It started in Roger Goodell’s basement. On Thursday, April 23rd, the Commissioner officially kicked off the 2020 NFL Draft and began a truly unique season to come. Here we are now, in Week 17, playing out the final week of the regular season and finalizing the playoff picture. Strangely, the most anticipated matchups of the weekend involve some of the worst teams in the league. That’s right – the NFC East is front and center.
How We Got Here
It’s been 16 years since the NFC East has seen a repeat champion. The Philadelphia Eagles won back to back division titles in the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Parity has ruled the roost since. Coming into 2020, Dallas and Philly were the most likely contenders for the crown. But it didn’t take long to realize that no matter what, the 2020 season would be one that every team in the NFC East will want to forget.
On the outside, looking in
The Philadelphia Eagles (4-10-1) are the only team of the bunch whose 2020 fate has already been decided. The only role they can play in Week 17 is that of spoiler. If they beat Washington, they’ll make fans in either New York or Dallas ecstatic. If they lose, then fans in the nation’s capital will be thanking them instead.
Injuries along the offensive line and to his receivers didn’t help his cause, but he struggled mightily all season. His quarterback rating fell more than 20 points, from 93.1 in 2019 to 72.8 this year. While the team’s struggles are by no means entirely on his shoulders, it’ll be interesting to see what happens moving forward. Wentz has made it clear already that he doesn’t want to be in Philly if he’s not the starter. Given his contract, there may not be any other option.
Take Care of Business
The New York Giants (5-10) will need some help on Sunday. Shockingly, they’re still alive for the division title after a pretty dismal season. If they are victorious over Dallas and get a win from Philly, they’ll find themselves in the postseason.
It didn’t take long for the Giants’ season to get sidetracked. Year two of the Daniel Jones era hasn’t left us with any more clarity than year one did. The great debate will continue about whether or not Jones is “the guy” to get Big Blue back to the promised land, or whether reaching to draft him 6th overall in 2019 was a colossal mistake. Given that he has essentially NEVER had his full complement of offensive weapons healthy at the same time (thanks to the Week 2 torn ACL suffered by Saquon Barkley), it’s hard to truly gauge his impact on this franchise. A hamstring injury has hampered his running ability, which has allowed opposing defenses to adjust accordingly.
The Giants have had flashes of promise during the season, and their defense has grown exponentially. But without Barkley, and with a hobbled Jones, the offense has sputtered – never getting going consistently enough to allow the team to take control of the division. If they want to get to the playoffs, the offense will have to find another gear against Dallas.
The Dallas Cowboys (6-9) find themselves in the same position as the Giants. If they can beat Big Blue on Sunday, an Eagles win would see the Cowboys going to the postseason.
Their season turned on a dime in Week 5. They were playing decent football, despite a 1-3 record entering the game against the Giants. In the third quarter, QB Dak Prescott suffered a gruesome ankle injury and was lost for the season. The Cowboys would go on to win the game, but losing Prescott was huge. Luckily, they had signed former Bengals QB Andy Dalton to serve as Dak’s backup, but he would be lost to a concussion in Week 7. The revolving door at quarterback (they’ve started 4 different QBs), probably prevented them from stringing enough wins together to position themselves as division favorites. They lost 4 straight games before beating the Vikings in Week 11. Entering Week 17 on a 3 game winning streak, the Cowboys probably have the edge against the Giants in the season finale.
Win and you’re in
The Washington Football Team (6-9) have their own destiny in their hands. Beat Philly and punch your ticket – simple. Or is it?
They’ve had their own issues under center as well. One of new coach Ron Rivera‘s early moves was to sign QB Kyle Allen. He was already familiar with Allen from his time in Carolina, which didn’t bode well for incumbent signal caller Dwayne Haskins. The early part of the season was filled with drama as a result. Haskins would start, then get benched in favor of Allen. Eventually, Allen got hurt, and Alex Smith made his triumphant return to the field. As great as that story was, it didn’t last long as Smith would be felled by injury yet again in Week 14. Haskins was thrust back into the spotlight, only to crash and burn mightily – both on the field and off. He’s since been released by the team.
Alex Smith has apparently been deemed healthy enough to start in the finale against Philly. That may bode well for Washington’s odds of finishing the job and heading to the playoffs.
How things will shake out
I think the Cowboys will prove too much for the Giants, whose offense is still stuck in neutral – if not reverse. While Smith’s return will be a boost for WAS, I don’t think it will be enough to overcome Philly at home. I think Hurts will be out to prove coach Doug Pederson made the right decision by benching Wentz and going with him. In the end, I see the Eagles squeaking by Washington and handing the division to the Cowboys. As a Giants fan, I can only take solace in the fact that, no matter who wins the division, it’s likely to be an early exit in the postseason.
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