Mike Tirico will call Thursday's Eagles-Gants game at Lincoln Financial Field, along with color analyst Cris Collinsworth and sideline reporter Heather Cox. As Tirico prepared to come to town, he took some time to chat about the game and his whirlwind first year at NBC.
Did anyone see the Giants being this good?
I don't think this good. When you take a step back and look at the amount of money that they've put into their defense, and the free agency acquisitions, this is what they hoped to see, and they have. And that's the reason they're 10-4.
They won their last two games really because of two reasons: the defense and Eli-to-Odell. The Manning-Beckham combination has come through for the big play in each of the last two games, and that's been a difference-maker for them. And their defense has limited two playoff-bound teams to one touchdown.
That is probably a bit of a surprise, that they're sitting on 10 wins here with a great chance to get to 12. I thought they'd be better, but didn't think they'd be this much better.
Is it fair to believe the Giants still have a shot at winning the division? They'd have to beat the Eagles on Thursday and win at Washington next week, and hope the Cowboys lose at home to Detroit on Monday and at Philadelphia after that. The odds of all that happening seem slim, but not impossible.
You would say probably, but if the Giants are good, Detroit's not all that far away. If you watched the game [New York's 17-6 win over Detroit at home Sunday], the Lions were in that game throughout. They fumbled inside the 5. You're not looking at that game and saying one team is drastically better than the other.
Matthew Stafford is from that area [north Texas], and it's always a big game for him to go down there. I wouldn't guarantee that the Cowboys are going to walk it - it's not like they're playing the Browns, you know? There's some doubt, but limited doubt. I think the smart money is looking at the Giants as being a 5-seed if they can win one of these last two games.
Who do you think snatches the No. 6 spot? I don't think that many people thought before the season that the NFC East had a legitimate shot at getting both Wild Cards.
I think whoever doesn't win the NFC North, between Detroit and Green Bay, has a slight edge. But Tampa and Washington are right in the mix. At least two good teams are going to miss in the NFC, I would say.
You watch Tampa on Sunday night at Dallas - if Dallas has the best record in the league and is one of the top teams, Tampa is not far off right now, the way they've played. Then with Washington, they've performed in enough games where you'd say there's good quality there.
I would say the two teams that are going to get left out probably will look a little better than the teams that get left out in the AFC. I think we've seen the strength of the NFC as we've gone through the season. A couple of teams that could win on that Wild Card weekend will probably be watching.
It feels like it's been a little while since the NFC was stronger than the AFC in the way it is right now. Maybe that's because of the strength of teams like the Patriots and Colts, but it seems that the AFC has been the better conference for a while now. Is that starting to even out?
Maybe. It's been top-heavy. I don't know why, but the Patriots don't get appreciated. I guess because some folks dislike them. Let's just step back and appreciate 13 division titles in 14 years. Something like seven or eight years off [for] the first weekend [of the playoffs], earning the bye. This is one of the most dominant runs in the history of the league. They set a record for consecutive divisions won with their win Sunday.
So of course it's going to feel like the AFC has controlled the attention, the dominant position, because they've had the best team. They've had a dynasty-type team over these 15 years. And Denver, the last three seasons, the quality of their defense has spoken up as well. Maybe that's why it feels that way.
The NFC has kind of circled back. And when I look at it, I look at the quarterback position. Russell Wilson has emerged and shown he belongs with those guys. Obviously, what Dak Prescott has done this year. Matt Ryan [in Atlanta] and Matthew Stafford [in Detroit] have had excellent seasons this year. So you're developing a better list of quarterbacks, with a guy like Jameis Winston [in Tampa]. I didn't mention [New Orleans' Drew] Brees. In Carolina, you obviously have the MVP of the league last year [Cam Newton].
I'd say when you look at it, you've got the better depth of quarterbacks who are franchise guys, and some young ones there in the NFC. So perhaps we are seeing that pendulum swing a little bit. [Peyton] Manning retires. A couple of good [AFC] teams are looking for that quarterback. In the NFC I feel like more teams are set at that position, and maybe that's why we sense that the NFC is a conference on the move to become the better one in the league.
You've gone through a lot of quarterbacks there. Where is Carson Wentz on the list? I think about that not just in the context of where he ranks, but all the hype he got coming into the year. So did Jared Goff. Well, Wentz is 5-9, Goff is 4-10 in Los Angeles, and Dak Prescott is 12-2 in Dallas.
You've got to look at how much they've played. Clearly, Carson [compared to Goff] has had the better rookie season. We know that Year 1 is won by Carson Wentz in that battle.
Every time I've seen him play, I'm more impressed. The way he has handled this season as he has gone through it. The receiving corps needs some depth, and he has still played very well. The changes on the offensive line, especially at the tackle positions during the year. Yet he has shown the ability to hang in games, hang in plays, make plays.
