Cowboys could take quick, commanding lead in NFC East
It's impossible to bury divisional rivals in September... unless you're currently in the NFC East. Jason Garrett would never admit it, but his Cowboys could potentially take a commanding lead in the division with a win in San Diego on Sunday.
And since Jerry Jones wanted to discuss the betting line in the aftermath of the loss in Kansas City, I should point out the Cowboys are favored by two points over the Chargers. The Philadelphia Eagles are alone in second place in the division thanks to an opening-week win over the Redskins (0-3). The Eagles have to travel to Denver to face the hottest quarterback in the league. They will likely fall to 1-3. The Cowboys haven't begun a season 3-1 since 2008, although they went on to miss the playoffs.
Some Cowboys players admitted to me Sunday they were doing some scoreboard watching to check on their division foes. And I don't necessarily think that's a bad thing. This team realizes the Redskins, Giants and Eagles are all in a bad place. If the Cowboys can jump out to a 5-2 record, I think they'll have at least a two-game lead over everyone else in the division.
"You're only worried about yourself, but this is when you get separation," Cowboys tight end Jason Witten told reporters Thursday. "We've found ourselves the past two years playing for divisions in Week 17 but you always look back and say, 'If we had that one,' or 'If we had that game early on in the season.' That's the way it always is. Every team has that. We're just trying to create an atmosphere and a mindset of, 'Let's go do that.' I think we're all tired of talking and we know the results have got to happen. It's not anything we can just say. We've got to see the results."
The Cowboys need to surge while their division rivals struggle to find an identity. You'd normally say that Tom Coughlin has the best chance to turn around an 0-3 team, but the Giants have more issues than any team in the NFC East. This team's identity was tied to a pass-rush that generated 48 sacks two years ago. In 2012, the Giants were No. 22 overall in sacks (33), and this season they have a total of three. Jason Pierre-Paul, the most explosive pass-rusher on the team, has one sack in his past 10 games. The Giants also have some major problems along the offensive line. That's a big reason why Eli Manning has thrown seven interceptions and the offense has turned the ball over 13 times. The Eagles were no match for Andy Reid's Chiefs last week, and Peyton Manning will put even more pressure on their defense.
The NFC East is so bad that it will be an automatic firing for Garrett if the Cowboys don't finish with the best record in the division. That sounds harsh, but I believe that thought has definitely crossed Jerry Jones' mind at some point. After too many years of losing do-or-die games at the end of the regular-season, the Cowboys have a chance to pull into December with a little cushion.
The one team that could catch them is the 0-3 Redskins. I realize quarterback Robert Griffin III hasn't looked like himself following reconstructive knee surgery, but he's showing signs that he might catch fire. If he can rally a team from a 3-6 start to the playoffs, he can certainly help dig the Redskins out of an 0-3 hole. He's even offered to take sliding lessons from Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper since he can't seem to master the concept. The talk of replacing Griffin with backup quarterback Kirk Cousins is ludicrous.
"It comes with the territory of being a quarterback in the NFL," Griffin told reporters. "When we don't have success, there's gonna be criticism. You've got to be able to stand tall, look the criticism in the face, look that adversity in the face and let it know that you're not going anywhere."
The Redskins should be able to pick up a win in Oakland on Sunday. After an early bye week, the Redskins will travel to AT&T Stadium. If they could knock off the Cowboys, the Redskins would be 2-3 and Dallas would likely be 3-3. The Redskins are the most explosive winless team in the NFL. They have averaged 408 yards per game, which ranks fifth in the league. The Redskins, Eagles and Giants have all been awful on defense. But the Eagles and Redskins have the capacity to outscore opposing teams. The Giants are in such a mess along the offensive line, it's hard for me to imagine them having much consistency.
I believe it will only take nine wins to win the NFC East. The Cowboys have the best shot at making that happen.