This season, the most competitive division in the league has been one of the worst: the NFC East. With the lead swapping almost every week, the division is clearly up for grabs. So who will finish on top? Four of us from RealSport HQ each took one team and made a case for them winning the division.
New York Giants
by Remy Cabache
The NFC East is still completely up in the air heading into Week 8, with all four teams in a position to make a run for the division title. But why should the Giants be optimistic it will be them?
First things first, they are already in the driving seat. They sit atop the division at 4-3 and they are 2-2 in the division, with wins over the Cowboys and the Redskins. What’s more, they have played the Cowboys twice, so they won’t have to play them when Dez Bryant and Tony Romo return.
The Giants also have one of the best offensive weapons in the NFL in Odell Beckham, who is now training fully again. This can only be good. Manning has been forced to throw short passes all season to take pressure off the offensive line, with Beckham now fully fit, he is more than capable of turning a 4-yard slant or a screen pass into a huge play. Couple this with – hopefully – the return of Victor Cruz, the Giants offense could mean business.
The defense is due for a huge boost too with the return of Jason Pierre-Paul. Though he may be a finger down, his position is not made by a single finger. If he can play like he has done for much of his career, this defense will develop a much better pass rush, which is definitely not a bad thing.
The Giants also have another thing in their favour: they’re in the NFC East. The Redskins, though they’ve not performed too badly this season, are not that special. Kirk Cousins – despite flashes – makes too many mistakes to keep this team in the hunt for the title. The Eagles have done nothing but prove that the preseason takeaways are pointless and must be ignored. The defense is good, but they’re on the field too much to be able to win the game. The Cowboys have been derailed by injuries – Dez Bryant is returning soon – but they have dug themselves a hole and sit in the basement of the division. Neither Matt Cassel nor Brandon Weeden will be able to keep this team in the playoff hunt for when Tony Romo returns.
by Edd Hodsdon
With the RG3 controversy firmly behind them, the Redskins have been punching above their weight this season at 3-4. Kirk Cousins has been fairly decent under center and the team has improved slightly after a dismal 4-12 season last year, but their potential has been curtailed by injuries to DeSean Jackson, Ryan Kerrigan and DeAngelo Hall. The Redskins are heading into their bye week and have a chance to heal.
If the defense gets back to full strength, it could be the best in the division. Cousins has been fairly productive with an emerging cast of young weapons. Tight end Jordan Reed and rookie receiver Jamison Crowder have had big games recently. If they get DeSean Jackson back, Cousins would have another field stretching weapon at his disposal.
This team was supposed to be built on a strong running game, but injuries on the offensive line have limited Washington’s rushing attack. With a healthier line, Morris and Jones would have more opportunities for big games. If Cousins can be more consistent and the Redskins can get healthy, they could take advantage of a schedule full of struggling teams. If Washington can do all that, they have a shot at winning their first division title since RG3’s stellar rookie season in 2012.
by Toby Durant
At 3-4, the Eagles sit a game behind the leading New York Giants, with a poor 1-2 in-division record. Those are the negatives. In the positive column is that they have the best points differential (+23) in the division and have a fairly resounding victory over the Giants to their name. So how are they going to overcome the deficit and win this hot mess of a division?
The biggest thing that makes me think they can is their defense. If you’d have said at the start of the season that it would be the defense carrying Philly and not the much-lauded Chip Kelly offense many would have called you crazy, but it’s very true. While the offense has faltered and disappointed, the defense has been mighty.
It all starts up front with a group of monsters across the defensive line. First there’s Fletcher Cox, a first round pick in 2012 who has been threatening to become a dominant player and is finally realising that potential. The 300 pounder has already set a career high with 6 sacks. Then there’s the giant Bennie Logan. Even bigger than Cox, Logan has anchored the run defense with his intensely physical play and love of the battle in the trenches. With those two dominating the middle it’s allowed Brandon Graham and the wonderful Connor Barwin to roam the edges and crush anything that dares try to escape.
That foundation at the line of scrimmage also provides a good platform not just for a great run defense but also for their pass defense which, while struggling somewhat with elite receivers against new signee Byron Maxwell, has also been highly productive. If you look at the raw numbers you might not believe me. The Eagles are just 19th in pass yards allowed and 21st in rush yards allowed but they’ve done a great job taking the ball away and preventing touchdowns. They lead the league with 19 takeaways and have allowed just 19.6 points per game (10th in the league).
All of this, plus the quality of the opposition faced so far, gives them a defense that is 3rd in DVOA (This is an advanced stat from FootballOutsiders.com that I love. It takes the efficiency of a unit on a per down basis and adjusts the results for the quality of the opponent), a marvellous achievement for a unit that two years ago was a liability.
So what about that Kelly offense? It’s been a rough ride after the big turnover in the off-season. Sam Bradford has been shaky, and the offensive line, once a strength, has struggled without the old guard of Todd Herremans and Evan Mathis. But that’s not to say the offense is without hope. There is still the talented stable of running backs in DeMarco Murray, Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles. There’s still Jordan Matthews and talented but struggling rookie Nelson Agholor. There are rumblings about the Eagles installing Mark Sanchez under center after their bye week, which is an understandable consideration given Sam Bradford’s terrible 29.6 QBR. Sanchez put up a QBR of 59.4 last season, which means should Kelly pull the trigger on a switch they should find some production there.
At 3-4 the Eagles need 7, maybe 6, more wins to take this division. And that’s a possible feat. They don’t face a team with a winning record until they take a thankless trip to Foxboro in Week 13. The only other truly tricky game outside of the division is when they host Arizona in week 15 and a lot can change between now and then. For those like me who enjoy a flutter, the Eagles are currently favourites at William Hill to win the division at 11/8. And who am I to question bookmakers when it comes to these things?
by Charlie Anderson
The Cowboys currently sit at 2-4 and in last place in the NFC East, but I believe it’s not going to stay that way. With a defense that’s starting to get after the quarterback, and the return of Dez Bryant, I can see things looking up for the Cowboys.
They have the 8th-ranked defense in the NFL, and their offensive line is incredible, with their blocking over the past 6 games has lead the way for an average of 127.6 yards rushing per game. That’s good for 7th in the NFL, behind teams such as the Seahawks, Vikings, Jets and Buccaneers; teams that base their offense around the run.
They’re able to keep teams off the scoreboard, and this is what will help them going forward: the defense is allowing an average of 20.2 points per game, and the offense is keeping them off the field whilst they control the clock with the #1 ranked offense in time of possession. With Bryant returning this week (hopefully) and Tony Romo coming back from injury, they can afford to stay run-centric with their offense to keep their divisional record together and protect their star QB-WR duo in the process.
They’re 2-1 in their division, and they’re only going to improve on this. After all, they’ve played the Giants twice (1-1) and have the Redskins in Weeks 13 and 17, so if they’re able to keep the Eagles at bay, I can easily see them going 3-3 in the division if not better. It’s just a case of dealing with the out of division teams they’re yet to face.
Which team do you think will win the NFC East? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below!