Win the division. It is right there in front of the Eagles, with a jumbled group of three teams vying for mid-season position, and a fourth team, the Dallas Cowboys, reeling at 1-5 and looking ahead without starting quarterback Tony Romo for two months. The schedule makers have it right: The Eagles play three of their final four games of the regular season against division teams, including two against Dallas.
For the Eagles to reach the playoffs, they have to win in the division. The loss to Washington is in the books, and it still smarts. It is possible that Romo will be back for both games against Philadelphia, but it is hard to see the Cowboys climbing back into the playoff picture with so many obstacles in the way.
Anyway, here is a look at the division, albeit from a very slighted perspective ...
**NEW YORK GIANTS (5-2)
The Giants are playing the best football in the division right now. The offense has great balance with Ahmad Bradshaw leading the running game and three excellent receivers catching passes from quarterback Eli Manning. The defense has clicked, too, behind the strength of a powerful pass rush and depth in the front seven.
After early-season struggles and open questioning of head coach Tom Coughlin, the Giants have regrouped with wins over Chicago, Houston, Detroit and Dallas. The Giants have a bye week ahead, and then a road game at Seattle before a rematch with Dallas.
On paper, the Giants are heading for double-digit wins. Their two losses are against AFC teams, which is critical in the end-of-season tie-breaking system. They have it all going on right now, and maybe the question is if the Giants have peaked too early. No question, though, this is the most difficult matchup in the NFC East.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (4-3)
Washington's defense saved the day in Chicago and, despite a low ranking in yards allowed, has kept the Redskins in most games this season. Washington's offense isn't anything special, and quarterback Donovan McNabb has thrown 6 touchdowns and 7 interceptions while compiling a passer rating of 76.0 in seven games.
Can Washington stay in the playoff picture? Sure, as long as the Redskins continue to force turnovers and play opportunistic football. The schedule is a tough one, starting with a road game at Detroit on Sunday. Then the Redskins have a bye week before the Eagles visit FedEx Field.
Washington is one of those teams that has hung around every week, and somehow the Redskins are 4-3. They are also 2-0 in the NFC East, which is a great start for them.
It will take an improvement from McNabb to push this team into the postseason. The Redskins just don't seem to have enough weapons to be taken seriously as a playoff team.
DALLAS COWBOYS (1-5)
Even without Romo, there are enough playmakers here to form a scary offense. But how productive can 38-year-old Jon Kitna be playing behind a banged-up offensive line? Kitna has limited mobility and the line has been flat-out terrible playing with so many injuries.
Mysteriously, Dallas has had very little offensive balance all season. The running game is a dud. Offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, once a hot head coaching candidate, is no longer mentioned in such lofty terms. And the Dallas defense has not been nearly as effective as in years past, particularly because pass-rushing linebacker Anthony Spencer has only 2 quarterback sacks.
So there is trouble in Big D. And with a brutal schedule ahead, the Cowboys' playoff chances are a long shot, at best. But they will be tough in December when the Eagles meet the Cowboys on December 12 and then play again on January 2 to close the year.
*PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (4-3) *
The blown opportunity in Tennessee notwithstanding, the Eagles are in decent shape. They are 4-3 with a young, ascending team. The bye week comes at the perfect time, and the Eagles will emerge for the final 9 games with a good health outlook. Of course, a lot of things have to come together for the Eagles to reel off 6 wins in the final nine games. Isn't 10 wins about the right number to get this team into the playoffs?
The schedule is tough, yes. But Andy Reid's teams have historically won late in the season, and he knows how to prepare his players for the stretch run. But as Reid said on Monday, there is nothing guaranteed about winning in November and December. The stakes are higher moving forward. The mistakes the Eagles are making now -- the penalties, the turnovers, the field goals instead of touchdowns in the red zone -- have to end immediately.
And the Eagles have to win in the division. They may have to beat the Giants twice to overtake New York in the NFC East. Who knows how it is all going to play out? What will the Cowboys be like in a couple of months when the Eagles play that critical stretch of games to close the year?
How many internal adjustments can the coaching staff realistically make in this bye week to shore up the deficiencies this team has?
It should be a fascinating final 9 games. The Eagles can play with anybody. And they may be able to beat any team, if they learn to play their best football for 60 minutes every week.
It is going to require that kind of improvement for the Eagles to rule the NFC East. To make the playoffs, the most direct route is to capture the division. The Eagles are in the mix, with a lot of football still to be played.