NFC East

NFC East, Week 4: Eagles take commanding 1-game lead over losers

NFC East, Week 4: Eagles take commanding 1-game lead over losers

Each week, we'll take a look at how the Eagles' division rivals fared the previous weekend (spoiler alert: the NFC East barely exceeded Brett Brown's .229 winning percentage) and what they have upcoming. This week, Jay Gruden did a great Andy Reid impression, Dallas let Greg the Leg dominate your fantasy league, and the Giants experienced a glitch in the Matrix.

New York Giants (0-4)

What Happened: Deja vu! The New York Giants, who many predicted would win the NFC East solely because they added 33-year-old Brandon Marshall, dropped to a dismal Oh-and-Four for the year, and for the second consecutive week, it was on a game-ending field goal. This week, it was Nick Folk's 34-yarder that ended it; not as impressive as Señor Elliott's 61-yarder, but still pretty amazing. It's like comparing Star Wars: A New Hope to The Force Awakens — the first is inarguably a classic, but that doesn't make the latter any less enjoyable.

Despite coming back from a 13-0 first-quarter deficit, getting seven receptions from Odell Beckham Jr., and witnessing a Wentz-esque touchdown run by Eli Manning, the Giants fell in Tampa, 25-23. On the plus side, Eli is now the Giants' rushing leader on the year, which I'm sure is exactly what the Maras were hoping for when they pushed out two-time Super Bowl Champion Tom Coughlin to promote Ben McAdoo and his innovative offense. 

The game was announced by Ronde and Tiki Barber, which had about as much charm as a bucket of snakes. Remember that time Tiki retired suddenly, then slammed the Giants' coaches and locker room on his way out, so Michael Strahan decided to go ahead and steal his dream life? HAHAHA ... good times.

Positive Spin: So if you think back all the way to 2013, you'll remember that this same Giants squad actually started 0-6, yet they never gave up, they never quit, they kept fighting, and they ended up winning seven out of their final 10. It can happen!

Not that it would matter. The G-Men missed the playoffs in 2013 and the season was a waste.

The Giants should win some games this year (no promises), and will likely spoil someone's season down the road. For some Giants fans not ready to watch the Post-Melo/Post-Phil Knickerbockers, that should bring some joy. When you lose your first four games on the year, that's about as positive as things get.

Negative Spin: What's the future here? At least in 2013, they were just a couple years removed from a Super Bowl. Eli is old, the genius coach doesn't seem so genius, the running game hasn't been relevant since Brandon Jacobs retired, and the team's most interesting young player, while only in his fourth year, has been healthy for all 16 games only once and doesn't feel like a safe bet to have a Jerry Rice-like 20-year career. The characters on The Walking Dead have a better five-year plan than these guys. The outlook's about as bleak as Donald Trump's chances of being elected as Puerto Rico's Man of the Year.

The Giants are like a new Tim Burton movie — fans tend to get a little over-excited based off of some fantastic release from childhood. At a certain point, the busts start to outweigh the booms, and we're all gonna be left wondering if there was ever anything special there to begin with.

What's Next: A home game against the Los Angeles Chargers, who after last week, are already pretty familiar with having to play on the road. 

• • •

Dallas Cowboys (2-2)

What Happened: Despite leading 17-6 and 24-13, Dem Boys fell to Greg "The Leg" Zuerlein's seven field goals and the Los Angeles Rams by a score of 35-30. Let's call this one "The Wade Phillips Revenge Game." Jason Garrett, who once sabotaged his own offense in order to get Phillips fired and steal his job, watched Todd Gurley rack up over 200 all-purpose yards on the way to the NFC East's biggest upset of the season.

Dallas looked in control early, scoring three touchdowns in the second quarter, but the game flipped and reversed faster than Zeke's legal playing status. Garrett's squad fell behind when Gurley snuck through on a 53-yard slant pass from Jared "Still Not Carson" Goff, which was part of a 19-point L.A. run that the Cowboys couldn't overcome. 

Oh, and Jerry Jones, who gave $1 million to Donald Trump during the campaign, is getting cold-called by the guy about kneeling during the anthem. Take that however you want it.

