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NFC East has lost its claim as game's best division

Aaron M. Sprecher / NFL
The Cowboys were a popular Super Bowl pick heading into the season, but didn't earn their first win until Sunday.


Sometimes perceptions become reality, but that is definitely the exception. Case in point, there is a perception that the NFC East is the toughest division in football. However, that is no longer true when you have the Redskins losing to the Rams and the Giants falling at home to the Titans. Being the toughest means you beat anyone, and the only real challenge comes from within the division.

When I worked for the Browns, we could not beat the Broncos. From "The Drive" to "The Fumble", John Elway and Co. had our number, but even the future Hall of Famer struggled to beat the NFC East, which earned its moniker as the best division in football at the time.

One of the reasons the Browns hired Bill Belichick, who was the defensive coordinator of the Giants from 1985-1990, as their coach was because he understood what it took to beat the Elway-lead Broncos. From Joe Gibbs to Bill Parcells to Tom Landry to Jimmy Johnson to Buddy Ryan, the division was loaded with great coaches and players.

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Things have changed.

The Giants are not the Giants of old. They can no longer dominate with their lines, meanwhile, their secondary and linebackers are too slow to handle the explosive offenses. Last season, they went 8-8, which owner John Mara said felt like 4-12. This year, they do not appear to have corrected their weaknesses and are headed for a non-playoff season again.

The Redskins are a work in progress as coach Mike Shanahan tries to establish his program. That normally includes a strong ground game, but without a quality running back, the Redskins are too one dimensional in having to rely on Donovan McNabb. There are only so many bootlegs and nakeds that a team can run each week.

The Eagles took a leap of faith in signing Michael Vick and that faith has paid huge dividends. Vick, playing at this level, makes the Eagles a contender for the division title.

The Cowboys are loaded with talent, and when they play to their level, like they did Sunday, they can beat anyone, anywhere. They are for real, and they matchup with any team in the league.

The NFC East looks like a two-team race, so it cannot be the best the NFL has to offer. Now, it is just another division with a couple good teams and the others are left looking for an identity.

We need to forget that perception and maybe think about the AFC South as the toughest division.

Sunday's best

» Leon Washington took two kickoffs back to the house as the Seahawks won another home game. Not sure why anyone would kick to Washington twice in one game, but Seattle has proved to find ways to win against tougher opponents. The NFC West appears to be without a front runner. If Seattle can find a way to win one or two road games, it might be the team that wins the division.

» Tony Romo was sensational in the Cowboys' victory in Houston. Yes, I know the Texans' secondary is not the toughest challenge, but Romo made every play he had to make. With pin-point accuracy and some nice catches from Dez Bryant and Roy Williams, the offense looked improved. Maybe the first two games were an extended preseason for the 'Boys?

» Matt Ryan and the entire team won a big game for the Falcons, albeit with some help from Saints kicker Garrett Hartley. Still, the Falcons won on the road, Ryan played well and the team had 69 combined rushes and completions. Just as impressive was the Falcons' ability to convert nine of 18 on third down. This was a great victory, and proved that the Falcons can earn one in a big game on the road.

» You can only hope to contain him, because you can never slow down Charlie Batch. Who would have thought the Steelers could score 38? What an impressive outing by Batch. He showed the ability to make some key plays, but more importantly, the team really believed in him as their starter. Winning three games in a row without Ben Roethlisberger is impressive and coach Mike Tomlin and his staff deserve credit for finding ways -- and new players -- to win.

» The first two victories for the Kansas City Chiefs were nice, especially for a team in search of restoring its winning ways. Both games could have gone either way, but the Chiefs found a way to prevail. Sunday, the Chiefs dominated the 49ers in their most impressive win of the season. With quarterback Matt Cassel finally stepping up and the offense making plays, the Chiefs gained over 400 yards on a solid defense. The 49ers were a desperate team, and the Chiefs had no problems sending them back to San Francisco 0-3.

Sunday funnies

» Speaking of the 49ers, this season has quickly become a disaster and will take all of the motivational speaking coach Mike Singletary can muster to right the ship. Singletary has problems in every phase of his team right now, from a defense that got run over yesterday, to an offense that wants to be a running team, and could not run the ball. Now, offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye is out. Expectations were high in San Francisco, and so far the 49ers have failed to live up to the hype. Does Singletary have the leadership skills to bring the 49ers backs? We will find out in the next few weeks.

