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).

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

End to End: Who will Flyers protect, lose in expansion draft?

Throughout the offseason, we'll ask questions about the Flyers to our resident hockey analysts and see what they have to say.

Going End to End today are CSNPhilly.com producers/reporters Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone.

The topic: The expansion draft, who to protect and best guesses at Vegas' selection.

Dougherty
We have and will continue to discuss in detail the entry draft, but we haven't talked much about the June 21 expansion draft. That's what we're doing today.

The expansion draft will affect the Flyers' plans this summer because they will be losing a player to Vegas, but the impact will be a minimum. They will not lose any core pieces.

How the expansion draft works: Teams have two options in protecting players. They can either protect seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, or eight skaters and one goalie. The expectation is the Flyers will protect seven forwards, three D-men and a goalie.

There are six forwards and two defensemen who are obvious protections: Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Brayden Schenn, Valtteri Filppula, Shayne Gostisbehere and Radko Gudas. Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny are exempt.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall will have decisions to make on who the seventh forward and third defenseman he protects. Then there is the goalie protection.

That leaves forwards Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Nick Cousins, Taylor Leier, Scott Laughton, Michael Raffl, Matt Read, Jordan Weal and Dale Weise; and defensemen Andrew MacDonald and Brandon Manning.

Losing any of those six forwards would not be major blows to the Flyers. Now on the blue line, it gets interesting. My prediction is that the Flyers will choose to protect Manning with the hope Vegas takes MacDonald's contract.

Probably isn't going to happen.

Of the goalies, I don't think Vegas will have any interest in Anthony Stolarz, especially since he tore his right MCL in April. So that should cut the question here. That would mean the Flyers protect Michal Neuvirth, whom they signed to a two-year extension.

So what is my best guess at who Vegas plucks from the Flyers?

I think it will be a toss-up between Laughton and Raffl. I suspect the Flyers will re-sign Weal before the draft and then protect him, or have a verbal understanding they'll sign him after the expansion draft. Both parties appeared interested in him coming back.

My pick? Let's go with Laughton, a former first-round pick who turns 23 on Tuesday.

Laughton hasn't panned out as the Flyers hoped. He spent last season in Lehigh Valley and both Leier and Weal earned call-ups over him. I think that is a telling sign here.

So I'm predicting Laughton going to Vegas, where a change of scenery helps him out and the Golden Knights get a young forward that can slot into a third- or fourth-line role and still has upside.

Hall
There's a lot to the expansion draft — tons of possibilities and things can still change before June 21 that could impact the Flyers' decisions.

Albeit unlikely, Steve Mason could re-sign, which would obviously affect the Flyers' protection plan at goalie. Assuming that doesn't happen, I think the Flyers protect Neuvirth, especially considering Stolarz's health is in question this offseason and he may not be the true goalie of the future. Stolarz is also a pending restricted free agent, so he'll have to receive his qualifying offer from the Flyers before the expansion draft.

Now, let's say the Flyers go with the seven-forward, three-defensemen approach.

The blueliners are pretty clear: Gostisbehere and Gudas will be protected, as it comes down to MacDonald and Manning. I feel the organization thinks a bit more of MacDonald and his versatility compared to Manning, whose two-year deal last summer was likely strategic on the Flyers' part in planning for this expansion draft.

As for the forwards, Giroux, Voracek, Simmonds, Schenn, Filppula and Couturier are staying put. I believe Weal will be re-signed and protected.

Ultimately, I could see Raffl being Vegas' choice. At 28 years old, he's not super young or inexperienced, but also not old by any means, and the winger can play all four lines because of a well-rounded game that complements different styles.

Raffl's injuries last season (abdominal, knee) may cause red flags. At the same time, the Golden Knights should be intrigued by the two seasons prior in which Raffl played all 82 games of 2015-16 (and was a plus-9) after scoring a career-high 21 goals in 2014-15.

