Where the NFC East Stands After the Birds' Bye Week

Where the NFC East Stands After the Birds' Bye Week

Let's get
real for a minute. The Eagles' playoff hopes are still alive, but on life
support. Frankly, the main reason they have a chance at all is because
the division -- one that traditionally produces at least one legitimate contender
-- lacks a clear-cut frontrunner this season.

So far.

The
picture of the NFC East has developed quite a bit since the Eagles last
took the field. The Giants have overcome adversity to take sole
possession of first place with a healthy one-game lead. The Cowboys
could be on the rise after surviving the daunting early portion of their
schedule. And the Redskins, well... they might be fading after jumping
out to a surprisingly hot start.

It's hard to say what it all
means for the Birds, who remain something of an unknown quantity at 2-4,
except that they are standing on the outside looking in. However, the
one thing we do know is based on how the standings shake out right now, a
premium has been placed on winning the division. Simply put, the Eagles
dug themselves such a massive hole, it's unlikely they would ever be in
contention for a wild card.

That means four teams are battling
for one playoff berth. Can the Eagles really put themselves back into
the conversation after handing their rivals a cozy head start? We break
down each club's map to the postseason.

1. NEW YORK (4-2)

Wins: STL, @PHI, @ARI, BUF
Losses: @WAS, SEA

Schedule: MIA, @NE, @SF, PHI, @NO, GB, @DAL, WAS, @NYJ, DAL

The
good times are about to end for the G-men. After next week's cupcake,
New York has dates with four of the NFL's top teams -- three of those on
the road -- with their second tilt against the Birds sandwiched in
between. They also have both sets with the Cowboys, and a competitive
opponent in the Jets.

If the Giants somehow manage to go .500
over the six-game stretch between Weeks 9 and 14, they would have a good
shot at finishing with 10 wins. That could be enough to secure the
division, provided they take at least one off of Dallas. Oh, and it
would be pretty damned impressive as well.

That scenario is
difficult to imagine though. New York has showed signs of being
vulnerable. They padded their record against bottom-feeders, and looked
lousy in losses to mediocre opponents. Plus, you would expect all the
injuries they sustained would take their toll on any club sooner or
later. Give the Giants credit for holding it together up to this point,
but it won't be a big shocker when they suddenly fall off a cliff.

Key
Stat: New York is even worse than the Eagles when it comes to stopping
the run. The Giants are giving up 127.7 yards per game on the ground,
the sixth-highest total in the league.

2. DALLAS (3-3)

Wins: @SF, WAS, STL
Losses: @NYJ, DET, @NE

Schedule: @PHI, SEA, BUF, @WAS, MIA, @ARI, NYG, @TB, PHI, @NYG

The
Boys are similar to the Eagles in that they very easily could have a
few more wins right now. They Tony Romoed big leads away versus the Jets
and Lions, and dropped another one late to Tom Brady and the
Patriots.

The good news is as long as Romo is under the center,
the Cowboys will always be prone to giving games away. The bad news is
their path to the postseason is looking mighty favorable. Only two of
their non-division opponents have winning records, and the Bills and
Buccaneers are not exactly the Saints or Packers. They could be looking
at seven or eight wins, not even counting five more games in the East.

How
far they go ultimately depends on two factors: staying healthy, and
their ability to weather inconsistent quarterback play. If they can stop
shooting themselves in the foot, Dallas has to be considered the safest
bet to crawl to the top of the trash heap.

Key Stat: Let's keep
DeMarco Murray's 253-yard rushing performance against the Rams on Sunday
in perspective. St. Louis is dead last allowing 183.8 yards per game
against the run -- over 40 yards worse than the next team -- and prior
to Murray's breakout game, Big D was ranked 27th, averaging just 84.8. (Correction: following Sunday night's game, the Rams are no longer 40 yards worse than the Colts... but they are still nearly 50 yards worse than the 30th-place Bills!)

3. WASHINGTON (3-3)

Wins: NYG, ARI, @STL
Losses: @DAL, PHI, @CAR

Schedule: @BUF, SF, @MIA, DAL, @SEA, NYJ, NE, @NYG, MIN, @PHI

These
guys might be in trouble. The Skins have fallen back down to earth
rather predictably, bogged down by horrendous quarterback play and a
punchless offense. Their defense will keep them competitive, but they
didn't get any assistance from the schedule makers.

The Redskins
go outside the division for four meetings against clubs with winning
records, not to mention road trips to Seattle are never fun, the Seahawks'
stadium being among the toughest to play. Honestly, with Washington's issues,
even the winless Dolphins and 1-6 Vikings are no sure thing.

