Giants cement status as class of NFC, and NF - Spokane, North Idaho News & Weather

Mike Celizic, contributor

Giants cement status as class of NFC, and NF

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The Giants are the class of the NFL. If there were any doubts, they were laid to rest Sunday in Arizona, where a Cardinals team that thought it was ready to be called elite found out it has another thing coming.

Much was made of the Giants' inexplicable loss to the Cleveland Browns in Week 6. What was wrong with the defending champs? How could they look so flat against a team so awful? Was Big Blue not the team we thought it was?

It's six games and six wins later, and nobody's asking anything other than, "Can anybody beat these guys?"

The Giants have had five straight stern tests: the Steelers, Cowboys, Eagles, Ravens and Cardinals. They've passed them all. In the process, they've reminded us that you don't learn anything about a good team when it is upset by a prohibitive underdog in the first half of the season.

You learn what teams are made of by what they do down the stretch.

Every game at this time of the season is a statement game. And the Giants are posting their statements on billboards around the league in letters six feet high. Last Sunday, the statement to the Ravens, was, "Work on your run defense." This Sunday, the statement to the Cardinals was, "Keep dreaming."

There were a lot of statements to be made around the NFC on Sunday. The Panthers had a chance to tell stay ahead of the Bucs in the hot NFC South while telling the Falcons that they're a good young team, but not that good. Carolina failed on both counts, losing 45-28 to an Atlanta team with the league's best young quarterback that made a statement of its own: "Don't count us out." The Bucs, meanwhile, kept the Lions winless and joined the Panthers at 8-3, two games ahead of the we're-not-dead-yet Falcons.

In Jacksonville, the Vikings had to beat the Jaguars to keep up with the Bears. Minnesota passed that test, and Chicago responded by taking care of business against the Rams to maintain a tie with the Vikes atop the NFC North.

In Baltimore, the Eagles had to show that they couldn't be counted out of the NFC East. They failed, getting squashed by the same Ravens team that fell so spectacularly to the Giants a week earlier.

The Cowboys had to beat the woeful 49ers to let the Giants know that Dallas still has the talent to win the NFC, even if they don't win the division. And the Cowboys finally got the big day from Terrell Owens that T.O. has been saying he has to have for them to win.

The Redskins are fighting the Cowboys, Bucs, Panthers and Falcons for a wild card. They stayed tied with the Cowboys at 7-4 with a narrow win over the Seahawks.

So it was a pretty good day for NFC teams that had to win, a far better day than it was in the AFC, where the Titans were exposed and the Broncos were crushed by Oakland.

It remains to be seen whether this means the balance of NFL power has swung to the NFC. But it sure looks like it.

And the team that looks more powerful than any in the business is the Giants. The Titans sport the same 10-1 mark, but no one's convinced that equal records mean equal teams.

It's an ancient story that's fading into folklore status about how the Giants began the year without the respect due a defending champion. They started the year without newly retired Michael Strahan and then lost their other premier pass-rushing end, Osi Umenyiora, before the season began. Once the season began, they had to deal with the immaturity of receiver Plaxico Burress.

None of it slowed them down. They've become like the Patriots have been during their great run - a true team that is greater than the sum of its parts. If somebody goes down, they plug another body in, and that new body gets the job done.

Sunday was another example of that. The Giants were without their bruising rusher, Brandon Jacobs, and Burress, their most dangerous receiver. The Cardinals attempted to take advantage of the perceived holes by stacking up against the run. And it did them no good. If the running game was wounded, they simple went upstairs and Eli Manning took the Cardinals apart.

The season isn't over, and it's doubtful that the Giants will finish 15-1, if only because it's incredibly hard to do and they're going to be playing teams who are desperate to win.

Awaiting are the Redskins, Eagles, Cowboys, Panthers and Vikings. Every game except Philly is going to be a potential playoff preview. Every game is one in which the other guys are the ones who have to show what they have.

With a three-game cushion in the NFC East, the Giants can drop two games and still probably be the top NFC seed. At the beginning of the season, no one predicted the Giants would be in this position. Seven weeks ago, when they got blasted by Cleveland, we wanted to know what was wrong with them.

The answer was delivered loud and clear Sunday in Arizona: not a darned thing.

It's the end of an era that wasn't consistently good or great, but was always entertaining. The game, and the columnists, are going to miss him.

© 2008 NBC

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