Positive Spin: Zeke looked fine, Dak looked fine, and Dez made some highlight-reel catches for a change. The offensive playmakers are still there and being effective, even if they weren't effective enough to get the W this week. Like having a CD player in your car, this offense still works.

Besides, it's still hard to say just how good the Los Angeles Rams actually are. Goff has certainly resembled a competent quarterback these first four weeks, and Gurley's having a bounce-back season shouldn't shock anyone. It's possible this upset doesn't look quite so upsetting a few months from now. If Dak & Zeke steamroll over Green Bay next Sunday, this fart-in-the-bathtub will quickly be forgotten.

Plus, the fact that Zuerlein had seven field goals (not a typo) could be a testament to a defense that will bend but not break, but I dunno. SEVEN field goals? If your backbone had that much bend, you'd be a human right angle.

Negative Spin: THE SKY IS FALLING IN JERRY WORLD! The Cowboys are just one defeat away from tying their total from all of last season, while Dak is just one interception away from tying his total from all of last season. Oh, and did we mention Zeke hasn't had 100 yards rushing in three consecutive games!? The regression is real. How does Garrett still have a job?!

In all seriousness, the Cowboys just lost a game at home to a conference opponent they were favored to beat. That's not good. The defense clearly missed the oft-injured Sean Lee in this one, and the offense appears to be missing the under-appreciated Doug Free overall. The Cowboys, who weren't good enough to win a playoff game last season, so far appear to be a less-competent team this season. At least their fans have Lavar Ball to look forward to.

What's Next: The Green Bay Packers travel to Dallas a lot healthier than they were when they knocked the Cowboys out of the playoffs seven months ago. At 3-1 and with a Canton-bound quarterback, the Packers are probably the toughest challenge Jones' squad has faced all season. In the immortal words of whats-his-face, "Get yo' popcorn ready!" 

• • •

Washington (2-2)

What Happened: Despite going up 10-0 early, the Washington football team fell to the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs by a final score of 29-20, and it was a lot more dramatic than that score leads on. Wide receiver Josh Doctson, who's getting serious snaps only because Dan Snyder refused to pay Pierre Garçon and DeSean Jackson, 2016-Agholor'd a Kirk Cousins pass in the end zone with 50 seconds remaining that would have given DC a four-point lead. 

Andy Reid watching another head coach mismanage the clock is like Donald Trump calling someone else out for poor leadership, or me complaining that someone's sports blog is too political. But that's exactly what happened. Jay Gruden took a timeout on third down with a minute remaining, single-handedly ensuring Kansas City would get the ball back with time to make a move, no matter what the Washington offense did.

Turns out, Washington would end up tying it with a field goal. But with 47 seconds still on the clock, Alex Smith was able to put his team into field-goal range for the game-winner. Presumably, that's why Reid always burns his timeouts in the third quarter; to ensure he can't use them to self-sabotage deep in the fourth. It's like hitting yourself in the head with a hammer before you get on your motorcycle.

In the end, a broken lateral play resulted in a defensive touchdown for the Chiefs, because somebody somewhere needed to learn that gambling was bad. Josh Norman busted his ribs and could be out a while. Oh, and we learned Jason's brother Travis is a champion dancer. Here's hoping the Eagles' center finds a way to score next week, just so we can see if he can answer.

Positive Spin: This was about as "good" a loss as teams get in the NFL. Washington went up against the only undefeated team remaining and nearly stole one on the road. Cousins' stats don't blow you away, but he looked pretty darn good on that final drive (sans the Doctson drop), and he and Pryor seem to be getting on the same page. A week after crushing the Oakland Raiders on national TV, Gruden's squad was one dropped pass or one boneheaded timeout away from being 3-1. For a franchise that makes Equifax look competent, that's a pretty good streak.

Again, let's keep in mind what franchise we're talking about here. Dan Snyder's squad going 2-2, and nearly beating two top AFC teams in the process, is like BoJack Horseman being nominated for the Primetime Emmy for Outstanding Drama Series.
 
Negative Spin: Brian Dawkins used to say "there's no such thing as a good loss." Washington is 2-2 and couldn't carry its momentum over from last week. Gruden, meanwhile, who has been coaching this team for three years now, should know better than to pull an Andy Reid with the game on the line. So while plenty of people will want to "like that" they almost got the dubya, it's important to remember that "almosts" still count as losses.

