As we enter week one of the fantasy playoffs, many eyes will be on the Sunday Night game between the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants.
From a non-fantasy standpoint, this is a huge game in the NFC. The Giants once controlled their own destiny in the division and have since lost four straight games after a 24-20 victory over New England in week nine. Since then, their defense has seemingly fell apart while the loss of Ahmad Bradshaw for a few weeks severely hurt their offense. For the Cowboys, they could have a two-game lead with three games left if they win, which means that if they beat the Buccaneers and Eagles, then their week 17 game against the Giants won't matter.
From a fantasy standpoint, this game is loaded: Tony Romo, Eli Manning, DeMarco Murray, Felix Jones, Ahmad Bradshaw, Brandon Jacobs, Dez Bryant, Laurent Robinson, the potential return of Miles Austin, Victor Cruz, Hakeem Nicks, Jason Witten, and Jake Ballard. That's more potential fantasy players than the entire NFC West.
I was perusing fftoday.com for Opponents FF Points Allowed and found that over the last five weeks, the Giants have allowed the most points to opposing QBs. By a wide margin. By a wide, massive, titanic, Giant margin.
This was really interesting to me because while the Giants pass defense isn't good, I didn't think it was terrible. Not in the idea that it's the worst pass defense in the league. Indeed, in the first seven weeks of the season, they only allowed a single 300-yard passer and they held four opponents under 250 yards and two of them under 200. It was your perfectly average pass defense.
So what happened in the last five weeks? And what does it mean for the Cowboys offense? Let's take a look.
As you probably know, I focus a lot of my time on fantasy football. Like... I've dedicated the last four months to it and thought about it morning and noon. I reserve my night time thinking for other things.
Because of that, sometimes I lose sight of the bigger picture. Week to week I could tell you anything you wanted to know about the games prior and the games coming up but it's hard to get a grasp of things larger than that when you're so intently focused on winning right now. So I had missed something with the Giants over the last five weeks and it's a good lesson to keep in mind when you're looking at smaller sample sizes of what constitute a good or a bad defense. This same principal also accounts to a hot or a cold player:
Look at who they had to face.
The Giants have been twice as bad against the pass as anyone else in the last five weeks. Quarterbacks have torched them for three 300-yard passing games and 13 touchdowns. That's not good. What is good? The quarterbacks.
Giants fans already know this, but I am not a Giants fan. I am a football fan, so I have just had an oversight and the matchup against Tony Romo doesn't look quite as bad as it would if it wasn't for the fact that New York has just faced Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers in addition to Alex Smith and Vince Young.
That's your top 3 MVP candidates right there.
Week to Week
Tom Brady goes 28 of 49 for 342 yards, 2 TD/2 INT. The Giants actually hold Brady to 0 TDs going into the fourth quarter before he hits Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski for scores. It's the most attempts he's made all season and his 6.98 yards per attempt is his second-lowest number of the year. His 57.1% completions are third-worst of the year. He is also intercepted twice, which makes his 75.4 QB rating the lowest of the year.
Alex Smith goes 19 of 30 for 242 yards, 1 TD/1 INT. Again, Smith has 0 TDs going into the fourth, until he hits Vernon Davis for a score. It's only his third interception of the year at this point, and he's held to an 85.7 QB rating compared to a 94.9 rating on the year.
Vince Young goes 23 of 36 for 258 yards, 2 TD/3 INT. Near the end of the first half, Young has 0 TD/2 INT and then DeSean Jackson returns a punt 51 yards to the New York 14. Young hits Steve Smith for a 14-yard score on the next play. Young was intercepted for a third time in the third quarter deep in Giants territory. The Eagles game-winning drive in the fourth quarter, Young does lead them 80 yards for a TD pass to Riley Cooper. Every pass is a dink or a doink and the Giants can't stop it.
Drew Brees goes 24 for 38, 363 yards, 4 TD/0 INT. Rushes for a fifth TD. Not much to say here other than the fact that the leagues 2nd best QB torched them like it was a joke. The Saints had four TD drives of 80 or more yards and two drives of 70 or more yards. Jimmy Graham caught 2 TDs and Lance Moore caught 2 TDs.
Aaron Rodgers goes 28 of 46 for 369 yards, 4 TD/1 INT. Donald Driver catches 2 TDs, Greg Jennings catches a TD, Jermichael Finley catches a TD. They do better against the Packers offense than they did against the Saints, though they still allowed 38 points. They forced 5 punts, a missed field goal, and an interception. Rodgers, who is playing on another level than anyone in the league, completes a season-low 60.9% of his passes and a 2nd-lowest Yards per Attempt of 8.02. It's also only his fifth INT of the year. Rodgers had no problem with the Giants because he's Rodgers, but he posted his lowest QB rating of the year. (Amazingly, it was 106.2)
Where are the Points Going?
It's interesting to notice that of the 13 TDs allowed in the last five weeks, six go to tight ends. Another six go to number two or number three wide receivers. Only one of them goes to a number one wide receiver, Jennings. So though they've allowed all of these touchdowns, they didn't give up any to Wes Welker, Marques Colston, DeSean Jackson, or Michael Crabtree (if you want to call him a #1) and they held Jennings to one.
