This isn't an easy thing to admit, but it's reality: The Dallas Cowboys are the team to beat in the NFC East by virtue of their 2014 season, one that continues Sunday at Lambeau Field against the Green Bay Packers.
It is a dramatically different perspective than the one held as recently as August, prior to the '14 regular season, and maybe even as recently as late November, when the Eagles went to Arlington, Texas and dominated Dallas to seize control, albeit temporarily, of the division.
Everything changed in December. One poor month -- which included three consecutive losses -- altered the pecking order in the NFC East. The Eagles are playing catch-up to Dallas, and there's just no ignoring the facts.
Things change quickly in the NFC East and the Eagles are likely to be heralded by the analysts as a playoff team in 2015, if that means anything. Really, it means nothing, as we learned this year when Philadelphia was thought to be the runaway best team in the East.
As the Divisional Round of the NFC playoffs beckon, let's catch up with the rest of the NFC East and see how the other three teams of what is going to be a much-improved division look for 2015.
After beating Detroit last week in the Wild Card round of the playoffs, the challenge for Dallas is to win at Lambeau Field against the rested Packers. This isn't meant to be a preview for that game, but since you're asking I'm going with Green Bay if quarterback Aaron Rodgers can play effectively with a torn calf muscle.
In the bigger picture for Dallas, there are some offseason question marks and most of them are on the business side. Is head coach Jason Garrett coming back? How do the Cowboys handle the contract situations of scheduled-free-agents-to-be running back DeMarco Murray and wide receiver Dez Bryant? What is the succession plan for quarterback Tony Romo, who will be 35 years of age in April?
On the field, the Cowboys need to address a defense that is far better now than anyone expected, but still not of championship caliber. There are holes on that side of the ball, but excellent coaching and a lot of try-hard players have combined to mitigate those personnel shortcomings.
Dallas is a good football team with a lot of assets. The Cowboys are going to be a factor in the East as long as Romo can play at a high level and his offensive line continues to dominate as it has done for much of the 2014 season.
NEW YORK GIANTS
A defense that ranked 29th in the NFL in total yards allowed and that permitted a yards-per-rushing-attempt average of 4.9 yards (worst in the league) will have a new coordinator for 2015. The Giants parted ways with Perry Fewell, who was the team's coordinator for five years, along with defensive backs coach Peter Giunta.
Getting the defense back is huge for New York, which figures to have a dynamic offense in place for next season. With that, an important question to answer is whether end Jason Pierre-Paul will return. He is slated to be an unrestricted free agent in March after compiling 12.5 quarterback sacks this past season. He piled up a lot of them late in the season against poor offensive lines, and that may factor into New York's negotiations.
On the plus side for Pierre-Paul, the Giants relied on him for just about everything defensively. He played a lot of snaps and showed great durability and he came on like gangbusters in the final month of the year.
Is that good enough to merit one of the most lucrative defensive contracts in the league?
Otherwise, the Giants just aren't very good on defense. They need major help along the front seven, and they need some good health among the back four.
Offensively, the Giants are loaded. They have a great group of wide receivers and will have Odell Beckham, Jr. in his second season in 2015, along with a healthy Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle. New York needs an answer for its running game, once and for all, and more consistency is desired up front.
But there is no denying the firepower in the passing game. New York has pieces in place to be an NFC East contender in 2015.
It all starts at the top for Washington and 2015 is no different. The team has officially hired former 49ers and Seahawks executive Scot McCloughan as the General Manager, who will be making all the calls on personnel. Is this the hire that makes it all right for Washington, a team that has been as volatile as any in the league in the last two decades?
Maybe. McCloughan's most important call will be on what the team does at quarterback, where Robert Griffin III finished 2014 as the starter. It's been a bumpy ride, to say the least, for RGIII, and for Washington, which invested heavily in him and hasn't exactly realized a positive return.
Washington has a lot of holes. Tons. While there are some strong areas -- wide receiver is talented, running back is a healthy position and outside linebacker is promising -- Washington has clear personnel deficiencies that need to be addressed.
First, though, this team is searching for stability. McCloughan will reportedly be given full authority over Washington's personnel, so seeing how he meshes with head coach Jay Gruden is a piece of the puzzle to watch.
This isn't to suggest that the Eagles are without their own questions to answer. No doubt the Eagles have to address some need areas to get back to the top of the division, one they seemed to have a stranglehold on for much of 2014.
But the picture has changed. Dallas is still playing football. The rest of the division is watching and working on plans to seize control of the NFC East, the Eagles included. That's just the way it is a division that has had a dramatic facelift at the top in a very short period of time.