The Dallas Cowboys take center stage on Sunday afternoon and evening as the NFL's Divisional Playoff round wraps up, and all eyes will be on a team that is the No. 1 seed in the NFC and the lead dog in the NFC East after a 13-3 regular season. As we consider the improvements the Eagles must make to get back into the playoffs, we also understand this: The NFC East is on the verge of being as strong as it has ever been, recalling the division's most imposing days when it won five Super Bowls between 1990 and 1995.
Is the NFC East the strongest division in the NFL? No doubt the AFC West can jump into the conversation, but the fact is that the NFC East was very impressive in 2016 and there is every reason to believe that the level of competition will be just as high, if not higher, for years to come.
So the stakes are substantial for the future. The Eagles need to catch up in the NFC East after a 7-9 season. The specifics are to be determined, but trust that there isn't a position the Eagles will ignore as they look to improve throughout the roster.
The rest of the division? Dallas hosts Green Bay on Sunday as the Cowboys look to ride the talents of rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott into the NFC Championship Game. The New York Giants are a high-powered defense after an offseason spending spree on that side of the football and, while they lost on Sunday at the Packers, they won 11 games in the first year with head coach Ben McAdoo. As long as the Giants have that defense, and those dangerous receivers and quarterback Eli Manning playing at a high level, they are a threat.
Washington had a mysterious collapse at the end of the regular season, going 2-4 down the stretch after a take-them-for-real 42-24 victory over Green Bay on November 20. Washington changed out its defensive coaching staff and is interviewing candidates for the coordinator job and then, of course, has an important decision to make on quarterback Kirk Cousins. Does he stay or does he go, and if he stays, will the franchise tag fit once again? Still, there is no denying the firepower that Washington has assembled offensively, and the defense has some pieces and, well, Washington is right there in the division.
looking to make a significant leap from his outstanding and ultra-promising rookie campaign to his second NFL season at the quarterback position and with Doug Pederson building on some of the successes he had in his rookie year at head coach.
The point is this: The NFC East is loaded and it's going to continue to be the NFL's marquee division for years to come. It's a super-competitive foursome that is reminiscent of the days when coaches like Bill Parcells and Jimmy Johnson and Joe Gibbs battled with Buddy Ryan for division supremacy. Andy Reid took the Eagles to a new level from 2000-2010, and only the Chip Kelly Eagles in 2013 have been atop the NFC East since Reid left. The Eagles have some ground to make up to catch the Cowboys and the Giants and the Redskins.
"It's a very competitive division and that's the way you want it," Pederson said during the season. "We know that in order to win in the NFC East, you have to win those games. That's the way it works in this league. That's the path you have to take to the playoffs."
The Eagles won their final two regular season games to finish 2-4 in the NFC East in 2016. Maybe those wins over New York and Dallas will create some in-division momentum. Between now and when the 2017 season begins, the Cowboys carry the mantle for the NFC East, a beast of a division that figures to flex its collective muscle for many seasons to come.