Washington
will do what they do. They'll play the East tough, largely because of
the familiarity. Their defense will make a fool out of some
inexperienced or terrible quarterback like Matt Moore. They will
probably even eke out a W in some game nobody expects them to take,
maybe the 49ers. In the end, Rex Grossman and John Beck are who we
thought they were, and all those folks who legitimately believed the
Redskins could win this division will look as silly as Dan Snyder and
Mike Shanahan.

Key Stat: The Redskins are ranked 31st in passer
efficiency with a quarterback rating of 69.8. Grossman and Beck have
combined to throw seven touchdowns to 10 interceptions through three
games, guiding the team to a -6 turnover differential.

4. PHILADELPHIA (2-4)

Wins: @STL, @WAS
Losses: @ATL, NYG, SF, @BUF

Schedule: DAL, CHI, ARI, @NYG, NE, @SEA, @MIA, NYJ, @DAL, WAS

What does it all mean?

First,
take a glance at the rest of the slate. Remember when we thought the
early portion of the schedule would be a walk, and it would only get
crazier down the stretch? That wound up being a little misleading. All
the losses were to teams with winning records, and while there are four
more ahead -- not to mention those all-important dances with Dallas --
the Patriots are the only powerhouse left.

If the Eagles could
win three of their next four, they would head into the New England game
at 5-5, with three of their final six games coming against bad teams.
Three of these next four are home games. Andy Reid is undefeated following the bye. The
Cardinals stink, and the Birds will be looking to get some revenge when
they take on the Giants in the Meadowlands.

Of course, they'll have to pick up a
couple wins over decent teams too in order to truly get this season back
on track. Whether or not they will is anybody's guess, but the Bears
and Jets are both beatable. With an extra hard-fought W or two, you can
almost start to see how this could turn in to a 10-win season yet.

But
if Philadelphia really wants to have any hope of sneaking into the
postseason, it appears the road will go through Dallas. The Cowboys have
the type of schedule where it's plausible they could rack up as many as
11 wins, and a roster full of Pro Bowl players and emerging talent that
appears capable of getting on a huge roll.

In other words, the Birds may be staring at a situation where the only conceivable way for
them to continue playing football into January is by defeating the
Cowboys -- not once, but twice. A series split simply will not do enough
if Dallas wins all the games they are supposed to win, barring an Eagles
turnaround that would be nothing short of magical.

Key Stat: In
the Eagles' Week 6 victory over the Redskins, Michael Vick attempted 31
passes. On 27 of those, he got the ball out of his hands in three
seconds or less.
The strategy limited Vick's sacks (two), created
manageable third downs (6-for-16), and that led to the offense dominating time of
possession (38 to 22).

Best of MLB: Nelson Cruz drives in 7 as Mariners pummel Blue Jays

Best of MLB: Nelson Cruz drives in 7 as Mariners pummel Blue Jays

TORONTO -- Nelson Cruz hit his ninth career grand slam and added a three-run shot, and Hisashi Iwakuma pitched six innings to win his fifth straight start in Seattle's victory over Toronto.

Cruz hit his slam off R.A. Dickey (7-11) in the third, then added a three-run drive off Drew Storen in the eighth for his 20th career multi-homer game. He has 25 home runs this season.

It was the 13th time in team history a Mariners player has recorded seven RBIs. The team record is eight by Mike Blowers, Mike Cameron and Alvin Davis.

Kyle Seager hit a two-run homer and Nori Aoki had two RBIs and scored twice as the Mariners used a season-high 19 hits to win their third straight. Iwakuma (11-6) allowed two runs and four hits.

Wade LeBlanc pitched the final three innings for his first save (see full recap).

Stanton leads Marlins past Mets
MIAMI -- Giancarlo Stanton homered and had his first four-hit game since 2012, driving in three runs to give Jose Fernandez all the support he needed, and Miami beat New York.

Miami rocked Jacob deGrom (6-5), who allowed 10 hits and five runs, both season highs, and lasted just 3 2/3 innings in his shortest outing since August.

Fernandez (12-4) gave up two runs in seven innings to match his career high for victories, achieved in his 2013 rookie season. He also had two hits, hiking his average to .265, and drove in the first run.

Home Run Derby winner Stanton put Miami ahead to stay in the third inning when he hit a majestic two-run homer off the left-field scoreboard above the 401-foot sign. He added an RBI single in the fourth, and singled in the first and sixth, hiking his average to .241 after a prolonged slump (see full recap).  

