Could the NFC East really come down to backup quarterbacks?
By Monday evening, both the Washington Redskins and New York Giants had bowed out of the NFC East race. The Redskins may have rallied from a 3-6 start two years ago, but that was a much different Robert Griffin III leading that team.
The Eagles (6-2) and Cowboys (6-3) will slug it out for NFC East supremacy. The Cowboys have fallen from NFC grace rapidly after a 6-1 start. Back-to-back losses to the Washington Redskins and Arizona Cardinals have Cowboys fans on the verge of panic. America’s .500 Team is now forced to play a hobbled Tony Romo after observing Sunday’s sad showing from backup quarterback Brandon Weeden.
As ridiculous as it sounds, the Eagles have a much better backup plan with former Jets first-round pick Mark Sanchez. He performed admirably once starter Nick Foles suffered a cracked clavicle Sunday in Houston. Foles will miss at least 6-8 weeks, so it’s unlikely he’ll be ready before the playoffs.
The NFC East race will feature a 34-year-old quarterback trying to recover from two broken bones in his back against a guy who flamed out in spectacular fashion with the Jets in 2012. Romo’s definitely the better quarterback, but no one knows how much this latest back injury will hinder him in the final seven games.
The Eagles also lost starting inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans for the rest of the season. The Cowboys’ most consistent starting linebacker, Justin Durant, is also out for the season with a torn biceps. Both teams are banged up on the offensive line, so that might be a push. The Eagles have lost starting guard Todd Herremans for the season, but they have starting center Jason Kelce and left guard Evan Mathis back in the lineup.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly has been able to keep the Eagles afloat, in part because he gives a lot of reps to his backups in practice. Ryans’ replacement, Casey Matthews, has played well in relief this season. The Cowboys will continue to lean on rookie Anthony Hitchens in place of Durant.
The Cowboys made it obvious how desperate they were to end this two-game skid the minute Romo boarded Monday’s flight to London. If Weeden had performed better against the Cardinals, perhaps the Cowboys would’ve been tempted to rest Romo for another week. That didn’t happen. This becomes the most important game of the season for the Cowboys. I don’t think they can afford to fall to 6-4 heading into the bye. Dallas only has two home games left on the schedule, with one of them being against the Eagles on Thanksgiving. After the upcoming bye week, the Cowboys will play three games in the span of 12 days. You don’t want to enter that stretch on a three-game losing streak.
Jacksonville has a horrible record at 1-7, but the Jaguars aren’t getting blown off the field. Rookie quarterback Blake Bortles played reasonably well in a 33-23 loss in Cincinnati. You simply can’t roll the dice with Weeden against any team in the NFL.
If Romo can get through this game unscathed, he’ll have the bye week to recover. Even if he’s only at 80-90 percent the rest of the season, I’d still take the Cowboys over the Eagles.
"It’s progressing," Romo said of his back Tuesday during an appearance in London. "Each day it gets a little bit of improvement, and I think that you just keep trying to figure out what you’re able to do each day and then you go on to the next day. We’ll figure out if we’re able to improve enough to be ready to go."
Sanchez might function pretty well for Kelly, but he’s going to make plenty of mistakes. Foles hasn’t been nearly as sharp this season as he was in 2013, but weapons such as LeSean McCoy and Darren Sproles can cover up a lot of mistakes. The Eagles have four home games left on the schedule, but they finish the season with back-to-back road games against the Redskins (3-6) and Giants (3-5). Both of those teams should be far removed from the playoff race by that time.
The Cowboys will finish the season by hosting one of the AFC’s best teams in the Colts before traveling to Washington for the season finale. If the Cowboys can improve to 7-3 this Sunday, they can sit back and see how the Eagles fare against the Carolina Panthers on Monday night.
It’s hard to know at this point how compromised the Eagles will be with Sanchez at quarterback. We just know it’s probably nothing like what the Cowboys would experience having to turn to Weeden for several games.
One game of that horror show is enough for the Cowboys.
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