It might be one of the worst division races in football as far as the quality of the teams are concerned, but it is also one of the closest. And as we enter the final week of the regular season, nothing else matters.
The standings of the NFC East entering Week 17 are as follows:
- Washington Football Team (6-9)
- Dallas Cowboys (6-9)
- New York Giants (5-10)
- Philadelphia Eagles (4-10)
The Giants and Cowboys will kick things off at 1 p.m. But the significance of that game will not be fully determined until the Football Team plays the Eagles on Sunday Night Football. If Washington wins, they are in. If Washington loses, the winner of the Giants-Dallas game will advance to the playoffs. The Eagles have already been officially eliminated.
Inconsistency amongst all teams is the reason the division is entering the final week of the regular season all knotted up. After Washington’s four-game winning streak between Week 11-14, punctuated by a win over the previously-unbeaten Pittsburgh Steelers, the Football Team looked like the hottest squad in the division. But then Alex Smith suffered a calf injury and the performance of the team dipped in his absence. With Dwayne Haskins Jr. released earlier this week (more on that later), the Football Team is hoping that Smith is able to start. Otherwise, they will turn to Taylor Heinicke who has played in just eight career games.
It should help Washington that the Eagles have dealt with their own injury struggles and quarterback drama, as well. Carson Wentz has been benched since Week 13 and Jalen Hurts got the start the past three weeks. He led Philly to a big upset win over the New Orleans Saints in Week 14, but the Eagles have dropped their last two contests. Hurts certainly gives Philly a better chance than Wentz and the freshman QB still has something to play for in a game that is otherwise meaningless for the Eagles as he is trying to prove his worth at the NFL level. Washington should have the upper hand in this match-up, but weaknesses on both sidelines have neutralized any advantages for each team.
Meanwhile, the Cowboys have been hot in recent weeks as they are riding a three-game winning streak. None of the wins are particularly impressive, coming against teams that have 14 combined wins. But Dallas has scored 108 points over the three-game stretch, defeating their opponents easily. With Daniel Jones still not at 100 percent, the Cowboys seem poised to carry the momentum from their hot streak into Sunday’s game. But the Giants, with the 13th-best defense in the league, will pose a bigger threat than Dallas’ most recent opponents. It’s just a matter of the New York offense stepping up.
Now, let’s dive into the headlines from around the division this past week that will impact Sunday’s match-ups.
Washington Football Team
We will start with the Football Team because they hold the power heading into Week 17. Win and in. It’s that simple.
Except nothing is ever really simple in Washington.
On Monday, following a 20-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers, the Washington Football Team announced that it was releasing quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. Haskins had started Sunday’s game but was benched in the fourth quarter after throwing two interceptions and recording one fumble. His start also came after a tumultuous previous week in which photos emerged of Haskins apparently at a party in which strippers were present, not wearing a mask. He was fined $40,000 and stripped of his captain-ship. This punishment seemed significant enough to account for Haskins’ transgressions, but Washington went one step further this past week in its decision to release the former star Buckeye.
It is move that has since been debated by many. For some, Haskins’ release is a long time coming and well-deserved. For others, the release of the sophomore QB says more about the power Ron Rivera has established in Washington (It was Rivera who informed owner Daniel Snyder of his decision to release Haskins. Snyder was the one who originally pushed to draft the QB in 2019 despite pushback from front office staff).
One perspective that most can agree on though is that it took guts for Rivera to release Haskins with the biggest game of the season coming up. If Smith cannot play, Haskins would have given Washington a better chance to win than Heinicke. Rivera chose to stand up for team culture, regardless of the implications.
As for Haskins, he’s a 23-year-old kid who has made a lot of mistakes. He should get another shot, though. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier this week that other teams have already expressed interest in the young signal-caller.
Every practice matters heading into this final week of the season, and the Cowboys lost a chance at an in-person meeting Friday after a player tested positive for COVID-19. In compliance with the league’s protocols, Dallas held a virtual practice. Reports later circulated that the team was placing defensive tackle Justin Hamilton and safety Darian Thompson on the Reserve/COVID-19 list.
The Cowboys are looking for their first playoff berth since 2018. In a season in which Dallas looked very much out of the running after Dak Prescott went down with a season-ending injury in Week 5, it is an accomplishment (and a reflection on the division) that the Cowboys are still standing. For new head coach Mike McCarthy, a playoff berth would also give the favorable first impression that he hoped to achieve in his first season in Dallas.
Our colleagues at Blogging the Boys pointed out the other important outcomes of Sunday’s game involving the Cowboys’ 2021 draft position. If Dallas wins Sunday and the Football Team loses, the Cowboys will pick, at the earliest, 19th in the upcoming draft. They would get a later pick if they win in the playoffs.
Additionally, if the Cowboys win and the Football Team also wins, Dallas will pick between number 15 and 11. If Dallas loses, they will pick between number seven and 11 in the draft.
Something to consider as the 2020 regular season comes to a close.
In Philly meanwhile, attention has already shifted to next season.
Reports have begun to circulate that head coach Doug Pederson is expected to return in 2021. Meanwhile, defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s contract is expiring and he is reportedly not expected to return.
Here’s the exact wording from Adam Schefter and Chris Mortensen:
Coach Doug Pederson is expected to return to the Philadelphia Eagles next season, though he does have a meeting scheduled for Tuesday with owner Jeffrey Lurie to discuss plans for the 2021 season [...] Lurie was said to be unhappy with the team’s results, sources told ESPN, but the Eagles have been more competitive down the stretch, with rookie quarterback Jalen Hurts igniting a spark. [...] There will be changes in Pederson’s coaching staff, sources told ESPN. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is on an expiring contact and is not expected to return, sources said.
One remaining big question for the Eagles is general manager Howie Roseman.
The Eagles are $71 million over next year’s projected cap and have not had success at selecting high-impact players in the last five drafts, all of which have been under Roseman. It does not help matters that the team’s supposed franchise quarterback Carson Wentz is soaking up $34 million in cap space next year and has already expressed no interest in playing backup.
Roseman’s decisions in recent years have been confusing at best and controversial at worst. He drafted JJ Arcega-Whiteside over D.K. Metcalf and Jalen Reagor over Justin Jefferson. He also drafted Hurts immediately after giving Wentz a contract extension. Roseman missed out on opportunities to add impact players like DeAndre Hopkins and Stefon Diggs. The Eagles find themselves in financial trouble and lacking depth at positions that sorely need it. Perhaps Roseman’s 11-year tenure in Philadelphia has reached its expiration date.