|New York Giants||2||2||0||.500||1-1||1-2||2-2|
Two weeks into the season, it looked like the New York Giants were left for dead. They had become the first team in NFL history to lose their first two games despite holding 10-point leads in the fourth quarters of each contest. Preseason hope had vanished and reactionary Twitter posts were at an all-time high. The problem with the first two weeks of the season is that many think of it as a large enough sample to determine the competitive levels of each team. With two straight losses, the Giants looked like dead men walking.
Yet, here we are after just two more weeks and the story has changed considerably. Thanks to a problematic NFC East, New York has a share of the division lead. Three teams tied at the top, with two wins and two losses a piece, all with vastly differing narratives after four weeks of the season.
Let's start with the biggest name, the Dallas Cowboys. Dez Bryant was injured in the season opener, Tony Romo went down in Week 2, now it looks like they've lost running back Lance Dunbar, too. It's another small blow to a team already working with backups, but Giants fans will attest to the fact that these "depth" injuries can often snowball into larger problems. In the final stretch of the season, when you expect to see some second stringers on the field, you're subject to the crucible of scout-team-turned-first-team type play instead. Maybe Dunbar isn't a big name loss, and he did only have five carries so far this year, but this team is already down to a skeleton staff in the first week of October.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. Brandon Weeden appears to have adjusted nicely to the Dallas offense. I can't imagine Matt Cassel hitting that fourth-down pass to tie up the game at the end -- and I'm a noted Cassel apologist. Weeden still has his problems, but as backup quarterbacks go, the Cowboys could be a lot worse. Yet, America's favorite billionaire team-owner / general manager, Jerry Jones, renounced his so called faith in Weeden to some reporters in the Superdome following an overtime loss to the Saints.
"It's not quite apples and oranges when the guy on the other side of the deal is Brees and you're dealing with a guy who is as limited as Weeden."
This coming just a week after showering of superlatives for the oldest inexperienced quarterback in the NFL.
"He's a thing of beauty on throwing a football. His passing motion and his arm, frankly, you won't see a more gifted passer."
Dallas isn't the only place where the quarterback story rules the roost. In fact, that's pretty much the case right across the division. This is somewhat of a misnomer, because of the importance of the position, but each team (other than NY, of course) is starting a quarterback that wasn't predicted when last season wrapped up in February.
In Philadelphia, Sam Bradford is putting up some pretty fantasy football numbers, but not necessarily performing at the level needed to translate that into on-field success, though I think the majority of the Eagles' issues stem from their offensive line. With little help from the run game, Bradford has to be consistent to keep that offense afloat, and to date, Bradford has been anything but consistent. There have been flashes, stretches and streaks where the 2010 rookie of the year has been impeccable, picking apart defenses with the help of Chip Kelly's "Oregon" style offense, but then there are whole quarters of games where both the quarterback and offense break down to the level where it looks like they're not even playing the same sport.
They averaged 160.4 rushing yards per game in Kelly's first year. That fell to a still respectable 124.5 in 2014. After four games this season, they're managing a meager 70 yards. Kelly has been so determined to only keep players who buy in to his scheme, that he degraded the very system which allows him to pull off such an original style of offense. He was more successful with a team mostly built during Andy Reid's tenure than his own, yet the ownership thought it was a good idea to promote Kelly to general manager. Through four weeks -- an admittedly small sample size -- that doesn't look like the best move.
And I'm not talking about getting rid of Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis or LeSean McCoy. While shipping off premier pieces of a top running game may be a punishable crime now that they are facing some injuries along their line, it's Kelly's moves on both sides of the ball that have hurt this team. It's not a huge shock that big money cornerback Byron Maxwell isn't as good outside of Seattle, but the extent to which he has under-performed in Philadelphia is shocking; like Nnamdi Asomugha levels of disappointing.
However, would anyone be surprised if Kelly's pieces all suddenly click into place and the Eagles went on a run? I know I wouldn't. The NFL is too insane to name winners and losers after just four weeks, or really, at any point before mathematical definition.
Case in point; our maroon and gold brethren in the nation's capital. Another year of turmoil in Washington began before their season did. I'm not going to go near whatever is happening with Robert Griffin III, but I'm pretty sure playing him as a scout team safety was not in the plan when they drafted him. His replacement, Kirk Cousins ... actually, is replacement the right word? I mean, yeah, he did technically replace RGIII, but Cousins never appeared to be trailing in the competition. Head coach Jay Gruden seemed determined to make Cousins the starter, and for the most part, it seems to be working.
Cousins led a 15-play, 90-yard drive in the dying moments of Sunday's game against Philadelphia that gifted Washington their second win of the season, and buried the Eagles at the bottom of the division table. It was definitely his best game of the year, and something which instills a sense of hope in the fan base. Maybe if Gruden gets the quarterback he wants, the team can be successful. So many people wrote this team off based on previous drama-fueled years that they never thought about how Washington may perform if things settled down to a relatively boring scale.
It also helps that this teas is the number one rushing team in the league. With 139.5 rushing yards per game, they can have their way with the other team, but they boast an equally strong defense; top 10 in stopping the pass and second only to the Giants in rushing yards allowed per game. The results haven't been outstanding, but the individual performances have added up to something very strong. With an unspectacular QB, good running and a formidable defensive unit, Gruden appears to be modelling this roster after his former team; the Cincinnati Bengals. The comparisons are there. Will there be a playoff appearance to boot?
Over the first four weeks, the worst NFC East team is one game away from contention, and the best is in a three-way tie. It's wide open and rightly so. This is a division that traditionally goes down to the wire, usually with a key SNF match-up in Week 17 as the decider. Don't expect runaway leaders when we check back in at the half-way point. Heck, even a marginal one might be too much to ask for. The Giants are just finding their way, Washington is a potent adversary, the Eagles could still hit high gear, and then there's the Cowboys, who have Rolando McClain and Greg Hardy returning from suspension this week, and will at some point get back Romo and Bryant from injury. Whether these teams are good or bad doesn't matter. The only thing that's important is that it's close, and with three divisional games coming in the next four weeks, damn, it's entertaining.