So Are the Giants Bad or Good?
It would be easy to look at the numbers and just say that they are bad. But it would be ignoring the competition as well as how they fared in comparison to other teams. They held Tom Brady to one of his worst games of the season and kept him out of the end zone for three quarters. They mostly shut down Vince Young, who could have had 1 TD/3 INT (and a loss) if not for a Jackson punt return. They actually held Rodgers to potentially his worst game of the year, it just so happens to be a game that would be the best for about 28 other quarterbacks.
When the Giants pass defense was decent, then you also have to look at the quarterbacks they faced: Rex Grossman, Sam Bradford, Michael Vick, Kevin Kolb, Tarvaris Jackson and Charlie Whitehurst, Ryan Fitzpatrick, and Matt Moore.
It's like a complete extreme from one stage to the next. Moore has played well since, and they shut him down completely. Fitzpatrick had 244 yards, 2 TD/2 INT. Vick had 176 yards, 0 TD/1 INT.
Bad QBs have mostly done bad against New York. Average QBs have ranged from bad to average. Great QBs have been great but have mostly done bad in comparison to their other games. Only Drew Brees was at a superhuman level for him against the Giants.
What Does This Mean for Dallas and Romo?
Romo, notoriously bad in December and January, will face another test year in that he has to at least win three of his final four games to lock down the NFC East.
In his first December game of 2011, Romo was 28 of 42 for 299 yards, 1 TD/0 INT in a 19-13 OT loss to Arizona last week. He's not off to a great start. On the season, he is completing 64.7% of his passes for 22 TD/9 INT and 3,325 yards for a 97.3 QB rating. Statistically, this is the usual Tony Romo.
Over his last five games he's been particularly hot, completing 115 of 170 passes (67.7%) for 273.2 yards per game, with 10 TD/2 INT. Both of those interceptions came in a 20-19 win over the Dolphins two weeks ago, and we all know by now that the Dolphins defense is playing on another level.
He didn't have his best game against the Cardinals, particularly from a fantasy standpoint, but its important to note that Arizona has won four of their last five and allowing 17.2 ppg over that time. Two of those games came against the Rams, the leagues worst offense, but they held the Eagles to 17, the Niners to 23, and the Boys to 13. They've been above-average against QBs during that time.
If recent history tells us anything, it's that Jason Witten will be the player that has the best day of them all. If you haven't already guessed by now, the Giants have been astonishingly atrocious against tight ends and their number of fantasy points allowed to TEs is well more than twice as bad as any other team over the last five weeks.
Additionally, it would seem that Dez Bryant will be less inclined to score than Robinson or Austin. If we assume that Miles will need a little time to settle back into the scheme of things, than I would expect Robinson to have a much higher chance of scoring than either Bryant or Austin. It doesn't mean that Bryant won't get anything though, as other number ones have gotten catches and yards, but been held out of the end zone. In the red zone, I'd expect Romo to target Witten first, then Robinson/Austin, and even after that you may seen a Kevin Ogletree sighting.
As far as Romo goes, there are a few things I'd consider.
First of all, Romo is not an elite QB. He is a very, very good QB. Rodgers, Brees, and Brady operate on a higher level than Tony Romo does. This season Brady has two 4 TD games and three 3 TD games, with at least one in every game and at least two in all but one game. Brees has one 5 TD game, one 4 TD game, four 3 TD games, and at least one TD in every game. Rodgers has four 4 TD games, five 3 TD games, and at least 2 TD in every game this season.
Romo? He does not have a 4 TD game, he has three 3 TD games, and he has four games with 1 TD or less.
Second of all, this is December.
In his career, Romo is 9-13 in December (worst record of any month) with 61.6% completions (worst of any month), 22 TD/20 INT, 81.2 QB rating (worst of any month) and 7.04 yards per attempt (again, worst.)
The game is in Dallas though, where Romo has thrown 24 more TDs in his career than he has on the road. Another thing to consider is that in his career he's performed worse against the NFC East than he has against any other NFC division: 61.6% completions, 44 TD/29 INT, 87.9 QB rating. He is 5-5 against the Giants, 63.8% completions, 17 TD/10 INT, 95.4 rating, 8 yards per attempt, 187.8 yards per game.
Oh, you're still here? Thanks!
I just found it very interesting to see not only how bad the Giants have been against the pass lately, but how incredibly tough their schedule has been. Yes, the Giants are losing, but they played four teams that are going to win their division (and two that already have) and against the three best QBs in the NFL. Tony Romo doesn't fit into that category, though he is very good.
This is week one of the playoffs, so it's important to take an even deeper look at all games.
Here's my prediction on the Cowboys offense:
Romo - 22 of 38, 300 yards, 3 TD/2 INT
Bryant - 6 catches, 100 yards, 0 TD
Robinson - 5 catches, 50 yards, 1 TD
Austin - 3 catches, 60 yards, 0 TD
Witten - 4 catches, 70 yards, 2 TD
If you have any questions for week 14, ask away down below or follow me on twitter @casetines