In his first full season as the Cowboys' head coach, Jason Garrett is going through some growing pains.
1. Jason Garrett, Cowboys coach. Garrett is under fire this week after basically blowing the game against the Cardinals with poor clock management in the final minute. He should have called a timeout but didn't. Then he shouldn't have but did. And in the end his rookie kicker, who thought he'd made the game-winning kick, missed it and no one could stop LaRod Stephens-Howling in overtime and now everybody thinks Garrett's a clown who's in over his head. Fact is, Garrett's a young coach who's still finding his way and has done a very good job so far. But his Week 13 gaffe cost the Cowboys a chance to take a commanding two-game division lead into the final four weeks. He can of course make up for it by beating the Giants on Sunday.
2. Trent Williams and Fred Davis: Williams, the Washington Redskins' starting left tackle, and Davis, their breakout tight end, have seen their seasons go up in smoke, as they will miss the final four games while serving suspensions for repeated violations of the league's substance abuse policy. It's a tough blow for a Redskins offense that wasn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard to begin with. These two guys ignored repeated warnings about their behavior, and have left their team in a tough situation.
3. Juan Castillo, Eagles defensive coordinator: After the latest egg laid by the Philadelphia Eagles' defense, it's becoming increasingly clear that their first-year defensive coordinator can't return in the same role in 2012. Some have speculated Andy Reid would need to fire or at least demote Castillo in order to save his own job. And that's surely possible. But even if it weren't the case, it's hard to imagine bringing back Castillo as defensive coordinator and asking the players on the defense to buy in when they clearly haven't done so this year.
1. New York Giants' passing game. The Saints, Patriots and Packers are the only teams in the NFL this year with more passing yards than the Giants, whose air attack remains one of the more underrated units in the league because of persistent (and largely unjustified) negative perceptions of quarterback Eli Manning. Victor Cruz has emerged as a top wide receiver, and Hakeem Nicks showed several times Sunday why he's one of the elite wideouts in the league, dominating his matchups in the second half as the Giants hung in with the unbeaten Packers. Manning, Cruz and Nicks are good enough to keep the Giants in any game as long as the defense doesn't completely melt down the way it did against New Orleans in Week 12.
2. Michael Vick, Eagles quarterback. Well, it appears as though he'll be back this week, and not a moment too soon for the Eagles, who are surely sick of watching Vince Young throw the ball to the other team. As long as he stays healthy, Vick will be the Eagles' starting quarterback for the rest of the season. And whether they have a realistic chance or not, the way Vick plays over the final four games will have an effect on the way he's perceived by fans, teammates, coaches and the organization going into what looks like a critical 2012 season.
3. Cowboys offense. Fullback Tony Fiammetta appears set to return from his mystery illness and play Sunday against the Giants. This is great news for the Cowboys. Rookie tailback DeMarco Murray has held up fine in Fiammetta's absence, but the Dallas run game has lacked the explosiveness it had when Fiammetta was in there blocking for him. With Miles Austin also likely to return from his second hamstring injury of the year, the Cowboys should be at full strength on offense for Sunday's divisional showdown, and that could be trouble for a Giants team that had a hard time handling the wide array of weapons the Saints and Packers threw at it the past two weeks.