NFC West: New York Giants

Giants vs. Rams preview

December, 18, 2014
Dec 18
8:00
AM ET
When: 4:05 p.m. ET Sunday Where: Edward Jones Dome, St. Louis TV: FOX

The St. Louis Rams and New York Giants have both been eliminated from playoff contention and neither enters Sunday's matchup with much to play for.

But neither team has looked like it is ready to close up shop for the rest of the season, either, which could make this at least a mildly interesting game for the football diehards.

ESPN Rams reporter Nick Wagoner and ESPN Giants reporter Dan Graziano discuss Sunday's game:

Wagoner: Dan, I'm sure you're getting a lot of questions about Odell Beckham Jr., but let's be real, he's going to be the most exciting player on the field Sunday. What is it about him that's allowed him to have such success, and is he as fun to watch up close as he is from a distance?

Graziano: Nick, I don't want to overstate the case here. But what we're watching with Beckham on a weekly basis (a daily one, in fact, when you take into account his practice antics) is a player gifted with such raw athleticism that he stands out on a field whose other occupants are also world-class athletes. He's impressive in all facets. He runs great routes. He has great hands. He plays bigger than his 5-foot-11 size would indicate, because he has the ability to outjump defenders and locate the ball in the air before they do. He has the blazing speed you've seen. Really, from a raw talent standpoint, he's the total package. What he's doing is even more incredible due to the facts that he missed all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, and that he and Victor Cruz played only two games together. Eli Manning is targeting Beckham pretty much all the time, and it's working. Expect to see a lot of him.

The Rams' defense has allowed a total of 12 points over its past three games. What's behind the surge?

Wagoner: There are plenty of reasons for the surge, up to and including taking advantage of a bit of a break in the schedule in terms of opponents. But make no mistake: The Rams' defensive surge is real. They held the high-powered Broncos to seven points, the fewest since Peyton Manning took over at quarterback. The intangible part of it is the defense has finally gotten comfortable with Gregg Williams as coordinator and vice versa. Williams now knows the best way to deploy his players and they now know what is expected of them. That's manifested into a defense that's doing a bit of everything well. The Rams had a disappointing performance last week in stopping Arizona's run game, but their better efforts start with stopping the run. When the Rams stop the run consistently and force opponents into second- and third-and-long, their vaunted pass rush can be as good as advertised. It doesn't hurt that end Robert Quinn and tackle Aaron Donald form one of the most dynamic inside out duos in the league, either. But really, they're getting better performances across the board with the defense.

While we're on defense, I noticed that since Week 7, the Rams and Giants rank first and third in the league in sacks, respectively. What's been the cause of the uprising from New York's pass rush?

Graziano: The Giants had 19 sacks in their first 11 games of the season and have picked up 22 in their past three games. A lot of that has to do with their opponents -- Jacksonville, Tennessee and Washington. But in terms of what they're doing to take advantage of the matchups, they're getting contributions from all over. Jason Pierre-Paul has six sacks in those three games, but rookie defensive end Kerry Wynn is making a contribution. Rookie linebacker Devon Kennard, who was NFC Defensive Player of the Week in Week 14, has been a factor in the pass rush. Second-year defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is up to seven sacks for the season. The Giants are getting a variety of help in the pass rush, which is especially important with defensive ends Mathias Kiwanuka and Robert Ayers among the 22 Giants currently on injured reserve. They'll blitz a linebacker or a safety or a cornerback in key times. Basically, since the schedule turned around for them, they've been taking advantage of their matchups at a high level and in a variety of ways.

I know the quarterback situation has been a muddle, but why do the Rams still have so many unanswered questions at the other offensive skill positions? Receiver and running back?

Wagoner: Well, I think they've at least finally settled on Tre Mason as their primary ball carrier for the future, though I suppose we thought the same thing last year at this time with Zac Stacy. Mason's not getting the vast majority of the snaps right now because he's still not up to speed in pass protection, but if and when that happens, his snap count will only increase. In the meantime, he's the first option running the ball and Benny Cunningham is next in line to handle the dirty work. I think Mason will be the main guy going forward, but judging the Rams' recent knack for drafting running backs earlier than expected, maybe that should be considered a year-to-year proposition until they go with the same guy for two consecutive seasons. At receiver, they seem to have finally settled into using Kenny Britt, Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin. If Brian Quick comes back from a devastating shoulder injury and they re-sign Britt, they should be pretty solid. I'd argue they could still use a true No. 1 guy like the Giants have with Beckham, but it's not the pressing need it was coming into the season. They just need to find someone who can more consistently get them the ball.

