Forecasting the final four weeks of the NFC East’s slapstick playoff race
The NFC East is the NFL’s clown car this season. No matter who comes climbing out of there, they’re going to look comical and make us laugh. Just like at the circus. Pass the seltzer water.
And then use it to put out the four-team dumpster fire that was on full display in Week 13, when damaging home losses by the Giants and Washington combined with startling road upsets by Philadelphia and Dallas to turn the division race into a free-for-all with four weeks remaining in the regular season.
We were treated to the full NFC East experience Monday night, when Dallas and Washington waged their stirring field goal-fest for 58 minutes before deciding to match boneheaded plays to determine a winner. We see your DeSean Jackson backtracking to reverse field by more than 20 yards on a punt return before fumbling it away, and we’ll raise you a Darren McFadden going out of bounds and then scoring a touchdown when a chip-shot field goal would have won the game for the Cowboys without Washington ever touching the ball again. Dumb and dumber.
Dallas’s 19–16 win on Dan Bailey’s 54-yard field goal with nine seconds remaining was the perfect storm we needed to render the NFC Least a complete quagmire as the season’s final quarter begins: Washington, Philadelphia and New York sit in a three-way tie for first at 5–7, with death-defying Dallas at 4–8 and just a mere one game out of the division lead. The three co-leaders are now tied with the 2014 Saints and Falcons (of the NFC South) for the worst first-place record in league history after Week 13. And they said that would be a record that would stand the test of time. Ha.
Most of us remember the NFC East’s glory years, when the proud and proven division ruled the NFL. But those days are so ridiculously over. Nobody has been able to dominate in this division for the longest time. Consider the following:
Dallas won the NFC East last season. Philadelphia won it in 2013. Washington took the crown in 2012. And the Giants reigned in 2011. The NFC East is the league’s only division to feature four different champions in the past four seasons, and in fact no team has repeated in the East since Andy Reid’s Eagles won four titles in a row from 2001 to 2004. Providing the last-place Cowboys don’t claim the division this season, this will mark the 11th consecutive year that a different team has won the NFC East. Of the other seven divisions, none entered 2015 with a longer run than the AFC North’s three different champions in the past three years.
But this season the NFC East has set a new standard for parity doubling as parody. This is Bad Football Central. Only once before in its 45-year history has the division’s champ won less than 10 games in a non-strike season, that being the eventual Super Bowl-winning 2011 Giants, who were 9–7. This year we’re already assured of no double-digit win teams, and Washington, Philadelphia or the Giants would have to run the table in the coming four weeks to even finish 9–7. But running the table usually takes some good fortune, and the only thing these four have going for them in that respect is Lucky Whitehead, that wonderfully named Cowboys rookie receiver (I am not making this up, he’s real).
I can’t wait to see how this all turns out. No, I mean, I really can’t wait. So I’m going to jump the gun right here, right now and predict the rest of the season for you in the wacky NFC East. We’re going to declare a winner and crown a champion on Dec. 8, and then you can watch it all unfold just as I foresaw. Just remember to thank me on Jan. 3 for going to the trouble of clarifying it all.
Week 14 results
• Washington at Chicago — Daniel Snyder’s team is 0–5 on the road this season and has three of its last four games away from FedEx Field, starting with this trip to Soldier Field. Jay Cutler will carve up Jay Gruden’s team in the NFL’s Jay Bowl. Bears 23–17.
• Buffalo at Philadelphia — LeSean McCoy’s revenge will have to wait for another year. Once DeSean Jackson helped the Eagles out on Monday night with his late-game fumble against Dallas, I knew the other spurned ex-Philly star was headed for a bitter Sunday afternoon at Lincoln Financial Field. If Philly can beat Tom Brady, Tyrod Taylor won’t be insurmountable. The Eagles control their own fate if they win out in the final four weeks. Eagles 27–20.
• New York at Miami — I don’t trust the Giants in a night game (a Monday night, in this case). Then again, I don’t trust the Giants in a day game either. But with ex-Giants tight end Dan Campbell now the Dolphins’ interim coach, this one has tricky written all over it for Tom Coughlin’s beleaguered team. Tricky, but not big trouble. Giants 20–17.
• Dallas at Green Bay — Let’s see, there was the Ice Bowl in 1967 and then last January at Lambeau Field, when the Cowboys’ season died a cruel death in the divisional round. And that was with Tony Romo, DeMarco Murray and a fully healthy Dez Bryant. Yeah, I don’t see a Cowboys win here. Packers 31–19.
Week 14 standings
New York (6–7)
Week 15 results
• Buffalo at Washington — Here’s the good news, Washington fans: Your final four opponents have just a 20–28 record, for a .417 winning percentage, by far the lowest of the four NFC East contenders. None of your last four foes are currently in playoff seeding position. Here’s the bad news: That still may not be enough help to get the job done. Washington 24–20.
• Arizona at Philadelphia — The Birds meet the Birds, and I’m thinking a Sunday night game on the chilly East Coast is no picnic for Arizona’s warm-weathered Cardinals. This is the win the inconsistent Eagles probably shouldn’t expect to get, but they will, with Philadelphia beating its second double-digit win team in three weeks. Eagles 27–24.
• Carolina at New York — The Panthers are due an off day on offense and a loss, and we know how well the Giants get up for the challenge of facing an undefeated team. When you least expect New York to thrive, it usually does. Giants 30–23.
• Jets at Dallas — Have you seen the Cowboys at home this season? They’re 1–5, with five consecutive losses, having beaten only the Giants in Week 1 when Eli Manning and New York failed Clock Management 101. The Jets won’t follow the Giants’ lead on that front. Jets 24–16.
Week 15 standings
New York (7–7)
Week 16 results
• Washington at Philadelphia — Washington squashed the Eagles’ playoff hopes with a 27–24 win at home in Week 16 last season, and now it’s Philly’s chance to turn the tables. On another potentially cold night at The Linc, this time on a Saturday, the Eagles will climb over .500 for the first time all season. Eagles 27–14.
• New York at Minnesota — Eli Manning delivers one last sweet road win for his 12th-year coach, Tom Coughlin. Giants 26–24.
• Dallas at Buffalo — How crazy is the NFC East as Week 14 approaches? The Cowboys are currently in last place in the NFC, but within two weeks, they could jump 12 spots to the No. 4 seed. That’s how crazy. But alas, it’s not to be. Bills 33–20.
Week 16 standings
New York (8–7)
Week 17 results
• Philadelphia at New York — The Eagles, with that astounding Week 13 win in Foxboro as their springboard, seize the “hot team” mantle and ride it all the way to five consecutive wins and an improbable division title in this winner-take-all showdown, the kind we’ve become accustomed to in the NFC East. The Eagles trounced the Giants 27–7 in Week 6, and while this one will be closer, the outcome won’t differ. From 4–7 amid reports of Chip Kelly’s demise to 9–7 and a second division crown in three seasons, the Eagles’ wild ride will end well. Philly was my preseason pick in the NFC East, so why change now? Eagles 25–20.
• Washington at Dallas — Washington goes the whole season without winning a road game or earning consecutive victories. That’s how you get to 6–10. The Cowboys win their home opener and their home finale at AT&T Stadium, but none of their six home games in between. That’s how you finish last in one of the worst divisions in NFL history. Cowboys 23–19.
Final NFC East standings
New York (8–8)