Projecting the NFC East Playoff Race

Team Analysis:

The NFC East divisional race has become the most compelling storyline in the NFL. The Cowboys (7-5) sit atop the division after winning four straight games and have become one of the hottest teams in football after holding the most prolific offense in football, the Saints, to only 10 points on a nationally televised game. The Boys have risen from the ashes after starting the first half 3-5, and Head Coach Jason Garrett has been restored to life after fans were calling for his job only a few weeks prior. Carried on the shoulders of a re-energized running game and one of the most stifling defenses in the NFL, Garrett has found a way back into the ownership’s good graces. The Cowboys are the only team in the division with a positive point differential, and their biggest competition, the Philadelphia Eagles, have yet to beat a team with a winning record.

The Washington Redskins, on the other hand, are going in the wrong direction. Three weeks ago they looked like the clear favorites to win the division. They had just completed a dominant win against the Bucs and sat atop the division at 6-3. The loss of starting QB Alex Smith-who is now suffering from an infection following his leg surgery-all but assured the teams collapse, and the team’s misery was punctuated by the loss of backup QB Colt McCoy. The Redskins now have an uphill climb with a fresh face under center and a surrounding cast that has played flat the last three weeks.

The Giants are playing better, winning three of their last four. But, they beat a Bears team without starting QB Mitchell Tribusky and a Bucs team that almost came back to win after leading 24-7 in the third quarter. They aren’t statistically eliminated, but they might as well be. The Giants need more highlights of Eli throwing touchdown passes and less of OBJ.  This could be Eli’s last season in New York. Stay tuned for the obligatory where will Eli end up post… Probably Jacksonville mentoring a Will Grier or Drew Lock type?

The Eagles are the most perplexing team in the division. The defending Superbowl Champs have put together their first back-to-back wins of the season (albeit at home against the Giants and against an out-of-sorts Redskins team) and are looking like a much-improved roster. Their defense is finally returning to form, and Golden Tate appears to be up-to-speed on the offensive schemes. They still struggle to run the ball effectively, but their offense has enjoyed steadily improving play from QB Carson Wentz. He struggled a few weeks ago against New Orleans, but that game notwithstanding, the Eagles’ offense has been consistent. Despite concerns from other sports reporters suggesting that the Eagles are not high-powered enough to win in this year’s NFL (only scoring more than 30 once), it should be noted that during their Superbowl season only a year ago, they only scored more than 30 once in a 34-3 win over the Steelers in September. If their defense can return to form the rest of the way, and Carson Wentz can protect the football, they could make a run at the division. One thing is for certain, this weekend’s matchup with the Cowboys will be the deciding factor for the division title.

Projecting the Rest of the Way:

Eagles Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – @ Cowboys
  • Week 15 – @ Rams
  • Week 16 – vs. Texans
  • Week 17 – @ Redskins

The Eagles NEED to win this week in Dallas. If they can’t come away with a victory, then kiss their playoff chances goodbye. It would give Dallas a two-game lead in the division, and give Philadelphia an uphill climb against two teams that will be doing everything in their power to secure first-round byes and home-field advantage in the Texans and Rams. Best case scenario they go 3-1 the rest of the way. Worst case, 1-3. Let’s call it 2-2, I think they surprise someone down the stretch.

Projected Record: 8-8

Cowboys Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – vs. Eagles
  • Week 15 – @ Colts
  • Week 16 – vs. Buccaneers
  • Week 17 – @ Giants

The Cowboys are lucky, they play two teams who lack an identity in the Giants and Bucs and get the opportunity to control their destiny this week by playing the Eagles at home. The Cowboys are 5-1 playing at Jerry World this year, that has to mean something come Sunday. The Giants are better, but they may not have much to play for come week 17. I think they go 3-1 the rest of the way, the Colts might sneak up on them, or the Eagles could win a statement game. For Jason Garrett’s sake, I hope it’s the Colts on the road.

Projected Record: 10-6

Redskins Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – vs. Giants
  • Week 15 – @ Jaguars
  • Week 16 – @ Titans
  • Week 17 – vs. Eagles

The Skins are down, but not out. I’m not as low on Sanchez as others. He’s a serviceable game manager and has been in the league for a while for a reason.  The Redskins enjoy the best turnover differential in the division, and if Sanchez can keep the ball secure and Jay Gruden can turn Adrian Peterson loose, their defense is good enough to keep them in a tight game. I don’t think they make the playoffs, but they might surprise a few of the teams left on their schedule. They might very well lose to the Giants this weekend, but if they win they could beat a floundering Jaguars team (who looks different each week) or an inconsistent Titans team. They will likely go 1-3 the rest of the way unless they can pull out a surprise victory or two.

Projected Record: 7-9

Giants Remaining Schedule:

  • Week 14 – @ Redskins
  • Week 15 – vs. Titans
  • Week 16 – @ Colts
  • Week 17 – vs. Cowboys

The Giants have a rough stretch ahead of them. I think they will beat this Redskins on the road this weekend,  but the rest of the stretch are games that they will be close to seven-point underdogs in.  The Titans and Colts are volatile, good teams that struggle with consistency. You never know which offense will show up on any given night, the team that will score 30 or the team that will score three. Prior to the Colts getting shutout by the Jags, they were averaging 30+ points a game during their five-game win streak, and the Titans are coming off a big Thursday night football win in which Derek Henry set the team’s single-game rushing record. Best case scenario the Giants finish 2-2. Unfortunately, I don’t think they make it that far. 1-3.

Projected Record:  5-11

Projected Final Division Standings:

  1. Cowboys – 10-6
  2. Eagles – 8-8
  3. Redskins – 7-9
  4. Giants – 5-11

I have the Cowboys winning the division. It might be worth it just to watch Stephen A. Smith agonize for a week or two until they get eliminated in the first or second round. The Eagles may find themselves on the outside looking in. Seattle seems to be running away with the first wildcard spot, and the Vikings and the Panthers are contesting Philly for the second. There are enough teams still in the hunt that week 17 might be a fun week of football to watch.