Eagles Finally Rise Up to Win Floundering NFC East—But Do They Have a Chance in the Playoffs?

It came down to the final week of the season, and not in an exciting way, but the NFC East finally has a champion. As Philadelphia marches into January, where do the remainder of the teams stand?
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Boston Scott

Boston Scott (35) was activated off the Eagles’ practice squad when Corey Clement was placed on injured reserve in October.

Hey, somebody finally won the NFC East!

The state of the division has turned into something of a joke around the NFL this season, with no teams willing to rise up and take a commanding lead in the division. But heading into the final week of the season, the division was the Eagles’ to lose as they faced the Giants, with the Cowboys still having an outside chance to back into the postseason.

As expected from this division’s teams, it took until the second half for Philadelphia to turn a corner. Giants QB Daniel Jones bobbled a low snap as Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins blitzed and punched out the wet ball. DT Fletcher Cox followed the ball and recovered it at the one-yard line. On the next play, Philadelphia RB Boston Scott easily walked into the end zone to extend the lead, 27-17. The 9-7 Eagles ultimately beat the 4-12 Giants, 34-17, claiming the division title and the No. 4 seed in the NFC.

Scott—Philadelphia’s leading receiver (84 yards) and rusher (54 yards, three touchdowns) against the Giants—represents the identity of this Eagles team, which is making the most of players who haven’t had much opportunity in the NFL. Scott, who was drafted by the Saints in the sixth round of the 2018 draft, was signed by the Eagles off the New Orleans practice squad last December, and he was activated in October when Eagles running back Corey Clement was placed on injured reserve. Scott took on a larger role in this game when rookie running back Miles Sanders was injured in the first quarter.

Injuries have been the story of this Eagles season. DeSean Jackson was lost to an abdominal injury in Week 2, Alshon Jeffery played on and off in ten games before landing on IR, Nelson Agholor has missed the last four games, Jordan Howard hasn’t played since Week 9 and Zach Ertz was ruled out of this game with a lacerated kidney.

If you followed along on Twitter during this game, you’d find hundreds of tweets from fans asking who the hell these Eagles receivers are. Head coach Doug Pederson has been forced to reinvent his offense with a rotating cast of anonymous pass catchers: tight end Josh Perkins; receivers Deontay Burnett, Greg Ward Jr. and Robert Davis; and of course, Scott.

Burnett, an undrafted player out of USC in 2018, was on the Eagles’ practice squad less than a week ago; today, with the game tied 17-17 in the third quarter, he made an impressive 41-yard catch that put the Eagles in field goal range to seize the lead.

Philadelphia will host the winner of the 49ers-Seahawks game in next week's wild-card round, and they’ll hope to have Ertz, Howard and Sanders back for that game. If the Eagles make it one more week to the divisional round, there’s hope they could get Jackson back. Until then, QB Carson Wentz will keep finding ways to use the unknown pass-catchers he has available.

The NFC East was far and away the worst division in the league this season and there will be changes to reflect the disappointing year for three of the four teams. The Washington football team fired head coach Jay Gruden after an 0-5 start, and there’s a chance that the Cowboys and Giants may also make coaching changes of their own.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones has been mostly noncommittal about head coach Jason Garrett’s future in Dallas. In his post-game press conference after the team was eliminated from the playoffs in Week 17, Jones told reporters, “There’s no doors shut here tonight. None.”

But then Jones also told reporters, “I can see myself making a lot of changes in a lot of areas. The times call for that.”

In his nine-and-a-half seasons as Cowboys head coach, Garrett led Dallas to the playoffs just three times—the worst decade of football in franchise history when ranked based on playoff berths. Garrett has a 85-67 overall mark, three playoff appearances, three division titles and four 8-8 finishes.

Over in Washington, the team, which fired Jay Gruden back in October, is moving quickly with its coaching search. NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport reported that ex-Panthers coach Ron Rivera is set to interview with the team tomorrow. Interim head coach Bill Callahan expressed his interest in being the team’s head coach, but it’s unlikely the team will keep him on in that role.

Whatever the Washington team does with it’s coaching decision, it should keep the development of rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins in mind. It would be smart to retain offensive coordinator Kevin O’Connell, who has worked closely with Haskins and helped him make progress this season. Haskins has only one season of starting experience in college, so stability and consistency with his coaching will be crucial for his growth into Washington’s franchise quarterback.

NBC Sports Washington reported that team president Bruce Allen will no longer have responsibilities with the team's football operations, and his future with the organization remains unsettled. Allen’s removal will likely have a ripple effect within the front office.

In Allen’s ten years as president, the team has more than 100 losses and zero playoff wins, and has fired two head coaches—Gruden and Mike Shanahan. Off the field, Allen presided over several controversial situations: The firing of former GM Scot McCloughan, the strange case of Su’a Cravens, and Pro Bowl tackle Trent Williams’s holdout following a health issue that he claims the team mishandled.

In two seasons as the Giants’ head coach, Pat Shurmur has not had it easy. He was tasked with handling the delicate transition from Eli Manning to Daniel Jones. Jones has shown potential, but the Giants offensive line has struggled, Saquon Barkley missed much of the season with injury and the defense lacks premium talent. If Shurmur, who is 9–23 in two years as the head coach, is fired, he will be the second straight head coach for the Giants to last less than three seasons.

When Barkley tied the game 17-17 with a 68-yard touchdown run, Shurmur pulled the RB in for a big hug on the sideline. It looked like the type of desperate, emotional hug from a coach who knows his job is on the line.

Giants co-owners John Mara and Steve Tisch will also have to evaluate general manager Dave Gettleman, who was hired along with Shurmur in 2018. Will New York stay the course or upheave it all? 

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