Dodgers snap Cardinals' 5-game win streak
ST. LOUIS -- Adrian Gonzalez hit his eighth homer, red-hot Justin Turner got two more RBIs and the Los Angeles Dodgers beat St. Louis 7-2 on Saturday night to end the Cardinals' five-game winning streak.

Turner's two-run double capped a four-run third. He has 14 RBIs since the All-Star break.

Gonzalez's 429-foot solo blast to center sparked a three-run sixth.

Kenta Maeda (9-7) rebounded from a poor outing against Arizona on July 17, giving up two runs over 5 2/3 innings. Only one of the Cardinals' first 15 batters was able to hit the ball out of the infield against the Japanese right-hander.

Andrew Toles went 3 for 4 and scored once for the Dodgers. He has reached safely in nine of 10 games since being called up from the minors.

Mike Leake (7-8) allowed seven runs -- six earned -- in six innings.

Matt Adams homered for the second consecutive game. His blast to left in the fourth extended the Cardinals' streak of home runs to 14 straight games.

Aledmys Diaz reached safely for the 26th straight game with a first-inning single. Diaz's streak is the second-longest by a Cardinals rookie since Albert Pujols had streaks of 30 and 48 games in 2001 (see full recap).

Drew's walk-off triple lifts Nats past Padres
WASHINGTON -- Pinch-hitter Stephen Drew hit a game-ending RBI triple in the ninth inning to lift Washington past San Diego,

Anthony Rendon opened the bottom off the ninth with a single off reliever Kevin Quackenbush (6-4). Drew entered with one out and drove a pitch off the center-field scoreboard, and Rendon raced around the bases for the winning run.

Jonathan Papelbon (2-2) allowed a leadoff double in the ninth before retiring three straight batters. San Diego left runners in scoring position in each of the last two innings.

Washington starter Max Scherzer struck out 10 over seven innings (see full recap).

Giants top Yanks in extras to snap losing skid
NEW YORK -- Mac Williamson homered in the fifth inning and hit a tiebreaking single in the 12th, lifting San Francisco past New York for the Giants' first victory since the All-Star break.

NL West-leading San Francisco had lost a season-high six straight games and had held just one lead since the break -- when Buster Posey hit a go-ahead home run leading off the 10th inning at San Diego on July 16 only to have the Padres rally for a pair of runs in the bottom half against Santiago Casilla.

Williamson, whose fourth-inning error allowed the Yankees' run, began the comeback when he connected off Ivan Nova leading off the fifth.

Trevor Brown hit an opposite-field double to right off Anthony Swarzak (1-1) leading off the 12th, and Williamson singled up the middle with one out, just past the glove of diving shortstop Didi Gregorius. San Francisco was 0 for 10 with runners in scoring position, dropping to 7 for 64 (.111) since the All-Star break, before Williamson's single.

Cheered on by hundreds of orange-clad fans in the Giants' old hometown, San Francisco escaped a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the 10th when Casilla (2-3) retired Brian McCann on a shallow flyout and Starlin Castro on a foulout. Hunter Strickland pitched a perfect 12th for his second save (see full recap).

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

Joel Embiid posts amazing tribute to Sam Hinkie on Instagram

The treasure trove that is Joel Embiid's social media presence unearthed another jewel on Saturday evening.

The Sixers' big man took to Instagram to post a picture of himself chatting with local folk legend Sam Hinkie. As if that wasn't enough, check out the captions he wrote at the bottom.

THE GOAT #HeDiedForOurSins #TrustTheProcess

A photo posted by Joel Hans Embiid (@joelembiid) on

Let us break this down.

"THE GOAT" - As in Greatest Of All Time, not an actual goat you would find at your local petting zoo.

"#HeDiedForOurSins" - St. Sam, patron saint of analytical basketball martyrdom.

"#TrustTheProcess" - The rallying cry of the masses.

Sure, they may have taken away Sam, but they'll never take away JoJo's social media platforms. Never!

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

ap-cj-sapong-union.jpg
Associated Press

Union have no answer for Didier Drogba, Impact in 5-1 loss

MONTREAL  -- Didier Drogba broke out with a hat trick to lead the Montreal Impact to a 5-1 victory over the Union on Saturday night.

The 38-year-old Ivorian striker hadn't scored since May 28. He returned last week after missing three games with a thigh injury.

Ignacio Piatti returned after sitting out a one-game suspension to score a goal and add two assists. Recent signing Matteo Mancuso, who went in for Drogba in the 79th minute, got his first MLS goal in added time.

Montreal improved to 7-5-8.

Chris Pontius scored for Philadelphia (8-7-6).