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).

NBA draft profile: F Brandon Ingram

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NBA draft profile: F Brandon Ingram

Brandon Ingram

Position: Forward

Height: 6-9

Weight: 196

School: Duke

For months, Ben Simmons seemed to be a lock for the No. 1 pick. There was little competition for the LSU forward, who had been highly touted for years. Then came Brandon Ingram. The long, lanky forward emerged during his freshman (and only) season at Duke to make the top selection a legitimate two-player debate.

Ingram averaged 17.3 points, 6.8 rebounds and 2.0 assists in 34.6 minutes per game. He scored 20 points or more in each of the fourth-ranked Blue Devils’ tournament games before they were eliminated in the Sweet 16.

Here’s the biggest intrigue with Ingram: He’s only 18 years old. After coming on this strong as a freshman, his potential is one of his largest draws.

The Sixers met with Ingram at the draft combine and have attended a private workout held by his agency.

Strengths
Ingram set himself apart with his ability to shoot. He made 41.0 percent from three (80 of 195), an impressive mark for a player his size. Ingram also shot 44.2 percent from the field. He doesn’t rely on his outside game, attacking the basket as well to create a versatile offensive package.

Ingram’s length allows him to get his hands on the ball all over the court. With a 7-foot-3 wingspan, Ingram can fight over opponents for rebounds and loose balls. On the defensive end, his size creates mismatches, including on the perimeter. As bigs expand their shots away from the basket, Ingram can chase his opponents out to the wing. 

His 2.0 assists per game don’t tell the whole story of his passing abilities. Ingram has a high basketball IQ and sees the floor to create for his teammates.

Weaknesses
Ingram has to develop an NBA body. Playing his position at less than 200 pounds, he will get bounced around by other bigs. By putting on muscle, he will be able to play tougher defense at the basket.

Ingram can improve his all-around defensive skillset. He has shown he can rebound, but his overall consistency and intensity stands to be amped up in the pros.

Ingram can also improve his free throws after shooting 68.2 percent from the line at Duke.

How he'd fit with the Sixers
The Sixers don’t have a consistent go-to scoring option. Ingram could fulfill that role as the top offensive weapon. Being only 18, he would be part of the Sixers’ young foundation they could develop over time. His athleticism would help facilitate an uptempo system that maximizes their youth to get up and down the court. Brett Brown emphasizes his desire for two-way players and Ingram could contribute on both ends.

NBA comparison
Ingram has been compared to Kevin Durant. Think long and lanky for the position with the offensive skills to be a scoring threat. Ingram also has been likened to Tayshaun Prince, who had a decent NBA career but wasn't an MVP candidate like Durant.

Draft projection
Ingram is in the mix for being the No. 1 pick. If the Sixers go with Simmons at the top spot, expect the Lakers to take Ingram at two.

Cody Asche: 'I'm close' to being ready to rejoin Phillies

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Cody Asche: 'I'm close' to being ready to rejoin Phillies

READING, Pa. — The stat sheet says one thing, Cody Asche another.

“I’m close,” the Phillies’ once (and possibly future) leftfielder said after going hitless in four at-bats in a rehab assignment game for Double A Reading on Thursday morning. “I’m close, for sure.”

Asche, recovering from a strained left oblique muscle, is just 2 for 16 in four games at Reading, after going 3 for 18 in five games at Single A Clearwater.

But not to worry, he said. There are just “a couple little things” he needs to shore up at the plate, things that have led to “not-so-favorable results,” before he is ready to return to the major leagues.

“But I’m confident,” he said. “They’re easy fixes.”

Asche, a little over a month away from his 26th birthday, said he feels healthy, that he just needs to get his timing back, just needs to face more “good quality pitching.”

Where he will get that opportunity is a matter of conjecture. Immediately after beating Erie, 7-4, in Thursday’s matinee, Reading headed to New Hampshire to begin a road trip. Asche was not expected to accompany the Fightin Phils. Meanwhile, Triple A Lehigh Valley begins a homestand Friday.

“I think the plan right now is maybe go up to Lehigh [Friday], but that’s still in the air,” Asche said, adding that he still must consult trainer Scott Sheridan, as well as his rehab coordinator, before a decision is finalized.

