From NFC East to “NFC Beast”

From NFC East to "NFC Beast"
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The NFC East was a joke just two seasons ago. The Washington Football team won the division with just seven wins. The New York Giants were a hypothetical Washington Week 17 loss away from winning the division at 6-10. Fast forward to 2022, and all four teams are over .500 after 11 weeks. And all four teams have compelling cases as potential playoff teams.

Philadelphia Eagles (9-1, 1st in the NFC East)

The Eagles have arguably been the class of the NFL this year. They have been first in the NFC East since Week Three and were undefeated until Week 10. Right now, they appear to be destined for a top-two seed at worst.

Philadelphia’s success is relatively simple; they run the ball, limit turnovers, and work in the passing game as a balance. The Eagles rank as the sixth-best running offense in the league with 142.5 yards per game, second in the division. They also have the most rushing touchdowns in the league as well with 18, with quarterback Jalen Hurts having eight of them. Hurts is continuing to grow as a starting quarterback in year three. He is completing a career-high 68.3% of his passes, along with 15 touchdowns and three interceptions. In addition, he boasts a 106.5 passer rating, which is fourth in the NFL. Hurts is accompanied by a talented trio of receivers in A.J. Brown, Devonta Smith, and Quez Watkins. Dallas Goedert is currently injured, but also a big piece of the offense when healthy.

Defensively, the Eagles’ calling card is in the passing game. First, the team allows the lowest passer rating in the league with 69.9. They allow the second-lowest passing yards per game at 178.4, only behind division rival Dallas. Also, the defensive line, an emphasis for general manager Howie Roseman for years, has sacked quarterbacks 33 times, third in the NFL.

Dallas Cowboys (7-3, 2nd in the Division)

Dallas may be 7-3, but it has not come easy. They have had to deal with an injury to Dak Prescott early in the season. The passing game has been considerably worse than last season. And the rushing defense has fallen off from last year as well. However, they have managed to thrive, and are only two games back of the first-place spot.

Offensively, Dallas has had to change their identity. In 2021, the Cowboys were second in the league in total passing yards and third in touchdowns. This year, they relied more on the running game with Tony Pollard and Ezekiel Elliott. Dallas’ rushing attack ranks eight in yards per game (136.2) in 296 total carries. Amari Cooper’s absence has been felt in the offense, as Dallas has fallen to 22nd in passing yards. Dak Prescott’s injury in Week One may be the culprit of this identity change, as the Cowboys have fallen from sixth to 23rd this season. Because of this, they have been rumored to be a name in the Odell Beckham Jr. sweepstakes.

Dallas’ defense has been the biggest strength of the team, very similar to Philadelphia. The Cowboys are dependent on a blitz-heavy scheme. They rank in the top 10 in blitzes, blitz percentage, hurries, hurry percentage, quarterback knockdowns, and knockdown percentage. They are first in the league in sacks, total pressures, and pressure rate. Four Cowboys have at least five sacks: Micah Parsons (10), Dorance Armstrong (seven), DeMarcus Lawrence (six), and Dante Fowler (five). As a result, they rank first in passing yards per game, only allowing 174.5 yards per game, just ahead of the Eagles.

New York Giants (7-3, 3rd in the Division)

The New York Giants have been one of the best stories of the 2022 season. Head coach Brian Daboll has the Giants playing consistently hard every week, and their seven wins are the most they’ve had since 2016.

The first thing to note is Saquan Barkley’s renaissance. Ten games into the season, Barkley has surpassed last season’s production in attempts, rushing yards, and touchdowns. His 953 yards are the best in the NFC East, and second in the league behind Derrick Henry of Tennessee. His 95.3 yards per game, a career-high, are also second only behind Henry. Overall, he essentially carries the Giants’ offense with the passing game lagging due to injuries.

The Giants have been living on the edge so far this season. All seven of their wins this season have been within one possession, four of which under seven points. And they have lost two of their last three games, including a 31-18 letdown at home to the Detroit Lions. Injuries are also starting to pile up for the Giants, specifically on offense. They lost Wan’Dale Robinson to a torn ACL on Sunday, ruling him out for the remainder of the season. Same with Sterling Shepard, who was lost in Week Three. Rookies Evan Neal and Daniel Bellinger have both not played since Week Seven. Their schedule gets very tough in the last seven weeks. They will play the Cowboys, Commanders twice, Eagles twice, and Vikings. Overall, they are a great story, but we will learn a lot about the New York Giants in their NFC East gauntlet.

Washington Commanders (6-5, 4th in the NFC East)

The Commanders’ season outlook has gotten much brighter over the last five weeks. After starting 2-4, they have won four of their last five, including a big upset over the Eagles at home. They decided to keep Taylor Heinicke at quarterback over Carson Wentz, putting an early end to the “controversy.”

Like Dallas and Philadelphia, a big strength of their team is their defensive line. The trio of Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, and Daron Payne combine for 19 sacks as a group. They are also very good against the run, allowing the ninth-lowest yards per carry in the league as a team with 4.2. Darrick Forest is enjoying a breakout season from the safety position. Snagging three interceptions, including on Sunday against Houston where he caught a tipped pass by teammate Benjamin St. Juste, managing to stay in bounds with possession.

Offensively, the talent is there. The receiving corps of Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel, and Jahan Dotson can compete with many teams. They have been running with a tandem of Brian Robinson Jr. and Antonio Gibson, a bruiser and a speedy pass-catching threat, respectively. However, their scoring offense has been very inconsistent, no matter the quarterback. The Commanders rank 23rd in the league in scoring offense, and worse in the NFC East with only 19.5 points per game. Taylor Heinicke himself has turned the ball over in all but one game he has started this season, the Texans game being the only exception. Wentz has been beaten up when he was starting. He was sacked 23 times in six total starts, including nine times in the first meetup with the Eagles.

The NFC East Roundup

The Eagles are looking like the safest bet to make the playoffs, barring a collapse in the next seven weeks. But while they are 9-1, they have looked mortal as of late with the Commanders’ loss and then squeaking out a late victory against the 4-win Indianapolis Colts. But the Eagles control their destiny as of now.

The Cowboys, Giants, and Commanders are all talented teams, however, all with varying chances at playoff berths. The Cowboys just had their most dominant performance all season against the Minnesota Vikings on Sunday. This is a positive sign for Cowboy fans and Dak Prescott, who had an efficient 276-yard, two touchdowns, and no turnover showing in Minnesota. With as much of a spark as the Giants have played with, expect them to keep pace in the division, even with the current injuries. And then Washington has gotten hot and rallied around Taylor Heinicke, who is a locker room favorite.

The playoff chances for the Giants and Commanders may come down to the two matchups they have in Weeks 13 and 15. The Giants have the Eagles in between those two games, while the Commanders have a bye week. If New York can push through their tough remaining schedule, it could be the team that sneaks into the playoffs.

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