By: Zach Strauch
The NFC East, a division won by 9-7 Washington last season, is at it again. The group of East Coast teams and their companion from Dallas, which collectively produced an impeccable horror show of a season last year, are all over .500 as Week 9 rolls around.
The division punctuates a season that has been nothing short of a whirlwind to this point, but it begs the question: Can the storyline maintain?
This consideration holds a certain degree of difficulty for each team. All four need to play their parts down the stretch to preserve the mutual standing.
Despite each team holding a winning record, Dallas stands a step above the rest at 6-1 behind an unprecedented rookie campaign from Dak Prescott, who was taken in the fourth round of the draft out of Mississippi State. The quarterback has posted nine touchdowns, a 99.6 cumulative passer rating, 1,773 passing yards and a 65.2 percent completion rate over his first seven games. He’s only thrown two interceptions and lost three fumbles.
And Ezekiel Elliott, a rookie out of Ohio State, has worked wonderfully behind a solid Cowboy offensive line to lead the league in rushing with 799 yards. He’s tallied five touchdowns to a measly two fumbles, both of which occurred in the same game at Washington in Week 2.
But the elephant in the room that Jerry Jones, the team’s general manager, president and owner, and coach Jason Garrett have been procrastinating is whether they’ll favor leaving Prescott as the starter or plugging veteran Tony Romo, who fractured his clavicle during a late-season game last year against Carolina, back into the lineup. The team travels to Cleveland on Sunday to play the winless Browns. That means the question probably won’t be answered for a while, but the Cowboys aren’t familiar with conventional wisdom, so it’s a shot in the dark at this point.
The Eagles, Redskins, and Giants are in similar predicaments. They’ve played well overall, but unlike Dallas, no one knows which team will show up from week to week.
Philadelphia has lost three of four since starting 3-0. New York has won two straight after suffering a three-game losing streak. Washington has lost and tied since running a four-game winning streak.
There’s a lot of zigzagging and clawing in spots 2-4 in the NFC East, and no one has taken charge yet.
Philadelphia has flashed signs of brilliance in wins over Minnesota, Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Chicago, but they’ve exhibited an ugly, undisciplined side in losses against Dallas, Washington and Detroit, all of which were road games.
Similarly, New York has put every iteration of itself on display. Knocking off Dallas in Week 1 in Arlington was the high point, getting handled by the Vikings on Monday Night Football was the low mark and virtually every other matchup falls somewhere in the middle of the spectrum. Every game except for the Minnesota loss has been decided by one possession, which illustrates how susceptible the Giants are. They could be 0-7. They could just as easily be 6-1.
And then there’s Washington, which has been anything but stable. That statement isn’t confined to this season, either. The insanity has been going on for a while in D.C.
The Redskins, commandeered by coach Jay Gruden and quarterback Kirk Cousins, have turned in some nice showings this year. Two divisional wins over Philadelphia and New York paired with two victories over AFC North foes Cleveland and Baltimore to form the four-game winning streak the team enjoyed after an 0-2 start.
But a rough three-point loss at Detroit and a subsequent tie against the Bengals at Wembley Stadium in London have reignited a flame of uncertainty in an organization that knows little else. Is Kirk Cousins the long-term solution? Is a different direction at quarterback needed? Can a rushing defense that ranks among the worst five in the league hold up?
Clearly there are more questions than answers in the NFC East at this point in the season, but that’s entirely normal. The only thing different is that the concerns are centered around prolonging successes rather than searching for them. Whichever team can conserve a level head and trudge through the muck of the last half of the campaign will likely be the team that hosts a playoff matchup or two. But don’t be surprised if more than one group is able to do this.
Until then, the drama will unfold as per usual. Back to you, NFC East.