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The NFC East: A Pathway To The Postseason

This isn’t about making a trade for a running back or a wide receiver or throwing around any of the fantasy ideas of Howie Roseman swooping in and making a bold move to turn this season around. It’s not about the penalty called against Michael Bennett on his sack of Minnesota quarterback Kirk Cousins on Sunday and the outrage that the yellow flag sparked. Nobody cares that Fletcher Cox and Jalen Mills became emotional on the field and in the bench area in the heat of an emotional game on Sunday.

All of the sideshow stuff is just a distraction. The story here is about an Eagles team on a two-game losing streak starting the NFC East schedule on Thursday night against a Giants franchise they’ve been exchanging haymakers with since 1933.

“We just need a win, man,” Cox said on Tuesday. “That’s all it is. That’s our focus. We’re not happy to be here 2-3, but it is what it is. We just have to find a way to win.”

The path to the postseason starts in the division, and the current state of the NFC East is, well, unsightly. Washington leads the way at the moment at 2-2, the Eagles and Cowboys are 2-3, and the Giants are 1-4. The team that wins in division play has a very good chance of winning the NFC East and hosting a postseason game.

“Throw out the records, because it’s a division game,” middle linebacker Jordan Hicks said. “We know the Giants are an extremely talented team offensively and they’re playing hard. They’re close to turning things around there. You see it when you watch the tape. I know how competitive the NFC East is. I know how tough it is to win games against that team.”

What has happened with the NFC East, which was expected to take a step forward this season with the Giants selecting Penn State superstar running back Saquon Barkley with the second pick in the NFL Draft, Washington upgrading (it thought) at quarterback with Alex Smith, and with Dallas having running back Ezekiel Elliott for the entire season? Those three squads, combined with an Eagles team that many thought would be ready to pick up where it left off last season, would make for an extremely competitive division.

And it could still turn out that way. We’re only five games in. But the division looks leaky, at best. New York has only recently started scoring points. Washington’s defense has been up and down. Dallas has been challenged offensively. And the Eagles, you know, just haven’t gotten things going on a consistent basis.

So here we are. Shades of the Andy Reid Era with regards to the NFC East. Maybe some team gets hot and creates distance in the division. The Eagles won nine straight games last season and ran away with the East. The Cowboys and Giants were heads and shoulders about the rest of the four-team battlefield the year before. It could happen. But more than likely, the division race will come down to late in the season, and for the Eagles that means games against the Giants (November 25), Washington (December 3), Cowboys (December 9) and Washington again to end the regular season (December 30).

And remember this: No team has repeated as NFC East champion since the Eagles did it in 2004, the final season of a dominating NFC East run. Just when you think you’ve got the division figured out, you don’t. This year is no exception.

The road to the postseason goes through the division. That’s always the case. And it generally comes down to the in-NFC East games. One month-plus into the season, we don’t know a whole lot about the teams in the East. The Eagles lead the way with inconsistency. They, like every team in the division, has yet to establish a concrete identity.

Thursday night goes a long way to establishing the season. The Eagles have a lot of factors working against them here. Road teams on Thursday nights traditionally struggle. The injury factor is real. The offensive backfield is challenged.

But ...

“We have to go get us a win,” Cox said. “All that other stuff doesn’t mean a thing. Winning is the only goal. We need to go there and get it done.”

It’s about the NFC East, the pathway to the postseason.

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