After a weekend off, the Eagles are in better shape in the NFC East than they were before they had a bye. Losses by Dallas and New York further illustrated the division's mid-season personality: Who wants to win this thing?
With Philadelphia and Washington watching from the bye week perch over the weekend, the rest of the division faltered. The Giants played in New Orleans on Sunday afternoon and quarterbacks Eli Manning and Drew Brees had game controllers in their hands and Madden-ed to a combined 13 touchdown passes deep into the fourth quarter of a 49-49 tie. Fun game. No defense. Not a hint that any defense had an interest in making more than one or two stops during the game.
Then, in the final 20 seconds, the Giants DeSean Jackson-ed themselves as punter Brad Wing actually, you know, kicked to a return man instead of booming the ball out of bounds, and New Orleans found itself setting up for a 50-yard field goal after a Marcus Murphy 24-yard punt return, a fumble that New Orleans recovered, and a 15-yard facemask penalty against Wing. Kai Forbath nailed the 50-yard kick as New Orleans won the game, shocking the Giants.
New York's woes are mainly on the defensive side. The Giants are giving up chunks of yardage in the running game and they have been unable to generate any kind of pass rush. Brees tied an NFL record with seven touchdown passes (joining a group that includes Nick Foles from the Eagles' 2013 win at Oakland) as New Orleans generated a ridiculous 614 total offensive yards.
Later in the day Dallas lost to visiting Seattle, 13-12, in a defensive struggle. Dallas just can't get any production from quarterback Matt Cassel, who replaced the ineffective Brandon Weeden, who replaced the injured Tony Romo. Cassel is likely the starter on Sunday night for the 2-5 Cowboys, who welcomed back wide receiver Dez Bryant to the lineup. Covered by star cornerback Richard Sherman all day, Bryant had two receptions for 12 yards and was penalized once for offensive pass interference.
Dallas' defense played well enough to win, even without generating a quarterback sack, but the offense had nothing going, again, in the passing game. Sunday night's game is going to bear all kinds of scrutiny, of course, with a lot directed at strategy from the coaches. Does defensive coordinator Bill Davis shadow Bryant? Can the Eagles stifle the Dallas passing game? While the Cowboys are running well with Darren McFadden (113 offensive yards on 26 touches against Seattle), the passing game is contributing little. Seattle stacked the box and locked down on the Dallas receiving corps. What will Davis do?
In the big picture, the NFC East is wide open. Every team is in the mix. Every team is a contender. Dallas, at 2-5, is just one game behind New York (4-4) in the loss column. Romo comes back in a few weeks and the Cowboys will be dangerous.
How many wins will it take to win the division? Can a team like the Eagles get hot and reach 10 wins this season? That's a 7-2 finish, folks, with games at Dallas, at New England, home with Arizona and at the Giants ahead. It is possible, yes, but it's time now for the Eagles to play their best football for 60 minutes and stay at that level.
A bigger question is the state of the division, one that CBSSports.com this summer determined was the best in the NFL in the Super Bowl era. From 1966 through 2014, the NFC East compiled more points than any division based on collective Super Bowl wins, Super Bowl losses, Hall of Famers and all-time winning percentage. The AFC West was second, and it wasn't really close.
This year's division hasn't separated itself, nor has any team shown evidence of playing consistent, winning football for long stretches at a time. New York's defense has played poorly and the Giants haven't won in the fourth quarter of games. Dallas has been ravaged by injuries, as has Washington. The Eagles? The many new pieces on offense haven't yet played with precision for an entire game and the Eagles have made just enough mistakes here and there to lose winnable games like the ones in Atlanta and Washington and even Carolina.
Maybe there is a method to all of this mediocrity, though. The Giants won the division in 2011 at 9-7, followed by the Eagles and Cowboys at 8-8 with Washington at 5-11. That season was such a crushing disappointment for the Eagles, who revamped the roster in the offseason, endured the work stoppage and then came out and struggled all season until a late-year surge brought them to .500. The Giants lost three straight mid-season games and stood at 6-6 before winning three of their final four games to capture the division and reach the playoffs.
All the Giants did in that postseason is beat Atlanta at home, shock Green Bay at Lambeau Field and stun San Francisco in the NFC Championship Game.
To complete the wild ride, the Giants upended New England in the Super Bowl, 21-17, a reminder that it doesn't matter how you reach the playoffs, the key is to get in. You can't win the Super Bowl if you aren't in the playoffs.
And the goal for the Eagles, as they re-assemble after the bye week in better shape than before, is to just get in. To do so, a great performance at Dallas helps.