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NFC East Is In An Altered State

Posted Dec 11, 2013

The news in Washington is that the franchise quarterback is benched. In Dallas, the defense is in need of repair. New York is looking to 2014. What's going on in the NFC East right now? ...

How would you describe the state of the NFC East at the moment? The change is dramatic in Washington, as quarterback Robert Griffin III has been "shut down" for the remainder of the season in favor of Kirk Cousins and the head coach (Mike Shanahan) and Owner (Daniel Snyder) are in the headlines every day. Dallas is reeling after its blowout loss in Chicago on Monday night, hoping a trip back to Texas to play Green Bay is the cure to get back on track down the stretch of this season. New York began the year 0-6, then won four straight games and has since played lousy football in dropping two of the last three games.

The Eagles? On the rise, clearly. In Chip Kelly's first year as head coach, his team has won five straight games and leads the division at 8-5.

Are the Eagles, then, poised to take over the NFC East for years to come? It's way too early to say that, but it's accurate to label the division as one in flux and, at this point, in disrepair.

Let's begin in Washington, the team that turned it on last year down the stretch and captured the NFC East with RGIII Mania sweeping the nation. He was a revelation, the "next big thing" at the quarterback position, and even after suffering a serious knee injury in a playoff loss to Seattle, the expectation was that the Redskins were in great shape to finish atop the NFC East this season and establish themselves as a team to contend for the Super Bowl for years to come.

This season has been a disaster for Washington, and the picture doesn't figure to improve any time soon. Shanahan's future is reportedly in very serious question. Washington doesn't have a first-round draft pick in 2014, having traded it to St. Louis as part of the package to move up in last year's draft to select RGIII. There could be sweeping, dramatic changes again in Washington, and that is generally not a recipe for success.

How about New York, where the Giants are 5-8? The once-vaunted defensive line has had a troubling year, and all of a sudden Justin Tuck is 30 years old, Mathias Kiwanuka is 30, defensive tackles Cullen Jenkins (32), Mike Patterson (30) and Shaun Rogers (34) are beyond their primes. Jason Pierre-Paul is bothered with back problems and has seen his production drop significantly (6 1/2 sacks in 2012, 2 this year) since his monster 16 1/2-sack season in 2011. The Giants are not very good at linebacker and the secondary hasn't been healthy in years. Offensively, age has settled in along an offensive line that hasn't played well and quarterback Eli Manning, who has taken a beating this season, is 32 years old.

Dallas is far from dead this season. The Cowboys are 7-6 after Monday night's loss in Chicago, but if the Cowboys rebound with wins against visiting Green Bay on Sunday and then beat Washington at FedEx Field, Dallas hosts the Eagles on December 29 with a chance to win the NFC East, at a minimum. Two Dallas wins and two Eagles losses in the next two Sundays clinch the NFC East for the Cowboys.

But there are concerns in Dallas. The defense is historically poor this season, allowing 25 yards more per game than any team in the league. Injuries have decimated this group, and the transition from the 3-4 defense under Rob Ryan to the 4-3 defense with 73-year-old Monte Kiffin as coordinator has not been smooth, in the least.

How much patience will the Cowboys have with their coaching staff if Dallas stumbles again in December and fails to make the playoffs? Think about this: Could the Redskins, Cowboys and Giants all change coaches after the season? Is that impossible to consider?

No, it's not. This is a division searching for stable footing, and that's where the Eagles enter the picture. A young roster, a dedicated coaching staff and a boss in Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Jeffrey Lurie who supports everything the coaching staff and personnel department do gives the Eagles a chance to have a very, very bright future.

Of course, the focus is on Minnesota and beating the Vikings on Sunday. The Eagles have no margin for error here. They are in must-win mode every week. The players have bought into Kelly's "one-week season" directive all year, and what has happened is that the Eagles play hard and they compete and they are focused every time out. You don't see a team that makes foolish mistakes or turns the ball over or commits a bunch of penalties. You see a team that has great focus.

You also see a team that has a young core of talented players growing. General manager Howie Roseman and his staff have done a fine job rebuilding the roster. The Eagles have salary cap space, draft picks and roster maneuverability to upgrade and challenge every position in the offseason.

This is just some big-picture conversation as the season gets down to the nitty gritty. The division is very much there for the taking, and Sunday in Minnesota is going to be an extremely difficult assignment. The Vikings have an energized crowd. They've lost a lot of close games, and there is plenty of talent on that roster. Nobody here is looking beyond Sunday.

The NFC East, though, bears a glance from this perspective. And the sight is not a pretty one in Washington, New York and, in the aftermath of Monday night, Dallas.

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