Nationals

Slumping, rested Giants get back to work

Slumping, rested Giants get back to work

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) Coming off a bye week and riding a two-game losing streak, the New York Giants realize it's time to turn things around.

While they have a one-game lead over Dallas in the NFC East, the defending Super Bowl champions (6-4) also have a brutal six-game closing stretch that starts Sunday night against the red-hot Green Bay Packers (7-3), winners of five in a row.

``It needs to start now,'' defensive captain Justin Tuck said Monday after the Giants returned to work following six days off. ``It definitely needs to start now. Our sense of urgency has to be great, we have to come out of this bye running. That is important for us leading up to the next couple of weeks to get that momentum swung back in our direction.''

It's not an unfamiliar position for Tom Coughlin's team. It also had a tough stretch run a year ago and managed to right things just in time to win its second title since 2007. The difference this year is that the Giants don't have two games remaining with the Cowboys. They have already split games with their rivals from Texas, and Dallas' schedule is easier the rest of the way.

``We've got a one-game lead and we just want to build up that,'' leading receiver Victor Cruz said. ``We control our own destiny just like you always do, every year potentially at this time. We just have to continue to win.''

The Giants are healthier following the rest. Receiver Hakeem Nicks, who has been slowed all season by foot and knee problems, said this is the best he has felt all season.

Safety Kenny Phillips, who has been sidelined with a knee injury since the end of September, also hopes this will be the week he returns.

Quarterback Eli Manning also sounded refreshed and once again downplayed any thought that his arm was tired in the weeks before the bye. He enters the Packers' game having not thrown a touchdown pass in three contests.

Running back Ahmad Bradshaw, who has battled foot problems most of the season, and guard Chris Snee (ankle) also worked out Monday.

``You don't get almost a week off very often with this job and during the season. It was nice to get away, but I think everybody was kind of itching to get back,'' Manning said. ``We're excited about where we stand right now, excited about this final stretch of the season and it should be fun.''

The Giants are very familiar with the Packers, having played Aaron Rodgers and Co. three times over the past two seasons. The one the Giants like to remember is the NFC divisional game last season, when New York stunned the top-seeded Packers 37-20 in Green Bay.

During the offseason, Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said the Giants didn't beat Green Bay as much as the Packers beat themselves. So, New York expects Green Bay to be ready to back that up.

``Like I said here last week, there is no panic,'' Snee said of the skid. ``We're all disappointed, sure, and maybe didn't enjoy the first couple of days of the bye as much as we wanted to. We're not panicked. We're excited about this game and we know they are going to come in (angry) about last year and we have to be ready for that intensity.''

Coach Tom Coughlin said his staff spent much of the bye self-scouting and trying to get the offense back on track after a couple of rough weeks.

``Six-game schedule. That's it, six-game season,'' Coughlin said. ``We're excited about that. Watched a lot of football yesterday, as you all did, I'm sure. Got excited, got upset, got excited, got all the emotions in play, but we're excited to be back on the field and seeing all of our guys again.

``Hopefully they're well rested and ready to go.''

After the Packers, the Giants will play Washington (4-6), New Orleans (5-5), Atlanta (9-1), Baltimore (8-2) and Philadelphia (3-7).

``We have been down this road before,'' Tuck said. ``I know the leadership and the veteran guys know what we are up against. We have come out of these situations on top more than not. But every year is different. We can't rely on the fact that we have the experience of being in these situations. We have to go out and play the game and play it at a high level to be successful.''

The Giants haven't done that in about a month. Before starting the slump, they edged Washington and Dallas, games they easily could have lost.

``It's about how you finish,'' Nicks said. ``We put emphasis on that. Finish the deal.''

They did that, and more, last year, winning the final six games, including the Super Bowl.

``This team feels that we can be the best team in the league when we're playing our style of football,'' Tuck said. ``It's just unfortunate we haven't played our style of football the last couple of weeks. We have to find a way to get back to playing because it's going to be needed.''

So, consider the confidence still intact.

``We've always been very confident,'' Tuck added. ``Sometimes maybe too confident - borderline cocky, a little bit. But our confidence, I don't think, will ever waver on this team.''

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Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

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Washington Nationals second half preview

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Washington Nationals second half preview

The second half of the 2018 MLB season gets underway tonight, and the Nats find themselves on the outside looking in at the playoff picture right now

In order for them to get past the Braves, Phillies, Diamondbacks, Brewers, etc., a number of things will have to go right in D.C. over the next 65-ish games.

