NFC East: fred jackson

With 20 days to go until the regular-season opener between the Giants and the Cowboys, I have decided to embark on a treacherous quest: To rank the top 20 players in the NFC East -- one per day, in reverse order, with the top player revealed on the day before the start of the season. You're going to love this feature and you're going to hate it. You're going to disagree and debate and argue and yell, and it's going to be awesome.

The rankings are mine alone. They reflect my opinion based on a number of factors -- career accomplishments, 2011 performance, performance relative to others at the same position, value to the team ... you name it. I used a number of sources to help form my opinion, but in the end that's what it is -- my opinion, which I expect to differ from yours and those of many others.

You want clues to try and figure out who's on it? The list includes seven New York Giants, six Philadelphia Eagles, five Dallas Cowboys and two Washington Redskins. It includes five defensive linemen, four wide receivers, three quarterbacks, three linebackers, two running backs, two offensive linemen and one tight end. (Jason Peters, though I consider him the division's best offensive lineman, is not on it since he's out for the year with an Achilles injury.)

It starts today, with one of the two running backs, and ends on Sept. 4, the day before that Cowboys-Giants game. In the meantime, let's have some fun with it.

Bradshaw
No. 20 -- Ahmad Bradshaw, Giants RB

The Giants' running back is often underappreciated for his overall body of work. Not only is he an effective power runner when healthy, he's a vital part of the Giants' passing game as a receiver and a blocker. There's no running back in the league who picks up the blitz better than Bradshaw does, and prior to the recurrence of his foot injuries last season, he was the target of a higher percentage of his team's screen passes than any other player in the league. Pro Football Focus ranked him as the best overall running back in the NFC East and the eighth-best in the league. His grade as a runner was only 24th, but he ranked as the second-best blocking back in the league behind Buffalo's Fred Jackson.

Bradshaw's numbers have not ranked with those of the top backs in the league, in part because of those foot injuries of the past few years and in part because he's generally been in some sort of time-share situation in New York. But with Brandon Jacobs gone and Bradshaw's feet feeling (he says) better than they have in years, he's poised to be the unquestioned lead back with the Giants and challenge his career-best numbers from 2010. That year, he carried the ball 276 times for 1,235 yards and eight touchdowns and caught 47 passes for 314 more yards.

Bradshaw is tough. He plays through pain. He's motivated and eager to seize the role of No. 1 running back. He's only 26 years old, and if those feet hold up, there's little reason to think big things can't be in store. Bradshaw does all of the little things you need your running back to do, and he does them as well as anyone. All that remains is for his stats to catch up with his ability. Assuming the Giants' offensive line can block the run better than it did in 2011 (which really shouldn't be very difficult), I believe 2012 is the year in which that happens.

Rapid Reaction: Cowboys 44, Bills 7

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
3:54
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- Some thoughts from the Dallas Cowboys' very impressive victory over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday:

What it means: The Cowboys now have a chance to get on a roll. Their next three matchups -- at Washington, home against Miami and at Arizona -- all look winnable. Getting this victory over a strong AFC contender -- and getting it as convincingly as they did -- sets up the Cowboys to rattle off a winning streak. If they can take advantage of this soft portion of their schedule, they have a chance to take an 8-4 record into their first meeting with the first-place Giants on Dec. 11.

Miles who? With wide receiver Miles Austin out with a hamstring injury, the Cowboys' passing game didn't miss a step. Quarterback Tony Romo was a dazzling 18-of-19 for 237 yards and three touchdowns in the first half as Dallas built a 28-7 lead. Two of the touchdown passes went to Laurent Robinson, who was already making a contribution before the Austin injury and looks to be a more-than-adequate replacement while Austin sits out. The other was to Dez Bryant, who muscled the ball away from a Buffalo defender in the end zone. Romo was sharp, accurate and did whatever he wanted to do in the pass game, and then in the second half …

They ran it! Dallas blew a 27-3 lead earlier this season to the Detroit Lions when Romo had two interceptions returned for touchdowns in the second half. But the emergence of rookie running back DeMarco Murray has given the offense a different dimension, and in this second half the Cowboys were able to grind out the clock by running the ball and methodically picking up first downs. Murray had 71 rush yards in the first half, 64 in the second and has 601 over his past four games since Felix Jones was injured. He makes the Dallas offense multidimensional.

