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News » Big changes in final quarter?

Big changes in final quarter?

Big changes in final quarter?
Folks in the NFL love numbers. Not that they would admit to it very often, often sneering at the numbers that tell them what they don't want to hear, but statistics - raw data - power a lot of what gets done around the league each and every week.

Probabilities, percentages, spreadsheets, play propensity or even the game plan, however they slice it or save it on the hard drive, the numbers mean something.

And this week, all around the NFL there has been a lot of talk about quarters.

About 16 games divided into four four-game sections. And since the current calendar page reads December, it's now the fourth quarter, so it's a good time to see who's poised for what and what it all meant last season.

"You want to be playing your best Football right now . . . ," Broncos quarterback Jay Cutler said. "There's no doubt about that."

In February, the Giants stunned the Football universe, as well as stomped on the pursuit of history, when they defeated the previously undefeated Patriots in the Super Bowl.

The Patriots roared down the stretch as they had roared through the rest of the 2007 regular season, going 4-0 in the season's final quarter, including a 38-35 win over the Giants in the regular season's final game.

The Giants went 2-2 over that final quarter in '07, but both wins came on the road, which were also the sixth and seventh consecutive road wins of the season for the team. Which, perhaps if we'd all paid a little more attention at the time, was a rather handy hint that they might be able to win on the road in the postseason.

As they did - winning three postseason road games on the way to the Super Bowl.

This season, the Giants have quietly romped to the inside track on home-field advantage in the NFC, sitting at 11-1.

That gives them a two-game lead over Carolina and Tampa Bay, who face each other Monday night. However, the Giants will get a chance to prove their mettle once again over the fourth quarter.

They will face Philadelphia (6-5-1), Dallas (8-4), the Panthers (9-3) and Minnesota (7-5) in their final four games.

As it stands, the Giants, at seven, and Tampa Bay, at four, have the longest current winning streaks in the NFC as they point down the stretch.

Dallas, trying to hang on to a wild-card chance, will have to earn it over the final quarter with games against Pittsburgh (9-3), the Giants (11-1), Baltimore (8-4) and the Eagles.

This was a team that hailed itself as a Super Bowl contender as summer drew to a close, the same one that, despite all of the fine marketing to the contrary, hasn't won a playoff game since 1996.

In the AFC, the Titans currently have the home-field edge, at 11-1, two wins better than anyone else in the conference, three wins in front of Indianapolis in the division, with a win over the Colts already in hand.

But the Colts, with a schedule they appear to have won at the county fair, close with Cincinnati (1-10-1), Detroit (0-12) and Jacksonville (4-8) before finishing the regular season against the Titans in Indianapolis.

The Titans have Cleveland (4-8), Houston (5-7), Pittsburgh and the Colts to close out their season's final quarter. Last season, the Titans won their last three games of the regular season to earn a wild-card spot at 10-6.

They then took that momentum to San Diego where, having packed everything except touchdowns, they lost 16-7.

The Colts, with a five-game winning streak, are currently the AFC's hottest team and they are also the only team in the conference that has a current winning streak longer than three.

The Patriots, at 7-5, need plenty of good fortune of their own and plenty of bad fortune for others to find their way into the postseason. They haven't missed the playoffs since 2002.

And there is Denver . The Broncos continue to defy Football logic. They have led their division for 13 Football weeks, including their bye, and yet have been outscored by 27 points this season and are 31st in the league in turnover margin at minus-11.

They also play in the only division in the AFC without at least two teams that currently have a winning record, yet only Kansas City, St. Louis and Detroit - a combined 4-32 - have surrendered more points this season.

But all in all, for those who made it this far and still have designs on more than a one-week stay in the postseason, the quarterbacks will have to rise to the occasion, the rookies will have to stop acting like rookies and the offenses have to turn first downs into touchdowns.

Defenses have to roll up their sleeves and get a little dirt under their fingernails. Because four of the top five run defenses are teams that are currently in first place (Giants, Jets, Steelers and Vikings), while the fifth (the Ravens) is in second place.

Because the fourth quarter is here and seasons can now be won or lost by what gets done in it.


GAMES TO WATCH * Falcons (8-4) at Saints (6-6), 11 a.m. Sunday

The Saints have won four of the past five meetings between these teams. Saints quarterback Drew Brees continues to be on record pace for passing yards in season. Since the start of the 2006 season, he has thrown for 12,711 yards - most in the NFL during that span.

* Eagles (6-5-1) at Giants (11-1), 11 a.m. Sunday (Fox 31)

Eagles quarterback Donovan McNabb rebounded Thanksgiving with a four-touchdown game. The Giants save their best for the best with six wins in a row against teams with a winning record at game time. Giants quarterback Eli Manning is 25-5 in his past 30 starts.

* Cowboys (8-4) at Steelers (9-3), 2:15 p.m. Sunday

Since Tony Romo returned to the lineup three games ago, the Cowboys have won three straight, Romo has thrown for at least 331 yards in the past two games and the Cowboys scored 34 points or more in those two games. The Steelers defense leads the league in overall defense, run defense, pass defense and sacks.

* Redskins (7-5) at Ravens (8-4), 6:15 p.m. Sunday (Ch. 9)

This game matches two first-year coaches in Washington's Jim Zorn and Baltimore's John Harbaugh. Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell, with only four interceptions in 378 pass attempts, has the league's lowest interception percentage. But the Ravens lead the league with 20 interceptions, with four players having three each.


11-1record for the Carolina Panthers when running back DeAngelo Williams rushes for at least 80 yards.


Look around

Of the top six players in third-down receptions this season, three are a tight end or a running back. The leaders in third-down catches and their third-down touchdown totals:

Player, position Team No. TDs

T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR Bengals 27 3

Roddy White, WR Falcons 23 2

Tony Gonzalez, TE Chiefs 22 2

Derrick Mason, WR Ravens 21 1

Jason Witten, TE Cowboys 21 1

Chester Taylor, RB Vikings 21 1

Author:Fox Sports
Author's Website:http://www.foxsports.com
Added: December 5, 2008

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Gary Stills Name: Gary Stills
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