NFC East: Four Teams, Two Glamour Division Clashes
by Justin Henry (@cynicjrh)
NFC East Beat Writer/Be Sure to Credit His Twitter for Anything Written Here
And so, there were three.
No, the Philadelphia Eagles haven't been mathematically eliminated from playoff contention yet. However, a loss on Sunday drops them to 3-9, and a win for the New York Giants brings them to 8-4, rendering the Eagles unable to claim the NFC East title.
With a plethora of 5-6's and 6-5's ahead of them, don't expect Philly to be contending for a wild card spot either.
Instead, the East is a Three Horse Race, focused on the 7-4 New York Giants, and the Washington Redskins and Dallas Cowboys, both 5-6.
And it turns out, all four teams are playing each other, as they will again in Week 17.
The Giants need a win to extend their division lead over the Redskins, while perhaps hoping the Eagles can knock Dallas back a peg. With 4 games left, the Giants would have a commanding 3 game lead.
Meanwhile, for the Eagles, Manti Te'o is sure looking good right about now.
1. Why the Giants will Beat the Redskins
The road to winning the NFC East will be so, so much easier for the defending Super Bowl Champions if they can knock one of their two remaining challengers back by another game.
And just how do the Giants edge the Redskins?
Simple: Eli Manning throws the ball.
The Redskins give up 313.7 passing yards per game, the second worst average in the league behind Tampa Bay. Despite Manning's recent struggles (15 TD, 11 INT on the year), he can erase some of those woes by making 'the big play'.
Enter Victor Cruz, who KO'ed the Redskins on October 21 with a 77-yard touchdown reception, a play that DeAngelo Hall infamously claimed to have let Cruz have.
Cruz has 3 100-yard games this season, and is the top Pro Bowl vote-getter in the NFC thanks in large part to big plays such as these. The Redskins secondary is still a point of weakness, so if they can't pressure Manning, he can unload with fury on them.
The Giants defense forces turnovers and collects sacks 3 out of every 25 plays, making them one of the deadliest pass rushing teams in the league. This was also evident in the October 21 matchup, as the Giants recovered 3 fumbles (Robert Griffin III, Alfred Morris, and Santana Moss all coughed up the rock), and RG3 threw a pick to Stevie Brown.
The Redskins have 10 turnovers all year - four came in that one game.
2. Why the Redskins will Beat the Giants
On the contrary, if not for Cruz's catch-and-run six weeks ago, the Redskins may only be a game behind the Giants, with the division lead at stake this week.
Instead, the Redskins will be aiming to make up ground with a win at home against a team that hasn't exactly been burning rubber lately.
For one thing, the Redskins have been feistier, creating 6 turnovers over their last 2 games, both victories over the Eagles and Cowboys. This includes 4 interceptions and a pair of fumble recoveries.
Over those 2 games, the Redskins led by a combined score of 45-6 at the half.
One way for the Skins to build up an early, insurmountable lead is to run the ball. They ran for 248 yards on New York in the first go-around, and the Giants have given up 140+ rushing yards four times this season.
Thanks to Griffin and Morris' potent one-two punch, Washington averages 5.18 yards a run, the fourth best average in the league.
The Giants, meanwhile, have the tenth worst rushing average on defense, a 4.42 YPA mean.
New York has also been a defensive liability overall as the season's wore on. In five of their last seven games, they've given up 23+ points, maxing out with 31 given up to Cincinnati.
Green Bay may have soiled the sheets against the Giants coming off the G-Men's bye, but Washington's 26.8 PPG average provides little guarantee that the Giants can thoroughly squash their opponent again.
3. Why the Eagles will Beat the Cowboys
The best reasons I can concoct for the Eagles ending their 7-game losing streak on Sunday in JerryLand go like this
1) The Eagles are so littered with new/hardly used faces (Nick Foles, Bryce Brown, Riley Cooper, Vinny Curry, Fletcher Cox) that Dallas could have difficulty game-planning for "the unknown."
2) Dallas forfeits
That's not to say that the Cowboys are guaranteed victory. It's just that the Eagles have played so lifelessly and without guile since their bye week, before which they were 3-3. And prior to that, before a pair of fourth-quarter cough-ups to Pittsburgh and Detroit, they stood at 3-1.
Now 3-8, with little hope of escaping the cellar, it's hard to imagine them beating anyone at this point.
Then again, if they committed to the run as much as they did Monday, they'd have a chance. Although the Eagles ran the ball less, it seemed, to alleviate pressure on Foles, they managed to get 178 yards on 19 carries out of Brown. The reward was 2 touchdowns, but that price tag involved 2 fumbles.
Still, Dallas has given up 100+ rushing yards in 5 of their last 6 games, including 142 to Washington on Thanksgiving.
If the Eagles realized that they can run the ball, to the tune of 4.69 YPA over the course of the season, they'd probably be a lot better than 3-8 right now.
4. Why the Cowboys will Beat the Eagles
Because they're playing the friggin' Eagles! Thank you, I'll be here all week, try the veal.
Seriously though, Dallas should be able to win a game over a team that hasn't won since September 30, or even looked like a competent team since October 14.
This is especially true, considering Dallas pasted the Eagles 38-23 on November 11, scoring twice on defense, and once on special teams via a Dwayne Harris punt return. Each of those scores came in a 21-point fourth quarter.
The Eagles have turned the ball over 15 times during their losing run, with 7 of them over their last 3 games; 5 of which were lost fumbles.
Philadelphia has also allowed opponents to score no less than 28 points on them over each of the last 5 games, all under Todd Bowles' eye as defensive coordinator. In none of those games have they intercepted a single pass.
Dallas has seen their scoring average swell to 22 points a game, scoring 38, 23, and 31 points over the past 3 weeks.
Tony Romo, excluding the Washington game, has largely been avoiding mistakes since throwing 4 interceptions against the Giants in October. He went 3 straight games without a pick before Washington took away a couple.
Romo's completed 65.9 percent of passes, and has thrown 7 touchdown passes over the last 4 games. Ideally, that'd be enough to KO Philly's disgusting secondary.
5. Mini Power Rankings
1. New York (7-4)
Breakout star Andre Brown is now on IR Recall after an injury to his fibula, meaning the Giants will have to roll with David Wilson to spell Ahmad Bradshaw. Wilson's early season mistakes and jitters led to Brown taking over, so the pressure will be back on.
2. Washington (5-6)
The last time the Redskins were 5-6 was the 2010 season, when Donovan McNabb was in his lone year as Skins quarterback. They would lose 2 straight, and Rex Grossman was inserted as quarterback. He went 1-2, bringing Washington to a disappointing 6-10 finish.
3. Dallas (5-6)
An elbow injury to Bruce Carter placed the emerging linebacker on IR. Rob Ryan will now have to find somebody else to be the corps' spark, as original starter, another breakout player in Sean Lee, went out for the season with an injury to his foot.
4. Philadelphia (3-8)
Stanley Havili, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, and Evan Mathis are the only 4 offensive starters on opening day still healthy for the Eagles. DeSean Jackson joins 3 offensive linemen on IR, while Michael Vick and LeSean McCoy still battle with their concussions.
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