I admit to watching the scoreboard, checking the standings and projecting wins and losses of every team in the NFC with a look ahead at the schedule. November is here. Playoff positioning time is here. And the Eagles, during their bye weekend, gained in the NFC East and in the NFC playoff picture on a solid Sunday of NFL football.
You know the results. You know that Donovan McNabb was benched in Washington's loss in Detroit, and from everything I read and have seen from that game, the reason for the benching was simply this: McNabb is not playing good football and hasn't been for several weeks. Washington was 4-3 thanks to a big-play defense and some fortunate bounces, but McNabb's numbers and his performance simply wasn't up to par. No matter how the Redskins spin it -- and they are saying that Rex Grossman gave them the "best chance" to win in Detroit in the final two minutes of the game -- there is deep concern over McNabb's play this season.
Now the Redskins, at 4-4, have a bye week and head coach Mike Shanahan has a couple of weeks to think about things and figure out a way to get the Redskins back on track. It won't be easy. We knew going into the season that Washington had limited weapons, not much of a running game, a so-so offensive line and McNabb, who had to learn a new system and lead a new offense.
This is the team the Eagles play in two weeks, so you know the Redskins are going to be ready. But, boy, how are they scoring points? Is McNabb looking over his shoulder? How will the Redskins fans treat him at FedEx Field?
No doubt the Redskins suffered a major blow on Sunday in their loss to Detroit, which welcomed back quarterback Matthew Stafford as he torched Washington's secondary. It was a significant loss for Shanahan's Year 1 play, and it knocked the Redskins back a peg in the NFC East.
Dallas was simply awful in its loss to Jacksonville. The offense is still very unbalanced and the defense has played terrible football this season. The Cowboys are cooked as far as playoff chances go. There is still a chance they can win eight of their last nine games, of course, and reach nine victories for the season. But, well, let's be realistic here: Dallas has fallen apart at the seams. Watching the way David Garrard and the Jacksonville offense tore apart the Cowboys defense was, in a word, stunning.
Where is the Dallas pass rush? Where are the takeaways? Is this secondary as porous as it looks? Is there any chance head coach Wade Phillips can cobble together some success for the Cowboys moving ahead? Next up for Dallas is Green Bay, which had an impressive, defense-oriented win over the New York Jets on Sunday, separating the Packers in the NFC North. Dallas is sunk, folks, but the Cowboys will still be a dangerous team in December and January when the Eagles see them.
The Giants are the team to beat in the NFC East and the Eagles are right there. With five games remaining in the division, the Eagles' course is direct: Win in the division and reach the playoffs.
First things first, though: The Colts and Peyton Manning are coming to town on Sunday afternoon and that is a handful to think about. The NFC is so incredibly wide open, with the teams at the top on a list that includes the Giants, Atlanta, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Green Bay and, yes, the Eagles. The NFC West is pretty bad, top to bottom. Chicago is a threat, although fading, as a playoff team. Minnesota just can't get over the hump and quarterback Brett Favre continues to take one beating after another. How long, realistically, can he last? Will he be on the field in late December?
We're taking this one game at a time, but the reality is that the Eagles are right there. They are, I think, as good as any team in the NFC. And when they get back to work on Monday, that is one of the messages Andy Reid will give them. A season of opportunity is in front of this football team, and they have to focus in and take it step by step, day by day.