Cowboys, Eagles best of bad NFC East

With the Giants and Redskins both reeling with a combined 1-10 record, the dreadful NFC East appears to be a two-team race. The Eagles (3-3) and Cowboys (3-3) are apparently the class of this division, which is to say they are far less awful than the aforementioned teams.

Both teams have the capacity to be explosive on offense, but each defense gives up a staggering amount of yards. These two organizations are at much different places in the grand scheme of things. Eagles head coach Chip Kelly would be a hero in Philly if he somehow leads his team to a division title. It’s hard for anyone to believe that Eagles fans could be patient, but I believe they were prepared to be OK with a 6-10 record…as long as the team was showing improvement. The pitiful state of the Giants and Redskins may have opened the door to higher expectations, but Kelly will have a grace period no matter what happens.

The same can’t be said for Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett. Playing in such a bad division could serve as the backdrop for his firing at the end of the season. Even though the benevolent Jerry Jones reserves the right to celebrate “moral victories,” he knows what sort of opportunity the Cowboys have. He respects what Kelly’s trying to accomplish in Philly, but rightly or wrongly, he believes the Cowboys have better personnel. He also believes there’s $55 million (guaranteed) reasons the Cowboys will have the best quarterback on the field Sunday. One of the reasons Jerry was able to overlook Tony Romo’s interception late in the loss to the Broncos is because he thought his play in the first 58 minutes helped justify the enormous contract. The Cowboys owner famously said this past offseason that he wanted Romo to invest Peyton Manning-like hours at Valley Ranch. Seeing Romo go toe-to-toe with Manning gave Jerry a huge sense of pride. And that continued this week when he was asked a hypothetical question about how’d he feel about Romo if the Cowboys are trailing by four points late in the fourth quarter Sunday.

“I’m expecting to win it,” Jones said on 105.3. “I hadn’t booked it, but we had ’em against Denver. And we’ve got a quarterback that’s the best in the business in the fourth quarter. He’s the best. He can make it happen when it’s not there. Other than being ahead with the ball, there’s no one I’d rather have at this time than to have Romo trying to get us down the field in a short period of time.”

There is actually data to support Jones’ “best in the business” claim, but Romo’s poor decisions late in games are so memorable (Jets, Lions, Redskins, Broncos…) that they make us forget about his strong finishes.

Kelly doesn’t have a quarterback in Romo’s league right now. Michael Vick, who is questionable for Sunday’s game because of a hamstring injury, is too erratic to carry the Eagles at this point. Second-year quarterback Nick Foles has looked solid against inferior competition the past couple weeks, but no one thinks he’s the long-term solution.

What Kelly has over Garrett is the gift of the unknown. If what he did at Oregon can translate to the NFL, Kelly could be a force in this division for the next decade. He also has the gift of inheriting a fan base that was beaten down by Andy Reid over the years. I know he’s having a great year with the Chiefs, but Reid’s approach and overall demeanor stopped resonating with Eagles fans about five years ago, if not longer. With his high-tempo offense, Kelly offers the promise of something new and exciting. For now, Eagles fans can live with being brutal on the defensive side of the ball.

Garrett no longer has time on his side in the Cowboys organization. He hasn’t been a disaster as a head coach, but he also hasn’t done anything that truly establishes an identity. Garrett remains a bright offensive mind, but he lost some of his identity when he was stripped of playcalling duties.

He’s shown signs of improvement as a walk-around head coach, but it’s not like Jerry’s ready to sign him to a long-term deal (that’s only with aging, disgruntled players). The Cowboys have played much better a home this season (3-1), but they have dropped both road games. With their upcoming schedule – four of five games on the road – a win in Philly would give the Cowboys a lot of confidence. It would also give them back-to-back wins, which has been something Garrett has struggled with since taking over as head coach during the 2010 season.

Either team could use a win Sunday as a springboard into the next nine games. But in some ways, Kelly’s playing with house money this season.

Garrett’s wiggle room has been all but exhausted.