Where the NFC East Stands After the Eagles' Bye Week

Where the NFC East Stands After the Eagles' Bye Week

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.

Best of NBA: Harden's 38-points fuels Rockets past Bucks

Best of NBA: Harden's 38-points fuels Rockets past Bucks

HOUSTON -- James Harden had 38 points, eight assists and six rebounds, and the Houston Rockets beat the Milwaukee Bucks 111-92 on Wednesday night.

Harden drilled a straightaway 3-pointer with six minutes left to give Houston a 13-point lead and shimmied his shoulders down the court in a celebratory dance as the Bucks called timeout.

After losing three of four, the Rockets regained their form while improving to 17-4 at home this season.

Giannis Antetokounmpo had 32 points, 11 rebounds, six assists and three blocks for Milwaukee (see full recap).

Rose powers slumping Knicks past Celtics 117-106
BOSTON -- Derrick Rose matched his season high with 30 points, and the slumping New York Knicks beat the Boston Celtics 117-106 on Wednesday night.

New York played without injured starters Kristaps Porzingis and Joakim Noah, but Mindaugas Kuzminskas and Willy Hernangomez each scored 17 points to help make up for their absence. It was just the third win in 14 games for the Knicks.

Isaiah Thomas led Boston with 39 points, his 13th time this season with 30 or more points. Jae Crowder added 21 for the Celtics, who lost for only the fourth time in 17 games.

Al Horford, Boston's big free-agent acquisition during the summer, had five points on 2-of-14 shooting. He was 1 for 8 on 3-point attempts.

Boston closed to 97-96 on Jaylen Brown's two free throws with just under eight minutes to play, but Justin Holiday and Courtney Lee nailed 3-pointers 29 seconds apart, pushing New York's lead back to seven. Rose then capped an 8-0 spree by putting in his own miss after Thomas missed a jumper -- his seventh straight shot that was off (see full recap).

Home cooking: Wiz top Grizz 104-101, 13th win in row in DC
WASHINGTON -- A vastly different team at home, the Wizards won their 13th consecutive game in Washington by edging the Memphis Grizzlies 104-101 Wednesday night behind two late layups from John Wall, who finished with 25 points and 13 assists.

James Ennis III missed a potential tying 3-pointer at the buzzer for Memphis.

The Wizards are just 4-13 on the road but now 18-6 at home, where they've compiled their longest winning streak since a 15-game run in the 1988-89 season.

Washington never trailed and led by as many as 19 points in the first half, then held on after a 10-0 run by Memphis made it a two-point game with 2 1/2 minutes left. That's when Wall took over, scoring on consecutive drives (see full recap).

Walker, Hibbert lead Hornets past Blazers 107-85
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Kemba Walker scored 23 points, Roy Hibbert provided a huge boost off the bench, and the Charlotte Hornets stopped a five-game slide with a 107-85 victory over the Portland Trail Blazers on Wednesday night.

Nicolas Batum added 17 points for the Hornets, who limited the Trail Blazers to 35 percent shooting and snapped an eight-game streak of allowing at least 100 points. But it was the 7-foot-2 Hibbert who stole the show.

Hibbert, who came in averaging 5.2 points per game, had a season-high 16 points on 7-of-8 shooting.

Damian Lillard scored 21 points and C.J. McCollum had 18 for Portland, which has lost three straight and 16 of 22 since Dec. 5 (see full recap).

Penn State falls to Indiana, 78-75, on buzzer 3-pointer

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Penn State falls to Indiana, 78-75, on buzzer 3-pointer

BOX SCORE

STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Shep Garner gathered his teammates along Penn State's bench to remind them they needed one more stop to head to overtime.

Indiana's James Blackmon was ready to head home, however.

Blackmon took an in-bounds pass with less than five seconds to go, sprinted down the court and drained a 3-pointer to lift the Hoosiers to a 78-75 win over Penn State on Wednesday night.

Blackmon, Thomas Bryant and Robert Johnson all scored 17 points for the Hoosiers (13-6, 3-3 Big Ten) who survived a late Penn State rally.

"They definitely grew up," Indiana coach Tom Crean said. "It wasn't easy, but they definitely earned the victory. It would've been a shame if they hadn't gotten this win because they earned it."

Tony Carr scored a career-best 24 points and Garner added 15 for the Nittany Lions (11-8, 3-3) who trailed by 14 with 9:19 left. Garner brought Penn State within striking distance with a 3-pointer that cut it to 75-73 with 39 seconds to play.

It was the second straight win for the Hoosiers (13-6, 3-3 Big Ten) who took control by halftime and led the entire second half until a pair of Lamar Stevens free throws tied the game with less than five seconds left.

"I'm really proud of the kids, the way they fought back," Penn State coach Patrick Chambers said. "I felt like Penn State really hurt Penn State tonight, missed layups, little things. If we shoot better from the free-throw line, maybe the outcome's different."

Memories of Watford
There's a good reason Blackmon's shot was strikingly similar to the one Christian Watford sank at the buzzer to beat then-No. 1 Kentucky in 2011.

"It was the same play-call," Crean said. "But we got open differently. Usually we run off a screen but in this case we knew they'd switch it so James did a great job of setting it up."

Penn State coaches and players knew they'd have to defend a similar play, Chambers made note of it in his scouting report, but Blackmon was able to slip past Josh Reaves at midcourt and pull up over Julian Moore to hit the winning basket.

Rim un-protected
Indiana didn't have as big of a challenge on the glass with Penn State's designated rim-protector Mike Watkins in early foul trouble. Penn State's leading rebounder played just 13 minutes and finished with no rebounds.

The Hoosiers won the battle on the glass 37-33 and Penn State made just 21 of 31 free throws.

Hurt Hoosier
Indiana lost OG Anunoby on the final play of the first half to a right knee injury. The sophomore forward came down after battling for an offensive rebound and crumpled to the floor where he clutched at his right knee before trainers helped him slowly to the locker room. He did not return.

Anunoby started eight games and was tied for sixth in the Big Ten with 1.4 steals per game.

Crean said Anunoby would be evaluated when the team returned to Bloomington.

The big picture
Indiana: The Hoosiers entered Wednesday's game having lost five of their last eight. They'll have a chance to gain momentum with four of their next five against middle-of-the-pack Big Ten foes before a trip to Madison to take on No. 17 Wisconsin on Feb. 5.

Penn State: The Nittany Lions' inability to put a full game together has to be grating on coach Patrick Chambers. Even in their last win against No. 24 Minnesota, the Nittany Lions were out of sorts early before a late rally paid off. They were competitive early and late in this one but sluggish and mistake-prone midway through when Indiana took over.

Up next
Indiana hosts Michigan State on Saturday.

Penn State plays at No. 22 Purdue on Saturday