All the things you've seen, you feel like, "Okay, not only do you have the right guy, you've got a guy who's going to grow and take this team in a better direction." So if I was an Eagles fan, I would feel like, "We've got our quarterback here going forward." And what a good choice it ended up being, with the trade [to move up in the draft], and getting him in there, that experience. Now you're going to grow off that in year two with a good coach.
When I think about Prescott, obviously it's awfully hard for any player who's on the Cowboys to not get hype and attention. And he was a really good player at Mississippi State. But he came into the league in the shadow of Wentz and Goff.
And he should have. He was a fourth-round pick.
Did that help him?
When you get picked early in the draft, you're going to a team that's not very good. I know Dallas' record wasn't good last year, but that offensive line is an elite offensive line. They lost their quarterback [Tony Romo] - he couldn't play last year. So [Prescott] gained as good a running back as we've seen come into the league in the last five or six years [Ezekiel Elliott], and the best offensive line in the league. Now, that doesn't take anything away from the quarterback, and his growth during the year has been obvious.
I mean, gosh, they've lost two games by a total of four points. So I think not only was he a beneficiary of not having the pressure of being No. 1 or 2 overall, but it was working in his favor that he has the best running back to come out in a while, and the best offensive line to support him.
Now, having said that, as he's gone on, he has had to handle the very unique pressure in the league of being the quarterback of the highest-profile team in the league in the Cowboys. And he's handled that really well. Every time there has been a little adversity, he's bounced back. So take nothing away from him.
Maybe he didn't come into camp at the end of July with the same type of expectations or pressure, but he certainly has faced pressures that Carson hasn't seen yet, or Goff, and they won't see for a while, until their teams become playoff caliber-teams.
You mentioned the quality of Dallas' offensive line. The Eagles had a very good thing going early in the season, and then Lane Johnson got suspended for using performance-enhancing drugs. That clearly had a big impact. Did you think the impact would be this big?
When you lose a tackle like that, it's got to be some sort of an impact - not just on your team but on your whole organization. Those offensive tackles, they are the ones who make such a difference for you in everything you do in a week-in, week-out basis offensively.
When you get into a situation where you lose someone who is, maybe not a big part of the fabric of the team, but is keeping things consistent up front there, that's going to set you back. The lessons here are: you really need to develop some depth in your offensive line, and make sure that depth is ready to step in, because we saw what happened with Dallas. When they go through an injury, they're able to plug somebody in and still get the job done up front. The Giants have solidified their offensive line this year.
So to the question specifically of did I think Lane Johnson's absence would be this significant - I thought it would be important because of what he's been over the years. But when [Halapoulivaati] Vaitai comes in and plays a little bit and then you lose him for a stretch, that's going to impact your team. You're down to a third right tackle.
People know in this league too well where to find the cheese, where to find the easy opportunity. It's just hard to cover that up as you go through a full season.
What do you expect the atmosphere to be like at Lincoln Financial Field on Thursday? The Eagles are out of playoff contention, but they have a chance to play spoiler, and concluding the season against the Giants and the Cowboys, there probably aren't two teams whose campaigns Eagles fans would more like to spoil.
The bad news is you can't help yourself. The good news is you might be able to ruin the party for the teams you dislike the most. That definitely is part of it. It is funny, because here we're going to look at the Eagles missing the Eagles for the third straight year, and you have to go back to the end of the Ray Rhodes era and the start of the Andy Reid regime to find the last time that happened for Philadelphia.
Yet I think most Eagles fans can see a positive in this season. That's rare in a season where you aren't going to increase the win total. But you have a good feeling. There's a quarterback here and a head coach who most people like. Now, there will be pressure on in year two to be a little bit better, but there's definitely a transition from the type of team that Chip Kelly built here to where to Doug [Pederson] is going to go, and the future of this team.
This was a good first step, because you found the hardest piece to find, I think, in a quarterback. Now, as he grows, can you put the people around him? I think that's made it a more positive feeling around the Eagles than a 5-9 Philadelphia team missing the playoffs for the third straight year would otherwise get the fans to emote about.
I would guess the atmosphere is going to be, "Let's hope we go out and see a good game and ruin the Giants' night, and start the Christmas week well for Philadelphia fans" - who I'm sure, especially the older fans with kids, have more than a few green No. 11 jerseys waiting under the tree. You can be sure there are a whole bunch of kids who are going to be running around with No. 11 jerseys on December 26.
I've got a few non-football-related questions too. Have you had a day off since moving from ESPN to NBC? You've done so many things since then.
You know what, I've had one or two here and there. Sunday was a good one - doing a Saturday night game, I snuck home for a day. It was nice to be home and watch some football, and we had a birthday party and a Christmas party all rolled into one here. There have been very few Sundays during the NFL season when I've been home over the last 11 years, so it was kind of fun.