Game ball for Rob Ryan: The Cowboys' defense coordinator designed an excellent game plan that kept Buffalo running back Fred Jackson in check in the run game and the screen game, which few teams this year have been able to do. By the second half, the Bills had to take chances throwing the ball, and Terence Newman was right there to take advantage with a pair of interceptions that turned the fourth quarter into a victory lap.

What's next: The Cowboys travel to Washington on Sunday for a game against the division-rival Redskins. Dallas won the first meeting in Week 3 by the score of 18-16 when it failed to score a touchdown, but Dan Bailey kicked six field goals. Washington has fallen on hard times since that game and lost five straight since its 3-1 start.

Halftime thoughts: Cowboys rolling

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
2:22
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- If you're a Dallas Cowboys fan, only one thing happened in the first half today to make you mad, and it involved a cheerleader. Buffalo Bills receiver David Nelson caught a second-quarter touchdown and then jogged the length of the field to give the ball to his girlfriend, who is a Cowboys cheerleader. The two shared a hug, and some meanies on Twitter started talking about how she should be fired.

Other than that... man, it's been all Cowboys. They've done absolutely everything they've wanted to do on offense. Tony Romo completed his first 13 passes and is 18-for-19 for 237 yards and three touchdowns. DeMarco Murray has 71 yards and a touchdown on 11 carries. They've converted all seven of their third-down chances. All four of Dan Bailey's kickoffs have gone for touchbacks. It's been a dream game for the offense and a pretty great one for the defense, which has tackled well and even been able to contain star Buffalo running back Fred Jackson in the run game and the screen game.

The was one little cause for concern just before halftime, as Murray left the field after his 25-yard run up the left side. The team has made no announcement about his condition, and we'll keep you posted, of course. But assuming nothing bad has happened to the rookie running back, the Cowboys headed into that halftime locker room off as impressive a first-half performance as they've had all year.

Now, some folks here in the press box were saying it reminds them of the Detroit game, which the Cowboys led 27-3 early in the third quarter and ended up losing. So if Romo starts having interceptions returned for touchdowns in the third quarter, maybe there's reason to be worried. But unless the Bills know something I don't, Calvin Johnson's not walking through that door.

How you feeling? Cowboys-Bills

November, 13, 2011
11/13/11
11:08
AM ET

As you get ready for this afternoon's home game against the Buffalo Bills, here's one reason for Dallas Cowboys fans to feel good and one reason for concern:

Feeling good: Tony Romo should have time to work. The Bills have not been very good at pressuring quarterbacks this year. They have just 15 sacks, 10 of which came in one game against the Redskins. Romo is very dangerous when he has time to throw, and even with Miles Austin out with a hamstring injury he still has Dez Bryant and plenty of other passing-game weapons at his disposal. Expect him to throw Jason Witten's way a lot, as the Bills also have shown a tendency to be victimized by tight ends. And don't underestimate Laurent Robinson as a competent Austin replacement. He's looked very comfortable in the Dallas offense, and Romo looks comfortable with him.

Cause for concern: There's a whole bunch of film from the past couple of weeks on how to gain big yards against the Cowboys in the run game. Buffalo running back Fred Jackson is one of the best backs in the league -- third in rush yards and second in total yards from scrimmage this season. And if Cowboys inside linebacker Sean Lee is out again or unable to be as effective as he was earlier in the season due to his dislocated wrist, Dallas is going to have to find some new way of containing Jackson.

Fred Jackson is on Rob Ryan's mind

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
5:46
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With the Buffalo Bills coming to town Sunday, Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan has been paying a lot of attention to Bills running back Fred Jackson, who's third in the NFL in rushing yards and second in total yards from scrimmage this season.

