A quick look at the NFL standings reveals the league’s eyesore: the gruesome NFC East. At 6-6, the Dallas Cowboys are somehow in a sole first place of the division. One game behind them, at 5-7, are the Philadelphia Eagles. The New York Giants have lost 8 straight and sit at 2-10. Somehow, the Washington Redskins, the same team that has already fired their head coach and moved onto their developmental rookie quarterback, hasn’t been eliminated from potentially winning the division at 3-9.
I’m going to focus on the top two teams in the division, though, because we expected the Giants and Redskins to be here. If anything, the surprise has been Washington winning two straight. Both organizations’ rebuilds have been, depending on who you ask, either totally botched or only seriously flawed. But what’s going on in Dallas and Philly has been equally, if not much more, frustrating for the respective fanbases.
The source of consternation in the Lone Star State seems to be that the Cowboys are wasting away what could have been a very promising season. Take these stats from Mike Sando about where this edition of the Cowboys stacks up against Jason Garrett’s 11 other season in charge:
- Third in points per game (25.8)
- Third in PPG allowed (19.7)
- Second in average PPG margin (plus-6.2)
- Second in offensive expected points added
- Third in defensive EPA
- Second in EPA per pass attempt
- Second in explosive pass rate (18.4 percent)
And yet…6-6. Dallas is 1-4 in one-score games and the special teams has cost the team 30 points against expectation already. The worst part is, the offense under new coordinator Kellen Moore has looked very good for the most part, and Dak Prescott is still going to be owed a boatload of money at the end of the season. If not for a phantom tripping call against the Patriots, the Cowboys could be 7-5 or even 8-4 had they carried that momentum to beat the Bills on Thanksgiving. Instead, Garrett’s job is likely gone at the end of the season.
If the Cowboys’ demise has garnered more national accolades, the Eagles’ has been more damning. QB Carson Wentz was healthy and rearing to go to begin the season, leading what looked like a Super Bowl contender with the well-regarded Doug Pedersen at head coach. Then came one possession losses to the now-hapless Falcons and Lions in Weeks 2 and 3. Still, Philly rebounded to 5-4. Three weeks later, however, alarm bells are going off as the Eagles have been dispatched by the Patriots, the Seahawks, and, most recently…the Dolphins.
Any way you slice the numbers from Philadelphia’s 37-31 loss, they look ugly. There’s the 28-14 lead the Eagles had, after which they didn’t emphasize the run game nearly enough. The 37 points they gave up to a team that hadn’t gone over 26 all season. The punter-to-kicker trick play passing touchdown. Hell, the Eagles were practically playing a home game in Hard Rock Stadium, and Carson Wentz also rebounded, throwing for 310 yards and one turnover a week after giving the ball away a whopping four times in a game the Eagles certainly could’ve grabbed from the Seahawks.
In the end, the Dolphins played like a team with nothing to lose – DeVante Parker mossed Ronald Darby on a jump ball for a 43-yard TD on fourth and four – and the Eagles played like a scared squad. Now, the Cowboys get to see another week as sole first in the NFC East, a title they don’t deserve in the slightest. But their nearest competition is a team with a defense that looks broken, a supposed franchise quarterback that looked broken a week prior, and an aging roster everywhere else.
There are few excuses for Dallas and Philadelphia – each team gets a combined six games against the Giants, Redskins, Dolphins, and Jets. And things change fast in the NFL – three weeks ago my Buffalo Bills were the frauds at the party after losing back-to-back games to Philly and Cleveland, and now they’re the toast of the league after whupping Dallas. But both of these teams seem very fundamentally flawed. For the Cowboys, it seems they have a coaching problem. The Eagles might have personnel and coaching problems. But either way, they should be easy outs in the first round of the NFL Playoffs at present.