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).

Cold can't keep Joel Embiid away from first Sixers practice

Cold can't keep Joel Embiid away from first Sixers practice

STOCKTON, N.J. — Joel Embiid awoke Tuesday morning and was still feeling ill from a cold and virus he has been battling since last Friday. He had been coughing, experiencing a bloody nose and even vomiting, but all those symptoms could not stop him from a day he has been eyeing for over two years: his first NBA practice.

Embiid had stayed back in Philadelphia on Monday night while the Sixers traveled to training camp at Stockton University in South Jersey. On Tuesday, he decided to leave the city and join the team on campus.

“I woke up this morning and I was like, ‘I waited too long for this time, so I’ve got to go and try to do some work in there,’” Embiid said.

Embiid had been sidelined by foot injuries since the Sixers drafted him third overall in 2014. Tuesday marked his first NBA practice, and he is eyeing his first preseason game next Tuesday against the Celtics.

Embiid was not expected to be part of training camp Tuesday because of his illness. He surprised the team when he arrived while practice was underway. The Sixers' medical staff cleared him before he took the court.

“He forced himself into practice today,” head coach Brett Brown said. “He said, ‘I feel good, I want to go.’ With the time that he has put in the last few years, he meant it. You respected that instruction.”

Embiid is following a minutes restriction during training camp, which currently is 25 minutes for the morning session and 20 minutes for the evening session. His previous physical restrictions have been lifted and the team is monitoring him for workload and time on the court.

“I step back and figure out how do I want to spend my money?” Brown said. “If we’ve got X amount of time, where do I feel like he can make the most improvement? Where do I feel like he’s going to have the best chance to get on the court and play minutes, as we expect against the Celtics?”

Tuesday morning’s session focused on the defensive end. While Embiid had trouble breathing at points and tired quickly, he made an effort to give 100 percent on the court. The only lags in Embiid’s game Brown noticed were attributed to his illness, not because of his foot.

“I don’t think he’s missed a beat from a great month of September,” Brown said.

The Sixers sensed the enthusiasm from Embiid. Regardless of his restrictions, his energy was felt among the team.

“When he did get in, he played well,” Ben Simmons said. “He’s a big inside presence. He got a lot of boards and crashed the offensive glass.”

Added Jahlil Okafor: "He’s excited to be here. Obviously, he’s had a couple tough years with his injuries that he couldn’t control. But he’s finally here and he’s taking advantage of that."

The Sixers will hold training camp through Friday at Stockton University. Embiid is looking to push past any symptoms to be on the court as much as he can.

Nerlens Noel's complaints only damage Sixers' trade leverage

Nerlens Noel's complaints only damage Sixers' trade leverage

Silence is golden.

It's a phrase uttered often by parents and teachers. It can also be an effective phrase when dealing with negotiations.

I'm not revealing a big secret by saying the Sixers have a logjam in their frontcourt. At some point, something has to give.

Nerlens Noel, a key component of the aforementioned logjam, doubled down on his quotes from over the weekend about the Sixers' "silly" frontcourt situation.

"I don't see a way it can work," Noel said on Monday. "It's just a logjam. You have three young, talented centers that can play 30-plus minutes a night."

Uh-oh.

Bryan Colangelo acknowledged that teams have been trying to "poach" a big man off him. He's been adamant in saying that he's not shopping any of his bigs. For leverage purposes, that's wise.

Any leverage Colangelo may have accrued through his media tour this summer took a hit. With the health of Joel Embiid still a question mark, it's important that the Sixers take a wait-and-see approach to their situation. Noel may have just put a damper on that plan.

I'm not advocating for the trade of Noel and keeping Jahlil Okafor. In fact, I've said that if Embiid proves he's healthy, I'd move both Noel and Okafor if the value was appropriate.

There can be arguments made for keeping Noel over the other two centers. His athleticism and rim protection skills fit Brett Brown's system and the way the NBA is trending. And it's important to note that Noel isn't wrong. It won't benefit him to take a cut in minutes. It won't help Okafor either. It's not the most pleasant situation to be sure. He has every right to be unhappy, but getting the media involved doesn't benefit Noel or the Sixers.

Anyone in any job should have the right to speak out if they feel they're being slighted, but sometimes you have to "play the game." If Noel were a poker player, he just revealed his hand. He should've shown up, said the right things and allowed Colangelo to negotiate a deal.

The best parallel is what the Eagles and Sam Bradford went through this offseason. Bradford was unhappy the Eagles traded valuable draft picks to acquire Carson Wentz. Understandable, but when he threw his rattle down and sat out part of camp, it helped nobody. The Broncos tried to lowball Howie Roseman, figuring Roseman had no leverage with Bradford's intent to get traded out of town. Roseman stood his ground and the Eagles were able to hold the Vikings hostage when Teddy Bridgewater suffered a season-ending knee injury.

It's not something you hope for by any means, but these things happen. Players get hurt and teams are left scrambling to find a replacement. Take a look at the Chris Bosh situation with the Miami Heat. Bosh, who's had a tremendous career, will likely never play again because of issues with blood clots. The Heat are likely not a match for the Sixers given defensive-minded center Hassan Whiteside's new contract, but the point is that you never know what will happen between now and opening night.

For Bradford, it was resolved just a week before the season started. If Noel follows suit with Bradford, perhaps there will be a similar solution.

"Things need to get situated," Noel said. "I think things obviously need to be moved around, someone needs to be moved around. It's just a tough situation. I can't really say too much because I have no say in the matter, so obviously that's for who can handle the situation in the right manner."

Well, Nerlens, you said too much already.