and this Sunday they'll get to face Brad Johnson, the Vikings' new quarterback after the loss of Daunte Culpepper to a seriously shredded knee.
The Giants are 1-1 in NFC East games, having lost to Dallas 16-13 in overtime, and then running away from Washington 36-0.
The game against the Vikings will give young quarterback Eli Manning yet another chance to continue his improvement while fashioning two comfort zones for his passing game named Plaxico Burress and Jeremy Shockey.
Burress, the wide receiver, continues to make circus catches, while Shockey, the tight end, has become more and more reliable and prone to coming up with increasing numbers of clutch receptions.
The Giants defied their history by actually throttling a weaker underdog, and they came away with their second straight stifling defensive performance. Following a 36-0 shutout of Washington, they limited the 49ers to a pair of field goals and 138 total yards of offense in racing to a 24-6 victory at San Francisco.
It wasn't as easy as the score might indicate, and with 4:42 remaining in the third quarter, Joe Nedney's 52-yard field goal narrowed the gap to 10-6.
Eli Manning won his first game on the road -- ever -- and it also was the Giants' first road victory of the season. Manning completed 18 of 33 passes for 251 yards and one TD. He didn't throw an interception, nor did his O-line allow him to be sacked.
Tiki Barber carried 21 times for 71 yards, hardly the 206-yard performance he registered against Washington, but sufficient to solidify the running attack and balance the offense.
--SS Shaun Williams (hamstring) left the 49ers game in the second quarter and did not return. He had just returned from missing three games with the same pulled hamstring, and he is not expected back next week.
--QB Eli Manning on the victory at San Francisco: "I think this is a step up in my career. Every game I learn something, and I hope to improve from what I picked up today. It was also my first road win, and that got me over another hurdle."
--DE Michael Strahan, who had five tackles and continued his outstanding comeback from the 2004 torn pectoral muscle that kept him out for the last half of the season, says he sees more of Peyton Manning in young Eli Manning's performances each week. "All those motions with his hands look just like his brother," Stahan said with a smile. "Eli is fast climbing the charts, but Peyton is still on another level."
--WR Plaxico Burress caught five passes for 79 yards at San Francisco, giving him 45 receptions for 656 yards and five touchdowns in eight games.
--RB Brandon Jacobs carried five times at San Francisco, gained 3 yards -- and scored two touchdowns, both of the 1-yard variety. He now has 26 carries for 79 yards and five TDs on the season.
The Eagles will decide this week whether wide receiver Terrell Owens will play for the team again this season.
The club suspended Owens indefinitely Saturday for conduct detrimental to the team after he criticized the Eagles and their quarterback, Donovan McNabb, in a national television interview.
Head coach Andy Reid suspended Owens after he refused to apologize privately to the team, including McNabb, before it left for Sunday's game in Washington against the Redskins.
"We'll meet in the next few days, and Andy will figure out where we go from here," Eagles president Joe Banner said. "He indicated he'd talk to Terrell early in the week to give him a definitive status report."
On Sunday, former Eagles player Hugh Douglas, now a broadcaster and team "ambassador," said that he and Owens had a locker room scuffle on Wednesday. No punches were landed, Douglas said.
It is extremely unlikely that Owens will play for the Eagles again this season. And there is almost zero chance of the team keeping him beyond this season. He is due a $7.5 million roster bonus in March. Team sources say the club has no intention of paying him.
Without Owens, the Eagles managed just one touchdown and 17 first downs in a 17-10 loss to the Redskins that dropped their record to 4-4 and put them in last place in the NFC East.
"It's not good that he's not here," wide receiver Greg Lewis said. "I wish he was here because he's close to me and he's a great player. But he's not here right now, so we have to go with what we've got."
The Eagles' three wideouts, Lewis, rookie Reggie Brown and Billy McMullen, combined for 13 catches for 211 yards against the Redskins. But Brown was the only one of the three who could find the end zone, scoring on a 56-yard catch and run in the first quarter.
The Eagles offense suffered a further blow in the first half when tight end L.J. Smith suffered a concussion that knocked him out of the game. Without Owens and Smith, the Redskins were able to key on running back Brian Westbrook, who was held to 79 rushing and receiving yards on 21 touches.
"T.O.'s a big part of the offense and an explosive player," said McMullen, whose three catches against the Redskins were one more than he had in the Eagles' first seven games. "It does matter if he's out there, but we're just going to keep on playing. T.O. is a big part of the offense, and we'd love to have him back."
That isn't likely to happen unless he is willing to make a heartfelt apology to his teammates.
Eagles coach Andy Reid finally found some balance in his offense, running the ball 23 times Sunday against a Redskins defense that gave up 206 rushing yards to the Giants' Tiki Barber the week before.
But Philadelphia only managed 45 yards with those 23 rushing attempts, and the Eagles suffered their third loss in the last four games, 17-10.
Playing without star wide receiver Terrell Owens, who was suspended for conduct detrimental to the team, and tight end L.J. Smith, who left the game in the second quarter with a concussion, the Eagles were held to just one touchdown for the third time this season.
Quarterback Donovan McNabb completed 22 of 35 passes for 304 yards. But he couldn't find anybody open on a pivotal fourth-and-4 play at the Washington 7-yard line with a minute and a half left in the game, and Ryan Clark intercepted his pass.
