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Friday, September 21, 2012
Final Word: NFC East

By Dan Graziano

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

This hard land: The Dallas Cowboys host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Sunday, and historically that is good news for Dallas. The Cowboys are 10-3 all-time against the Bucs, which is their second-best record all-time against any opponent. (They're 8-1 against the Carolina Panthers). They have been especially tough against Tampa Bay at home, going 7-1 against the Bucs in Texas, and winning by an average of 8.4 points per game. Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo is 3-0 with a 70.9 completion percentage, 11 touchdowns and no interceptions in his career against Tampa Bay. Of course, all of those stats were compiled back when you could take the end-of-game kneel-down for granted against the Bucs. All that stuff is out the window now that they bring that Rutgers-style grit and toughness to the final seconds.

Robert Griffin III
Early stats point to a potentially big game for Redskins QB Robert Griffin III against the Bengals.
Open all night: The Cincinnati Bengals have been one of the worst pass defenses in the league so far this season, ranking 29th through the first two weeks in completion percentage (71.0) and passing yards allowed per game (308.5), and 30th in passing first downs allowed (31). Washington Redskins rookie quarterback Robert Griffin III, who will face that Bengals defense in his home debut, has a completion percentage of 70.9, which ranks fourth in the NFL so far this season. The Redskins might throw the ball some, is the basic point I'm trying to get across here. A couple of potentially mitigating factors include: (1) The likely absence of top Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon for a second straight game with a foot injury, (2) the possible return of Bengals pass-rusher Carlos Dunlap from injury in time for this game, and (3) the quirky fact that the Bengals are 7-1 in their past eight games against non-AFC North opponents. Yeah, it's nice to get a break from playing the Steelers and the Ravens all the time.

I'm on fire: Not only are the Philadelphia Eagles and the Arizona Cardinals two of only six undefeated NFL teams after two weeks, they are (if you overlook the little matter that there was a 2012 postseason) two of the league's hottest teams. The Eagles' six-game winning streak dating to last season is the longest current winning streak in the league. And the Cardinals are 7-1 since Week 12 of last season, which is tied with the Patriots for the best record in the league over that time. The last time the Eagles won seven games in a row was when they started the 2004 season 7-0.

Tougher than the rest: You have to admire the grit that Cowboys tight end Jason Witten has shown coming back from his preseason spleen laceration to play in the team's first two games, but he doesn't look like himself. According to ESPN Stats & Information's "Next Level" numbers, Witten has dropped four of the 13 passes that have been thrown to him this season. He dropped four passes all of last season, and no more than three in any of the three seasons prior to that. Witten seems to be taking some time to round into form, but the Cowboys' passing offense could use his formerly reliable hands.

Born to run: As impressive as the Cardinals' defense has been this season, they rank in the middle of the pack against the run. Seattle's Marshawn Lynch (85 yards on 21 carries) and New England's Stevan Ridley (71 yards on 17 carries) each had some degree of success running the ball against the Cardinals in the first two weeks, though neither was spectacular. Philadelphia's LeSean McCoy got 20 carries in the opener and 25 last week against Baltimore, marking just the second time in his career he's had 20 or more carries in consecutive games. The Eagles are 9-1 all-time when McCoy gets at least 20 carries. I think it's fair to say they should make this a priority.