The NFC East is looking more like the NFC Least this season. Deion Sanders said Sunday night on NFL Network that it's the worst division in football, and the team records seem to back his claim.
The Dallas Cowboys lead the pack at 2-2, but they've been uneven, especially on the road. The 1-3 Philadelphia Eagles are on a three-game skid after opening with a dominant victory over the Washington Redskins, who just won their first game. And the New York Giants are a surprising 0-4, with Eli Manning scrambling for his life behind a battered offensive line. So, which team has what it takes to rise out of the doldrums and assume control of this division?
Do we have to pick a winner?Can the NFL take a page from soccer and promote the Kansas City Chiefs to the NFC East? The Chiefs are going to be the real champions of football's worst division -- they're three quarters of the way to a season sweep -- but if we're forced to declare a favorite in this putrid quartet, it's Dallas. Maybe.
The Cowboys are the best of a bad bunch. The Giants' offense is lost. The defenses of the Eagles and Redskins are awful. Dallas at least has balance, mediocre though it might be. The Cowboys rank ninth in scoring and 12th in points allowed. That's not great -- certainly not great enough to, for instance, compete with the Denver Broncos or Seattle Seahawks for supremacy in their respective divisions. In fact, next weekend's contest with the Broncos should provide a nice measuring stick for the Cowboys. Can they do what no other team has done: slow down Peyton Manning? Unlikely. For a real litmus test on the Cowboys, look further down the calendar, to Nov. 10 at New Orleans.
Dallas is the most well-rounded team in this divisionMight we see a team with a losing record -- say, the first to reach seven wins -- win the NFC East? The Cowboys are the most balanced team in the division, what with their competence on offense and defense, but they must prove they can win a big game in December -- something they've failed to do the past two years.
No team is out of it, mathematically speaking, but the winless Giants do seem to be the furthest from contention. I just can't get past their issues on the offensive line. Philly can move the ball on anybody, but the Eagles are having trouble matching points to yards. And their defense is average. Forget the 52 points posted by Peyton Manning's Broncos on Sunday; nobody is doing a good job stopping that offense. Washington will struggle on defense all year, but the offense will continue to improve.
Right now, I would say the NFC East will go to Dallas, though it's still too close to call. Watch out for Washington.
Cowboys remain my pick to clickThe Dallas Cowboys remain the team to beat in the NFC East. They have the best defense of the bunch, and the Tony Romo-Dez Bryant connection makes them dangerous on offense.
While the 'Boys did let one slip away this weekend against the San Diego Chargers, they are the most consistent team on both sides of the ball, which makes them a legitimate threat to reel off a few wins in a row and separate themselves from the pack. With just a quarter of the season played thus far, I'm willing to bank on the team with the best chance of getting consistent play in every phase to win the division.
Redskins will turn it aroundThe Washington Redskins will win the NFC East. I know, I probably shouldn't get too far ahead of myself; Sunday's win was, after all, against the lowly Oakland Raiders. And I'm certainly not picking the Redskins for their defense -- but let's put this on front street: Nobody in this division plays defense.
Washington has nice offensive balance. Robert Griffin III just completed his "preseason" -- getting his first legitimate taste of game action in Weeks 1 through 4 after missing all of the real dress rehearsal. Following the Redskins' Week 5 bye, I expect RGIII to resume building on his magical rookie campaign. Pierre Garcon is a solid No. 1 receiver. Freddy Morris, meanwhile, gives the team a pretty consistent running game.
The Eagles have a better runner in LeSean McCoy, but Michael Vick isn't consistent enough at quarterback. The Cowboys have Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, but they probably can't count on DeMarco Murray for the whole season. As for the Giants, they won't win because, well, look at this team. So Washington takes the thing.
East is Dallas' for the takingIf the Dallas Cowboys can't win the NFC East this year, when are they ever going to do it? Seriously, by Thanksgiving, they should be playing to clinch the division. They're the most complete of all the teams. That isn't saying much, but then, you can't control who's in your division.
If Philadelphia can't come out of the gate fast with an offense no one has ever seen before, how are the Eagles going to improve the rest of the season? This -- the period before the rest of the league caught up to them -- was their time to make hay. But if they can be neutralized now? Scratch them from contention. The Redskins are going to continue to struggle until Robert Griffin III is fully over his knee injury from last season, which won't happen until midway through the 2013 campaign -- and that's too late. The Giants? With more problems than any team in the league, they're cooked at 0-4. At least the similarly winless Pittsburgh Steelers have a glimmer of hope in their running game after rookie Le'Veon Bell's debut. Injuries and a lack of playmakers have thrown the Giants into such disarray that there's no way out of this hole.
There's a lot of bad football ahead in the NFC East. Not even Saul Goodman could help any of these teams.