A loss of Raffl wouldn't be ideal, but not as damaging given the Flyers appear to be gaining more depth and youth at forward.

Paone
June 21's expansion draft will be the biggest wild card of the NHL summer. And that's not just some corny pun because it involves an expansion team from Vegas.

It'll be the first piece of player movement during the offseason, coming before the entry draft and free agency. But since it will be the first piece of player movement of the offseason, it will help mold how the Flyers and the rest of the teams around the league approach their summers.

None of the Flyers' "big guns" will be on the move and my gut tells me the Flyers will be protecting Neuvirth as they want him to shoulder the starting load this coming season.

We don't know exactly what Vegas is looking for in the expansion draft because general manager George McPhee is keeping that close to the vest. But if I'm the Golden Knights' GM, youth is at the top of my wish list.

That leaves three Flyers to stick out in my mind — Weal (25), Cousins (turns 24 in June) and Laughton (turns 23 on Tuesday).

After the sparkplug Weal was down the stretch with eight goals and four assists in 23 games, the Flyers should reach a new deal with the UFA and keep him in Philadelphia.

That leaves Cousins and Laughton.

My instinct tells me Vegas will gamble (sorry, still getting used to this whole Vegas having a team thing) on Laughton, a former first-round pick.

There's a reason he was a first-rounder in 2012. The guy can play, even if he hasn't shown it consistently in Philadelphia. But remember he's been yanked back and forth between the AHL and NHL on numerous occasions and when he's been with the big club, he's either been in the press box as a scratch or been tossed back and forth between center and wing. That constant instability in both level and position can be detrimental to a young player. Vegas would give Laughton a fresh start, a fresh home and some fresh stability.

Plus, I know there are only so many protections to go around, but Cousins is a guy the Flyers should want to keep around. Just 16 points (six points, 10 assists) in 60 games isn't good enough offensively, but not many Flyers were great offensively last season. Everyone needs to be better there. But Cousins has that pest intangible that can be so effective, especially in the rugged Metropolitan Division, where basically every game is a rivalry game. It's a good quality to have.

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Skidding Phils take on veteran Bronson Arroyo

Phillies-Reds 5 things: Skidding Phils take on veteran Bronson Arroyo

Phillies (16-30) vs. Reds (23-24)
4:05 p.m. on TCN; streaming live on CSNPhilly.com and the NBC Sports App

Tim Adleman and the Reds shut down the Phillies in Friday night's series opener, dealing the Phillies a 5-2 defeat. It was the Phillies' 21st loss in 26 games (see full story).

Jerad Eickhoff takes the ball for the Phillies on Saturday, trying to get both the team and his own season back on track. Veteran Bronson Arroyo takes the start for the Reds.

Here are five things to know for the game:

1. Worst in baseball
The loss on Friday paired with the Marlins' win over the Angels gave the Phillies sole possession of the worst record in baseball. 

The loss to the Reds was enough to make manager Pete Mackanin call a team meeting with the Phillies hitting a definitive low at 16-30. The 2016 squad didn't fall 14 games under .500 for the first time until Sept. 2. The Phillies are 5-18 in May and have scored 86 runs compared to 131 by opponents. 

Many of the games recently haven't even been close. Six of the losses this month were by at least five runs. The team brought the tying run to the plate on Friday, but it was behind 5-0 and had just one hit going into the ninth. 

The offense has gone silent in the last six games, scoring no more than two runs each time out. In five of their last six, the Phillies have faced a starter with an ERA above 5.00 who proceeded to throw at least five innings and give up one run or fewer. Adleman was the latest to victimize the Phils (see story).

The bright side? The upcoming schedule is much more palatable for the squad. After the Reds, the Phillies face the Marlins, Giants and Braves for 10 games. Those three teams have a combined record of 57-85 this year and the Phillies went 5-0 against the Marlins and Braves in April.

