NFL playoff picture: Projecting who will win NFC East — Eagles, Giants, Cowboys or Washington?

NFL playoff picture: Projecting who will win NFC East — Eagles, Giants, Cowboys or Washington?

The NFC East is the worst division in the NFL in 2020 and doesn’t deserve an NFC playoff team. The NFC East will still have one playoff team.

Putting aside all the (so many) jokes of how bad all four teams have been this season, both statements are true. Thanks to poor, inconsistent play and brutal schedules that include playing both the NFC West and AFC North — the league’s two best divisions — every team in the NFC (L)east has three wins going into Week 12.

The Eagles (3-6-1), who have lost two consecutive games after Week 9, now hold the slimmest of leads over the Cowboys (3-7), Giants (3-7) and Washington Football Team (3-7). Their Week 3 tie against the Bengals is the only difference for now.

All four teams have six games left and it’s become literally anyone’s division as Philadelphia has failed to pull away. Here’s a breakdown of how the division should finish, projecting what should happen with the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys and Washington:

MORE: A look at the NFL’s worst division winners since 2002

NFL playoff picture 2020: NFC East standings

1. Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1)

  • Current division record: 2-2 
  • Division games left: 2 (Week 16 at Cowboys, Week 17 vs. Washington)
  • Non-division opponents: vs. Seahawks, at Packers, vs. Saints, at Cardinals (a combined 28-12, .700)

The Eagles’ defensive strengths are their strong front four and underrated secondary. That’s countered by their offensive weaknesses, a limited running game and shaky play by quarterback Carson Wentz that has put their pretty talented offense in the tank.

Philadelphia has tended to play very well in December under Doug Pederson. He’s got.a winning percentage of .650 and the team is 8-2 during the month the previous two seasons, which helped the Eagles get into the playoffs twice as a 9-7 team. This time, however, they will need to run the table to get past that mark, which isn’t happening with that brutal schedule.

The Eagles are good enough to steal one or two of those two games against the four currently playoff-positioned NFC teams. They also beat the Cowboys in the previous meeting and will be focused to avenge a Week 1 loss to WFT. Wentz is bound to suddenly find much better play with his typical gritty closing style. 

Best-case final record: 7-8-1

2. New York Giants (3-7)

  • Current division record: 3-2
  • Division games left: 1 (Week 17 vs. Cowboys)
  • Non-division opponents: at Bengals, at Seahawks, vs. Cardinals, vs. Browns, at Ravens (a combined 28-21-1, .570)

The Giants have a sweep of Washington and a split with the Eagles as part of their division record, as well as a loss at the Cowboys in Week 5. They have frustratingly lost five one-possession games because of little mistakes. Daniel Jones, however, has cut out the turnovers of late as they beat both Washington and the Eagles before a Week 11 bye. The defense has been solid on every level to keep them in games for most of the season, too. Joe Judge’s young team keeps “learning how to win” with every week.

Cincinnati without Joe Burrow is a good break in Week 12, but the rest of the games outside of the East don’t sound favorable at all, with Russell Wilson, Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson all on the docket. Beyond the Bengals, those other four teams will be highly motivated with their respective playoff pushes.

They should avenge the Cowboys in Week 17 and have a good shot at beating either Arizona or Cleveland at home.

Best-case final record: 6-10

3. Dallas Cowboys (3-7)

  • Current division record: 1-2
  • Division games left: 3 (Week 12 vs. Washington, Week 16 vs. Eagles, Week 17 at Giants)
  • Non-division games left: at Ravens, at Bengals. vs. 49ers (12-17-1, .417)

The Cowboys got a much-needed bye in Week 10 and played like a complete, energetic team in getting a massive win at Minnesota in Week 11. Andy Dalton looked more like the Dak Prescott sub he should be and Ezekiel Elliott ran like his vintage self. The Cowboys also went back to playing bending but not breaking defense, containing the rather big passing and rushing damage of the Vikings.

They need to keep playing that way and bury Dalton’s early starts and the Ben DiNucci/Cooper Rush mess against the Eagles and Steelers. They have the benefit of by far the easiest remaining schedule of all four teams. As a bonus, they also have two division games left, including two more at home. If they can keep up the complementary football, they are capable of running the table, but with the Baltimore game, let’s keep it to max five wins.

Best-case final record: 8-8

4. Washington Football Team (3-7)

  • Current division record: 2-2
  • Division games left: 2 (Week 12 at Cowboys, Week 17 at Eagles)
  • Non-division games left: at Steelers, at 49ers, vs.  Seahawks, vs. Panthers (a combined 25-16, .610)

Washington is immediately hurt by the Giants sweep and there’s a good chance the Cowboys and Eagles earn a split with them on the road, leading to a 2-4 division record. Even if they are able to win those games, they’re not equipped to beat either the Steelers and the Seahawks, and will be hard-pressed to win on the long road trip on San Francisco.

Simply put, they are the worst team of the four despite the record. Their defense can be great at times under Ron Rivera, but it has mostly faded against better offenses of late. Their offense is a little more competent with its third quarterback, Alex Smith. But they still short on explosiveness, balance and playmakers in relation to the other teams, who are all more diverse and versatile with their skill personnel.

They must beat Dallas and Philadelphia again to have a chance. But in reality, no one would be shocked if the Bengals win was their last win. It’s hard to see more than one victory in those games based on the eye test.

Best-case final record: 5-11

Who wins the NFC East?

And the “winner” is …. Wait. This deserves more loser-positive phrasing (they do it at the Oscars now).

And the division goes to … stop if you’re heard this one before … the winner of the Eagles-Cowboys game in Week 16. Let’s hope there’s a winner, and not another dreaded tie to further complicate the tiebreakers. It’s either the Eagles finishing at 8-7-1 or 7-8-1, and the Cowboys either finishing at 8-8 or 7-9.

So after all this drama of ineptitude, the NFC East comes down to what has been the usual of late, with either Dallas or Philadelphia in and both New York and Washington waiting another year to get back in contention.

The reward will be a home game, either against another strong NFC West team or Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. And that may be the biggest NFC East joke of them all in 2020.