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NFC East: The Picture Once Again Changes

Posted Nov 29, 2017

There was a time, from 2001-2004, when the Eagles ruled the NFC East with authority, using division titles as a launching point to four straight NFC Championship Games. Led by head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb, the Eagles were the Beasts of the NFC East. There was no disputing which team ruled the roost ...

There was a time, from 2001-2004, when the Eagles ruled the NFC East with authority, using division titles as a launching point to four straight NFC Championship Games. Led by head coach Andy Reid and quarterback Donovan McNabb, the Eagles were the Beasts of the NFC East. There was no disputing which team ruled the roost.

But since then, the NFC East has been a year-to-year riddle. Preseason predictions have gone up in smoke. Injuries and upsets have led to upstarts. There has been no, none, zero repeat winners in the division since the Eagles won it in ’04.

Now we look at the division and see that it is, from the way the preseason predictions were laid out, all kinds of upside down. The Eagles at 10-1? No way. Dallas slogging along on the cusp of being a playoff outsider? Couldn’t happen. New York benching quarterback Eli Manning? Say it ain’t so. And Washington a sub .500 team battling a rash of injuries all year? What a bummer for their fans.

The lessons of the way it’s played out in 2017 are many. Most important, it’s that anything can happen in any given year, so don’t take 10-1 necessarily as a sign of things to come in future years for the Eagles. This organization knows it must continue to challenge the roster, build depth, hope for good luck in the health department and keep developing talent in the seasons ahead.

Also, 2017 serves as a reminder of how important quarterback play is in this game, how draft success eventually writes the story for a team’s on-field record. Then there is the adversity factor, and how teams overcome losses and bad bounces and injuries.

With that in mind, let’s pause from the focus of Sunday’s game in Seattle and take stock of the NFC East as it looks now.

DALLAS COWBOYS

Quarterback Dak Prescott has thrown 16 touchdown passes and nine interceptions this season, and five of those interceptions have come in the last two weeks, both losses (to Philadelphia and the Los Angeles Chargers). Last year, Prescott tossed 23 touchdown passes and only four interceptions.

What a difference a year makes …

Dallas sorely misses running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has missed three of the six games in his suspension. Left tackle Tyron Smith missed a couple of games with injuries. The offense isn’t clicking in the passing game and key weapons Dez Bryant and Jason Witten haven’t been as dominating as in the past. Bryant, in fact, has seen his performance diminish in the last three seasons. Witten will be 36 years old. The Cowboys need more pieces to help Prescott succeed.

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On defense, the Cowboys have a premier pass rusher in DeMarcus Lawrence but they need more help up front. The defense collapses when weakside linebacker Sean Lee is off the field with injury, which is far too often. The secondary has some young pieces that need to be developed.

The future is still bright for Dallas, which won the division at 13-3 in 2016, but there is no doubt the Cowboys have work to do in the offseason. A lot, in fact. As for this season, they have to be really outstanding the last five games to make the playoffs.

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

A ton of injuries have once again hampered Washington, but the Redskins have struggled in other ways, too. They decided to part with wide receivers DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon after 2016 and the signing of wide receiver Terrell Pryor hasn’t been a good one. Second-year receiver Josh Doctson has not taken a huge step forward, as hoped. Tight end Jordan Reed continues to battle injuries. The running backs haven’t been healthy all season.

And then there’s quarterback Kirk Cousins, a free agent once again at the end of the season. Does Washington keep him? Do they go in other directions?

Washington still has a chance to reach the postseason this year, which would be a credit to head coach Jay Gruden. A win in Dallas on Thursday night would be a necessary first step and then Washington has a favorable schedule the rest of the way.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Eli Manning’s streak of 210 consecutive starts ends on Sunday as the Giants turn to Geno Smith. Thus, it appears, an era has ended. Say what you want about Manning, but he’s got two Super Bowl victories to his name.

New York’s offense has struggled all season and the defense is wearing down. Poor drafts and questionable free-agent signings have led to a 2-9 record after last year’s playoff appearance. The Giants, it would appear, have a top-to-bottom organizational evaluation ahead in the offseason.

The offensive line hasn’t been good in years, the running game struggles every season and the coaching staff has been roundly criticized, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

It could be a period of rebuilding for the Giants in the year ahead, minus Manning. That is a huge awakening for a team that was expected to be a Super Bowl contender this year.

But that’s what happens in the NFL. Change happens. How teams respond to it is what separates the good teams from the ones who are struggling at this time in the season.

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