Writer: Caleb Akpan
The NFC East is a mess.
Same phrase, different year. Every season, it feels like the NFC is just about any of the four teams to take, and 2017 has been no different. Three of the four squads in the division sit at 2-1 three weeks into the season, and some critics say the Giants aren’t completely out of the race at 0-3 due to the history of tight races and the Giants’ tendency to do things out of the ordinary every couple of years in the Eli Manning Era. It’d be no surprise if we sit in December and any of the teams could clinch a playoff spot by sitting at the top, but let’s try and predict how things will go the rest of the way beforehand.
The Game Haus
As previously mentioned, the New York Giants’ season isn’t going too well. To open the year, the team’s offense looked abysmal against the rival Dallas Cowboys, totaling 233 yards all game with 198 of those yards coming from Eli Manning and a receiving core. Without star Odell Beckham Jr. Outside of a field goal in the third quarter, the team went scoreless in a 19-3 loss. In Week 2, the team was still without their best player. Things barely improved as they picked up 24 more yards of offense and scored a touchdown but still lost to the Lions 24-10.
With Odell Beckham Jr. back and a crucial division contest against the Eagles in front of them, Week 3 was a huge chance for New York to get going. For the first three quarters, they didn’t make use of their chance, but in the fourth it all seemed to come together, with the team putting up 24 points to rally and tie the game, only to lose on a sixty-one yard field goal as time expired. The Giants are none to do the unthinkable with tough odds (see Super Bowl 42), but an 0-3 hole with upcoming games against tough defenses like the Broncos and the Seahawks makes their chances seem extremely low. The key to a possible New York comeback will be holding down their home field and getting those important division wins the rest of the way. If they can do that, there’s still hope for their season.
In pre-season predictions, many had the Dallas Cowboys as division winners following their comeback in 2016. Especially with running back Ezekiel Elliott in the lineup as he continued his legal case, there didn’t seem to be much in the way of the team’s continuing success. In Week 1, things went as hoped, and even better, with a strong win over the Giants that had some calmed about the biggest fear for the team going into the season with their defense, and more specifically, the secondary. Going to Mile High in Week 2, those fears seemed to be immediately renewed. Trevor Simeon looked unstoppable, and Denver charged to an easy 42-17 victory.
On the offensive side of the ball, things were even more shocking as Dak Prescott appeared mediocre and Ezekiel Elliott had by far the worst of game of his professional career, rushing the ball nine times for eight yards. On Monday night, both bounced back (Elliott with 80 yards rushing and a touchdown and Prescott with 3 total touchdowns and no interceptions), but whether or not the Cowboys can stay consistent remains to be seen. That consistency will be key to emerging from a division that is usually lacking such a quality. The team can’t afford losses to teams like the Rams in Jerry’s World or flop on the road in San Francisco. They must secure those wins and show up for big games like October 8th vs. the Packers if they still hope to be kings of the East.
In Philadelphia, the Eagles have surprised most with their level of play to start the year. On the road against Washington, Carson Wentz looked rather comfortable throwing for 307 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-17 win. Against the Chiefs, a team that some would say dominated the defending champions in Week 1, Philly competed almost all game long, only giving up their chances late in the fourth in a 27-20 loss. Flip that game’s last minutes around, and you’re looking at an NFC East led by an undefeated Eagles squad as Week 3 saw the Philadelphia run game awaken in a last-second victory over New York. If that running game of sliced-up touches for LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood, and Corey Clement can truly find its place, there seems to be no reason why the Eagles won’t have a great year. But if that doesn’t happen and Carson Wentz runs out of gas, the entire team may do the same despite exceeding expectations early on.
If asked who would be tied for the best record in the NFC East and hold its best point differential pre-season, few other than fans of the team themselves would say the Washington Redskins. Despite that, here we are, with Washington at 2-1 just like Dallas and Philadelphia, with a running game that seems to have multiple options available and a quarterback in Kirk Cousins who has completed 68% of his passes and thrown for five touchdowns in three games while playing on the franchise tag. If they continue to handle opponents many see as superior like they did the Oakland Raiders on Sunday night, the entire league, not just the division, has a surprise team to look out for.
At the same time, that win stands with a close game against the Rams and handling by the Eagles on Washington turf. Based off that, you may just never know with the Redskins and the same can be said for the division that they play in. The NFC East is extremely unpredictable, so much that the most experienced NFL viewers would probably find it tough to say that a team like the Giants is truly out of it. Just give it another game though, maybe two, and we might have a better idea on what kind of ride we’re in for this season.