A few questions will be hanging over the franchise these next few months, so to help break down what to look for during the Nats’ second half, I enlisted some fellow NBC Sports Washington writers to help me out, roundtable-style.

Without further ado, here are some second-half predictions.

Contributors:

Ryan Wormeli - @RyanWarmly
Cam Ellis - @KingsleyEllis
Michaela Johnson - @mjohnson262
Tyler Byrum - @theTylerByrum

Most important player in the second half:

Ryan Wormeli: Stephen Strasburg.

Everyone knows Max Scherzer is going to dominate as the Nats’ ace, and everyone knows Bryce Harper will hit home runs. In fact, assuming health, everyone knows the team will be pretty good at most spots. Strasburg, however, is the one that can take the Nats, to quote former Maryland coach Randy Edsall, from “good to great.” If he’s elite as their number two starter, this team is making the playoffs. Book it.

Cam Ellis: Bryce Harper.

Michaela Johnson: Bryce Harper, in the sense that it’s critical he gets hot again. Hopefully, his Home Run Derby win sparks something.

Tyler Byrum: Gio Gonzalez. 

There are a couple of ways to look at this. Of course, Bryce Harper needs to be better and Stephen Strasburg has to come back fully healthy from the disabled list for them to even have a chance. Even if those two do that though, it probably will not be enough to make a climb in the division. 

Last year Gonzalez had easily the second-best season of his career. With a 15-9 record and a 2.96 ERA in 2017, Gonzalez could easily be a No. 2 pitcher on half of the teams in the major. This season his ERA is sitting at 3.72 and has only won six of the 19 games he started. More than just looking at his stats, his outings are short too, making it to the seventh inning only three times this year. Additionally, the two-time All-Star is on pace to strike out the fewest batters this season than in the past decade.

Max Scherzer will get the Nationals a win once a week, hopefully Strasburg will get it done too, but Gonzalez is the Wild Card.

Nationals X-factor:

Ryan: An X-factor is someone whose play can dramatically impact the team’s success. If they’re successful, the team wins. If they play poorly, the team suffers.

This can apply to a number of players on the Nats, but I’m going to go with Juan Soto. He’s already exceeded expectations all season long, and helped keep the team afloat. They probably wouldn’t be within shouting distance of the postseason without the young phenom.

If Soto maintains his abnormally strong play while the rest of the team gets it going, the ceiling on this team is higher than any in the National League besides maybe the Dodgers and Cubs. If not, then they can still be okay, but probably not good enough.

Cam: Stephen Strasburg.

Michaela: Daniel Murphy. Since returning from injury he’s been solid, batting .324 in July. Davey Martinez has good discretion when it comes to resting vs. playing guys coming off injury, and I foresee a strong comeback for Murphy.

Tyler: Bryce Harper.

This is Harper’s team and it always will be with him on the roster. Yes, that .214 batting average is not going to win him a pennant, but Harper is so much more to this team. The 2018 Home Run Derby champion has to bring the fire to the Nationals night-in and night-out, whether or not he is able to get hits on the board. 

Some people want to question his leadership ability (we’re not going to touch that topic), but he needs to inspire his guys in the clubhouse.

Show us the Harper that we saw at the derby, even with a poor batting average, and we’ll see a different team out on the field in the second half.

Will the Nationals make the playoffs?

Ryan: I’m actually very on the fence about this question. I’m going to say yes, but it’s like 51-49. I just am too impressed with the Braves and Phillies, and the latter especially seems keen on making an aggressive move at the trade deadline.

Cam: Yes, BUT it'll be the wild card game at Nats Park and extremely stressful.

Michaela: If I was making a call based on what we’ve seen in the first half, obviously not. But I have high expectations for the second half based on a Harper resurgence and Murph recovery, so I’m going to say yes.

Tyler: Yes. There is too much talent on this roster for them not to. With Strasburg coming back it will be more than just Scherzer dealing out there. The Philadelphia Phillies should cool down at some point too and it will be a two-headed race between the Nats and the Atlanta Braves for the division.

More likely scenario: Bryce Harper is traded at the deadline OR he signs a long term extension in D.C.