Sticking to quarterbacks, what do you make of Eli Manning at this point in his career? He's obviously had great success but also some clunkers. With so few decent quarterbacks around, there's no way the Giants would look elsewhere at that position, is there?

Graziano: No way. Other than the horrible five-interception game against the 49ers in Week 11, Manning has operated the new offense smoothly and efficiently in the first year under new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo. He's protecting the ball well, making good decisions, relying on shorter, higher-percentage stuff than he did earlier in his career. Considering they have four wide receivers and three running backs on injured reserve, and that the offensive line has struggled all year to protect him, I think Manning's doing fine and is among the very least of their problems.

As for quarterback, what do you expect them to do this offseason? Bring back Bradford? Move up in the draft? What?

Wagoner: At this point, the expectation remains that the Rams will try to bring Sam Bradford back at a reduced rate with incentives built in, and spend a high draft pick (first three rounds) on a quarterback. I've been writing that for the past month or so and I stand by the assertion until I hear something different. Of course, that still depends on how big the pay cut would be and whether Bradford's representation wants to explore the market. Even with his injury issues, he could become a hot commodity in such a quarterback-needy market. Moving up sounds good on paper, but I'm not sure they have the ammunition or the desire to make such a move. They could also look to bring Shaun Hill back as a backup option for Bradford and/or the new draft pick. Either way, it's the one thing holding this team back from being a legitimate playoff contender. The only problem is that it's also the most difficult problem to fix.

First impressions from MetLife Stadium

September, 19, 2011
9/19/11
4:09
PM ET
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Arriving early for "Monday Night Football" allowed for a quick self-tour around the MetLife Stadium grounds.

A few first impressions:
  • The New York Giants' offices and practice facility are here as well, with a security gate controlling vehicle access to the parking lot. A large plasma TV showing NFL Network greets visitors to the bright lobby with vaulted ceiling and abundant natural light (what is this, Better Homes and Gardens?). You can read more about the offices and practice facility here.
  • The stadium has a modern look from the outside, but it's the inside that is truly spectacular, instantly making this look like one of the best places in the NFL to watch a game. Back into BHG mode: The sunshine on this Monday adds vibrance to the white-on-blue end zones and FieldTurf surface speckled with black rubber infill.
  • The light brown and metallic gray seats framing the field are understated. They also seem close to the field. Visitors probably feel more surrounded here than at stadiums with fewer seats or more distance between field and upper decks. I don't know how the measurements compare to those of other stadiums, but that is the feeling.
  • Each corner of the stadium features a large videoboard on the suite level sandwiched between the upper deck and second levels. These screens do not even attempt to compare with the massive screen distinguishing Jerry Jones' stadium in Dallas, but they fit well with the open-air stadium.
  • The MetLife signage knows its place and doesn't intrude like an unwanted solicitor. I'm noticing blue-lettered signage attached to the upper-deck facade above each end zone, and additional digital display on the video scoreboard ring around the stadium.
  • The lettering honoring Andy Robustelli, Joe Morrison, Y.A. Tittle and other Giants greats is on the small side, with first names in even smaller type and stacked above last names. It's tough to see the "Amani" above the "Toomer" across the field, but if you have to ask what it says above Toomer's name, it's time to brush up on your NFL fan credentials, anyway.

I've hit my limit for first impressions. Better back off before someone assigns me to the new stadium minutiae blog.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Chris Wells is among the running backs still available after the Colts selected Donald Brown with the 27th overall choice. The teams picking before Arizona -- the Bills, Giants and Titans -- would appear to be set at the position.

