Sunday, February 5 2023

This division is on the verge of making history by sending all four teams to the playoffs (which has only been possible for the past three seasons). In fact, if the season ended today, all four teams would be in. And considering the Eagles, Cowboys, Giants and Commanders have combined for a 26-7 record against teams outside of their division, the only ones who might be able to stop them from making history are themselves.

With six weeks to go in the regular season, two NFC East teams seem safe while two are on the edge — albeit leaning in opposite directions. Here’s a look at the playoff situations for all of them as the December/January schedule begins:

Philadelphia Eagles (10-1)

Current position: First in the division, first in the conference, best record in the NFL.

Outlook: There’s no doubt the Eagles have looked flawed and beatable since coming off their bye week, but put that in the proper perspective. They’ve still gone 4-1 in that stretch.

And what they showed on Sunday night is that despite their problems — like a weak run defense, occasional sloppiness, an inability to put opponents away — they are more than good enough to overcome them. They just ran for 363 yards in a 40-33 win over the Packers, on their way to 500 total yards. They’ve got an MVP candidate in QB Jalen Hurts, the league’s No. 3 rushing game, No. 2 defense, a strong secondary and maybe the NFL’s best offensive line.

“We can do it all,” Hurts said. And he wasn’t lying.

Big game: Their Christmas Eve showdown with the Dallas Cowboys might turn out to be the Game of the Year in the NFL’s best division. It would be really interesting if the Cowboys could get one game closer over the next three weeks. If not, the Eagles could be in position to clinch the division title before Santa starts his sleigh.

Tiebreaker situation: They’re in good shape with a win over the Cowboys and a 6-1 conference record. Perhaps more importantly, they beat the Minnesota Vikings way back in Week 2, which gives them the tie-breaker over the team currently in second in the NFC and a key advantage in the race for the No. 1 seed and a lone NFC bye.

Is it Super Bowl or bust for Jalen Hurts, Eagles?

The Philadelphia Eagles may no longer be undefeated but they are not settling, having made several defensive additions during the season. LeSean McCoy explains why Philly is Super Bowl or bust this season.

Prediction: If they get through the Titans on Sunday, the road to Christmas Eve in Dallas is paved with gold in the form of games against the struggling New York Giants and the 3-9 Chicago Bears. They’ll probably stumble somewhere down the stretch, and might get a game to rest their starters, but they’re still likely looking at a 14-3 record at least and the No. 1 seed in the NFC.

Dallas Cowboys (8-3)

Current position: Second in the NFC East and sitting in the top wild-card spot in the NFC as the No. 5 seed.

Outlook: The Cowboys have looked like a different team since QB Dak Prescott returned from his thumb injury. They’ve averaged 33.8 points and 416.2 yards per game. And it’s not all Prescott. They’re averaging 163.6 yards per game on the ground in that stretch, too. Add in a stingy defense and the likely Defensive Player of the Year in linebacker Micah Parsons and the Cowboys appear poised for a deep playoff run.

Their biggest flaw is that they don’t have a standout second receiver to take some of the pressure off CeeDee Lamb. Maybe they’ll sign Odell Beckham, but they’d prefer to get the help from within. And if they can get more from Michael Gallup (5 catches for 63 yards against the Giants last Thursday) or tight end Dalton Schultz (4-31 with two touchdowns against the Giants) their offense is going to be really hard to stop.

Big game: It’s all about the Eagles on Christmas Eve. If they can win out between now and then — possible, since their next three games are at home against the Colts and Texans and on the road in Jacksonville — they’ll still need help from someone for that game to be for a share of the NFC East lead. But even if it’s not, it could be huge for playoff positioning, momentum and confidence.

Tiebreaker situation: If they beat the Eagles, they’ll have the tie-breaker over them (at least temporarily) because they’ll have split the season series but will be 5-1 in the division while handing Philly its second division loss. They’re also 7-3 in the NFC, which is strong, and they swept the Giants and beat the Commanders in case any of those tie-breakers come into play.

Cowboys’ 21 second-half unanswered points lead to 28-20 win vs. Giants

The Dallas Cowboys were down at halftime to the New York Giants on Thanksgiving. However, Dallas scored 21 unanswered in the second half and held on for the 28-20 Thanksgiving Day win. Skip Bayless explains why he rates his Cowboys performance an ‘8’ on a 1-10 impressive scale.

