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 NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

Best of NHL: Lee scores 2 power-play goals, Islanders beat Kings

NEW YORK -- The New York Islanders are on quite a nice roll.

Anders Lee scored two power-play goals to lead the Islanders to a 4-2 victory over the Los Angeles Kings on Saturday night, giving New York its third straight win and fourth in the last five games.

"We've been keeping it simple of late," said Lee, who has four goals in two games against the Kings this season. "We've been getting shots on net and being more effective. I'll do my thing down low."

John Tavares had a goal and an assist, Jason Chimera also scored and Jean-Francois Berube stopped 34 shots to earn his first win in his third start of the season (see full recap).

Hartnell snaps tie as Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The Blue Jackets would just as soon forget the second period of Saturday's game, when the Carolina Hurricanes rallied from a 2-0 deficit to tie it.

Columbus didn't play much better in the third but withstood 15 shots and killed three penalties. Midway through, Scott Hartnell scored his second goal of the game , and the Blue Jackets beat Carolina 3-2.

Columbus got the win despite being outshot 37-20.

Hartnell scored in the first period and then netted the tiebreaker, helping the Blue Jackets overcome a horrendous second period - in which they managed only two shots on goal - to beat Carolina for the second time this week (see full recap).

Beagle scores in overtime, Capitals beat Stars 4-3
DALLAS -- Jay Beagle scored 19 seconds into overtime and the Washington Capitals rallied to beat the Dallas Stars 4-3 on Saturday night.

Evgeny Kuznetsov skated behind the net and put the puck in front to Beagle. His wrist shot beat goalie Kari Lehtonen, who got tangled with a defender and lost his footing.

The Stars led 3-1 and didn't allow Washington a power play until the third period, but then Alex Ovechkin and T.J. Oshie scored with the man advantage in the first 5:26 of the period.

Adam Cracknell and Jamie Benn scored for Dallas on plays that originally were ruled no goal. Patrick Eaves had a goal and an assist for the Stars (see full recap).

Bogosian scores in overtime, Sabres edge Canadiens 3-2
MONTREAL -- The Sabres couldn't score from in close on All-Star goalie Carey Price late in regulation Saturday night.

So Zach Bogosian teed it up from a ways out in overtime to lift Buffalo.

Bogosian scored his first goal of the season in overtime and the Sabres beat the Montreal Canadiens 3-2 in the second game of a back-to-back for both teams.

Buffalo nearly broke through against Price near the end of the third period. Price made a pad save on Matt Moulson on a breakaway at 19:40, and then with six seconds remaining, he robbed Rasmus Ristolainen with a windmill glove save (see full recap).

 

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

Best of NBA: Kawhi Leonard scores 41, Spurs down Cavaliers in OT

CLEVELAND -- Kawhi Leonard scored a career-high 41 points, LaMarcus Aldridge had 16 points and 12 rebounds, and the San Antonio Spurs beat the Cleveland Cavaliers 118-115 in overtime on Saturday night despite missing starters Tony Parker and Pau Gasol.

Leonard scored six in OT, including a game-sealing dunk with 4.9 seconds left, as the Spurs regrouped after a late collapse in regulation.

David Lee, making a rare start in place of the injured Gasol, added 14 points as San Antonio improved to 18-4 on the road.

LeBron James and Kyrie Irving scored 29 apiece for the Cavs, who had the last shot in regulation and had plenty of opportunities in the extra five minutes. Cleveland still had a chance to tie it in the final second of overtime, but Kevin Love missed a 3-pointer (see full recap).

Lillard, McCollum carry Portland to OT win over Boston
BOSTON -- Damian Lillard had a three-point play with 47 seconds left in overtime and finished with 28 points to lift the Portland Trail Blazers to a 127-123 victory over the Boston Celtics on Saturday night, snapping their four-game losing streak.

CJ McCollum scored 35 points to lead Portland, which lost in the closing seconds in Philadelphia on Friday night. Lillard added seven assists.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 41 points, his 14th time this season with 30 or more points. Marcus Smart and Al Horford each scored 17 for the Celtics, who have lost two straight after winning 13 of 16.

Thomas nailed a go-ahead 3-pointer with 1:24 to play in OT, pushing Boston ahead by one, but Al-Farouq Aminu was fouled on the next possession and hit both free throws to move Portland back in front.

Lillard then drove the lane, was fouled and hit the free throw. Mason Plumlee had a short jumper in the lane and a free throw in the closing 24 seconds (see full recap).

Booker scores 26 as Suns edge Knicks 107-105
NEW YORK -- Devin Booker scored 26 points and made a go-ahead 3-pointer with 31 seconds left, and the Phoenix Suns beat the New York Knicks 107-105 on Saturday night.

Carmelo Anthony's attempt at a winning 3-pointer rimmed out as Phoenix snapped a two-game losing streak and handed New York its second loss in a row.

Eric Bledsoe added 23 points for the Suns, while P.J. Tucker and Marquese Chriss each had 15.

Anthony led the Knicks with 31 points, Derrick Rose had 26 and Kristaps Porzingis scored 14 (see full recap).

Dekker scores career-best 30 leading Rockets past Grizzlies
MEMPHIS, Tenn. -- Sam Dekker scored a career-high 30 points, James Harden added 29 points and 10 assists and the Houston Rockets leaned on their usual 3-point offense to beat the Memphis Grizzlies 119-95 on Saturday night.

Eric Gordon added 21 points as the Rockets built the lead to as many as 20 in the fourth quarter before easily coasting home.

Dekker, making his first career start in place of the ill Ryan Anderson, made 12 of 19 shots, including 6 of 11 from outside the arc. Houston shot 51 percent overall and 38 percent from distance.

Marc Gasol scored 32 points and Mike Conley added 15 for the Grizzlies, who lost for the third time in the last four.

Memphis struggled shooting the entire night, finishing at 37 percent and unsuccessfully tried to follow the Rockets' long-range attack but converted only 9 of 34 from outside the arc (see full recap).