The NFC East is experiencing its worst collective year in recent memory, and yet, for that same reason, the race for the division crown promises to come down to the wire.
"The great thing about this year is that the NFC East is so terrible," said a blunt London Fletcher, the Redskins' inside linebacker, emotional leader on defense and 16-season NFL veteran before the Week 11 matchup with the Eagles.
Coming off last week's win, the Eagles sit atop the NFC East at 6-5, with the Cowboys in second place at 5-5, the surging Giants in third place at 4-6, and the Redskins bringing up the rear.
The Eagles, winners of three straight and now having finally broken their 10-game losing streak at home, are in the driver's seat and control their own destiny. Nick Foles leads the way at quarterback and has put up three straight performances with a rating over 100. For the season, he is completing 63.6 percent of his passes for 1,554 yards, 16 touchdowns and still no interceptions, while leading the NFL in quarterback rating, 128.0, and yards per attempt, 9.59.
The offense is the best in the NFC and second in the NFL, putting up 412.4 yards per game. The 6.3 yards per play and 150.6 rushing yards per game both rank second, while the 261.7 passing yards per game rank eighth and 31 total touchdowns is tied for third. The defense gives up a lot of yards, 417.9 per game which ranks 31st in the NFL, and is 31st against the pass (300.1 yards per game), 22nd against the run (117.8 yards per game) and 21st in sacks (24). However, as defensive coordinator Bill Davis preaches at every turn, the yards do not matter as long as they do not turn into points. After holding its last seven opponents to 21 points or fewer, the Eagles defense now ranks 18th in the league at 21.1 offensive points allowed per game.
A big reason for the turnaround has been the defense's resilience and stinginess in the red zone, where it has allowed only 47.22 percent of trips to turn into touchdowns, which ranks seventh in the NFL. It is also tied for 13th in takeaways with 17 (13 interceptions, six fumble recoveries). The Eagles finish the season with three home games (against the Cardinals, Lions and Bears) and two road games (against the Vikings and Cowboys).
The Cowboys are coming off their bye week after a thrashing at the hands of the Saints in which they lost their leader on defense, middle linebacker Sean Lee, to injury for a month and gave up the most yards in team history (625). The defense, under defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin, has been beset by injuries and is one of the league's worst, ranking last in yards allowed per game (439.8), last in pass yards allowed per game (313.0), 29th in rush yards allowed per game (126.8) and 24th in offensive points allowed per game (25.8). That said, the unit does rank sixth in takeaways with 22 (12 interceptions, 10 fumble recoveries).
Quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant are having tremendous seasons, while the offense, which is averaging 24.0 points per game and special teams try to keep things afloat as the defense springs leaks all over the place. The Cowboys' remaining schedule features the Giants (4-6) on the road, the Raiders (4-6) at home, the Bears (6-4) on the road, the Packers (5-5) – who might have Aaron Rodgers back by then – at home, the Redskins (3-7) on the road and the Eagles (6-5) at home.
The hottest team in the NFC East? That would be the Giants. Left for dead at 0-6, they have notched four straight victories and are dreaming of winning the most improbable division title in NFL history. Despite a rash of injuries, the defense has improved by leaps and bounds since the acquisition of middle linebacker Jon Beason and is now the NFC East's best in terms of yards allowed. To wit, on a per-game basis, it ranks 11th in total yards allowed (336.1), 15th in passing yards allowed (238.1) and seventh in rushing yards allowed (98.0). While the Giants defense has not been effective rushing the passer and ranks last in sacks (14), it has been an opportunistic bunch of as of late and is tied for 12th in takeaways (18).
The problem all season for the Giants has been on offense, where Eli Manning is having his worst statistical since he was a rookie, completing just 57.1 percent of his passes for 2,586 yards, 12 touchdowns, 17 interceptions and a 70.8 quarterback rating. Though the Giants rank 14th in passing yards per game (243.7), it is a very inefficient operation, as Manning's numbers suggest. The Giants cannot run the ball, either, ranking 28th in the NFL in yards per game on the ground (77.0) and 30th in yards per carry (3.2). Not surprisingly, their 17.8 offensive points per game ranks 26th in the NFL. However, if the Giants keep finding ways to win like they have the past four games, who knows, they too could be in contention for the NFC East crown at the end of the season. That will be no easy task, however, as they finish the season with home games against the Cowboys (5-5), Seahawks (10-1) and Redskins (3-7), and road games against the Redskins (3-7), Chargers (4-6) and Lions (6-4).
The Redskins saw their hopes for a second-straight NFC East crown take a hit on Sunday in losing to the Eagles and now sit at 3-7, last place in the division. Quarterback Robert Griffin III struggled through the first three quarters, but caught fire in the fourth and almost engineered a miraculous comeback – before tossing up a prayer that was intercepted in the back of the end zone by Brandon Boykin with 24 seconds left. Alfred Morris is one of the league's best running backs and leads all starters in yards per carry (5.1), rookie tight end Jordan Reed has emerged as a reliable target and matchup nightmare and the offense ranks among the league's most prolific units on a per-game yardage basis (sixth in total yards, first in rushing, 11th in passing) but ranks just 15th in offensive points scored.
The defense, however, has been the team's Achilles' heel, ranking 28th in yards allowed (389.9), 26th in passing yards (274.9), 19th in rushing yards (115.0), 20th in sacks (25), 29th in offensive points allowed (27.4) and 18th in takeaways (16). The Redskins only have two road games remaining, against the Falcons and Giants, after Sunday. Two of their remaining home games come against the 49ers and Chiefs (combined record of 15-3), while the other two are division matchups against the Giants and Cowboys.
Sure, the NFC East might be "terrible," but it is also unpredictable, and that is a trend that most likely will persist until the very last day of the season. This division is up for grabs – who wants it?