It was brought up to Ryan that Jackson would be playing in Arlington, Texas, where he was a backup running back at Arlington Lamar High School before going off to Division III Coe College and an indoor football league before finally making it to the NFL. Ryan said, "They ought to fire that (high school) coach, by the way," without realizing that the legendary high school coach in question was already retired, and later compared Jackson's running style to that of the late Walter Payton. In short, he likes the guy. Per Tim MacMahon on ESPNDallas.com:
"He's really tough. God, this guy is tough, now," Ryan said. "He takes on all comers. We purposely never showed some of the chip blocks he does on defensive ends because he leaves them on the carpet. He just blasts them, literally leaves them out there and getting carted off. So we have to watch out for that besides his great talent of running the football. He runs the ball like Walter Payton used to where he just looks people up and runs them over. But he's also got the fleet feet where he can make people miss. He's a special guy and he's a special kid, too. I really like this guy, respect him and hopefully we can knock the crap out of him."

Jackson is an important aspect of this game for a Cowboys team that gave up 135 rushing yards to Seattle's Marshawn Lynch last week in a game they were leading the whole way. Inside linebacker Sean Lee remains questionable, and even if he plays there's some question about how effective he can be with that big old cast on his arm. The Cowboys' defense hasn't been the same -- especially against the run -- since Lee was injured in the Week 8 game against the Eagles, and Buffalo could have major success in the middle of the field if Lee isn't there patrolling it as he was for the Cowboys' first six games of the year.

Wrap Up: Bills 23, Redskins 0

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
6:54
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Some thoughts on the Washington Redskins' dismal 23-0 loss to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday in Toronto:

What it means: Well, the Redskins are in free fall. Since starting the season 3-1, they've now lost three games in a row by a combined score of 76-33. And since the offense looks incapable of doing anything at all at this point, it's tough to imagine things getting better any time soon. Their only hope is that this game -- the first time a Mike Shanahan-coached team has been shut out -- is some sort of bottoming-out point.

Injuries taking their toll: The play of the Redskins' offensive line was critical to their hot start, and the injuries that have deprived them of starting left guard Kory Lichtensteiger and starting left tackle Trent Williams -- not to mention top wide receiver Santana Moss, starting running back Tim Hightower and tight end Chris Cooley -- have rendered their offense more or less incompetent. The Bills had a grand total of four sacks in their first six games, but on Sunday they sacked John Beck nine times. Nine times. That's a number only Ed Rooney, Dean of Students, could love.

Beck is not the answer: Whether it was Beck or Rex Grossman, the key to the Redskins' offense this season was always going to be the group around the quarterback, not the quarterback himself. Beck does some decent things out there, and sometimes he looks like he's freelancing or even goofing off a little. But when you're getting sacked nine times, you're just not going to get very much done.

If they can't run, they're done: Ryan Torain got the start at running back, but once again the Redskins got behind early and weren't able to run their offense the way they wanted to. Remember, this is a team that was leading the NFL in average time of possession through its first four games. On Sunday, the Bills had the ball for nearly 35 minutes. If the Redskins can't establish the run game and chew up the clock, they will not score enough points to win. Against anyone.

For the defense: It gave up 390 total yards, so it's not as though this was a game of which Washington's defense should be proud. But I really don't think the defense is playing all that badly, considering all that's being asked of it. London Fletcher played hurt and had a monster game. Ryan Kerrigan was a force early. And for most of the day, I thought the Redskins actually did a decent job of bottling up Fred Jackson -- at least limiting his ability to beat them with a big play. Eventually, when your defense is on the field for 35 minutes, you're going to give up yards and points, and Jackson did rip off a 43-yard run and a 46-yard catch. But I don't think it's fair to judge this Redskins defense considering how awful the offense is right now.

What's next: The Redskins are back home Sunday to host the San Francisco 49ers, who appear to be on the verge of improving to 6-1 today as they lead the Browns in the fourth quarter. It's not getting any easier for Beck & Co., as the 49ers entered Sunday's action as the second-best scoring defense in the league and the second-best defense in the league against the run.

How you feeling? Redskins-Bills

October, 30, 2011
10/30/11
10:30
AM ET
As you get ready for the Washington Redskins' game against the Buffalo Bills this afternoon in Toronto, here's one reason for Redskins fans to be feeling good and one reason for concern:

Feeling good: The Bills are not a good defense against the run, allowing 136 yards per game on the ground to opponents. The Redskins' offense operates best when it's committed to the run. Even with starting running back Tim Hightower out for the season, they have two backs in Ryan Torain and Roy Helu who should be able to pile up yards and help them control the clock against the Bills.