There's been a lot of talk this week about how the Eagles have been learning to win the close ones. Well on Monday night, Washington lost a close one. So for anyone out there who believes one or two plays actually confirms whether a team has learned how to be a winner vs. just got lucky on a handful of crucial plays, Washington technically lost a close game for the second time when a handful of better plays would have made the difference. I guess they just don't know how to be winners yet. Maybe they should bring in Tebow.

What's Next: A bye week?! That feels lame. And that's how this article ends? Even David Chase thinks that's a cruddy way to wrap something up.

NFC East Report, Week 1: Eli Manning looks ready for Del Boca Vista

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USA Today Images

NFC East Report, Week 1: Eli Manning looks ready for Del Boca Vista

Each week, we’ll take a look at how the Eagles' division rivals fared the previous weekend (spoiler alert: they’re all failures). This week, the Cowboys picked up where they left off, Washington got run over by the Wentz Wagon, and the Giants looked ready for a spot in Del Boca Vista.

Here’s what happened, and what’s happening, in the NFC East after Week One:

Washington

What happened: I mean, y’all saw it.  Despite a hat trick of turnovers, Washington still had a chance to win this game on the final drive, and gave up a maybe-it-was-maybe-it-wasn’t fumble on a Brandon Graham sack that resulted in Fletcher Cox’s first career touchdown (and might I also add, a fantastic touchdown dance). In short, Washington had a chance to win it, and Kirk Cousins didn’t have enough … which, quite soon, may be what we’re saying about his bank account.

Sure, you can argue all you want about the final call. It doesn’t change the fact that Washington averaged less than three yards per carry, put up just 10 total points on offense, and ended the day with four brutal turnovers. You can’t complain about the last turnover when you’ve already handed it over three times. That’s like a chef ruining every dish on a four-course meal, then getting mad at the waiter for sneezing on the dessert. Cousins' performance on Sunday was a mucus-covered souffle, which is ironic, because I’m sure dozens of waiters in the DC area have spit in Dan Snyder’s food.

Positive spin: Insert obligatory “It’s only Week 1” comment here. In fact, Washington has lost Week 1 every year Jay Gruden has been in charge. They love losing Week 1, in the same way Jon Snow likes squinting at things or how the military likes taking its orders via Twitter. THE CHAOS IN DC IS CONSTRUCTIVE, can’t you see!?

Meanwhile, Ryan Kerrigan’s play is as consistent as your neighbor doing construction the only Saturday morning you have to sleep in, Chris Thompson made arguably the play of the day, and Washington lost a game to a division rival it was bound to lose to sooner or later. This one hurts for DC fans, but it’s not a backbreaker. It’s more like a paper cut … a massive, Cox-sized papercut.

If it wasn’t for a couple of Tony Romo-esque Houdini moves by Carson Wentz … and a fumbled punt … and a QB fumble in the first quarter … and a fourth-quarter interception in the red zone. .. maybe Washington’s in control all game. And maybe if we elected our president by popular vote, Snyder and Donald Trump wouldn’t be neighbors. That’s why we play the game, folks.

Negative spin: Washington lost a home game to a divisional opponent, and looked ugly doing it. Terrelle Pryor and Cousins looked out of sync, like when your live stream is just a second off so the lip movements don’t match the sound. And the offensive line, which was suppose to be a strength, struggled mightily against the Iggles' pass rush, like Sean Spicer at a “Guess the size of the crowd” contest.

Much has been made about how Cousins is playing for his next contract. His display on Sunday isn’t the kind of show that’ll get you 2016 Brock Osweiler money.

What’s next: Gruden’s squad heads out to Los Angeles to face a Rams team coached by its former offensive coordinator, Sean McVay. The McVay-Gruden dynamic is essentially the same thing Iggles fans will get with Andy Reid-Doug Pederson on Sunday, just with a lot less labored breathing.

The Rams are coming off a 46-9 victory, and consider it a must-win for Washington. The team will take on Oakland and Kansas City after that, and don’t expect it to be favored for either.