It’s not clear if the organization also believes Asche is close to returning to the big leagues. Manager Dusty Wathan was not available for comment after Thursday’s game.

Wathan did address Asche’s situation after he played his first game at Reading on Sunday.

“It’s like his spring training,” the manager told reporters. “He’s trying to get himself back, get himself comfortable in left field, get himself comfortable at the plate and back into baseball shape.”

Asche, the Phillies’ fourth-round pick in 2011, hit .252 with 10 homers and 46 RBIs in 121 games at third base in 2014. Last year he began the season at that position before making the transition to left, in the wake of Maikel Franco’s emergence. But when Franco broke a wrist late in the year, Asche returned to his natural position.

Overall he hit .245 with 12 homers and 39 RBIs in 129 games. Five of his homers came in his last 18 games.

“I came in to spring training as confident as anybody in myself, and building on last year and going forward this year,” he said.

But he injured his oblique (which is near the rib cage) while swinging a bat on the eve of spring drills. Then he rehabbed, returned and promptly reaggravated the injury while swinging through a pitch the final week of camp.

It only hurt when he did … well, everything.

“Imagine everything you do during the day, you feel pain in your abdomen,” he said. “Just small things, like sneezing and coughing, are uncomfortable. Getting in and out of cars.”

Nor was his anguish merely physical.

“We’d be here all day if I tried to explain how frustrating it is,” he said. “It’s been a long process. It’s been tiring. It’s been stressful. A lot of sleepless nights during it, but there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I can see it. I know I’m close. It’s just a matter of time, from here on out. Once it clicks, it will click, and I’ll be ready to go.”

Asche began swinging a bat on May 1, and started his rehab assignment at Clearwater on May 13. He made the move to Reading nine days later.

“I’m kind of over the frustration part,” he said. “I had eight weeks to be frustrated while I was rehabbing. Right now I’m just solely focused on playing baseball, and preparing myself to go up there and compete when it’s my time.”

The Phillies could use him, to add punch to the anemic corner outfield spots. And he believes he can help. 

“There’s still plenty of time,” he said. “We’ve still got a long season left. It’s not even June yet. I’ve got plenty of time to leave my mark on this year.”

Report: Rockets to hire Sixers associate coach Mike D'Antoni

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Report: Rockets to hire Sixers associate coach Mike D'Antoni

The Sixers are losing a top assistant coach just five months after he joined the team. 

According to Adrian Wojnarowski of Yahoo's The Vertical, the Houston Rockets are finalizing a deal to hire Mike D'Antoni as their head coach. According to Wojnarowski, the deal is for four years, with a team option in the final year.  

D'Antoni had been a Sixers associate coach since last December, when the team hired him after starting the season with a 1-26 record. 

While he took a supporting role in Philadelphia, D'Antoni has 12 years of NBA head coaching experience with the Nuggets, Suns (where he worked with Sixers president of basketball operations Bryan Colangelo and special advisor Jerry Colangelo) and, most recently, the Lakers. The 2013-14 Lakers went 27-55 under D'Antoni. 

D’Antoni is 455-426 as a head coach. He won the 2004-05 NBA Coach of the Year Award with the Suns. He also was an assistant coach for gold-winning Team USA men’s national teams.

Rockets interim head coach J.B. Bickerstaff withdrew himself from consideration for the job earlier this month, and D’Antoni has been considered a top candidate for the position. The Rockets have had four coaches in the past 10 seasons, including Jeff Van Gundy, Rick Adelman, Kevin McHale and Bickerstaff.

The Rockets finished eighth in the Western Conference this season with a 41-41 record. They were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by the Warriors, 4-1. 

Earlier in the week, Wojnarowski reported P.J. Carlesimo could take D'Antoni's place. 

Carlesimo, 66, and Sixers head coach Brett Brown were both assistant coaches under Gregg Popovich with the Spurs from 2002-07. Carlesimo also has previous head coaching experience with the Blazers, Warriors and Sonics/Thunder. 

CSNPhilly.com's Dave Zangaro contributed to this story.