What a difference a year can make.
I know, it’s a cliché thing to write, and it’s probably premature, given that we’re not quite a third of a way through the NFL season. But when you’re talking about the four teams that comprise the NFC East, we’re looking at a startling 180-degree swing from last season.
At this point last season, a lot of my writing for this blog centered around one thing – taking advantage of opportunities. Through five weeks in 2013, the Cowboys were the only NFC East team that remotely resembled anything competitive – and they had a mere 2-3 record. Prior to Philadelphia’s impressive rally for a 10-6 record, the NFC East had a cumulative 5-14 record through five weeks.
Fast forward to the end of Week 5 this season – even after Washington’s Monday night loss to Seattle – and that mark is 12-8. The NFC East, as a division, has more combined wins than any other division in the league. Along with the AFC North’s 11-7 mark, the East is also tied for the best win-loss margin so far.
It’s even more impressive, considering it isn’t just one team doing the heavy lifting. The NFC East is one of just three divisions in football – along with the powerhouse NFC West and the aforementioned AFC North – with three winning teams right now. Most people probably expected the Eagles to be here, but the Cowboys and Giants are both riding startling four and three-game winning streaks, respectively.
None of this is necessarily indicative of where we’re headed. The Cowboys and Eagles have combined to beat just one winning team each, as Dallas just downed the 3-2 Texans and the Eagles squeaked past the 3-2 Colts in Week 2. The combined record of the Cowboys’ and Eagles opponents is just 10-14 and 8-16, respectively, while that mark for the Giants and Redskins is 13-11.
We already know how big of a test Week 6 will be for the Cowboys, and there will be plenty of stories to come about their road trip to play the defending champs. We’re also going to get an interesting contest between Philadelphia and New York. Both teams have beaten Washington, and now we’ll see how the Giants fare against the division favorite before coming to AT&T Stadium in Week 7.
The point remains the same – it’s too early to get excited about anything. The Cowboys are off to their first 4-1 start since the 2008 season, when they finished 9-7 but third in the division and out of the playoffs.
Is the NFC East that good again? Are we looking at the first season the East will send two teams to the postseason since 2009, when the Cowboys won the division and the Eagles made it as a wild card? It seems like ancient history at this point but the NFC East sent at least two teams to the playoffs for five straight seasons from 2005-09 – and it actually sent three teams in 2006 and 2007.
Take a look around the NFC and that doesn’t seem like the most improbable thing in the world. The NFC South, which has been so strong in recent seasons, doesn’t look likely to produce two playoff teams. Much like the East, the NFC North boasts several talented but flaws team.
Between the trio of Arizona, San Francisco and Seattle, the NFC West is the lone division in the conference I feel comfortable picking to produce a wildcard. Beyond that, it doesn’t seem foolish – right now – to think that a second-place finish could be good enough for the playoffs in the Cowboys’ division this year.