Cause for concern: Buffalo doesn't yield many sacks, as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is good at getting rid of the ball quickly and Chan Gailey has excelled at designing protections for him. So a Washington defense that's been shaky against the run and relies on getting to the quarterback could struggle if it doesn't find a way to contain star Buffalo running back Fred Jackson. The Redskins are leaning on their defense more than ever now with all of those offensive starters down with injuries. They'll need to limit Buffalo's scoring to have a chance.

How you feeling? Giants-Bills

October, 16, 2011
10/16/11
10:56
AM ET

As you get ready for the New York Giants' game today against the Buffalo Bills in New Jersey, here's one reason for Giants fans to feel good and one reason for concern:

Feeling good: If the Giants are going to get their running game going at some point, the Bills offer a good opportunity to do so. Ranked 29th in the NFL against the run, the Buffalo defense today is also without Shawne Merriman, which leaves them light at linebacker and should allow the Giants to bounce Ahmad Bradshaw outside as well as run him between the tackles. After Bradshaw complained last week about the job the line is doing blocking for him, expect the Giants to focus on getting him going against a soft Buffalo run defense.

Cause for concern: The key for the Giants' defense is its ability to sack the quarterback, but no team in the league has yielded fewer sacks than have the Bills (4). Ryan Fitzpatrick gets rid of the ball very quickly, and the line has done a good job of protecting him, and without Justin Tuck at defensive end, the Giants will have their work cut out for them if they want to harass Fitzpatrick the way they've bothered so many other opposing quarterbacks this year. Osi Umenyiora and Jason Pierre-Paul are both excellent, but neither plays the run as well as Tuck does, and with Tuck out they may need to be paying extra attention to Buffalo's outstanding running back, Fred Jackson.

Final Word: NFC East

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
1:30
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Third-down monsters: The first-place Redskins do a variety of things well on defense. For example, they are holding opponents to a 33.3 percent conversion rate on third downs. That's the best mark in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Not only do they hold the line in most big passing situations, they've been able to actually move opponents backward. The Redskins have recorded a sack on 9.6 percent of opponents' passing plays this season, second in the league only to the Eagles, who are at 9.8 percent. In a lot of ways, the Redskins are the anti-Eagles -- a team that doesn't have as many big names on the roster but wins by minimizing mistakes and adhering to the basics and fundamentals. You know? Like tackling.

[+] EnlargeTim Hightower
James Lang/US PresswireDon't be surprised if the Redskins use Tim Hightower and their other backs to run up the middle often against the Eagles.
Men in the middle: How do teams run on the Eagles? Right up the gut. Our Stats & Info group says only the Titans have had to defend more runs up the middle than have the Eagles this season, and Philly is not doing it well. The Eagles have allowed 449 yards, 6.2 yards per carry, 21 first downs and four touchdowns on runs up the middle. Each of those figures ranks them dead last in the NFL. It's still unclear whether the Redskins will use Tim Hightower, Ryan Torain or Roy Helu as their primary running back in this game, but whoever it is, expect him to run right at the middle of the Eagles' defense.

Screened in: Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson has been one of the breakout stars of this NFL season, and one place he has really sparkled is as a pass receiver in the screen game. Jackson has caught 11 balls for 152 yards on screen passes, according to ESPN Stats & Info, which leads all NFL running backs in both categories. However, he's going to face a tougher test than usual this week, as the Giants have allowed just 22 yards to running backs on screen passes this season. Giants linebackers Michael Boley and Mathias Kiwanuka are likely a big part of this, as each has the speed and instincts to make plays against running backs in space.

Full-strength boys: This should be the first time since the early portion of the Week 1 game that the Cowboys have had top receivers Miles Austin and Dez Bryant on the field and healthy at the same time. This should, obviously, be a benefit to Dallas quarterback Tony Romo, as six of his seven touchdown passes this season have gone to either Austin or Bryant. Romo has a completion percentage of 57.9 when targeting Austin or Bryant, versus 67.5 when targeting other receivers. But his yards per attempt are 10.7 when throwing to those two, as opposed to 7.7 when throwing to others. Also, three of his five interceptions have come on passes intended for receivers other than Austin or Bryant.