New York Giants

What happened: Giants fans have been waiting for years for Eli Manning to start looking like Peyton Manning. On Sunday night, he finally did … unfortunately, it was the 38-year old version who had the accuracy of a stormtrooper. Despite coach Ben McAdoo’s decision to go with the Chase Utley hairstyle, the Giants were thoroughly beaten by Dallas on Sunday night, 19-3. Just as we all predicted, the Giants' offense has been outscored on the season by Cox.

It was announced shortly before the game that star wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., whom McAdoo got hurt in the preseason by being a moron, would not be able to play. That was about as exciting as the Giants' offense got. New York had just two first downs the entire first half, and had 256 yards total the entire night. Sitting through this game was a slow bleed, like bathing in a tub of leeches, or trying to binge watch all of Marvel’s Netflix shows. Oh, Iron Fist, you have the charisma of a mashed potato.

Positive spin: The defense looks good, in the same way Chip Kelly’s defense use to look good before the high number of plays sent them all into cardiac arrest. Wherever he is, Bradley Fletcher is probably still trying to catch his breath (also, a streaking wide receiver). While there wasn’t much for Giants fans to hang their heads on, their defense kept them in this bore-fest deep into the fourth.

And, presumably, OBJ will be back, though after watching Manning's noodle arm, it’s hard to imagine him in a rush. Once Beckham returns, he’ll make everyone look better. He’s like T.J. McConnell that way, only with worse hair.

At the end of the day, losing to a division rival on the road (like New York did) is better than losing at home (like Washington did). So, that’s something. Like how the one Wicked Witch probably preferred being melted by water as opposed to getting crushed by a house like her sister. How’s that for a dated reference?

And speaking of old things ...

Negative spin: Manning looked old. New Yorkers are offering him a seat on the subway, that’s how old he looked. Like clips of Ari Gold verbally berating women, the younger Manning has not been aging well. His numbers have been getting worse from year to year, despite the addition of Beckham (and Sterling Shepard, who’s still everything we expect Nellie Agholor to be), and maybe the Giants' front office was onto something when they drafted an heir apparent in the third round last April.

The Giant issues (see what I did there?) go beyond the quarterback, though. The offensive line makes tissue paper look like adamantium. Brandon Marshall had as many catches on Sunday as Jalen Mills. And the running game was … well, it was like the Eagles' run game, which is to say it was a complete and utter non-factor. The Giants' offense was bad. Like, Dark Tower bad, but with more summer hype (and less angry diehards).

Again, it’s only one week, and the Giants bounced back from a 2-3 start last season to make the playoffs. A month from now, we may have all forgotten that Manning looked ready for the scrap heap, or that the running game looked nonexistent, or that Marshall looked as old as Melisandre in that one Game of Thrones scene that didn’t make sense. But for right now, today, at this moment, after a beating on national TV in Dallas on a stage the Giants have typically thrived on, McAdoo’s squad looks like it’s got some problems. 

What’s next: The Giants come home for a game against the 1-0 Detroit Lions, who feature the highest-paid quarterback in the NFL, Matthew Stafford. Fun fact: Matty Staff has a .460 winning percentage in his career, which is the exact number in millions he’s currently getting from the Ford family. Glad to see Detroit becoming a beacon of high-paying American jobs!

Dallas Cowboys

What Happened: Ugh, please don’t make me recap this one. Reliving an easy Cowboys victory is as cringeworthy as what I imagine being stuck on an elevator with Sam Bradford is like.

In the same way the Birds got a monkey off their backs beating Washington for the first time in two-and-a-half years, the Cowboys chased away a bit of a boogeyman by easily defeating the New York Giants Sunday night at home. Eli and Co. swept Dak and Zeke last season, a feat made more impressive by the fact that the Cowboys only lost four games all of last year.

Evan Rafa Nadal thought this one was too easy. Dallas moved the ball effectively enough on the Giants, and while it struggled to get touchdowns (the lone one being scored by AARP spokesman and man-without-a-neck Jason Witten) and technically let the G-Men hang around, the Cowboys still felt in control all evening. Prescott wasn’t perfect, but he was effective, and Elliott found enough holes to be successful … which, coincidentally, is also the opening statement from his legal team.

