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Same as last year, the NFC East is up for grabs

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Same as last year, the NFC East is up for grabs

PHILADELPHIA (AP) There's two weeks left in the NFL season and the NFC East is up for grabs among three teams.

Sound familiar?

It was the same situation last year with the New York Giants, Dallas and Philadelphia fighting it out. Now, RGIII and the Washington Redskins are in the mix while the Eagles try to play spoiler.

That scenario worked out nicely for the Giants in 2011. They won two straight do-or-die regular-season games, three more in the conference playoffs and then beat New England for the second time in five years in the Super Bowl.

Can they do it again?

``These are the circumstances you want to be in,'' two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli Manning said. ``You want to be fighting to make it in the playoffs and that's just football and you understand it's tough to make the playoffs. You've got to work. You've got to win games. You've got to win important games and this is a chance.''

The Giants, Redskins and Cowboys each are 8-6 and control their playoff fate. Win and they're in - either as the division champion or a wild card. The Redskins clinch the East if they win out because they hold tiebreaker advantages.

``Every game we go into now we believe we can win and that has to be your mindset,'' coach Mike Shanahan said. ``When you win close games, you expect it.''

The Cowboys' division hopes came down to the final game at New York last year. The Giants won 31-14. Dallas could be in the same position this season, playing for first place in Week 17. Only difference is the game is at Washington.

``I think our football team has developed that mental toughness that no matter what's going on during the game, as bad as it may look or whatever, we get to that fourth quarter, we have a shot to win the game,'' quarterback Tony Romo said after an overtime win against Pittsburgh. ``We believe that we can do that. We have had a lot of comeback wins this year.''

Here's a breakdown for the top three teams in the East:

- The Giants were sitting comfortably atop the standings at 6-2, but have lost four of six in the second half. They've been a Jekyll-and-Hyde team over the past month, alternating impressive wins with lackluster losses. A convincing 38-10 romp over Green Bay on Nov. 25 was followed up with a 17-16 loss to the Redskins. The Giants rebounded with a resounding 52-27 rout over New Orleans only to come back with an abysmal effort in a 34-0 loss at Atlanta.

``Unfortunately, we've had bad games in the past,'' coach Tom Coughlin said. ``We have used the theme of consistency. Consistency two-fold: one, in terms of our execution and our performance, but the second thing is, the passion and so-on and so-forth that we bring to each and every game knowing the circumstances. Our team does know the circumstances very well.''

The Giants entered their last two games last year off a disappointing loss to Washington. Then they beat the Jets to keep their playoff hopes alive and whipped Dallas to secure the division title.

Repeating won't be easy.

The Giants visit the reeling Baltimore Ravens (9-5) on Sunday. The Ravens already clinched their fifth consecutive trip to the playoffs, but have lost three in a row and are desperate to straighten things out.

``This is as important a game as you can have, this upcoming game, and our mindset is the playoffs have started,'' Manning said. ``This is it. This game right here is huge. It's the most important game and it's a must-win game for us.''

That mentality has been a proven formula for success for the Giants.

``We can draw on the experience. We did a year ago, six times in a row,'' Coughlin said. ``That's kind of what we have to do here. If we're going to have an opportunity to get into the playoffs at all, we've got to win the next two games. Sort of the way it was a year ago.''

The Giants finish up with a home game against Philadelphia (4-10). The Eagles seem like a pushover, but they beat New York in Week 4.

- The Redskins were counted out by their own coach when they were 3-6. But Robert Griffin III has them in position to earn their first playoff berth since 2007. Their five straight wins include victories over the Cowboys, Giants and Ravens. Even with RGIII sidelined by a knee injury, the Redskins rolled over Cleveland with another rookie, Kirk Cousins, at quarterback.

Griffin could be back for this week's game at Philadelphia. These aren't the same Eagles who looked pathetic in a 31-6 loss at FedEx Field last month. But these clearly aren't the same Redskins, who started their winning streak with that lopsided victory against Philadelphia. A win over the lowly Eagles would set up a potential all-or-nothing matchup against Dallas.

``I told our football team at the beginning of the year that, `You guys don't know it, but you guys are a lot better than you think you are,''' Shanahan said. ``They've obviously been proving that now.''

- The Cowboys were 3-5 midway through the schedule and headed nowhere before winning five of six and three in a row. They've overcome tragedy - the death of practice squad player Jerry Brown - and a slew of injuries, particularly on defense. The wins haven't been pretty lately, but they count the same. Two more and Dallas gets in.

That injury-depleted defense has a difficult test coming up against Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints (6-8) on Sunday. The Saints snapped a three-game losing streak with a 41-0 win over Tampa Bay that knocked the Buccaneers out of playoff contention last Sunday.

``We've got to focus on the task, and the task is to beat the New Orleans Saints,'' coach Jason Garrett said. ``They had a great win against Tampa, so we've got to get our preparation right. We'll do it day by day and hopefully put our best foot forward on Sunday.''

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Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

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USA Today Sports

Offensive, defensive and rookie of the year awards for Ravens' 2017 season

The Ravens' season had it's ups and down, but out of it came some bright spots.

The defense continued to prove dominate and the offense found its groove during the second half of the season, but who stood out the most?