If my memory is right, you worked at the European soccer championships as your last assignment for ESPN, then went to the British Open golf tournament, then came the Olympics, and after leaving Rio you went straight into working on Notre Dame football and the NFL.
There was a week in between the British Open and going to Rio, I guess, but you're right - most of my summer was spent overseas, between those events. We went right from Rio right to preseason NFL games. I've got some duties with the Board of Trustees at Syracuse University, so I've made some trips up there in between. And then cranking along here during football season.
I snuck in the Ryder Cup and the Breeders' Cup along the way. It's been a sprint, but it's been a good sprint, that's for sure.
There are broadcasters who specialize in certain sports and there are ones who can do everything. You've been able to jump around all these different sports for much of your career.
Does it take any particular skill set, other than wanting to work really hard and study everything, to be able to move easily between golf, horse racing, football and hosting the Olympics?
A really patient family. And I say that not lightly. There's always a game on that you need to watch and keep up to speed with. The appreciation there is significant too.
On the professional side of it, it's the way I grew up. I grew up with great admiration for Jim McKay and Marv Albert and Bob Costas, and you'd see them comfortable in every role. And I think if you even go back to the 70s, when I was a kid, most of the sportscasters did multiple events. So you saw Keith Jackson do not just college football but baseball, even the NBA, the variety of sports that "Wide World" provided. Look at what Al Michaels has done over his career: basketball, baseball, obviously football, obviously hockey with the 1980 Olympics.
Those are the people who I admired as I was growing up and found this business appealing. I just took that cue from them, that we're not necessarily specialists. We just need to be good storytellers and get the most out of the people we're with. That has led to my variety of sports over time.
Are there things that you haven't done yet that you want to do?
At some point I'd love to do baseball, even if it's just a few games. I just have always admired the ability to call the game and tell the stories. That's what appeals to me most at the end of the day: the personal aspect of these things. So down the line, that's something I'd love to do that I haven't done.
But I've been able to check most of the boxes of things that I'd like to do, and I've been very lucky. Now you're just getting really selfish, where you hope one day to call a Super Bowl and those types of things. I've been lucky to check most of the boxes on my dreams as a sportscaster along the way here.
Once the NFL season ends, what will be on your schedule? You've done a lot of tennis before, so might you go to the French Open? Might you get involved with Premier League soccer coverage?
We're still trying to figure all of that out. Definitely golf for sure. I'll be involved with our golf coverage between NBC and things at the Golf Channel. We'll get that ironed out and figure out what my other roles are going to be during the spring.
A big part of the allure of NBC for me was not just the NFL and the Olympic Games, it was the other things that are here too, like the horse racing, like the golf, like the opportunities in tennis. Obviously, soccer coverage I've been a part of [hosting ESPN's World Cup and European Championships studio coverage].
There are a lot of things that I've done in my past and things that I hope to do. Once we are able to get to the finish line here in January with the [NFL] playoff games, it will be nice to kind of catch my breath here a little bit after this seven-month sprint, and then figure out exactly what we're going to look at between now and the restart of football season in August. I'm almost afraid to say that.
I hope to be on with those guys. I was in the original Panic Room, if you will, in Rio back during the  World Cup. In the fiasco of a Brazil-Germany semifinal game [a 7-1 Germany rout of the host nation], there was an unbelievable, torrential rainstorm. As if a message was being sent. It knocked out our power in the main studio, so Alexi Lalas and I hosted halftime of that match from the Panic Room.
I'm a Panic Room veteran. So I look forward to hopefully being invited to join the guys at some point. My kids, my son especially, are soccer players, and I've got a picture of the two of them in the Panic Room with those guys. It's one of the cute pictures of the kids I've been able to capture along the way.
Those guys are great. What they have carved out is really neat, and they've got a very unique way of sharing their love of the sport. I enjoy watching them whenever I can.
Your family is in Michigan, right?
We live in Michigan, yes. My wife is from here. We moved here 17 years ago now, and this is home for us. We're looking at a lot of snow. We live not too far from the University of Michigan, although both my wife and I are Syracuse alums and I'm heavily involved in the school there - proudly so. College towns are great places to live, and Ann Arbor is right at the top of that list.
Any Red Wings fans in the family?
Me. I don't cover hockey, haven't been assigned to the NHL yet, so I can feel great comfort and no professional conflict in rooting for the Red Wings and the Tigers. Those are the two teams other than Syracuse that I enjoy rooting for the most. The last year at the Joe [Louis Arena] - I'm hoping they [the Red Wings] can make a playoff run in the last few months of the season... It's time for it to go, but hopefully it will leave with a bunch of really cool memories.