The New York Giants are the best team in the NFL right now.
The Washington Redskins are the league's most impressive team.
A distinction without a difference?
Let me explain.
The Giants are 4-0, one of two undefeated teams in the league. One of those wins came against the Redskins. Going by the adage of that old Giants coach Bill Parcells, you are what your record says you are.
However, it's fair to say that the Giants have yet to be tested. Other than the Redskins, their opponents are from among the dregs of the NFL. Their three wins since the opener have come against the Rams, one of the worst teams in recent memory, the Bengals, the poster children for NFL futility, and the Seahawks, who still are in contention in the NFC West despite their 1-3 record. That Seattle win represents the lone 2008 victory among New York's three victims since they beat Washington.
But it's not like the Giants handpicked their opponents. The NFL, not Tom Coughlin, set up their schedule. Their performance shouldn't be downgraded because of who they have faced. And on top of that they beat the Redskins, so I have no problem with anyone who puts the Giants atop the Redskins in any sort of power ranking. They only can beat the teams that line up in front of them.
While the Giants have been knocking down tomato cans, the Redskins have gone 4-1 against teams with a combined total of 15 wins. Not only is that a significantly stronger schedule than the Giants have faced, it's also tougher than the road that the 4-1 Cowboys (opponents have a combined 9 wins, four of those belonging to the Redskins) and 4-1 Panthers (11 opponent wins).
If you don't want to believe me about this, go see what Jeff Sagrin says on USA Today. According to his rankings, the Redskins have faced the toughest schedule, the Giants have faced the easiest. Sagrin rates the opponents of Dallas and Carolina at #21 and #20 respectively.
If you want to go to the AFC and put the 5-0 Titans in the conversation, that's fine but consider their 31st-ranked schedule first. The 4-1 Steelers? Sagrin has their schedule at #29.
What makes the Redskins record even more impressive is the fact that it hasn't exactly been smooth sailing for them, going back to last January when Joe Gibbs retired unexpectedly. After the Giants game it was suggested that Gibbs' replacement as head coach, Jim Zorn, needed to go get some seasoning at someplace like DeMatha High and that he should take Jason Campbell with him.
Three of their best defensive players, Shawn Springs, Marcus Washington, and Jason Taylor, each has missed two games. All three of them were out in Philadelphia as the Redskins had to overcome a 14-point deficit after eight minutes of play. The Skins trailed New Orleans by nine in the fourth quarter before coming back to win.
To summarize the Redskins' resume—a 4-1 record against the toughest schedule in the NFL, overcoming injuries, turmoil, and some sizeable point deficits to get there. Nobody out there has done anything that impressive.
The title of the NFL's Most Impressive in early October and a five spot will get you a latte at Starbucks. There is a long way to go and I'll talk about the road ahead later this week.
But for right now, all things considered, that's pretty damn impressive.