NFC East Boils Down To Eagles And Cowboys
By Frank Irving
Five weeks from now, we'll know whether the NFL's diabolical all-internecine Week 17 schedule holds any relevance for Philadelphia and Dallas. Although, squared up at the moment with 6-5 records and slated to meet head-to-head on Dec. 29, the Cowboys command a clearer path than the Eagles to the NFC East title.
Over the next four weeks, Dallas will play one game against a team with a current winning record (Chicago, Week 14). The Cowboys' other opponents during that span (Oakland, Green Bay and Washington) are a combined eight games under .500. Meanwhile, among Philadelphia's next four opponents, three currently have winning records (Arizona, Detroit and Chicago) and stand five games over .500.
Despite an up-and-down season, Dallas has not veered dramatically off course, having neither won or lost more than two consecutive games all year. Along those lines, it seems fair to handicap the Cowboys as going no worse than 2-2 over their next four games to put them at 8-7 after Week 16.
Assuming Philadelphia loses its Week 13 game against the surging Arizona Cardinals and wins its Week 15 contest at Minnesota, the Eagles would have to split their Week 14 and 16 home games with Detroit and Chicago, respectively, to get to 8-7. That's not out of the question, but it would leave no room for error. Losing three of their next four would doom the Birds, and deservedly so.
If Dallas and Philadelphia enter Week 17 deadlocked at 8-7, the winner of the final game will take the division.
It's also noteworthy that Dallas owns a 4-0 divisional record compared to Philadelphia's 3-2 mark. The Cowboys would have to lose a Week 16 game at Washington — against a Redskins team without a playoff pulse — to give the Eagles any chance of matching Dallas' NFC East record. A victory over the Redskins would clinch the divisional tiebreaker for the Cowboys in the event Dallas and Philadelphia split their two games and end the regular season at 9-7.
But wait, what about the New York Giants, who trail Dallas and Philadelphia by only two games? With seven losses already in the bank, New York needs to win out to get to 9-7 for the year. That task, while not impossible, appears unfeasible. The Giants, even after a presumed Week 13 win at Washington, travel to San Diego in Week 14, host Seattle in Week 15, and then go on the road again to Detroit in Week 16. There's likely at least one loss awaiting the G-Men in that treacherous stretch.
Washington, after a drubbing at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers to close out Week 12, can finish the season no better than 8-8. The Redskins are, for all intents, eliminated from the NFC East race.