What in the world happened to the NFC East?
It was months in the making and it finally happened this past weekend. The race to win the NFC East and claim the right to host a National Football League postseason game has been narrowed to two teams — the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles.
That’s right: despite the small matter of the New York Giants not having won since Sept. 29 and nursing a nine-game skid, and the Washington Redskins having been one of football’s worst teams this season, the field has only just now been pared.
The Eagles’ unconvincing overtime squeeze past the Giants on Monday night did nothing to dispel the notion that this is the division no one seems to want to win, given how each of the four teams have managed to find ways to crumble.
Someone is going to ultimately take the title and grab that cherished playoff home game that goes along with it, but it looks like they’ll do so by falling over the line.
As of today, the Eagles’ victory was enough to push them level with the Cowboys atop the standings at 6-7, with Monday’s nailbiter arresting a three-game reversal that had their fan base set in various shades of fury.
Dallas has lost three straight, too, and seven of their past 10, following a strong start that had many talking Super Bowl potential. Not anymore; now the chatter is all about Jason Garrett’s chances of surviving Jerry Jones’ axe.
But here’s the funny thing. For as bad as this division is — and it has been truly awful — there isn’t another in the league that is generating this much discussion. One of the reasons the NFL has captivated and held an audience like no other is by making its fans care just as much about misery as about success.
Nothing excites a football fan more than the opportunity to mock the misfortune of others, and that’s exactly what’s been happening of late regarding the NFC East.
The Eagles’ win leaves them with +2200 odds to win the NFC (according to FOX Bet) and a 49 percent chance to claim the division (according to FiveThirtyEight), but that didn’t get them off the hook with Nick Wright on First Things First.
“Philly should be embarrassed by how they played in the first half of this football game,” Wright said. “After being embarrassed by how they played in the second half of last week's football game, against Miami; you got outscored 40-6 over a 60-minute period by the Dolphins and Giants.”
While the Buffalo Bills are breathing down the neck of the suddenly vulnerable New England Patriots in the AFC East, the Minnesota Vikings are producing frosty fire in challenging the Green Bay Packers in the NFC North, the Houston Texans and Tennessee Titans are destined to go down to the wire in the AFC South and the NFC West could end up taking three teams into the postseason, the NFC East is the one on the minds and lips of the football community.
“The NFC East is embarrassing itself,” roared The Washington Post. “Nobody should win the NFC East this season,” Sports Illustrated’s Kalyn Kahler wrote on Twitter.
“It is one thing to accept mediocrity and quite another to reward it,” wrote USA TODAY columnist Nancy Armour, while arguing for a shift in the playoff seeding format.
According to information provided to The Washington Post by TruMedia, NFC East teams are 3-20 against opponents with a winning record — all of those wins coming from the Eagles. Against all non-division opponents, the collective record is 10-28. The simplest way of looking at it is that the next-worst divisions in terms of combined wins are the NFC South and AFC West, each with 25. The NFC East has 17.
Yet although the NFC East is an easy target for the critics, it does now shape up as one of the more intriguing divisional races and the matchup between the Cowboys and Eagles on Dec. 22 will probably be one of the most important games of the season.
If Dallas or Philadelphia does emerge as a division winner with a losing record of 7-9 while, say, the San Francisco 49ers dropped into a Wild Card spot at 13-3, chatter about the playoff structure would undoubtedly increase.
However, according to multiple reports there is no momentum for a change within the NFL hierarchy. Unless a scenario in which there are division winners at .500 or worse starts occurring with regularity, things will likely be left as they are.
It isn’t a perfect system, but such a thing doesn’t exist in a league that has 32 teams and 16 games.
It is what it is, and if the volume of discussion is anything to go by, the NFC East is the division that football cares about right now, despite (or perhaps because of) all of its struggles.
It hasn’t always felt like it, but the Cowboys and Eagles are now locked in one heck of a race – albeit one that no one seems to want to win.