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 MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

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Best of MLB: Stephen Strasburg stays unbeaten as Nats pound Cards

WASHINGTON -- Stephen Strasburg (9-0) won his 12th consecutive decision dating to last season, pitching six innings of one-run ball as Washington salvaged a four-game split.

Strasburg improved to 12-0 in 15 starts since losing to the Mets on Sept. 9, and the Nationals have won all 15 of those games. The 12 consecutive winning decisions is a franchise record for a starter, breaking a mark shared by Livan Hernandez (2005) and Dennis Martinez (1989).

Jayson Werth connected for a pinch-hit grand slam. Wilson Ramos had three hits, including a two-run homer, and drove in four runs. Bryce Harper hit an RBI single during a three-run fourth off Michael Wacha (2-6), who lost his sixth straight decision (see full recap).

Dodgers score twice in 9th to top Mets
NEW YORK -- Adrian Gonzalez snapped a ninth-inning tie with a two-run single off suddenly struggling closer Jeurys Familia, and Los Angeles beat New York.

Curtis Granderson hit a tying triple for the Mets immediately after Clayton Kershaw was lifted with two outs in the eighth. But the Dodgers quickly regrouped for their sixth victory in seven games since losing four straight.

Kershaw struck out 10, walked none and capped a magnificent May with another sublime performance.

Adam Liberatore (1-0) got the win. Kenley Jansen pitched a perfect ninth for his 15th save.

Familia (2-1) allowed two runs on two hits and two walks (see full recap).

Castro's homer Yanks' only hit in victory
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Starlin Castro's two-run, seventh-inning homer off Jake Odorizzi was the Yankees' only hit of the game, enough to give New York a 2-1 victory over the Tampa Bay Rays on Sunday.

According to Baseball Reference data going back to 1913, the Yankees' only other one-hit win was when Charlie Mullen had an RBI single to beat Cleveland in six innings in a doubleheader nightcap on July 10, 1914.

Nathan Eovaldi (6-2) gave up one run and six hits in six innings to win his career-best fifth consecutive start and beat Odorizzi (2-3).

Dellin Betances, Andrew Miller and Aroldis Chapman each pitched a perfect inning and combined for seven strikeouts. Chapman got his seventh save (see full recap).

Deitrich hurt on odd play in Marlins' win over Braves
ATLANTA -- Derek Dietrich hit a tiebreaking, two-run homer and drove in four runs before getting hurt on a foul ball hit into Miami's dugout.

Dietrich's homer landed deep in the lower section of the right-field seats in the sixth, giving Miami a 3-1 lead. A former Georgia Tech star, Dietrich added a two-run double off Eric O'Flaherty in the seventh inning, then was hit by a foul ball off the bat of Christian Yelich in the ninth.

The team said X-rays were negative and Dietrich was to remain in Atlanta on Sunday night for further evaluations.

Tom Koehler (3-5) allowed three runs -- two earned -- three hits and five walks in seven-plus innings. Julio Teheran (1-5) gave up three runs, five hits and three walks in 5 1/3 innings (see full recap).

Correa's home run lifts Astros over Angels in 13
ANAHEIM, Calif.  -- Pinch-hitter Carlos Correa had a three-run homer off Mike Morin (1-1) in the 13th inning.

Correa got a run-scoring hit in the 13th inning for the second time in six games, following up his game-ending single against Baltimore on Tuesday.

Albert Pujols had three hits for the Angels, who blew an eighth-inning lead and stranded 14 runners while losing for the fourth time in five games.

Michael Feliz (3-1) pitched the 12th for Houston (see full recap).

Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

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Report: P.J. Carlesimo won't join Sixers' coaching staff

It doesn't sound like the Sixers' replacement for Mike D'Antoni will be the most rumored name for the position.

NBA coaching veteran P.J. Carlesimo has decided to not join Brett Brown's staff as associate head coach and instead will remain a television analyst, according to tweets Sunday night by ESPN's Mark Stein.

Stein added that despite "strong mutual interest," Carlesimo made the decision for family reasons.

The 67-year-old Carlesimo has spent parts of nine seasons as a head coach in the league and five more as an assistant. He was last on a NBA bench when he took over as the Brooklyn Nets' interim head coach in 2012-13.

So the Sixers still have a vacancy on their bench after D'Antoni, who joined the Sixers in the middle of last season after Jerry Colangelo joined the organization, signed on to become head coach of the Houston Rockets last week. Who the team's next choice for the role is remains to be seen.

Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

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Stanley Cup Final: Long roads culminate for both Sharks and Penguins

PITTSBURGH -- It wasn't supposed to take the San Jose Sharks this long to reach their first Stanley Cup Final. It wasn't supposed to take this long for Sidney Crosby to guide the Pittsburgh Penguins back to a destination many figured they'd become a fixture at after winning it all in 2009.

Not that either side is complaining.

Certainly not the Sharks, whose nearly quarter-century wait to play on the NHL's biggest stage will finally end Monday night when the puck drops for Game 1. Certainly not Crosby, who raised the Cup after beating Detroit seven years ago but has spent a significant portion of the interim dealing with concussions that threatened to derail his career and fending off criticism as the thoughtful captain of a team whose explosiveness during the regular season too often failed to translate into regular mid-June parade through the heart of the city.

Maybe the Penguins should have returned to the Cup Final before now. The fact they didn't makes the bumpy path the franchise and its superstar captain took to get here seem worth it.

"I think I appreciated it prior to going through some of those things," Crosby said. "I think now having gone through those things I definitely appreciate it more. I think I realize how tough it is to get to this point."

It's a sentiment not lost on the Sharks, who became one of the NHL's most consistent winners shortly after coming into the league in 1991. Yet spring after spring, optimism would morph into disappointment. The nadir came in 2014, when a 3-0 lead over Los Angeles in the first round somehow turned into a 4-3 loss. The collapse sent the Sharks into a spiral that took a full year to recover from, one that in some ways sowed the seeds for a breakthrough more than two decades in the making.

General manager Doug Wilson tweaked the roster around fixtures Patrick Marleau and Joe Thornton, who remained hopeful San Jose's window for success hadn't shut completely even as the postseason meltdowns piled up.

"I always believed that next year was going to be the year, I really did," Thornton said. "I always thought we were a couple pieces away. Even last year not making the playoffs, I honestly thought we were a couple pieces away, and here we are."

The Penguins, like the Sharks, are a study in near instant alchemy. General manager Jim Rutherford rebuilt the team on the fly after taking over in June, 2014 and with the team sleepwalking last December, fired respected-but-hardly-charismatic Mike Johnston and replaced him with the decidedly harder-edged Mike Sullivan. The results were nearly instantaneous.

Freed to play to its strengths instead of guarding against its weaknesses, Pittsburgh rocketed through the second half of the season and showed the resilience it has sometimes lacked during Crosby's tenure by rallying from a 3-2 deficit against Tampa Bay in the Eastern Conference finals, dominating Games 6 and 7 to finally earn a shot at bookending the Cup that was supposed to give birth to a dynasty but instead led to years of frustration.

True catharsis for one side is four wins away. Some things to look for over the next two weeks of what promises to be an entertaining final.

Fresh faces
When the season began, Matt Murray was in the minor leagues. Now the 22-year-old who was supposed to be Pittsburgh's goalie of the future is now very much the goalie of the present. Pressed into action when veteran Marc-Andre Fleury suffered a concussion on March 31, Murray held onto the job even after Fleury returned by playing with the steady hand of a guy in his 10th postseason, not his first. San Jose counterpart Martin Jones served as Jonathan Quick's backup when the Kings won it all in 2014 and has thrived while playing behind a defense that sometimes doesn't give him much to do. Jones has faced over 30 shots just four times during the playoffs.

"HBK" is H-O-T:
Pittsburgh's best line during the playoffs isn't the one centered by Crosby or Malkin but Nick Bonino, who has teamed with Phil Kessel and Carl Hagelin to produce 17 goals and 28 assists in 18 games. Put together when Malkin missed six weeks with an elbow injury, the trio has given the Penguins the balance they desperately needed after years of being too reliant on their stars for production.

Powerful Sharks
San Jose's brilliant run to the Finals has been spearheaded by a power play that is converting on 27 percent (17 of 63) of its chances during the playoffs. The Sharks are 9-2 when they score with the man advantage and just 3-4 when it does not.

Old men and the C(up)
Both teams have relied heavily on players who began their NHL careers in another millennium. Pittsburgh center Matt Cullen, who turns 40 in November, has four goals during the playoffs. Thornton and Marleau, both 36, were taken with the top two picks in the 1997 draft that was held in Pittsburgh while 37-year-old Dainius Zubrus draws stares from younger teammates when he tells them he used to play against Hall of Famer (and current Penguins owner) Mario Lemieux.

"When I say 'Twenty years ago I was playing against Lemieux, they say 'I was 2-years-old,'" Zubrus said.