Every year, some divisions have a clear frontrunner from the beginning of the season and some end up in a dogfight through the entire year. This season, the NFC East race is tight, although not in a good way. All four teams have their flaws and no team looks like it will make a run and pull away.
The Washington Redskins were 6-3 and looking like they were the team to beat until quarterback Alex Smith suffered a season-ending leg injury on Sunday. Now they’re 6-4 with career backup Colt McCoy as their starting quarterback.
The Dallas Cowboys have a good defense, Ezekiel Elliott is balling and Amari Cooper is opening the passing game up; but they have been up and down this whole season mostly due to the inconsistent quarterback play of Dak Prescott.
The defending Super Bowl Champion Philadelphia Eagles sit at 4-6 and have a lot of issues. They can’t stop a nosebleed on defense right now, especially in the passing game. And while Carson Wentz (Saints game aside) and his receivers have been playing well this season, a regressing offensive line and lack of a true rushing threat have held this offense back.
Lastly, the New York Giants, at 3-7, are now just three games back of the division lead and have the offensive weapons to win some games. Eli Manning and an awful offensive line are holding the offense back, but they could potentially make a run in this lowly division.
Division Games Coming Up
This upcoming week, in Week 12, the NFC East has two divisional games. Washington plays Dallas on Thanksgiving Day and New York plays Philadelphia on Sunday. Then Philadelphia plays Washington during Week 13 and plays Dallas in Week 14; Week 14 also has a Washington-New York matchup.
So over the next three weeks, there will be five games played between NFC East teams. These few weeks will tell us a lot about who will have the best chance of winning the division.
How the Cowboys can win it
Dallas’s most important game of the season is arguably this Thursday against Washington, especially because they already lost the first head-to-head matchup. If they lose, they will be two games behind the Redskins and will have lost the tiebreaker. If they win, however, the teams will be tied in the standings and will have split the head to head matchup.
The Cowboys need to win this week to have a true shot of winning the NFC East, considering they play the 9-1 New Orleans Saints immediately afterward. If Dallas wins their three remaining divisional games (one against each team), that will account for eight total wins. Then, beating either the Buccaneers or Colts would bring them to 9-7 and likely mean a playoff berth.
Once again, the Cowboys must win this week against Washington to have a legitimate chance at winning the NFC East. They cannot afford a loss.
Dallas simply needs to continue its formula of feeding Ezekiel Elliott at least 20 times a game and opening up slants and corner routes for Dak Prescott. Then, the defense, which has been playing very well in all three levels, will be energized and continue to hold opposing offenses down.
How the Redskins can Win it
For the Redskins, the formula for winning the division is fairly simple. Beat Dallas this week, beat Philadelphia in Week 13 and beat New York in week 14. While that may be easier said than done since Alex Smith is out for the season, Colt McCoy showed last game that he can be a decent replacement for at least a couple of games.
If Washington does win their next three games, they will be 9-4. Because the Cowboys will most likely lose to the Saints in a couple of weeks, Dallas would be 6-7 at best. At that point, Dallas would be eliminated from the division by virtue of a sweep by Washington. Philadelphia will also be 6-7 at best, but will also be eliminated due to division record. (Washington would be 5-0 and Philadelphia would be 3-2). The Giants will be at best four games behind with three games left to play and would also be done.
So because of their current lead, if the Redskins win their next three games, they almost certainly clinch the division.
With Colt McCoy under center, Washington will need to use even more of Adrian Peterson than they were before. They will also need to throw in some more RPOs for Colt McCoy, since he is less accurate than Alex Smith but also a better runner. Defensively, the Redskins have been bend but don’t break, which usually works when your offense can score some points. But now with Alex Smith gone, their big-name secondary needs to step up, cover receivers well, and get off the field quickly.
How the Eagles can Win it
Philadelphia is two games behind Washington and one behind Dallas and looked awful against New Orleans on Sunday. But the Eagles are actually still in the thick of the division race. If they beat the Giants and Redskins their next two games, which they will be favored in, Philly will be 6-6. In that scenario, if the Cowboys beat Washington and lose to New Orleans, all three teams would be 6-6 with four games left. The Eagles’ match-ups against Dallas in Week 14 and Washington in Week 17 would be very important.
Obviously winning all their remaining division games would be optimal, but they would still be alive if they go 3-1 as long as their loss would not be to the Cowboys. In that case, they would need to beat the Houston Texans (because this team has no hope of beating the Rams) and hope that Washington falters down the stretch.
To win games, this team needs to start putting up points, plain and simple. They need to win battles in the trenches and at least somewhat represent the units from a year ago. The offensive line needs to create holes in the run game since Jay Ajayi and Darren Sproles are both hurt. They also need to give Wentz time in the pocket so that his receivers can complete their routes and get open. On the other side, the defensive line needs to start creating some turnovers, whether in the form of strip sacks or forced bad passes that turn into interceptions.
How the Giants can Win it
The Giants’ formula is extremely simple – go at least 5-1 the rest of the way with the only loss being to an AFC opponent in the Colts or Titans. At that point, they would be 8-8 and have head to head splits with all three teams. Then, some luck would come into play and based on division or conference record, the Giants could sneak into the playoffs.
In order to actually win most of their remaining games, this team needs Eli Manning to step up and play reliably. Due to an awful offensive line, he needs to make quick reads and throw the ball short, allowing his teammates to make plays. With just an average Eli, the weapons of Odell Beckham Jr., Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard make this a potent offense.
Featured image from The Star
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