On Sunday, two of Tablet Magazine’s teams faced each other, and the outcome was decisive: The New York Giants crushed the Washington Redskins, at home, 31-7. If anything, the game was even less close. Without their top two receivers, Hakeem Nicks and Steve Smith, the Giants simply ran the hell out of the ball. The result was two touchdowns apiece for Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw, as the Redskins—who should have been expecting run, and whose defensive injuries were mainly to the secondary—were simply powerless against the Giants’ aging but still effective offensive line and big, strong, cold-weather backs.
On the other side of the ball, the Skins showed that if bringing in Coach Mike Shanahan and quarterback Donovan McNabb was supposed to make the offense click, well, they might be prerequisites but they are not enough. Many will be quick to blame the Skins’ offensive line for the poor performance, and the line of the team that once boasted the mighty Hogs certainly had nothing to be proud of. However, I am more inclined to blame, secondarily, McNabb himself, and primarily the Skins’ truly lack-luster pass-catching corps.
Bottom line: The Giants proved … that they could win a game at home against an inferior team. That’s not nothing. I would, however, still be hard-pressed to bet on them making the playoffs: I have a hunch that the Philadelphia Eagles will run away with the NFC East; and I have a hunch that the NFC’s two wild-card spots will go to whichever of the Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears don’t win their division, and to either the New Orleans Saints or the soft-scheduled Tampa Bay Buccaneers; and I have a hunch that the Giants will revert to their late-season-collapsing ways. But that was not going to happen against a Redskins team that has one of the more unconvincing 5-7 records in recent memory.
The better news is that Tablet Magazine’s third team, the New England Patriots, now have got to be the odds-on Super Bowl favorite after last night’s 45-3 drubbing of the division rival New York Jets. QB Tom Brady has now won 26 consecutive regular-season games at home, which is important because last night’s victory made it likely that the Pats will have home-field advantage throughout the playoffs (they have, by one game, the best record in the American Football Conference). More than that, last night’s game was not just a win, it was a demoralization (when you are up 38-3 in the fourth quarter and are going for it on fourth-and-short—as the Pats did last night—you are looking to do more than just put one more game in your win column). The Jets should be flattered: The Pats would not have gone in for the kill if they did not fear them more than most teams. As it is, every team the Jets now face has a fantastic blueprint for how to attack the Jets’ vaunted defense and how to force second-year QB Mark Sanchez into making bad mistakes. And the Jets may have just been instilled with the sort of confidence crisis that prompts 1-and-3, playoff-blowing finishes. If you are not already fastened in for the AFC Championship Game—which will in all likelihood see the Pats taking on either the Pittsburgh Steelers or the Baltimore Ravens—now would be the time to buckle up.
It is trite, I know, but it must be said: Coach Bill Belichick is a football genius. He has successfully built a team—and in particular an offense—around idiosyncratic young players who in a vacuum may not seem like so much, but who, within the context of the Pats’ creative schemes and pitted against opposing defenses used to countering (and built to counter) more typical attacks, present near-impossible mismatches.
Yet the feisty defense and the 50-yard laterals to Danny Woodhead and the freak-of-nature rookie tight ends are not what are making the Pats the Pats. Not even Belichick is. Brady has had about the most impressive four-game stretch a quarterback has ever had, winning all four, two against arguably the two (other) best teams in his conference (the Jets and the Steelers), going 91-125, 1203 yards, 13 TD, 0 INT, for a 137.5 rating (which doesn’t account for the touchdown he ran in at Pittsburgh’s Heinz Field). That is sick. More, and not to go all color-commentator on you, he has inspired and led his young team in true old-school style.He is as of now the obvious MVP pick.
There are two players whom you should not miss watching this season. One is Michael Vick, because he has the best story; runs the most fascinating offense; and when he is on, nobody else has ever played like him. The other is Tom Brady—whose story is boring (he’s already won his championship, plus two more); whose offense, for all the gimmickry, is fundamentally based around short quick passes, tempo-altering runs, and deep play-actions; and who plays exactly the way other quarterbacks have played and the way we imagine typical quarterbacks play. The difference is that he is playing in classic quarterback style better than arguably any other quarterback ever.
Our record: 23-13.
Earlier: Week 12: Second Bye Week
Week 11: The Playoff Hunt Heats Up
Week 10: Melting Steel
Week 9: Enter Sage, and the Giants
Week 8: Bye Week
Week Seven: Three for the Road
Week Six: Just Win, Baby
Week Five: True to Form
Week Four: Winning Ugly
Week Three: A Whole Lot of Crap
Week Two: Three Up, Three Down
Week One: Check The Scoreboard!
Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.