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How The Cowboys Stack Up Against The NFC East

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Winning the division is the sure-fire way for the Cowboys to punch their postseason ticket. Which teams are most likely to stand in the way? Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.
Winning the division is the sure-fire way for the Cowboys to punch their postseason ticket. Which teams are most likely to stand in the way? Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images.

In recent years, the NFC East has come to be viewed as a “toss up” division: a quartet of teams with vicious rivalries, little disparity among talent levels and a flair for dramatic showdowns between equally mediocre clubs.

The division hasn’t had a runaway winner since the Giants went 12-4 in 2008. It hasn’t come close to producing a wild-card contender in any of the last three seasons. One year (2011), Philadelphia missed the postseason after going 5-1 in NFC East play; the next, the Redskins dominated the division as a crucial factor in their second-half playoff run. Aside from relative parity and intense vitriol, there’s very little one can accurately predict about this grouping in June, let alone make an iron-clad case for who will win it.

Forget the choke jobs and close calls that have dismantled the Cowboys in recent seasons. No matter how you couch it, the assertion that they should be the NFC East favorite will always garner a lukewarm reception at best. But if you’re a Cowboys fan and you buy the premise that a division title represents the only feasible route to the playoffs, then you have to feel pretty good about 2013. Let’s take a closer look at where the ‘Boys divisional opponents stand.

Philadelphia Eagles

Give the Eagles credit for attempting a grassroots overhaul after folding hard in 2012. They stripped the roster of veterans like CB Nnamdi Asomugha and DT Cullen Jenkins to create cap relief, and brought in Chip Kelly with his high-octane style to cater to Michael Vick’s athleticism and mobility.

They’ve made strides toward dispelling the enmity of fans who enjoyed nine playoff appearances in 13 years under Andy Reid, but that won’t save them in time for the 2013 postseason. The Eagles had 37 turnovers last year, and until their ball security improves, the drafting of touted OT Lane Johnson and the application of Kelly’s system to the personnel won’t be worth a nickel of what they cost.

Plus, it’s Kelly’s first stint as an NFL head coach. The speed of the play calling and of the players that made his system unbeatable at Oregon won’t hold a fraction of the same advantages at the NFL level.

Washington Redskins

Unlike the Cowboys, the Redskins adequately addressed their pass defense this offseason by drafting CB David Amerson (NC State) and S Philip Thomas (Fresno State) with their first and third picks, respectively. They also added CB E.J. Biggers and restructured the deal of starting corner Josh Wilson.

Looking ahead, the 1-2 rushing attack of Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris gives Washington the division’s best offensive foundation. But their numbers, while impressive, are limited as representative samples. The Redskins have proven weapons in WRs Santana Moss and Pierre Garcon, but collectively, they’re nowhere near as polished as the Cowboys’ first stringers. Should RGIII experience the “sophomore slump” that plagues many NFL quarterbacks or re-aggravate his knee, the Redskins will lose their biggest X-factor and heartbeat of the organization.

The franchise’s future is bright, but the players anchoring it need more experience from an Xs and Os standpoint. It’s hard to see them matching last year’s performance and notching consecutive playoff berths.

New York Giants

Regular season data is largely meaningless with this team; once they crack the postseason lineup, they unleash their best football. However, the Giant defense was so uncharacteristically porous in 2012 — surrendering 383 yards per game with especially pronounced struggles against the deep ball — that it remains a major question mark heading into 2013.

New York has lost a host of proven contributors on both sides of the ball: TE Martellus Bennett, RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Domenik Hixon, DE Osi Umenyiora and LB Chase Blackburn. Trading experience for youth and even drafting a quarterback, the Giants have clearly laid the groundwork for the next chapter of franchise history. But with all the injury concerns and personnel changes, 2013 should be a year of transitioning to the new team character, not embellishing it.

Just remember, though, as long as the Giants have Tom Coughlin, Eli Manning and at least one preeminent pass rusher (Jason Pierre-Paul), they should never be dismissed. Until one team clearly and consistently rises above the others, divisional success will continue to live and die with New York.