Positive spin: The Cowboys looked like the exact same team that went 13-3 last year, which is great for the next three months (but as per usual, has little impact on the postseason). Elliott escaped his suspension, perhaps temporarily, or perhaps forever, in thanks to a Texas-based judge’s ruling and I’m sure that judge doesn’t have a Michael Irvin jersey in his closet, for sure. The Cowboys RB/QB combo got the job done again a tough Giants defense, proving there won’t be a sophomore slump (at least for one week).

Negative spin: This wasn’t a true test. Without OBJ, the Giants' offense had the fight of day-old roadkill. Oh, and they probably should have had more than 19 points. The offense stalled in the red zone a few times, a result of some poor Prescott passing. I’m nitpicking here, but hey, I’ve got a format for this article, and I’m gonna stick to it. I respect and follow the rules. If I don’t, Jerry Jones might try to hire me.

Oh, and did you know Prescott grew up a Cowboys fan? Yet he was born in California. That's so weird. 

What’s next: A flight to Denver to face an opponent coming off a short week. Jones is so clearly the shadow commissioner of this league, I’m surprised he’s not using a shell company to buy Facebook ads targeting independent voters.

Examining the critical issue for each NFC East team

Examining the critical issue for each NFC East team

You could make a strong case from head to toe, the NFC East is the best division in the NFL. Some may argue the NFC South, but in these parts, we are locked in on the division the Eagles call home. So let’s dive deep into the No. 1 issue for each team entering the 2017 season.

Eagles: Pass rush
We begin, naturally, with the Eagles. As has been Howie Roseman’s style since his return from exile, it was an extremely busy offseason for his club. Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Ronald Darby were added to the team that went 7-9 last season. All are major upgrades from what inhabited those positions last year. 

So while I fully expect Carson Wentz and the Birds' offense to be much improved, the key to the season lies with the men up front on defense. Pass rush is the name of the game if the Eagles want to reach their first postseason since 2013. Jim Schwartz's unit was tied for 16th in the NFL in sacks – and middle of the pack isn't going to cut it again this year. A strong pass rush cures a lot of ills, specifically a secondary that, despite the addition of Darby, has major questions at cornerback. 

The NFC East is loaded with talent at receiver, not to mention the Eagles' out-of-division foes. Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan will be a force inside, but the Eagles' defensive ends need to get to the QB. If that group, including rookie Derek Barnett – the best natural pass rusher of the lot – delivers, the Eagles are a playoff team.

Cowboys: Elliott's suspension
The Cowboys have a lot of talent on offense, but Ezekiel Elliott is the straw that stirs Jerry Jones' Johnny Walker Blue. A judge blocked Elliott's six-game suspension Friday that will set the stage for the battle to play out in court. If Elliott ends up on the wrong end of a final verdict and has to miss games, what is the trickle-down effect on the rest of that offense? Dak Prescott was great in his rookie year, but he attempted only 459 passes. Compare that to Wentz's 607, and you see the impact the NFL’s leading rusher had on the entire unit. Prescott had a 23/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year. An ineffective run game could cause him to throw more and increase the odds of a turnover. 

Giants: Running game
Much like the Cowboys, the Giants' return to the postseason could hinge on their running game. New York spent lavishly and wisely on defense heading into last season and it paid off in a big way. But the Giants ranked 29th in rushing. Can Paul Perkins or rookie Wayne Gallman become a consistent force? And perhaps the bigger issue is can their offensive line open up the holes? Eli Manning is now 36, and despite excellent weapons to throw to, a balance will be the key for Old Man Eli.

Redskins: New-look wideouts
To the Birds' opponent Sunday, the Redskins. They lost two productive receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. No one in the NovaCare Complex is shedding any tears over their departures (see story). Now in their place for the Redskins is a much bigger and stronger pairing in Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson. The question is can Pryor, the converted quarterback who burst onto the scene last year in Cleveland and signed a surprisingly low one-year deal, deliver in his new surroundings? And what kind of leap can Doctson, who played in just two games his rookie year because of an Achilles injury, make now that he’s a starter?  

Week 1 prediction: The Eagles beat the Redskins, 24-22, in a game that will come down to the final possession.