Where the NFC East Stands After the Eagles' Bye Week

Where the NFC East Stands After the Eagles' Bye Week
October 21, 2012, 9:29 pm

If the Eagles have any designs on making the playoffs this season, they can't rely on getting in with a Wild Card spot, that's for sure. Besides the four division leaders, an additional four clubs are posting better records than Philadelphia in the NFC. Dallas also shares a 3-3 mark, while Detroit can match with a victory tonight. Only Carolina is stuck on one win.

There is plenty of time between now and December 30 for the landscape to change, but giving eight teams a head start on six tournament berths means there are fewer routes to the postseason. The clearest path for the Birds is through the NFC East.

It's not just the rest of conference holding their ground the Eagles have to worry about, although that is problem number one. The NFC North, for instance, currently supports three squads that appear to have staying power. The Bears and Packers each are at four wins, while the Vikings have five. If anybody were to fall off, our best guess would be Minnesota, but then again, they've built a nice cushion already. That's your two Wild Cards right there.

And as mentioned, the Eagles have to fear being out-paced by a team presently tied with or below them in the standings. While the Lions and Saints might be off to slow starts, both reached the postseason a season ago, so it's far too early to count either of them out, among others.

All of which speaks nothing of the surprising NFC West, where the worst record belongs to St. Louis at 3-4. A Wild Card isn't out of the question for anybody yet, but with so much competition, and the Eagles merely treading water up to this point, you can see how crowded -- and thus complicated -- the race could be.

No such hang-ups in the NFC East, where only one rival is out in front of the Birds, and tiebreakers are working in their favor. Here's a breakdown.

1. NEW YORK (5-2)

Wins: TB, @CAR, CLE, @SF, WAS
Losses: DAL, @PHI

Schedule: @DAL, PIT, @CIN, bye, GB, @WAS, NO, @ATL, @BAL, PHI

We've said it before, and we'll say it again: as long as Eli Manning is under center for the Giants, they always have a chance to win. That much was evident once again on Sunday when the two-time Super Bowl MVP connected with Victor Cruz on a 77-yard touchdown pass to retake the lead inside the final minute-and-a-half against Washington.

Unfortunately, that particular victory gave New York a lot of breathing room in the NFC East, and they look impressive. Since a flat loss to Dallas on opening night, the G-men possess dramatic comebacks over the Redskins and Buccaneers, completely dominated the Panthers and 49ers, and simply took care of business versus the Browns. Their lone defeat in the last five weeks is at Philly.

That's the bad news. The good news is the Birds can catch them. The only remaining dates the Giants have with opponents below .500 are at Washington and versus New Orleans -- not exactly a couple of pushovers. Tilts with Green Bay and at Atlanta loom especially large, but honestly, there is not one game on that slate you could comfortably describe as an "easy" W.

Even better, the Giants are in danger of falling way behind on tiebreakers. If the Eagles beat them again in Week 17, it's the same as pocketing an extra win, and if they only split, New York is 1-2 in division play right now, so the Birds (1-0) could still one-up them that way, too.

Which means the Eagles don't necessarily need to finish with more wins, and taking into account the Giants' schedule, making up two with a head-to-head on the table is entirely plausible. Heck, it's not even a long shot.

2. PHILADELPHIA (3-3)

Wins: @CLE, BAL, NYG
Losses: @ARI, @PIT, DET

Schedule: ATL, @NO, DAL, @WAS, CAR, @DAL, @TB, CIN, WAS, NYG

If the season ended today, the Eagles would hold the common opponents tiebreaker over Dallas by virtue of their win against the Ravens, so we've given them the benefit of the doubt and called this second place.

As daunting a schedule as New York faces in terms of quality opponents, Philadelphia's compares in sheer brutality. After dueling the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team in Week 8, the Eagles launch a stretch of seven games over 39 days, beginning on a Monday night in New Orleans, and finally concluding at home against Cincinnati on a Thursday.

During that span, the Birds play four times on the road, and three times on a short week, including both of their meetings with the Cowboys. Not only that, Dallas will have three days additional rest before their home game, plus Washington will be coming off a bye. True, among the opponents only the Bengals are above .500 at the moment, but that's three division battles, and the Saints and Bucs aren't exactly jokes, either.

This is a calendar that would test any locker room's mettle. Given the many issues the Eagles are dealing with -- their three wins being by a combined four points, and consecutive fourth-quarter collapses -- it's a run that could potentially destroy them.

The one thing the Eagles happen to have going for them is other than on the offensive line, the roster is relatively unscathed by major injuries. At least that much sets them up nicely for the gauntlet ahead, because there is little else here that instills much confidence.

3. DALLAS (3-3)

Wins: @NYG, TB, @CAR
Losses: @SEA, CHI, @BAL

Schedule: NYG, @ATL, @PHI, CLE, WAS, PHI, @CIN, PIT, NO, @WAS

In many ways, the Cowboys are a mirror image of the Eagles through six games. Both clubs are .500. Both defenses have been very stingy, while both offenses are struggling to score points. Both defeated New York in September, and both likely need to climb the ladder in the NFC East to continue playing football in January.

And nothing comes easy for the Cowboys, either, not even beating the lowly Panthers. Sunday's victory was saved by a pair of field goals to come from behind in the final few minutes. They've had their share of good wins, but they've won (@NYG, TB) and lost (@SEA, CHI) ugly -- sounds familiar.

One major difference between the bitter rivals is how their schedules set up down the stretch. If all goes well and Philly still has a shot to get in the tournament come December, they'll be involved in three ultra-important division games in December. In the Cowboys' case, we should have a fairly good idea about their postseason odds by Week 13.

Dallas plays divisional opponents in four of the next six games, which it stands to reason they'll need to do quite well in those to have an opportunity to advance. Toss in a battle against the unbeaten Falcons in the thick of it, and what you're looking at is a telling month-and-a-half of football in Big D.

Much like the Eagles once again, it's difficult to tell where the seesaw will land.

4. WASHINGTON (3-4)

Wins: @NO, @TB, MIN
Losses: @STL, CIN, ATL, @NYG

Schedule: @PIT, CAR, bye, PHI, @DAL, NYG, BAL, @CLE, @PHI, DAL

Sunday's heartbreaking loss (for D.C. and Philly fans) in New York serves as strong evidence the Redskins are still incomplete. Robert Griffin III bounced back from a pair of turnovers to lead his team on a fourth-quarter comeback against the reigning Super Bowl Champions. Then two plays later, Eli Manning is throwing a 77-yard game winner over the top of the Skins' secondary.

Washington's franchise may have turned a corner with the selection of RG3 in this year's draft, but they have too many holes to win on a consistent basis, even in instances when they probably should. The injuries are piling up, too, and the roster wasn't exactly deep to begin with.

However, the Redskins are suddenly built to play the role of a spoiler, and the Giants, Eagles, and Cowboys all better take notice.

Despite the presence of a pair of potential cupcake match-ups in Carolina and Cleveland -- though the Browns have been playing opponents tough all year -- the Redskins would have to overcome a lot to have any prayer of vaulting into the playoff picture. That said, their performance against the Giants was proof they are able enough to wreak havoc in the NFC East.

This is a dangerous bunch, and mark my words, the Redskins will knock somebody off at a critical juncture in this season. In due time, they will be a legitimate contender to the division throne.

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