Your email is not valid
Recipient's email is not valid
Submit Close

Your email has been sent.

Click here to send another


Our Two Playoff Teams

The Giants and the Patriots enter the postseason

Print Email

When, one month ago, we last checked in with our teams—the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots, and the New York Giants—all seemed headed in different directions. Today, they still are—although we can say this for our three teams: and then there were two.

Earlier in the year, the Bears had impressed by combining their typically stout defense and stellar special teams with a dynamic season from running back Matt Forte and a potentially career-making one from mercurial, moody, occasionally brilliant quarterback Jay Cutler. But Cutler had a season-ending injury after Chicago’s victory over the San Diego Chargers; Forte followed a week later. (Rookie Jewish tackle Gabe Carimi’s season ended even earlier than theirs.) The Bears’ record with Cutler? 7-3. Without him? 1-5. That 8-8 final record was good only for third in the competitive National Football Conference North—the Green Bay Packers finished 15-1 and as the presumptive favorites to repeat their championship, while the Detroit Lions made the playoffs for the first time since 1999 as the second wild card. No playoffs for Chicago.

Next year, Cutler should be back, and there’s no reason to suspect he won’t be as strong as ever. Forte, however, may start to approach the end of running backs’ notorious shelf life, and ace return man Devin Hester isn’t getting any younger, either. The offense will also be without coordinator Mike Martz, who was fired this week. And this is not even to mention the defense that brought this franchise to a Super Bowl only a few years ago: its anchor, middle linebacker Brian Urlacher, will be 34 next season. Moreover, there is no reason to suspect the Packers and the Lions won’t be at least as good again. Things may only be going downhill for Chicago.

One month ago, meanwhile, the Pats were in the midst of a 9-3 record and four-game win streak. Well, the streak is now eight games long, and their final record of 13-3 was good for the American Football Conference East crown and top AFC playoff seed (which means their second round game and, if they win that, conference championship game are guaranteed to be at home).

Tom Brady has been his typical brilliant self: 5,235 yards (second-most all-time, trailing only the tally put up this year by the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees), and 39 touchdowns to 12 interceptions. Second-year tight end Rob Gronkowski has been the real revelation: 90 catches, which averaged nearly 15 yards apiece, and 17 touchdowns—a record for tight ends. But the defense remains extremely problematic. It’s not quite the worst in the league, which is where it ranks in yards given up (in the more relevant points given up category, it’s somewhere toward the middle). But their secondary is Swiss cheese, and teams with good quarterbacks have been able to exploit it. The good news for the Pats is that most teams this year are built either just like them—the high-scoring, shoot-out-loving Packers and Saints—or have strong defenses coupled with fairly mediocre offenses (each conference’s two-seed, the San Francisco 49ers and the Baltimore Ravens). If I’m the Pats, I’m most afraid of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who probably most completely combine a stingy defense (albeit one that has been poor at generating turnovers) with a speedy, potentially explosive offense. Come to think of it, the Steelers were one of only three teams that beat the Pats this year. And—come to think of it again—if on Sunday the Houston Texans win their first ever playoff game, as expected, and the Steelers defeat Tim Tebow’s woefully outmatched Denver Broncos, then the following Sunday the Pats will host … Pittsburgh.

And finally, the New York Giants. Last time, they were coming off a heart-breaking and quite impressive 38-35 home loss against the then-undefeated Packers. Since then, they have gone 3-1, including two wins over their division rival, the Dallas Cowboys, the second of which, last Sunday night, was a win-or-go-home game for both teams. The Cowboys are home; the Giants are in the playoffs. (The Giants’ only loss in that stretch was a strange dominance in New Jersey at the hands of the Washington Redskins; yours truly was in attendance and duly giddy.)

So the Giants enter the playoffs the NFC East winner, with a 9-7 record and a hugely unpredictable streak. You can predict this: they will be able to dominate other teams on passing downs with simply a four-man rush and allow them to drop plenty of defensive backs into coverage, and that this will be necessary because their defensive backs are terrible; and that they will be able to generate big plays on offense with Eli Manning throwing to Hakeem Nicks and rookie stand-out Victor Cruz, and that this will be necessary because they are nearly dead-last in the league at running the ball. Comparisons to the 2007 Giants, which snuck into the playoffs as a wild card on a losing streak and went on to beat the 18-0 Patriots in the Super Bowl, feel a bit off: this team’s stellar pass rush does not match up to that team’s historic one. But they are favored to get by their first-round opponents, the Atlanta Falcons, whom they play on Sunday. So that’s something.

Final record: 30-18

Earlier: Adversities and Adversaries
Three Teams, Three Surprises
One Quarter In
A New Year, A New Team

Print Email

Daily rate: $2
Monthly rate: $18
Yearly rate: $180

Tablet is committed to bringing you the best, smartest, most enlightening and entertaining reporting and writing on Jewish life, all free of charge. We take pride in our community of readers, and are thrilled that you choose to engage with us in a way that is both thoughtful and thought-provoking. But the Internet, for all of its wonders, poses challenges to civilized and constructive discussion, allowing vocal—and, often, anonymous—minorities to drag it down with invective (and worse). Starting today, then, we are asking people who'd like to post comments on the site to pay a nominal fee—less a paywall than a gesture of your own commitment to the cause of great conversation. All proceeds go to helping us bring you the ambitious journalism that brought you here in the first place.

Readers can still interact with us free of charge via Facebook, Twitter, and our other social media channels, or write to us at Each week, we’ll select the best letters and publish them in a new letters to the editor feature on the Scroll.

We hope this new largely symbolic measure will help us create a more pleasant and cultivated environment for all of our readers, and, as always, we thank you deeply for your support.


Your comment may be no longer than 2,000 characters, approximately 400 words. HTML tags are not permitted, nor are more than two URLs per comment. We reserve the right to delete inappropriate comments.

Thank You!

Thank you for subscribing to the Tablet Magazine Daily Digest.
Please tell us about you.

Our Two Playoff Teams

The Giants and the Patriots enter the postseason

More on Tablet:

Why the Teenage Girls of Europe Are Joining ISIS

By Lee Smith — Because they want the same things that teenage boys want: a strong sense of meaning and purpose