Ryan will be tryin': The Patriots have scored at least 30 points in 13 straight regular-season games, which is one short of the record held by the 1999-00 St. Louis Rams. The last team to hold New England under 30 was the Cleveland Browns in Week 9 of last season. The Browns' defensive coordinator at that time was Rob Ryan, who is now the Cowboys' defensive coordinator.
Andy ReidAP Photo/Derek GeeSunday's penalties, turnovers and all-around sloppy play can be blamed on Andy Reid.
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- With 1:23 left in Sunday's game, fourth-and-inches to go from midfield and a seven-point lead, the Buffalo Bills had a choice. They could punt the ball away and force the Philadelphia Eagles to go the length of the field to tie the score, or they could go for it, knowing the game would be over if they picked up those couple of inches. They called a time out to talk it over and chose a third option -- let the Eagles make a critical mistake.

Good call.

The Bills lined up as though planning to run a play, but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick just sat behind center barking out his cadence. He barked and barked, and finally ...

"They got me," Eagles defensive lineman Juqua Parker said.

Parker jumped offside, and the penalty gave the Bills the first down that clinched a 31-24 victory that dropped the Eagles to 1-4. It was the Eagles' fifth penalty of the game and third of the fourth quarter. And while it was the mistake that ultimately decided the game, it had plenty of help from its friends.

In addition to the penalties, Philadelphia committed five turnovers -- four Michael Vick interceptions and one lost fumble -- dropped a couple of key passes, missed enough tackles that Bills running back Fred Jackson got 59 of his 111 rushing yards after first contact, and generally played the kind of loose, undisciplined game we've become used to seeing from the 2011 Eagles.

"There's nobody to blame but me," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "That's how I look at it."

Funny. That's how I look at it too. Reid has been an outstanding NFL coach since taking over the Eagles in 1999, but he's doing a lousy job coaching this season's team. The Eagles have electrifying talent all over the field, but the players play as though they haven't been coached on how to handle game situations. They don't take care of the ball in spots where it needs to be a priority. They don't make good decisions. They look like a team that either didn't practice or didn't pay attention in practice all week, and that's on the coaches, no matter what the players say.

"I think, at this point, it's out of the coaches' hands," said Vick, who rushed for 90 yards and threw for 315 but said he'll remember this game for those four interceptions. "Coaches can stress ball security all week, but the coaches are not out there in the moment. We've got to control it as players, in the moment."

[+] EnlargeMichael Vick
AP Photo/David DupreyMichael Vick was picked off a career-high four times in Philadelphia's loss to Buffalo.
There's a fair point in there, and Vick rightly took his share of the blame for this loss. But a head coach's job is to establish a team-wide culture in which the kind of sloppy play that's killing the Eagles is not tolerated. The players have to buy into the idea that the most important thing they can do is not beat themselves. They have to have it drilled into their heads, to the point where it becomes instinctive, "in the moment," to throw the ball away, to take a sack instead of throwing an interception. Jason Avant has to know, when he's in the defender's arms at the end of the 35-yard catch that gets the Eagles out of the shadow of their own goalposts, to go down, protecting the ball and not try to fight for extra yards with 20 minutes left in the game.

"Everyone took turns making mistakes," defensive end Jason Babin said.

And every player on the defense has to know, when the Bills are lining up looking as though they'll run a play on fourth-and-inches from midfield with 1:23 left on the clock, that the single most important thing they can do is not get caught offside. If the Bills run and pick up those inches on their own, at least they did something to beat you. But what you can't do in that spot is hand it to them, and that's something the coaches need to (A) make sure the team knows before the plane's wheels touch down on Saturday night and (B) expressly tell every single defensive player during the timeout just before that play.

"Every Saturday, we line up and practice it," Bills coach Chan Gailey said of that final play. "You don't think it's going to work, but the one time it does, it wins the game for you."

Asked if Fitzpatrick was planning to snap the ball, Gailey said, "I'll never tell." Everyone laughed.

There was no laughing in the visitor's locker room, where Parker said the receiver in motion made him think a play would be run and Reid and the rest of the players refused to lay blame at Parker's happy feet.

