In a division in which all four teams have just six combined wins, the NFC East has been highlighted (in this notebook) and in many other outlets for being historically bad.
Every other division has at least nine wins. Six teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks — have five wins, and three of those teams already have had their byes.
So though Thursday night’s nail-biter between the New York Giants and Philadelphia Eagles featured two of the league’s worst teams, it was an engaging game because the playoff stakes are high in a division in which each team still has a chance to make the postseason. Every division matchup is exciting because every team is asking themselves: Why not us?
With that in mind and heading into Week 7 of the regular season where it doesn’t appear that any team is going to run away with the division, it might be time to embrace a different mindset: The NFC East is so bad that it is...good?
Think about it. Stakes between conference rivals are always high. But in a division which has just two combined wins against non-conference opponents, a win has the power to catapult a team to the top or plunge a team to the bottom. The Giants, who were 0-5 through the first five weeks of the season, could have jumped into a tie for first place in the division with the Dallas Cowboys with a win over the Eagles Thursday night.
Yes, that concept is ridiculously hilarious. But consider other divisions around the league.
The Chiefs are leading the AFC West with a 5-1 record and the three other teams are at least three games behind from taking a lead in the conference. For this reason, a matchup between the Chiefs and Denver Broncos is largely uninteresting. In the NFC North, the playoff race is essentially limited to two teams heading into Week 7: the Chicago Bears and Green Bay Packers. The AFC South is the same way as the Tennessee Titans and Indianapolis Colts are the two teams vying for a playoff spot.
Of course in an ideal world, you get a division like the NFC West in which each team has at least three wins and no team is more than two games behind the undefeated Seahawks. These conference matchups are interesting not just because of the playoff stakes, but because the teams are actually good.
This is not the case in the NFC East. But this situation is more fun than the Cowboys running away with the division and rendering every game meaningless. If these four teams are going to be bad, they might as well be bad together.
Now let’s check out headlines around the league from the past week.
In last week’s notebook, we talked about the devastating ankle injury that Dak Prescott suffered two weeks ago against the Giants. The injury was heartbreaking because it ended what was on track to be a record-breaking season for Prescott, but also because of the QB’s franchise tag. With both parties unable to reach a contract agreement this past offseason, the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on Prescott instead of signing him to a long-term contract. Prescott is guaranteed money through this season, but after that? Nothing is certain.
It is therefore important to note that reports began to circulate this past week that the Cowboys are prepared to place the franchise tag on Prescott again in 2021.
It has been reported that Prescott is expected to make a full recovery as there are no structural concerns with the ankle moving forward. While both sides could not come to an agreement this past season, there is reason to believe that they will be able to do so in 2021. The Cowboys already had to budget to potentially carry Prescott in 2021 at about $38M in cash and against the cap in the event he played out next season on a second straight franchise tag. According to reports, Prescott’s injury has not changed that plan and a second franchise tag now appears inevitable for the QB.
In other Cowboys news, reports began to circulate following the team’s humiliating loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Monday Night Football that the players are unhappy with the team’s staff. According to NFL Network’s Jane Slater, there is “discontent” among the players.
#Cowboys players initially bought into keeping things internal. Now as they sit 2-4 the discontent is leaking out. On the coaching staff “totally unprepared. They don’t teach. They don’t have any sense of adjusting on the fly.” Another “they just aren’t good at their jobs”— Jane Slater (@SlaterNFL) October 20, 2020
Reports such as these this early in the Mike McCarthy era are troubling for the Cowboys organization. Yet despite the loss Monday, the Cowboys are still favored to win the NFC East.
Giants fans saw Ron Rivera’s tendency to take risks first-hand last week when Washington successfully converted two fourth downs in the first half of Sunday’s game. But when Rivera elected to go for two after scoring a touchdown with less than a minute to play, the team was unable to convert and Washington fell, 20-19, to the Giants.
Focus in Washington this past week has centered around Rivera’s decision making. Known as “Riverboat” Ron, the Washington head coach is known for taking chances. He explained the decision to go for two after the game by saying that he plays to win.
That messaging would make sense if it did not contradict other play calls by Rivera this season. When losing by two scores to the Arizona Cardinals and Baltimore Ravens, Rivera decided not to use his time outs late in the game, explaining afterwards that he did not want to increase player’s chance of injury after a summer of no preseason games. Though the gap in scoring was larger in these contests, the inconsistency remains. Sometimes Rivera has played to win and sometimes he has not.
This week, Rivera acknowledged the discrepancy in his game-time decisions, but explained that he relies on instinct.
“It does look a little inconsistent, but the consistency is that I’m going to make them based on what I know, on my gut feeling on things,” Rivera said. “Hopefully, they’re good decisions. If they’re not, we’ll know and I’ll take responsibility, that’s for doggone sure.”
Following his gut seems to be the only reasoning to expect from Rivera on his decisions moving forward. It may be a cop-out explanation but it also makes sense given what Rivera is undergoing personally.
Rivera has been undergoing treatment for squamous cell cancer since the summer. He is about to reach the final stage of that process as he is set for his final round of treatment next Monday. He will have chemotherapy and a proton treatment.
Though the Football Team shows no clear signs of improving, Rivera has acted as a rock for his team on and off the field since his arrival.
The injuries continue to pile up in Philly as they placed star tight end Zach Ertz on IR with an ankle injury this past week.
Despite this most recent addition to a long list of injuries, the Eagles were able to rally back to defeat the Giants Thursday and claim a first place league in the division with a 2-4-1 record.
Because of the long list of Eagles’ injuries, there have been rumors circulating about how the team plans to approach the trade deadline. Adam Schefter has reported that he thinks the Eagles will be sellers more than buyers this time around.
Yeah. Now, look, if there’s opportunity to acquire a player at a good price, they’re always going to do that. But if you’re asking me today, do I think that they’d be more apt to trade a decent pick for a player? Or trade a decent player for a decent pick? I’d say they’d be more apt to trade a player for a decent pick than they are the other way around.
Schefter went on to explain that Philly is projected to be about $64 million over the cap next year, so they do not have a lot of flexibility in terms of contracts.
Of course, this could change with the Eagles’ recent win over the Giants and perhaps another win over the Cowboys coming up. But for now it seems as though the Eagles themselves might have chosen not to get wrapped up in acquiring a short-term fix in order to win a bad decision.