Opinions are mixed as to the values of running backs in this draft. Arizona could always go in another direction at No. 31, but a running back would certainly make sense.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch outlines sweeping changes to the Rams' offensive line following the team's decision to release Orlando Pace. Stick with me here. The tentative plan would be for right tackle Alex Barron to take over at left tackle. Left guard Jacob Bell would move to right tackle. Second-year pro John Greco would take over at left guard. Free-agent addition Jason Brown, signed to a reworked contract Tuesday, takes over at center. Richie Incognito would remain at right guard. Selecting a starting left tackle with the second overall choice in the 2009 draft would change the picture again.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says the quarterback race between Shaun Hill and Alex Smith also includes newly signed 49ers veteran Damon Huard. While the point is valid -- J.T. O'Sullivan emerged unexpectedly last offseason -- the organization won't be deferring to Mike Martz this time.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat thinks the 49ers should install Hill as their starting quarterback from the beginning of the 2009 season. Maiocco: "The best way to handle Smith is to ease him back in. Hill should be the starter from Day 1. Generally, the most popular player on a team is the backup quarterback. At some point, Smith will probably get an opportunity to prove himself in that backup role. When that chance comes, he will be afforded a longer leash."

Ray Ratto of the San Francisco Chronicle frames Smith's situation as an undefined reflection of the 49ers' undefined leadership. Ratto: "More intriguing, though, is the notion that this might be undefined rather than unfinished business that confronts Smith. He framed the competition as Smith v. Hill, but there is no real reason to think it might not be Smith v. Hill v. Unnamed Future Figure, or that it is a true competition between relative equals."

Ann Killion of the San Jose Mercury News says Smith's fresh start might not look like one from the outside. Killion: "Fans might not recognize that fresh feeling, at least not at quarterback. That competition looks like a do-over of 2006: Smith vs. Shaun Hill with Damon Huard in the role of Trent Dilfer. And, of course, there's a new offensive coordinator to break in. But since the 49ers are lacking bright ideas in regard to quarterbacks (instead taking a weird run at Kurt Warner) and they're unlikely to tie up another first-round pick on a quarterback, why not keep Smith in the fold? They might as well see if they can get something out of their enormous investment."

Peter King of SI.com says he expects the Cardinals to trade Anquan Boldin, probably to the Eagles. King: "The Eagles and Giants, two receiver-needy teams, are in position to deal for Anquan Boldin, who I continue to say will not be a Cardinal by July. Philly has [picks] 21, 28 and 53, the Giants 29, 45 and 60. I find it hard to believe the Eagles won't trade for Boldin. Very hard. He's a perfect fit, and they've got the cap room to sign him." Boldin played his worst game of the 2008 season during a blowout defeat at Philadelphia, but he's still one of the best receivers in the league.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals are interviewing candidates for their pro personnel department.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist is among those to interview.

Revenge of the Birds' Hawkwind sizes up Northern Illinois outside linebacker Larry English as a potential Cardinals draft choice. Hawkwind: "Basically the case for English is the same as the case for Clint Sintim, he's a guy who will upgrade the pass rush and provide depth at outside linebacker. He doesn't have the experience that Sintim has with playing upright, but his upside is a bit higher. If the Cardinals feel like rolling the dice and going with a high upside, higher risk type of pick, English could be the guy in the first round."

Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com checks in with Calais Campbell as the second-year pro prepares to replace Antonio Smith in the Cardinals' lineup at defensive end. Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. thinks the Cardinals will miss Smith. More on that in a future blog entry.

John Morgan of Field Gulls revisits Darryl Tapp's 2008 season with the Seahawks. The reviews are favorable. Morgan: "Tapp is solid exactly as he is. He's consistently disruptive, able to beat about any type of tackle, and not so bad in run support as to be a liability. Tapp has a great first step, good dip, good inside move, good rip and a capable bull rush, plus the kind of suddenness to convert penetration into a sack. He makes those around him better."

Clare Farnsworth of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer says the Seahawks' Jim Mora was the only NFL head coach to attend the University of Washington's pro day. Mora is a UW alumnus, of course.

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Rams GM lands big hire with Spagnuolo

January, 17, 2009
1/17/09
4:27
PM ET
 
  Evan Pinkus/Getty Image
  Former New York defensive coordinator was a hot commodity after New York's playoff loss to Philadelphia and is now headed to St. Louis.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Rams have to feel good about their ability to land Giants defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo as head coach given the recent state of the franchise in St. Louis.

Spagnuolo was the hot candidate a year ago. The Rams couldn't have pried him away if they had been interested in him at that time. No team could.

The Giants didn't finish this season with a Super Bowl title, but if Spagnuolo was a good coach one year ago, he should be a better one for having one more year of experience.

The Rams' interest in Spagnuolo comes as little surprise given his success in the NFL and his longstanding relationship with Rams general manager Billy Devaney. The hiring seemed less likely when the Rams appeared to show considerable interest in other candidates, even bringing in Cowboys offensive coordinator Jason Garrett a second time.