2. 10th time's the charm?
Nine starts into his second full MLB season, Eickhoff hasn't found the right stuff ... or a win. In 51 2/3 innings, he's 0-5 with 4.70 ERA. 

Why the slow start? First off, Eickhoff had some control issues. He's gone from a more than palatable 1.9 to a less stellar 3.1 walks per nine innings. Beyond dishing out free passes, he has a 1.43 WHIP, up from 1.16 last season. Still, his 3.77 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) indicates he shouldn't have struggled quite this much. 

Looking further into the numbers, Eickhoff has allowed more infield and bunt hits this season than he did on a rate basis last year. He's induced less weak contact, which could be part of his issue. Still, he's thrown 300 MLB innings over 50 starts and has a 3.66 ERA. It's hard to believe his true talent level isn't closer to his 3.65 ERA over 197 1/3 innings last year than his out-of-character 4.70 mark this season.

He faced the Reds just once before, taking a loss in the Phillies' second game of the year. It seems a while ago now, but Eickhoff started the year with three quality starts, including a two-run, six-strikeout game over 6 2/3 in Cincinnati. The Reds' batters have four extra-base hits against him and he's allowed home runs to Joey Votto and Scooter Gennett. Gennett's HR came as a member of the Milwaukee Brewers.

3. Arroyo back in action
You're forgiven if you didn't think Arroyo was still in baseball. He was injured and didn't pitch in either the 2015 or 2016 season. Despite being a non-entity on the field, he was still traded twice, going from the Diamondbacks to the Braves to the Dodgers, who immediately released him. 

At 40 years old, Arroyo is easily hittable now. The right-hander never threw very hard but now tops out at 87 mph, averaging 83-84 with his fastball. Like many soft-tossers, he constantly uses his off-speed stuff. He's heavily reliant on his curveball and slider, both of which are in the 70s. 

Hitters against Arroyo have been home run happy with 15 dingers this year over just 46 2/3 innings. Those 2.9 HR per nine innings are near three times as many as Eickhoff, who has struggled with the long ball at times over the past few seasons. The 15 home runs play a large part in his 6.75 ERA as batters hit plenty of flyballs vs. Arroyo. It doesn't help that he has a 1.479 WHIP. 

Among current Phillies, only Freddy Galvis (1 for 7) and Andres Blanco (1 for 3) have faced him. His career against the Phillies dates all the way back to three starts in 2000. Over 14 games (13 starts), he's 4-7 with a 5.14 ERA in 77 innings against the Phils. He's just the second starter after Bartolo Colon to pitch at Citizens Bank Park this season that also faced the Phillies at Veterans Stadium.

Arroyo is fourth among active pitchers in starts and fifth in innings pitched. 

4. Players to watch
Phillies: Moved into the leadoff spot on Friday, Odubel Herrera put together a few strong at-bats, finally coming through with a hit in the ninth inning to snap an 0-for-13 stretch.

Reds: Scott Schebler hit his 14th home run of the season off Aaron Nola in the second inning Friday. In just his third season, Schebler had just 12 homers in his career before 2017.

5. This and that
• Howie Kendrick made his third rehab appearance in Triple A Lehigh Valley Friday, going 1 for 4. He played all nine innings in left field. The IronPigs won, 5-4, with Nick Williams hitting a home run. Williams, J.P. Crawford and Jorge Alfaro each had two-hit nights.

• The Phillies haven't won a season series vs. the Reds since 2012 (10-18 since the start of 2013). However, the Reds are 16-30 at CBP and haven't won a series in Philadelphia since Aug. 2006.

• According to the Elias Sports Bureau, on April 18 this year, Arroyo became the first Reds pitcher older than 40 to win a start since Boom-Boom Beck beat the Phillies, 8-1, on May 31, 1945.

• The Reds are the only team in baseball with four hitters (Votto, Schebler, Eugenio Suarez and Adam Duvall) who have at least 10 home runs.