The NFC East is not quite an embarrassment to humanity, but it very well could produce a division winner with a sub-.500 record, and though this happened last year with the Panthers in the NFC South and in 2010 with the Seahawks in the NFC West, four of the NFL’s most popular teams—and some storied franchises at that—are involved this year. So, apparently, it has to be a bigger deal.
But after a 3-1 record in key week for teams vying for the postseason, the NFC East showed they’re not an embarrassment. Yeah, they’re bad, but so what? They’re also kind of fun. Not fun to watch, mind you. Some of these teams are actually quite painful to watch, but they are fun to talk about.
After the Giants outlasted the Dolphins on Monday night, leaving New York in a first-place tie with the Redskins and Eagles, it’s time to talk about who is actually going to win this division and slingshot into the playoffs like a shooting star that’s sputtering and out of gas only midway through its journey across the sky. Because dammit, somebody has to win the NFC East, and it still could be any one of these subpar squads.
Washington Redskins (6-7): If, before the season began, you could predict which team almost certainly would NOT win the division, Washington most likely would have been your pick. The fact Jay Gruden’s squad is in the title hunt is, simply put, quite impressive…and rather surprising.
Why they could win it: Of any team in the division, the Redskins have what should be the easiest schedule for the final three games. They face the Bills next week (the Eagles meet the Cardinals, the Giants battle the undefeated Panthers and the Cowboys get the tough Jets), and they control their own destiny. Win the final three games, and nobody else in the division can win the title.
Why they won’t: The Redskins have alternated wins and losses every week since Week 6, so if that pattern continues, they’ll finish 7-9 and will need some help to make the postseason. The Skins’ final two division games of the season (vs. the Eagles and Cowboys) will be on the road. Plus, who won’t be expecting a Daniel Snyder-owned team to screw up when it counts most?
Chances of Redskins taking the NFC East title: 45 percent
Philadelphia Eagles (6-7): With a two-game winning streak, the Eagles are the hottest team in the division, upsetting the Patriots in Week 13 and squeaking past the Bills on Sunday. All of sudden, Philadelphia has a shot at getting to .500, and perhaps even surpassing the mark. Considering how bad they looked while losing four out of five before their winning streak, that’s fairly amazing.
Why they could win it: After allowing 45 points in back-to-back weeks vs. the likes of the Buccaneers and Lions, Philadelphia’s defense has calmed, allowing an average of 24 points in the past two games. Not great, but better. What also has been better is the leadership and the play of quarterback Sam Bradford since he returned from injury. Finally, he’s playing like a, gulp, franchise quarterback.
Why they won’t: Philadelphia has a tougher final three weeks than the Redskins. If the Eagles lose this Sunday to the Cardinals — for my money, Arizona is the NFC’s best bet for a Super Bowl winner — they’d need to beat Washington in Week 16 and still probably would need help to win the division.
Chances of Eagles taking the NFC East title: 39 percent
New York Giants (6-7): Eli Manning had his best game of the season vs. the Dolphins on Monday night, and running back Rashad Jennings did the same as the Giants won a hugely important game.
Why they could win it: Getting that victory on the road vs. Miami was a huge confidence-builder, and it snapped New York’s three-game losing streak. Despite their record, the Giants usually enter the fourth quarter with a lead. They just happen to lose more of those contests than anyone ever thought possible. But holding on for the win vs. Miami could propel New York into an improbable playoff appearance.
Why they won’t: The Giants have the toughest schedule left of any of the NFC East teams, facing Carolina, going to Minnesota and matching up with Philadelphia in the finale. Despite Monday’s win, the Giants could lose out and fall below Dallas into the division’s basement. As far as tiebreakers are concerned with the rest of the division, the Giants are not in a great spot, since they don’t own a head-to-head advantage with Washington or Philadelphia and have a worst division record than either squad.
Chances of Giants taking the NFC East title: 14 percent
Dallas Cowboys (4-9): Entering Week 14, the Cowboys, at 4-8, were only one game out of first place. One stinkin’ game. Unfortunately for Dallas, it had to travel to Green Bay to face the Packers last Sunday. If Tony Romo were still around, perhaps the Cowboys would have had a chance, but Romo is so uninterested in playing for this team that he broke his collarbone for a second time this season just so he could sit out the rest of the year.
Why they could win it: You’re telling me there’s a chance? Yes, there’s a chance, though the path to Dallas making the playoffs is nearly an impossibility. It’s so unlikely that it’s not worth going through the scenario that would give Dallas a division title. Because it ain’t happening. (But there’s a chance.)
Why they won’t win it: Uh, because of everything we just wrote in the paragraph above.
Chances of the Cowboys taking the NFC East title: 1 percent, but hey, still a chance.