The relationship between Spagnuolo and Devaney was probably key in the Rams' ability to land such a high-profile candidate. This wasn't just a case of Devaney trusting Spagnuolo. Given the state of the Rams after two horrible seasons and a potentially unsettled ownership situation, Spagnuolo needed to trust Devaney when the general manager sold him on the Rams.

Why I stood by Giants in power rankings

December, 16, 2008
12/16/08
1:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Our power rankings for Week 16 should be popping onto the site -- with voter-by-voter breakdowns on this blog -- sometime around 2 p.m. ET.

In the meantime, I'll get a head start in addressing the toughest decision I faced in putting together rankings late Monday night. I wound up leaving the Giants in the top spot even after their less-than-impressive showing at Dallas. A few thoughts on why:

The Giants, more than any team in the league, have earned the benefit of the doubt. A road defeat against a talented and desperate divisional opponent isn't unforgivable.

Yes, but what about the Steelers? I was about to rank them first when the replay official initiated a challenge. The evidence wasn't necessarily conclusive, but hey, certainty is in the eye of the beholder.

More seriously, the Steelers were indeed impressive, resilient and resourceful during their final drive against the Ravens. But was that final touchdown a legitimate touchdown? It was if you took referee Walt Coleman's word for it, and his word was the one that counted. But plenty of reasonable people (and some unreasonable ones, no doubt) weren't so sure.

I couldn't quite move the Steelers into the top overall spot after such a close call. The Giants' earlier victory at Pittsburgh also stuck in my mind a bit.

The Titans, likewise, did not seem worthy of moving past the Giants into the top spot. Again, losing on the road against a division opponent is going to happen. That's why I didn't mark down the Titans much. But moving them into the top spot following a defeat didn't seem right.

I could have moved the Panthers all the way to the top spot, but there's no rush. They visit the Giants in Week 16. I'll move down the Giants if they lose that game at home. Until then, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

One other note: I did move up the Falcons into the top 10 after their victory over the Bucs. Quite a few people thought I ranked them too low last week. I promised to move them up if they beat Tampa Bay.

NFC West watch: I knocked the Cardinals out of the top 15 after their least impressive home performance of the season.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Seahawks, Rams and Lions are the only NFC teams with no chance at earning a playoff berth. A quick look at which NFC teams can clinch in Week 14:

Giants: They can clinch the NFC East title with a victory, or with a tie accompanied by a Cowboys loss, or with a Cowboys loss. They can clinch a first-round playoff bye with a victory, or a tie accompanied by a Cowboys loss, or a Cowboys loss accompanied by a Vikings loss/tie and a Cardinals loss/tie.

Cardinals: They can clinch the NFC West title with a victory, or a tie with a 49ers loss/tie, or with a 49ers loss.

The Cardinals control their divisional destiny, in other words. A home loss to the Rams in Week 14 would do more than keep the 49ers at least mathematically alive in the NFC West race. We would also have grounds to explore the all-time stretch-run collapses.

Can anyone make a reasonable case for the Rams pulling the upset Sunday? I cannot, but if you've followed the Cardinals long enough, perhaps the accumulated cynicism can make such a scenario seem remotely plausible.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

TEMPE, Ariz. -- The Cardinals are allowing 89.5 yards rushing per game after holding the Giants' league-leading rushing attack to 87 yards on 27 carries.

The Cardinals' opponents are averaging 3.7 yards per carry. One of the Cardinals' last six opponents -- the 49ers with Frank Gore -- averaged more than 3.9 yards per carry.

Giants coach Tom Coughlin offered high praise for Arizona's run defense.

"They are an outstanding defensive team against the run," Coughlin said. "They probably play their eight-man front scheme as well as anybody that we have played."

Linebacker Karlos Dansby and strong safety Adrian Wilson deserve consideration for the Pro Bowl.

I have a better appreciation for Wilson's impact after watching the Cardinals every week. He's a skilled blitzer, sure tackler and hard hitter. He can also make plays on the ball. Not many safeties could make the type of interception he made against the 49ers on Monday night.

Wilson is a threat to knock out the opposing quarterback every week. He came close to getting a blind-side shot on Eli Manning, but the Giants had a screen called and Manning threw the ball.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 37, Cardinals 29

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
7:40
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

PHOENIX -- The Cardinals won't have to worry about facing an opponent as complete as the Giants until the playoffs. That's a good thing for Arizona.