Ryan: I figure everyone will say he signs a long term extension, and I’m not going to swim against the current here. It’s highly, highly unlikely that he’s traded at the deadline, but given the national conversation surrounding his future in the nation’s capital, I thought it was at least worth asking.

Cam: Signs an extension this offseason.

Michaela: He signs an extension, based solely on this quote.

Tyler: Signs extension. There is no way the Nationals will trade the leader of the team and the guy that just won the Home Run Derby on his own field. Sure it is fun to debate but that is the last thing that this clubhouse needs at this moment. 

On Monday night he showed his power and just why he is worth the lucrative extension.

However, trading Harper would be a typical case of #DCSports.

Who leads the Nats in batting average in the second half?

Ryan: Daniel Murphy. If he was never hurt entering the season, he could very well have been the betting favorite to lead the team in average all season long. He’s far enough removed from the Disabled List at this point to feel comfortable taking a shot on his pure hitting talent.

Cam: Anthony Rendon

Michaela: Juan Soto

Tyler: Trea Turner. He is due for a turnaround and none of the pressure is on him. There might also be some extra juice after his All-Star team snubbing. 

Biggest/most important trade deadline acquisition

Ryan: Going to go out on a limb here and say the Nats in a bit of a panic move but one that’s completely defensible, do what it takes to pry JT Realmuto away from the woeful Marlins.

Cam: Another starting pitcher. It's Matt Harvey Time!

Michaela: *fingers crossed* Starting pitching.

Tyler: Manny Machado, Dodgers. This is a no-brainer. Once written off a decimated by injury, the Los Angeles Dodgers are back to being a World Series contender once again. Sitting at the top of the division, with no one in the National League pulling away, Machado will put the Dodgers back as the team to chance.

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Need to Know: The best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

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Need to Know: The best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Friday, July 20, six days before the Washington Redskins start training camp.  

The five best cornerbacks the Redskins will face in 2018

This week we’ll be looking at the best of what the Redskins will face during the 2018 season. Today the cornerbacks are up. They are roughly ranked by Pro Football Focus’ coverage metrics, although I did some juggling based on interception totals and other factors. Prior to this, we looked at the best teamsreceivers, running backspass rushers, and quarterbacks

1. Patrick Peterson, Cardinals—The athletic Peterson has been All-Pro three times and has been selected to the Pro Bowl in each of his seven years in the league. He hasn’t had a big interception total since he got seven in 2012, but that is mostly because quarterbacks only throw his way about once every ten snaps he is in coverage. 

2. Jalen Ramsey, Jaguars—I could easily have ranked Ramsey over Peterson. I went with Peterson because he’s been doing it for longer and he’s only 28. Ramsey has justified his No. 5 selection in the 2016 draft. His long arms and ball skills serve him well. He has the size to defend the bigger receivers and the athleticism to be effective against shifty and speedy receivers. 

3. A.J. Bouye, Jaguars—If Alex Smith tries to throw away from Ramsey he will encounter trouble on the other side. It’s been trendy to say that Bouye is underrated for so long he’s in danger of becoming overrated. But he’s not there yet. Bouye was one of four full-time (played at least 60% of snaps) cornerbacks who did not allow a touchdown pass last year and he had by far the most plays in coverage. 

4. Malcolm Butler, Titans—If the Brady-Belichick Patriots don’t win another Super Bowl, the coach’s decision to keep Butler on the bench as Nick Foles shredded the New England secondary will be marked as the end of that era. Maybe Butler isn’t good enough to have made a difference, but it would have been interesting to see. He’s with the Titans now and he will give Smith problems in December. 

5. Marshon Lattimore, Saints—Last year’s defensive rookie of the year plays an aggressive style both in press man coverage and when tackling receivers who have caught the ball. An ankle injury sent him out of the game against the Redskins early, perhaps one of the reasons why Kirk Cousins was able to light them up for 322 yards and three touchdowns. 

Best of the rest: Desmond Trufant, Falcons; Brent Grimes, Bucs; Logan Ryan, Titans;k Jaire Alexander (rookie), Packers

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler

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Timeline 

Days until:

—Training camp starts (7/26) 6
—Preseason opener @ Patriots (8/9) 20
—Roster cut to 53 (9/1) 43

The Redskins last played a game 201 days ago. They will open the 2018 NFL season at the Cardinals in 51 days. 

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