By BARRY WILNER AP Pro Football Writer
It’s very easy to ridicule the teams in the NFC East. And yes, we will be doing so.
Still, the grit and determination displayed by Philadelphia — maybe we should call the team the Half-Eagles considering all of their injuries — had to be uplifting in a division where it will take some heavy lifting to get to .500 this season.
Doug Pederson’s roster has been torn asunder by injuries at virtually every position. The offensive line most of the time has only one true starter, and thankfully for Philly that is star center Jason Kelce. The receiving corps is led by a former college quarterback and a guy who has been cut four times by three teams; veteran DeSean Jackson returned in the 22-21 victory over the Giants on Thursday night, performed well and, naturally, was injured late in the game.
With backups all over the field, and despite some questionable (to be kind) decision-making by Pederson and quarterback Carson Wentz, the Eagles have remained competitive. Yes, they are a mere 2-4-1. Yes, they’ve had only one game in which they’ve performed up to expectations, a victory at San Francisco.
But at least they are showing some gumption and absolutely no quit: The best of the NFC Least, and despite the angst they cause in the City of Brotherly Love, the only team in the division worth having an iota of optimism about.
“We never faltered. We never panicked. We knew we were gonna win,” said running back Boston Scott, another of the bit players who now has a leading role. He caught the 18-yard winning TD pass from Wentz with 40 seconds to go Thursday night.
“This was huge for us,” Wentz added. “The NFC East is wide open.”
So is the bottom of the Grand Canyon, and there’s not much allure to spending a long time in there, either.
The NFC Least is not the first awful division in NFL history. In 2020, it’s probably fitting to have such a sector, too.
Just six years ago, Carolina won the NFC South at 7-8-1. In 2011, three AFC West teams finished 8-8, Denver getting the title on a tiebreaker. The previous year, Seattle and St. Louis were 7-9 and the Seahawks moved on. The Panthers, Broncos and Seahawks all won their wild-card playoff games, too — playing at home because the league awards winning a division, and almost certainly always will.
The problem this season is that none of the four NFC Leasters is likely to get to seven wins. Philly still has Cleveland, Seattle, Green Bay, New Orleans and Arizona remaining, with a combined current record of 20-7. Dallas (2-4), the most disappointing of the weak quartet, gets Pittsburgh, Baltimore and San Francisco (combined 13-4), and has showed few signs it can beat the mediocrities also remaining on the schedule.
New York started 0-5, threw away a victory it had in hand on Thursday night, and still must face Tampa Bay, Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland and Baltimore (combined 22-7). And Washington (1-5), awash in turmoil, gets Pittsburgh, San Francisco, Seattle and Carolina.
Plus, does anyone believe the Eagles, Cowboys, Giants and Washington are capable of dominating their division mates in upcoming meetings?
Here’s what might be ahead for these four tailenders, one of which will be playing in the postseason.
The Eagles can take some positives out of what has been a dismal 2020. They are finding backups such as Fulgham, Scott and left tackle Jordan Mailata who can play and be contributors. Their determination and resolve have been immense even with a poor record.
But Wentz needs to stop pressing, Pederson needs to tone down the gambling a bit, and the back seven on defense need tackling lessons.
Some talking heads have opined that Andy Dalton is the best second-string quarterback in the NFL. Well, he’s a first-stringer now after Dak Prescott’s gruesome leg injury.
Dalton has the tools around him to keep the offense rolling, but the Cowboys are undisciplined. The defense is the worst in the division. Their mindset might be the worst, too.
Dallas also is scheduled for four more national television appearances. Shield your eyes, America.
Joe Judge’s debut season as coach has been a nauseating ride, though the Giants (1-6) generally have been competitive. They simply can’t finish.
The defense has possibilities, particularly up front, but the O-line is a mess, making QB Daniel Jones a target for pass rushers. Jones doesn’t protect the ball well, leading to far too many turnovers.
No play better typifies this division than Jones’ 80-yard run at Philadelphia in which he tripped and fell with no one between him and the end zone.
Coach Ron Rivera should be able to get things right in DC, but it will require all of his craft, tenacity and leadership to do so for this woebegone franchise. And a lot of patience.
He seems convinced that 2019 first-round draft pick Dwayne Haskins is not the answer at quarterback, which means Washington will have its eyes on Trevor Lawrence in the next draft should the Clemson QB leave school early.
Of course, in the NFC Least, it figures that the division’s worst team will screw that up, too.
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