Prediction: They might be the second-best team in the NFC behind the Eagles, though they tend to be erratic and are probably more likely to stumble. They may beat the Eagles on Christmas Eve, but they’re not likely to finish the season on an eight-game winning streak. I’m forecasting a final record of 12-5, good for the top wild-card spot and a likely first-round trip to Tampa Bay.

New York Giants (7-4)

Current position: Third place in the NFC East, and the second wild card as the No. 6 seed in the NFC.

Outlook: Things certainly looked rosier during their 6-1 start, even though they were somehow pulling out games they had no business winning. Not surprisingly, regression has caught up to them and they’ve now lost three of their last four games. Worse, they are being besieged by injuries, especially along their already questionable offensive line.

Also, not surprisingly, teams have figured out the secret — OK, it wasn’t really a secret — to stopping the Giants. Just stop Saquon Barkley. Perhaps the most alarming stat for the Giants is that in their three most recent losses, their best player has averaged just 38 rushing yards. And the 61 he totaled in the last two games against the Lions and Cowboys really has everybody worried.

Big game: It might not get any bigger for the Giants than their game on Sunday at the Meadowlands against the Commanders, because the loser will not only be in last place in the division, but might be on the outside of the NFC playoff picture. For the Giants, it’s also the start of a killer stretch where they face the Commanders twice in three weeks, with a game against the Eagles sandwiched in between. And when those three games are done, they go to Minnesota to face the Vikings on Christmas Eve.

Tiebreaker situation: Not good. They were swept by the Cowboys, so they’re 0-2 in the division and 3-4 in the NFC. They also lost to the Seahawks, who are just a half-game out of a playoff spot. The Giants may need to beat the Commanders twice to make sure it doesn’t come down to a tie-breaker they can’t win.

Prediction: Did you see that schedule above for their next four games? And that didn’t even account for ending the season in Philadelphia, where they’ll certainly be hoping the Eagles are in position to rest their starters. But two games against the Commanders, two against the Eagles and one against the Vikings in the final five is just bad. They need to win 10 games, but they won’t. They’ll be 9-7, which unfortunately for them will mean the unwinnable tie-breakers will come into play. 

Washington Commanders (7-5)

Current position: Last place in the NFC East, but only by a half-game, and they have the third and final wild-card spot in the NFC as the seventh seed.

Outlook: If you ignore the first six weeks of the season when they struggled to a 2-4 start, the Commanders are the best team in football. No one can match their 6-1 record since then, and most of that has been done with Taylor Heinicke at QB (5-1). 

Heinicke gets credit for settling the Commanders down and running the offense to perfection. But they’re winning because they’re running the ball and stopping the run. During their 6-1 run they’re averaging 144 rushing yards per game. They’ve also held opponents under 100 rushing yards in four of those seven games.

Heinicke does have a habit of turning the ball over (five interceptions in his six starts) so he’s got the Commanders living on the edge. But so far, he’s doing enough to help them win.

Commanders beat Falcons in Week 12

The Washington Commanders beat the Atlanta Falcons 19-13 Sunday. Taylor Heinicke threw for 138 yards and two touchdowns. Brian Robinson added 105 rushing yards for the Commanders.

Big game: This Sunday’s game against the Giants is absolutely huge, since it would get them out of the basement and put the Giants on the brink of missing the playoffs. It’s also big for momentum since, due to a scheduling quirk, they actually face the Giants in back-to-back games, with their bye week thrown in between.

Tiebreaker situation: Beating the Giants at least once would be a big help, since they’re 1-2 in the division and 4-4 in the conference. They could win those tie-breakers if they split with the Giants and don’t fall apart the rest of the way. Beating the Falcons on Sunday was also big, in case Atlanta gets back into the playoff picture.

Prediction: Don’t try to explain it; the Commanders are just hot. Heinicke has something going and his teammates love him, so it’s hard to bet against him. But the better reason is that Washington’s running game is starting to dominate, and even though they gave up 167 rushing yards to Atlanta on Sunday, it’s generally not easy to run against them. That’ll bode well for them in their two games against the Giants and one against the Browns. That should be enough to get them an all-important 10th win, which should be good enough for the seventh seed.

Read more Week 12 coverage:

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Ralph Vacchiano is the NFC East reporter for FOX Sports, covering the Washington Commanders, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. He spent the previous six years covering the Giants and Jets for SNY TV in New York, and before that, 16 years covering the Giants and the NFL for the New York Daily News. Follow him Twitter at @RalphVacchiano.


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