NFC East emerging as NFL's most surprising division in 2014

It's just like we predicted in the preseason: The NFC East is incredibly competitive and fun to watch. The Giants are confident and hot. The Cowboys are dominant, a thrilling bunch to follow, and tied for first place at 3-1.

Wait, what??

In a zany first quarter of the 2014 campaign, the zaniest division of them all is in the NFC East -- a foursome that, conventional wisdom said all offseason, would be impossible to watch this year.

The Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Redskins are a combined 5-1 in nonconference play.

Is it all a fluke? What's next?

Here's what has happened so far, and what lies ahead for the NFC East:

Dallas Cowboys (3-1)

Dear Dallas,

I was wrong. I was *dead wrong* on the 2014 Dallas Cowboys. I thought Cowboys fans calling into my radio show, commenting on my columns and tweeting at me saying Dallas would compete were living on Planet Delusional.

After they lost Sean Lee to injury, I figured the 'Boys would be defunct. I didn't trust the defense to mature quickly. I didn't trust the Cowboys to commit to a plan, to commit to running the football.

Well, they have, and it's absolutely fantastic.

Jason Garrett is wisely feeding the ball to DeMarco Murray behind the Cowboys' big, physical, talented offensive line that features three former first-round picks. And suddenly, Dallas boast the NFL's No. 1 rushing attack. As a result, Tony Romo is rocking steady. He spread the ball around brilliantly and was a dominant model of efficiency in a 38-17 statement win over the talented New Orleans Saints on Sunday Night Football.

We've all been calling for Dallas' offense to operate in this manner for quite some time. Now, Garrett needs to stick with it.

Running the ball -- and, inherently, controlling the clock -- really helps the defense. The young unit has made major strides. After fielding a historically bad defense in 2013, the Cowboys have cracked the top 10 in scoring D.

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I think Stephen Jones deserves a lot of credit here. He talked his dad out of the potential nightmare of drafting Johnny Manziel, allowing Dallas to take a strong, physical offensive lineman in Zack Martin. Looking back at the column I wrote in May after a wide-ranging interview with Jones, the Cowboys COO truly believed in this young defense. At the time, I liked the philosophy of getting younger and trimming overpaid aging players, but I never thought it would click this fast -- especially once Lee went down.

The win over the Saints was a signature moment, but the Cowboys had already shown me something striking one week prior. By overcoming a 21-0 deficit to win in St. Louis, Dallas flashed heart and grit -- two words nobody has associated with this team in recent years.

The Cowboys host the Texans on Sunday before visiting Seattle. Then Dallas hosts the Giants, Redskins and Cardinals before going to Jacksonville and then hitting the bye week. Can the 'Boys go 4-2 in this six-game stretch? I'd guess 3-3, but four wins is certainly a possibility if they continue to feed Murray and give Romo balance.

I'm not ready to call Dallas a playoff team, since we've only completed a quarter of the season, but color me impressed. Dallas looks like a real NFL team with a plan. And considering what we've seen from this franchise in recent years, that's something.

Philadelphia Eagles (3-1)

Let's not confuse the issue here. Yes, the division is much more competitive than anyone imagined it'd be, but nothing in the first four weeks of play has changed my mind on the Eagles being the team to beat.

OK, so Nick Foles has already doubled his interception total from the entire 2013 campaign. No matter. I still believe in him, his receivers and Chip Kelly's offense (Sunday's red-zone play-calling notwithstanding).

Early attrition has significantly hindered the offensive line, but Lane Johnson's return from suspension will help. Nobody's felt the pain of the shoddy O-line more than LeSean McCoy, who has been stuck in the mud. But the NFL's reigning rushing king is too good to not get going. And his backfield mate, Darren Sproles, has already proven to be well worth the fifth-round pick Philly gave up to acquire him in March.

The Eagles' defense won't be dominant this year, but it's an opportunistic bunch that can complement the offense with playmaking.

With home games against the Rams and Giants on tap, the Eagles should be 5-1 going into their bye and in prime position to win 10 games.

New York Giants (2-2)

Like Cowboys fans, Big Blue faithful also deserve an admission of error on my part. I was wrong about the Giants, too. I have picked against them every week this year. I thought they were a five- or six-win team.

I mocked the Giants for not having a legit, NFL-caliber tight end. Well, hello, Larry Donnell! Those three touchdowns on Thursday Night Football certainly put me in my place.

I buried the offensive line for not being reliable. Well, after an 0-2 start, the unit clicked against J.J. Watt and the Texans and again looked great against the Redskins.

After looking hapless, hopeless and helpless in the preseason and the first two regular-season games, Eli Manning has suddenly developed stunning consistency in Ben McAdoo's offense.

Meanwhile, the Giants defense made Ryan Fitzpatrick morph back into Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 3, and then embarrassed Kirk Cousins in Week 4.

All that said, I remain skeptical about the Giants because of their overall lack of talent. Sunday's home game against the banged-up Falcons looms large, especially with trips to Phillyand Dallas on the horizon before a Week 8 bye. After that, New York faces the Colts, Seahawks (in Seattle) and 49ers in three consecutive weeks. Good luck with that ...

I don't see how the Giants make the playoffs. But they are much better than I anticipated.

Washington Redskins (1-3)

What a strange first quarter for Washington.

Robert Griffin III got hurt (again) in Week 2. Who knows when we'll see him again. Kirk Cousins looked fantastic against the Eagles in Week 3, but crashed hard back down to Earth in Week 4 with a gruesome, five-turnover performance against the Giants. And it doesn't get any easier for Cousins. Here come the Seahawks and Cardinals, who might boast the two best defenses in football.

Washington's defense has been spotty. (And that's being kind.) Foles and Manning have already torched them. This team's giving up 27.2 points per game (26th in the league).

I thought Washington could win eight games in Jay Gruden's first year. They will be much closer to six.

Follow Adam Schein on Twitter @AdamSchein.

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