The Giants pounded quarterback Kurt Warner once they proved that Arizona posed no threat on the ground. Warner's ability to get rid of the football quickly has usually been enough against lesser opponents. The Giants also showed they could cover downfield, however, throwing off the timing of the Cardinals' receivers.

A Cardinals victory would have vaulted Arizona into the race for home-field advantage in the NFC. That goal was never very realistic. As a result, nothing much changes for the Cardinals after losing this game. They'll still win the NFC West and host a playoff game.

Cardinals test obscure free-kick rule

November, 23, 2008
11/23/08
5:55
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

PHOENIX -- Neil Rackers' streak of 15 consecutive made field goals ended in unusual fashion when he badly missed a 68-yard attempt on a free kick to end the first half.

Rules allowed the Cardinals to attempt the free kick after signaling for a fair catch on a punt with 5 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Punter Dirk Johnson held the ball at the Arizona 42. There was no snapper and the Giants could not line up within 10 yards of the ball.

Rackers took a running start and kicked the ball the way he might have on a kickoff. But much like a golfer who swings too hard, Rackers failed to strike the ball cleanly. He skulled it and the ball barely got off the ground. The Giants returned it 29 yards as the half ended.

Warner: Cardinals still must earn respect

November, 19, 2008
11/19/08
7:15
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The opponents change, but Kurt Warner gets the same questions week after week. Yes, he knew he could still play at this level. Yes, he sees similarities between the Cardinals' offense and the one he ran in St. Louis. Etcetera.

One of the questions reporters covering the Giants asked this week took a different tack. They wanted to know if Warner thought the Cardinals needed to beat a team such as the Giants to enhance their credibility. Or had Arizona done enough at 7-3?

Warner: "No, I think we are a long ways from getting credibility out here in Arizona. I think for so long we haven't had success and we haven't played good football. I think a win against a team like the Giants would obviously give us more credibility. I still think we have a long ways to go.

"And I think that comes from consistency and doing it year in and year out and game in and game out. And we are not there yet. And so I don't expect anybody to give us anything. You want to be a team that has to earn it. And I think we still have to earn it. I think we are gaining a little bit bit-by-bit; little pieces here and there, which is obviously good for our team and organization."

Warner also compared the Giants' defense to the one he faced at Carolina in that both can get pressure with their front four, and both have quality players in the secondary with ample speed at linebacker. Warner completed 35 of 49 passes for 381 yards during a 27-23 defeat to the Panthers. He had two touchdowns, one interception and a 99.1 rating.

Scouts Inc.: Can Pendergast outscheme Eli?

November, 19, 2008
11/19/08
11:31
AM ET
 
 Kirby Lee/Image of Sport-US PRESSWIRE and Rich Kane-US PRESSWIRE
 Cardinals defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast will use varied looks and movements in an effort to keep Eli Manning guessing.

Posted by Scouts Inc.'s Keith Kidd

One of the most intriguing matchups in Sunday's Giants-Cardinals game will be decided, to a large extent, not on the field but in the film room. How Arizona defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast decides to attack quarterback Eli Manning in passing situations will go a long way toward determining the outcome.

Pendergast, who should be on a number of short lists for NFL teams seeking a new head coach in the offseason, is a dynamic thinker who specializes in exotic pressure schemes. He builds his packages out of a base 3-4, though the Cardinals often move into a four-man front in nickel situations. It's a multiple scheme with variations and movements, and Pendergast isn't afraid to use them all. That may be necessary against Manning, a terrific talent who continues to deliver efficient play. But to get to him, the Cardinals first must put the clamps on the Giants' explosive run game.

New York has an excellent trio of backs -- Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw and Derrick Ward -- who complement each other well, not to mention one of the finest offensive lines in the league. The Giants' runners can punish opponents, and they excel at bouncing runs outside and getting to the edges. Arizona's defense is fast to the ball and aggressive in pursuit, but slowing New York's downhill running and interior power will be a challenge. Against two-back packages on early downs, Pendergast likely will invert strong safety Adrian Wilson near the line of scrimmage and use a lot of stems and single-zone linebacker blitzes to put stress on the Giants' blocking patterns. The Cardinals must force Jacobs, Bradshaw and Ward to run laterally, create a new line of scrimmage and maintain gap discipline to put Manning in more difficult second- and third-down situations.