Offensive MVP: RB Alex Collins

Collins was a late preseason pickup after being cut by the Seattle Seahawks and Ravens fans are grateful they let him go. After new acquisition Danny Woodhead injured his hamstring on the first drive in Week 1 and Terrance West injured his calf Week 5 in Oakland, Allen emerged as a saving grace. He finished the season with 973 yards, six touchdowns and 212 attempts averaging 4.6 yards-per-carry. His longest rushing attempt was 50-yards against the Steelers in Week 4, and then in Week 14, rushed 120-yards on their defense. 

RELATED: RAVENS' 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT ROUNDUP

Defensive MVP: OLB Terrell Suggs

This one was a toss up between Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley, but considering the level at which Sizzle is playing at in his 15th season, his 2017 performance is MVP worthy.

The 35-year old finished the season with 49 combined tackles, 12 assist, 11 sacks and four forced fumbles. Suggs ranks 11th in the league in sacks and was voted to his seventh Pro Bowl, something that should be expected from the leader of a defense that finished the regular season ranked sixth in points allowed. During the Ravens' Week 12 matchup, Suggs proved he doesn't age when he strip sacked Texans QB Tom Savage with 4:44 remaining in the fourth, shifting the momentum back to the Ravens who were clinging on to a 23-16 win. He's suffered two Achilles tears and a torn bicep over the last 5.5 seasons but has remained Hall of Fame worthy. As of right now, T-Sizzle has no plans of retiring. 

RELATED: FIVE OFFSEASON QUESTIONS RAVENS MUST ANSWER

Rookie of the Year: CB Marlon Humphrey

The Ravens' 2017 first-round pick stepped up to the plate when starting CB Jimmy Smith's season was over after suffering a torn Achilles in Week 13. The rookie out of Alabama finished the season with 34 combined tackles, four assists and two interceptions. Pro Football Focus graded Humphrey the fifth-best cover corner in the league. QBs only had a 53.5 rating when they threw in his direction. PFF also gave Humphrey a 82.7 rookie rating. 

Humphrey will continue to prove his worth during the 2018 season if Jimmy Smith is still recovering come Week 1.

RELATED: IMPORTANT 2018 OFFSEASON DATES

Special Teams MVP: P Sam Koch

Koch is in his 12th season with the Ravens and he's continuing to prove how efficient that leg of his is. He had a season long of 67-yards and placed 40 of 84 punts inside the 20-yard line. Koch's accuracy earned him AFC special teams player of the week not once, but twice this season. The first came in Week 12 against the Houston Texans when he not only placed five punts inside the 20-yard line, but also faked a punt and threw a 22-yard pass to Chris Moore for a first down. The second honor came in Week 15 against the Cleveland Browns after placing four punts inside the 20-yard line, three of them inside the five. While neither Koch or kicker Justin Tucker were named to the Pro Bowl, Ravens fans never break a sweat when the game is in their hands, or should we say, legs.

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Important 2018 offseason dates for Baltimore Ravens

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USA Today Sports

Important 2018 offseason dates for Baltimore Ravens

Mark your calendars now because the Ravens are already gearing up for their 2018 season.

From the Pro-Bowl all the way to the start of the regular season, here are the key dates.

January 28th: Pro Bowl, Orlando, Fla. 

Safety Eric Weddle, outside linebacker Terrell Suggs and inside linebacker C.J. Mosley will all be in attendance. In addition, Suggs and Weddle were named starters. The game will take place at Camping World Stadium. Kickoff is at 3:00 p.m. ET on ABC and ESPN.

February 3rd: Pro Football Hall of Fame 2018 Class announced

This will be a very important day for Ray Lewis and the Ravens organization as Lewis waits to here if he will be sealed into football history, one day prior to Super Bowl LII. 

February 5th: Waiver system takes effect

The waiver system allows players' contracts or a club's NFL rights to a player available to other clubs in the league. Upon doing this, the other 31 teams can place a claim to obtain him or waive their chance. During this 24- hour period, once a club waives a player it can not take the player back or change his status. Assignments are based upon draft order until the third week of the regular season. If a player does not get claimed, he becomes a free agent. 

February 20th:  First day to franchise or transition tag a player

February 27th- March 5th: NFL Scouting Combine, Indianapolis, IN

This seven day period will be crucial for General Manager Ozzie Newsome to get a good look at potential Ravens.

March 6th: Deadline to franchise or transition tag a player

March 12-14th: Teams are allowed to contact and negotiate with agents of players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents

March 14th: Start of new league year at 4:00 p.m. ET

At this time, all 2017 player contracts expire meaning teams can begin seeking and signing free agents. Ravens free agents include Mike Wallace, Benjamin Watson, Ryan Jensen, Terrance West, James Hurst, Michael Campanaro, Steven Johnson, Ryan Mallet, Brandon Boykin, Crockett Gillmore, Brent Urban and Luke Bowanko.

March 25-28th: Owners Meeting, Orlando, FL

April 16th: Voluntary OTA's can begin

April 20th: Deadline for restricted FA's to sign offer sheets

April 26th-28th: 2018 NFL Draft, Arlington, TX

The Ravens will be heading down to Arlington, Texas in hopes of picking up their next franchise player. Positions needed include wide receiver, tight end, quarterback and outside linebacker.

May 4-7th or 11-14th: Potential three-day rookie minicamp

May 31-June 2nd: Ravens Beach Bash, Ocean City, MD

July 16th: Deadline to get long-term deal done with designated franchise tag player 

Mid-Late July: Training camp begins

August 2nd: Hall of Fame Game, Canton, OH

August 4th: Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony, Canton, OH

Again, keep this date marked as it could be the day Ray Lewis is inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

September 6th: Start of regular season