Now that we’re past the midway point of the season, each week we’ll take a look at each division and examine the situation, any surprises and look forward to the playoffs.
Pre-Season Prediction: New York Giants
Current Prediction: Philadelphia Eagles
Yeah, no need to be Nostradamus to know that aside from the Eagles, this division is a huge mess. The Giants lost their entire receiving corps to injury and have shed themselves of their GM and head coach mid-season. It was a brash move by a normally reserved ownership group that prides itself on building from the ground up. The firings, which came in the wake of Eli Manning’s refusal to start a game he wouldn’t be allowed to finish, leave the Giants with their franchise quarterback under center. But for how long? Manning can’t be happy to return to a an organization that seemed ready to phase him out. Perhaps the removal of McAdoo and Reese has healed that wound, perhaps it hasn’t. Interim coach Steve Spagnolo will be looking to keep Manning happy, as well as possibly scrape out a win, or two, over the final four weeks to have the “interim” removed from his title.
The Cowboys looked like a hot pick to return to the playoffs on the backs of their young offense and one of the stoutest offensive lines in the game. Instead, this team has returned to the mediocrity that has been the norm for the past decade. Dak Prescott isn’t showing the edge that made him a MVP-caliber QB last year, and the league’s six-game suspension of Ezekiel Elliot has had ripple effects through the whole team. While Elliot’s absence under the league’s domestic violence policy has certainly had an effect all season, it seems to me that this is simply a team that over performed last year, and was due for a sophomore slump.
Washington looked like a team on the rise last year with Kirk Cousins hovering at the edge of elite status. This year his stats look good, but he hasn’t been able to win games at the same rate. Most likely that’s because he’s been a human tackling dummy, getting sacked more than all but two QB’s in the league, at a rate more than twice his total for last year. To give you an idea of how wacky this year is in the NFL, Washington has won five games all this season, but has beaten both the Rams and the Seahawks, two teams well over .500 with aspirations of long playoff runs. The bad news for folks inside the beltway is that Washington has gone 1-4 thus far in the NFC East. There’s no way to make the playoffs with that sort of run in one of the league’s worst divisions.
Philadelphia’s ascendancy surprised a lot of folks this year, myself included. Carson Wentz has emerged as a popular MVP candidate on a team that’s competing for a first round bye in the NFC playoffs, and the Eagles defense absolutely stuffs the run. Seattle showed the league how to beat Philly last week, and I’m especially keen to see how this weekend’s matchup with the Rams plays out. I’ve picked that game as my Sunday Fireworks Show this week, as I think both defenses will make their opponent’s young quarterbacks throw the ball with the game on the line. I think Wentz has benefitted from an extremely well balanced offense and a little luck. His completion percentage is the lowest in the division, and well below other legitimate MVP-caliber QB’s around the league. He should probably have a few more INTs this season than he does, given that his completion percentage is well below the football equivalent of the Mendoza line. It wouldn’t shock me to see him throw a few more picks as the season comes into the home stretch. With that being said, Philly can go a long way towards securing a bye-week if they can come out of LA with a win on Sunday, and any team that can shut down rushers the way that they can is dangerous come January.
Tom Capo writes about sports, parenting, food, wine and travel; but seldom all at once. He’s currently working on his first novel and collection of shorter fiction. He lives in the Bay Area with all of his girls; wife Allison, daughter Liliana and dog Artemis.