"I think guys are just trying so hard to make a play," Vick said. "We know what we're capable of, and guys all want to be the one who makes the play, want to be the game-changer. And I understand that. We're desperate for a win. So I can't fault guys for trying too hard."

No, but we can fault Reid and the Eagles' coaching staff for their failure to foster an environment in which their players prioritize smart decisions and sound fundamental football over the urgent desire to change the game. The game, by the time the fourth quarter rolled around, was going very much the Eagles' way. They were moving the ball at will on the Buffalo defense, Vick and DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy showcasing that game-changing speed that was supposed to propel the Eagles' offense to such great heights. Heck, their defense was even forcing the other team to punt for a change. All they had to do was avoid the game-changing mistakes, and they couldn't.

This Eagles team never does. No matter how good they look in stretches, they always find a way to screw it up. A holding penalty here, a face-mask penalty there, an offside penalty at the worst possible time. Well-coached teams just don't play that way.

If Reid really, truly, sincerely wants to take the responsibility for what's going on here, he's welcome to it. When you have this many players making this many inexcusable mistakes in this many critical situations, you have no choice but to seek the common thread. This season was to have been Reid's most glorious yet -- his best opportunity to win a Super Bowl. The front office gave him everything he needed and more to make it happen, and so far he has failed miserably.

Rapid Reaction: Bills 31, Eagles 24

October, 9, 2011
10/09/11
4:14
PM ET
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- A few thoughts on the Philadelphia Eagles' latest crushing loss, this one to the Buffalo Bills.

What it means: It's tough to see a way back from here for the Eagles. They showed in the second half that they have the talent to score and play with anyone, but they've just made too many mistakes, too many bad plays and missed too many tackles so far this year, and they're 1-4 with a tough division road game looming next week. They're going to have to be nearly perfect from here on out to have a chance to rebound and make the playoffs, and they're a long, long way from anything resembling perfect.

Same old Eagles run defense: We knew Buffalo running back Fred Jackson was likely to have a field day against the Eagles' 30th-ranked rushing defense, and he did, ripping off 58 first-half rushing yards and adding 22 more on his first run of the second half as the Bills built a 28-7 lead. Part of the reason the Eagles got back into the game was because the Bills went away from the run game in the fourth quarter for some reason in spite of how well it had worked. The Eagles made more tackles and more plays in the second level of their defense Sunday than they have been making, but it remains clear the middle of the defense is soft and can be run on almost at will.

Tale of two Vicks: Eagles quarterback Michael Vick was a mess in the first half, throwing three interceptions and badly mismanaging the clock in the final minute before halftime. But he came out of the locker room a new man, running the offense more confidently, efficiently and safely. He managed to find DeSean Jackson, a top weapon who's been missing too much this year, and LeSean McCoy on some underneath routes, and he took off himself on a 53-yard run that set up a score. Vick's play in the second half was the reason the Eagles got back in the game, but his play in the first was a huge part of the reason they were so far down in the first place.

No margin for error: The fourth interception wasn't Vick's fault, as Jason Avant had the ball in his hands and the Bills ripped it out. But the mistake as the Eagles were driving toward a potential game-tying touchdown just goes to show what the Eagles are right now -- a team that keeps putting itself in a position where it can't afford even one mistake. The offsides call on fourth-and-inches was another illustration of a team that doesn't have control of itself right now, and teams like that don't come back from 1-4 starts.

What's next: The Eagles travel to Washington on Sunday for a vital intradivision game against the Redskins. After a couple of games in a row against teams that don't bring an inordinate amount of pressure, Vick is likely to take a large number of hits from Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and a Washington defense that was tied for the league lead in sacks entering this week's games. The Redskins are also coming off a bye and will be well-rested, which works against the Eagles after this grueling game.

How you feeling? Eagles-Bills

October, 9, 2011
10/09/11
11:19
AM ET
As you get ready for the Philadelphia Eagles' game Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, here is one reason for Eagles fans to be feeling good about the game and one reason for concern:

Feeling good: Well, the Eagles should be able to generate some offense. The Bills are ranked 25th in the league against the run and 25th against the pass, so this is an opportunity for Philadelphia to showcase all of its great offensive weapons if it chooses to do so. The absence of left tackle Jason Peters, who's out with a leg injury, likely will force the Eagles to try a variety of things on offense and mix things up better than they did last week, when Michael Vick was throwing deep all day and running back LeSean McCoy was a non-factor. I'd expect a lot of McCoy, either running or catching the ball, and for Vick to take some shots downfield, though not quite as many as last week. Variety could be the key to keeping the Bills off-balance and keeping Buffalo's offense off the field.

