It seems far-fetched now but the NFC East is historically the most successful division in the NFL.
The NFC East has not been associated with winning in recent times though. This past season, the division was known as the “NFC Least.” It became laughable that the Washington Football Team would clinch the division title without a winning record and get home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
In 2019, the Philadelphia Eagles clinched the division title with just nine wins - the lowest of any team that won their division that season. The NFC East was also the only division to have two teams record four wins or less.
But the NFC East has not alway been this way. Since the 1970 NFL merger, the division leads the league with 21 NFC Championships and 13 Super Bowl victories. The Dallas Cowboys (5), New York Giants (4) Washington Football Team (3), and Philadelphia Eagles (1) have all won at least one Super Bowl.
As the world prepares to watch Super Bowl LV featuring the 16-2 Kansas City Chiefs and 14-5 Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the NFC East feels far from relevant. But it was only three years ago that the Eagles defeated the Patriots in Super Bowl LII and nine years ago that the Giants shut down the Patriots, 21-17.
In anticipation of the Super Bowl, this week’s notebook highlights notable connections between each team in the division and the Chiefs or Patriots. And while the NFC East might feel far removed from the Lombardi Trophy right now, history suggests that success might not be far off.
The obvious connection here is Chiefs head coach Andy Reid, who was the head coach of the Eagles for 14 seasons, posting a 130-93-1 record. While this tie between the two teams is important, the relationship between Eagles center Jason Kelce and Chiefs star tight end Travis Kelce is worth highlighting.
Jason began his career with the Eagles in 2011 and has remained a consistent starter on the team. He has steadily built up an impressive career, being named to the Pro Bowl four times and becoming a Super Bowl champion. He is also Travis’ older brother.
Like most siblings, Jason and Travis are different. While Jason exudes a quiet confidence, Travis is known for his flashiness on and off the playing field. He has been named to the Pro Bowl six times, won one Super Bowl and is largely considered to be the best tight end in the NFL. But Travis has said that he would not be where he is without Jason.
Travis told ESPN two years ago that he only decided to play football because of Jason. It began in high school when Travis was the team’s starting quarterback in their hometown of Cleveland Heights. Jason had already started to play for the University of Cincinnati, but Travis was not drawing a lot of attention from recruiters. So Jason decided to lobby his coaches at Cincinnati that they should check out his brother. It worked and Travis soon signed a scholarship to play with the Bearcats. Travis was the quarterback and Jason, at center, snapped the ball to him.
But at the end of that season, when Cincinnati was playing in a bowl game in New Orleans, Travis went out partying with teammates. A couple of days later, he was drug tested. After testing positive, Travis’ scholarship was revoked and he was kicked off the team. After some time had passed, Jason began lobbying on behalf of his brother once again. Eventually, Travis was reinstated to the team and earned back a scholarship.
Eventually, Jason was drafted by the Eagles by Andy Reid. And when the 2013 NFL Draft came around, Travis’ name still had not been called in the third round. Then, Travis got a call from now-Chiefs head coach...Andy Reid. Reid asked Travis to put Jason on the line. Jason vouched for his brother yet again, and everyone knows the rest of the story.
Both brothers have a Super Bowl title entering the weekend. Travis is trying to win his second.
Washington Football Team
One of the biggest highlights of the Chiefs’ last Super Bowl victory was this play by cornerback Kendall Fuller.
Fuller recorded this game-sealing interception in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl LIV, helping to secure a win over the San Francisco 49ers.
Fuller spent the first two seasons of his professional career with the Football Team as Washington drafted him with the third-round pick in 2016. Then, Fuller was traded to Kansas City in 2018 in the trade that brought Alex Smith to Washington.
After two seasons in Kansas City, Fuller returned back to Washington last offseason. He tied his career high with four interceptions for the Football Team in 2020 - a season in which he also recorded 11 passes defended and 50 tackles.
Some other connections include Chiefs cornerback Bashaud Breeland who was selected by Washington in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft. Breeland served as Washington’s No. 2 corner for four seasons before spending one year in Green Bay, and then joining the Chiefs. Also, Kansas City’s center, Austin Reiter, was a seventh-round draft pick by the Football Team in 2015.
The Cowboys also have a respectable amount of alumni who will be competing in Super Bowl LV.
Linebackers Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson and cornerback Charvarius Ward are all competing for their second straight titles with the Chiefs after starting their careers with the Cowboys.
The Cowboys selected Hitchens in the fourth round of the 2014 NFL Draft and chose Wilson in the fourth round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Both players spent their first four seasons in Dallas before joining the Chiefs in 2018 and 2019, respectively. Hitchens is the defensive captain for the Chiefs at middle linebacker.
Dallas’ preference for Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch at linebacker made Hitchens and Wilson less of a priority. Smith led the Cowboys in tackles the past two seasons, but Vander Esch has missed 13 games in the last two years due to injuries.
Ward, meanwhile, signed with the Cowboys as an undrafted free agent in 2018 but was traded to the Chiefs before the final preseason game. He has since become a mainstay in the Kansas City secondary, starting every game.
Then there is the coaching staff.
Tampa Bay specialists coach Chris Boniol was a kicker for the Cowboys in 1995. He made 27 of 28 field goal attempts and was a member of the team that won Super Bowl XXX - Dallas’ last Super Bowl victory.
Additionally, Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles was a defensive backs coach in Dallas from 2005-07 and defensive line coach Kacey Rodgers was the Cowboys’ defensive tackles coach in 2003-04.
The NFC East might seem far removed from competing for a Super Bowl, but each franchise is connected to the teams playing for a spot in history.