» Field goals are such an important part of the game, and when kickers like Hartley, who might be out of a job as you read this, and Sebastian Janikowski miss winning kicks, especially from 29 and 32 yards, respectively, it makes dealing with the defeat even harder. Winning a game should never come down to just one kick, but Janikowski missed three times as the Raiders totally dominated the game but lost. Missing a chip shot in overtime like Hartley did will not endear him to teammates and might leave coach Sean Payton with no choice but to replace him.

» The Bengals won, but they are not going to beat many good teams unless quarterback Carson Palmer starts to play better. He only gained 195 yards on 37 passes for just 5.3 yards an attempt. Clearly, that is not good enough against quality defenses. Palmer needs to step up his game, or maybe this is the best he can do right now.

» Nice first win by the Rams, but the Redskins should be ashamed of themselves letting St. Louis run all over them and dominate the game. The Rams controlled the ball for almost 35 minutes. The big question remains, what happened to that great Washington defense? The Redskins might not be as good as advertised on defense and converting 1-10 on third down offensively will not help anyone win. The Redskins need a running back -- badly.

» The key to having a chance to beat Peyton Manning and the Colts is to play well in the red zone offensively and defensively. The Broncos failed to do both, failing on all five red-zone attempts on offense, while letting Manning be two of three. The Broncos had over 500 yards of total offense, but lost because of their inability in the red zone.

On the lookout

» Peyton Hillis always looked like Jimmy Taylor of the old Green Bay Packers when he ran the ball when he was with the Broncos. On Sunday, Hillis looked back to his old, hard running, breaking tackles and gaining 144 yards. Running on Baltimore is a tough, but Hillis would make all the old Packers stand up and cheer with his performance.


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» I love Cowboys WR Miles Austin, but Dez Bryant is the real deal and he has to get at least 10 touches a game. The rookie is a big play waiting to happen. His speed and explosive power are impressive, but what stands him apart from the other wide receivers is a unique skill of being able to come down with the deep ball no matter where it is thrown. If I were offensive coordinator Jason Garrett, I call two deep throws a quarter for Bryant. He might score four touchdowns.

Fantasy on the lookout

» The Patriots have so many backs that, at times, it is hard to tell who is in the game. But BenJarvus Green-Ellis looks like he can run with power and finish. The Patriots can run the ball this year, and as Tom Brady continues to look like the Brady of old, teams will be soft in their run defense, allowing Green-Ellis to have big days.

Off the beaten track

» I know the Jaguars' front office are all into character players and won't touch a so-called problem. But after losing to the Eagles, I wonder if they regret not pursuing Michael Vick when he was a free agent. Vick might have been the one player to sell tickets in Jacksonville and generate interest in the team. The decision is proving costly, as the David Garrard era would be coming to an end. Instead, they have no other quarterback to turn to. This is horrible planning by the Jaguars and will cost some people their jobs at the end of the season.

Three-step drops

» For the Cowboys to continue to be explosive on offense, they need less of Marion Barber and more of Felix Jones. When Barber is in the game, the Cowboys are WAY too slow. ...

» The Broncos gained 519 yards, the Chargers 518, the Giants 471 and the Dolphins 436, and all four lost. Yards are meaningless unless you score in the red zone. ...

» Mark Sanchez has bounced back nicely from Week 1. Normally when you score 23 points on the Jets, you should win, but now that Sanchez is playing well, the Jets are capable of producing points. ...

» Detroit just does not have enough talent to play with any team for the whole game. The longer the game, the harder it gets for the Lions to win. They can play for a half, but once fatigue sets in, they wear down. ...

» Even though Jimmy Clausen was well prepared at Notre Dame for the pro game, it really was not enough. The rookie will have growing pains all year, especially on third down as the blitzes become more complex. ...

» Adrian Peterson was sensational against the Lions. When he can make a few big runs, he can carry the offense, particularly against a weaker opponent. ...

» Big game between the Packers and Bears on Monday night. With all the focus on the quarterbacks, the key in this game will be which defensive line can pressure the passer. The team that wins the battle up front will determine the game. My instincts tell me the Packers are the stronger in this area. It will be a great game. ...

» Follow me on Twitter @michaelombardi.

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