Cause for concern: This one's easy. The Bills have the fifth-best rushing offense in the league, running for 137 yards per game. The Eagles have the third-worst rushing defense in the league, allowing 139.5 yards per game on the ground. Buffalo's Fred Jackson is one of the most dangerous running-back threats in the league. He ranks fourth in rushing yards with 369 and has caught 13 passes for another 147 yards in the air. Buffalo's air attack is nothing to sneeze at, but the Eagles are going to have to focus extra attention today on the run game and hope their great cornerbacks can cover the Buffalo receivers while the rest of the crew focuses on stopping Jackson.

Final Word: NFC East

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
Al Bello/Getty ImagesEli Manning has thrown just two interceptions through four games this season.
Eli on the money: New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning has played two straight games without throwing an interception. Not coincidentally, the Giants, who host Seattle on Sunday, have won both of those games. The last time Manning played three straight games without an interception was Weeks 2-5 of the 2008 season, and the Giants won all three of those games, too. (They had a bye in Week 4 that year.) In Manning's career as a starter, the Giants are 32-8 in games in which he does not throw an interception and 35-39 in games in which he throws at least one. That includes postseason play.

Eagles a fourth-quarter mess: The Philadelphia Eagles have held fourth-quarter leads in each of their past three games and lost all three, but that doesn't tell the whole story of how complete these collapses are. Philadelphia, which plays at Buffalo on Sunday, has been outscored 36-0 in the fourth quarter over the past three weeks. The Eagles have been outgained 335 yards to 282. They've converted 2 of 8 third downs and allowed opponents to convert 9 of 14. They've committed three turnovers and forced none. According to ESPN Stats & Information, in Philadelphia's three-game losing streak, its nine fourth-quarter possessions have finished with three turnovers, two missed field goals, two turnovers on downs, one punt and the end of the game. That, folks, is not getting it done.

If I had a nickel: Buffalo Bills running back Fred Jackson is fourth in the league in rushing yards. He also has the most rushing attempts in the league in situations when defenses employ at least five defensive backs. The Eagles are by far the worst defense in the league against the run when using five or more defensive backs. They allow 11.9 yards per rush when they have at least five defensive backs on the field, 3.3 yards more than the second-worst team in the league, and a first-down conversion percentage of 42.9. It's possible they might want to change at least part of what they do against the run if they don't want Jackson to shred them too badly.

Pierre-Paul's impact: Osi Umenyiora missed the first three games of the year while recovering from knee surgery, and Justin Tuck has missed two games with a neck injury. Yet the Giants' defense has still managed 12 sacks so far and ranks fifth in the league in that category. The Giants are on pace to surpass last year's team sack total of 46, and the main reason appears to be the emergence and consistency of second-year defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, the team's first-round pick in the 2010 draft. If the Giants can ever get Tuck, Umenyiora and Pierre-Paul on the field at the same time, they could be downright terrifying.

Seahawks' improving pass game: Seattle was last in the league in passing offense through two weeks, but things changed once receiver Sidney Rice returned from his injury in Week 3. Rice has the second-best yards-per-catch average in the league over the past two weeks at 17.1, and the Seattle passing attack has ranked 22nd (a big jump from 32nd) over the past two weeks. Seattle surely is not the most dangerous offense the Giants have faced or will face this season, but someone in the secondary is going to have to account for Rice, who has the size and speed to make big plays against anyone.

Video: NFC East Week 5 predictions

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
12:00
PM ET
Yes, in spite of the miserable failures of the past two weeks, I'm back with predictions for this weekend's two games involving NFC East teams. Maybe this week can get me back over .500 and I can feel better about showing my face here again next week. Click the video to hear me explain my picks.

Giants 28, Seahawks 6
Eagles 35, Bills 31

Last week: 1-3
Season to date: 6-7

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