With that accomplished, Pendergast will utilize varied looks and movements to cover up back-end weaknesses and make it difficult for Manning to diagnose where the blitz is coming from on passing downs. Expect overload blitzes that attack the front side of the pocket (to affect Manning's eye level and passing windows) and back-side delays out of the slot. Pressure is the key to forcing game-changing mistakes. Manning has a tendency to telegraph passes and, when under duress, force throws into tight windows. Defensive end Darnell Dockett gets good interior penetration when he slides inside in sub packages, and Bertrand Berry, Travis LaBoy and Chike Okeafor all are capable pass-rushers. The players to watch, however, are Wilson and linebacker Karlos Dansby. Wilson, who spends a lot of time near the line in both regular and sub packages, is as effective rushing the passer as he is playing the run. Dansby, a versatile defender who can drop into zone or match up on a back in passing situations, might be at his best on the blitz.

Will Arizona's secondary hold up long enough to allow the pass-rushers to get home? The Cardinals don't move personnel around much on the back end, which should enable the Giants to dictate with their formations who and how they attack. Rookie cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has played well in recent weeks, but he will be tested. Receiver Plaxico Burress likely will be aligned or motioned to exploit that matchup. The Giants also will try to use play-action to bait free safety Antrel Rolle, who has struggled a bit in deep zones. In any case, the Cardinals must be sound open-field tacklers, because there should be plenty of room to run for Giants pass-catchers in the areas vacated by blitzers.

This is the first segment of a two-part package breaking down this weekend's Cardinals-Giants game. Check back at noon for Mike Sando's take.

Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

The Cardinals have projected as a 10-win team since they defeated the Cowboys in Week 6. They can take the next step, perhaps becoming a threat to secure home-field advantage in the NFC, if they can defeat the 9-1 Giants at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 12.

Which brings us to the latest Hot Topic question. Will the Cardinals defeat the defending Super Bowl champions? If so, why? If not, why? I'll be exploring the issue in depth Wednesday after reading your best explanations and speaking with scouts.

Resources: Giants stats, Cardinals stats.

SeedAFCNFC
1
TitansGiants
2
SteelersPanthers
3
Jets
Cardinals
4
BroncosPackers
5
ColtsBucs
6
RavensRedskins
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

As NFL teams fight for positioning heading toward the playoffs, we take a quick look at the top six seeds in each conference heading into Week 12.

If the current standings held, the AFC playoffs would feature the Ravens visiting the Jets and the Colts visiting the Broncos. The NFC playoffs would feature the Redskins visiting the Cardinals and the Bucs visiting the Packers.

The Titans, Steelers, Giants and Panthers would have first-round playoff byes. The Redskins defeated the Cardinals at FedEx Field in Week 3. The rematch would be at University of Phoenix Stadium, where the Cardinals haven't lost this season.

Four teams that won at least 10 games last season have losing records so far: Seattle (10-6 to 2-8), Cleveland (10-6 to 3-6), San Diego (11-5 to 4-6) and Jacksonville (11-5 to 4-6).

Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando

Steven Jackson's inability to practice was the big news story from Rams headquarters Thursday. Jim Haslett's comments to reporters about quarterback Marc Bulger might mean more for the long term.

Haslett pointed to Bulger's standing among a short list of quarterbacks to approach 20,000 yards passing this early in their careers.

Haslett on Bulger: "We just have to surround him with people, playmakers, and I think we have a bunch of young kids that can do that. We have to protect him and do some things that make him feel comfortable. I think every quarterback goes through a phase in their career where it's not going. When he came in, he stepped in with great personnel around him, playmakers galore -- three or four receivers, a running back, a great line that had been together for a long time. He's not in that situation right now. It's a little bit different. Obviously, we'll try to get back to that some day, but right now it's not that situation."

Bulger's career passing stats remain solid: 63 percent completion rate, 7.4 yards per attempt, 112 touchdowns, 80 interceptions and an 86.9 passer rating.

Comparing strictly numbers, consider that Eli Manning has never completed higher than 60.5 percent of his passes in a season. He has never exceeded 6.9 yards per attempt in a season. And his passer rating this season -- easily a career best at 88.8 -- is about what Bulger has averaged for his career.

I draw the comparison only to illustrate what Haslett is talking about. Bulger, like Manning, is good enough to win games with a strong supporting cast.

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