--TE L.J. Smith suffered a concussion in the second quarter against Washington and had to leave the game. His status for Monday night's game against Dallas is uncertain.
--QB Donovan McNabb, who has been playing all season with a sports hernia, seemed to move around pretty well Sunday. He completed 22 of 35 passes for 304 yards, and he even ran the ball three times for 12 yards.
--K David Akers kicked for the first time in five weeks. He had been sidelined with a torn hamstring. Akers, who didn't handle kickoffs, had a 34-yard field goal against Washington.
--TE Stephen Spach got his most extensive playing time of the season after L.J. Smith left the Washington game in the second quarter with a concussion. Spach had two catches for 14 yards.
The decision to release running back Anthony Thomas is a clear indication that injured running back Julius Jones will back in action when the Cowboys play the Eagles on Nov. 14, following the Nov. 6 bye.
Jones' return to action after an ankle sprain doesn't mean he will resume his previous role as the team's primary ball carrier.
Rookie Marion Barber's emergence against the Seahawks and Cardinals demands that he continue to get carries.
And Cowboys coach Bill Parcells plans to continue to use Barber and fellow rookie Tyson Thompson.
Barber became the first Cowboy to rush for 100 yards in 2005 when he ran for 127 and two touchdowns against the Cardinals. Thompson is averaging 4.1 yards per carry in limited duty.
"We've got a couple of guys now with a little more experience than they had before (Julius left)," Parcells said. "It has helped us create a little better situation at the position."
Considering Jones' injury history - he has missed 11 games the past two seasons - the Cowboys felt they needed a little more depth and insurance at the position. Parcells doesn't want to question Jones' toughness or call him injury prone. He calls it bad luck for now.
What is certain is that the NFL doesn't cancel games because your running back is out, and the Cowboys needed someone else to rely on. Besides having Jones split time with Barber will help keep him healthy.
"You can't have enough running backs," Parcells said. "You can't have enough. No number is too many ... If you really study professional football closely and just take the last five years, just go look at it and see how many teams really have the same guy in place, and is productive. It is just a very difficult position to play and sustain production, and it's a very physically demanding position.
"Now, hey, Julius had a little bad luck last year, some guy falls on his ankle here ... I'm not ready to (question him). So you don't know what it is, but all you can do is tell those kids how to train, and what to do, and that they have to squat and clean and lift weights on Mondays after they've had 27 carries. They have to do it, or else it just wears them down, so we'll see where it goes."
Parcells expects Jones to be ready for the Eagles game. He will start if he is 100 percent healthy.
Though the Cowboys spent more than $52 million on signing bonuses and guaranteed money in the off-season on upgrades to make a playoff run in 2005, the reality is that the Cowboys were supposed to be year away because of the number of rookies playing big roles. As good as they could be this year, they would certainly be better with another season under the belt of players like linebacker DeMarcus Ware and defensive linemen Chris Canty and Marcus Spears.
Well, the Cowboys may arrive a year early. There is no true frontrunner in the NFC. The Cowboys have won as many games as anyone in the conference. Because of their rookie contributors, they have a chance to get better in the second half of the season.
The Cowboys are not without concerns heading into the second half of the season.
Topping the list are kicker Shaun Suisham, depth on the offensive line and experienced depth at linebacker, according to coach Bill Parcells.
Injuries are the biggest worry, especially with cornerback Anthony Henry hobbled with a strained groin and questionable for the Nov. 14 matchup with the Eagles.
Henry was the team's best defensive player in the first eight games. He proved well worth the $10 million signing bonus the Cowboys gave him in the off-season. But he was signed with the Eagles in mind. The Cowboys felt he had the size to contain Terrell Owens. If he can't play, the defense will suffer.
"It's not the same transition for everyone," Parcells said. "It's a different deal for every kid. He's a first-year player. Just because some of these other first-year players come along more quickly, you still have to keep in mind it took Torrin Tucker three years to come along. It really has taken him three full years to come along to where my confidence on that player is up a little bit. Would I like him to step up and start making a more significant contribution? Absolutely. We need for him to do that. He's been told that."
--LB Dat Nguyen will continue to be brought along slowly. He played in the dime and on special teams against the Cardinals last week after missing three games with a stinger. Scott Shanle will remain in the starting lineup. "I'm really wanting to run a little rotation in there, like I've been doing with the defensive linemen," Parcells said. "I think it would help all of them. Dat doesn't get his ego bruised very easily, so it's not about that. I think he'll end up playing 30, 35 plays, that'd be good. I can use Dat at fullback on the punt team now without worrying about it if I want to. We were using Burnett there, but Dat's better than him on that. So we might do that, too."
--QBs Drew Henson and Tony Romo got extra work during the bye week. Cowboys coach Bill Parcells saw it as an opportunity to get them some reps in case starter Drew Bledsoe goes down in the second half of the season. Romo is the primary backup.
--S Willie Pile (groin) did not practice last week. His injury was the primary reason the Cowboys signed safeties Lynn Scott and Tony Dixon. If Pile can get back on the practice field next week and be ready for the Eagles game, the Cowboys might make a roster move with either Scott or Dixon to shore up another spot.