The NFC East is no longer the NFL's biggest divisional slouch. As the majority of the teams who reside in the AFC South and NFC North continue to struggle, the New York Giants have now won five of six, while the Dallas Cowboys have won back-to-back games and the Philadelphia Eagles have won four in a row.
In fact, Dallas and Philadelphia are both hot enough right now that there's actually a chance both 7-5 teams sneak into the 2013 NFL playoffs, which is something nobody would have predicted three weeks ago when none of the teams in the league's most popular division had a winning record.
Actually, taking things a step further, there's a not-so-crazy chance that the NFC East winds up with a guaranteed spot in the divisional playoffs by way of a Wild Card Round matchup between the 'Boys and the Eagles.
That would result in an eerily similar situation to the one both teams encountered in 2009, which is when Dallas last won the division by defeating the Eagles at home in a decisive season finale. The Eagles were crushed 24-0 in that game, and they were hammered again one week later, 34-14, in what to this day is Tony Romo's only playoff victory.
Could history repeat itself this year? Dallas will once again be at home for that Week 17 meeting, and if they do by chance meet again, it'll almost definitely come following a Cowboys victory. That's because the most likely Philly-Dallas Wild Card Weekend scenario involves the 'Boys winning the division and grabbing the NFC's third seed and the Eagles settling for the second wild-card spot.
Right now, the Cowboys are the NFC's fourth seed after losing the head-to-head tiebreaker with 7-5 Detroit, while the Eagles are the conference's No. 7 seed, one game back of 8-4 San Francisco and ahead of the 7-5 Cardinals based on the head-to-head tiebreaker they locked up on Sunday.
Since the two face each other in Week 17, both control their own destiny.
More importantly, the red-hot Eagles automatically possess the tiebreaker edge over the 49ers due to a big difference in their respective records in conference games.
|Week 14||At Chicago (6-6)||Vs. Detroit (7-5)|
|Week 15||Vs. Green Bay (5-6-1)||At Minnesota (3-8-1)|
|Week 16||At Washington (3-9)||Vs. Chicago (6-6)|
|Week 17||Vs. Philly (7-5)||At Dallas (7-5)|
Both teams control own destiny
If the Eagles win out, they win the division. But if they win their next three games—and expect them to be favored in all three against Detroit (at home), Minnesota (on the road) and Chicago (back at home)—and lose to Dallas, they'll get the sixth seed so long as Arizona loses at least once and San Fran loses at least twice.
It helps that San Francisco and Arizona play each other in Week 17. But on top of that, the Niners have to play the one-loss Seahawks next week and could have trouble with a suddenly respectable Buccaneers team in Tampa in Week 15. If they drop two of those games, even a Week 16 victory over the Falcons won't be enough.
The Cardinals have St. Louis and Tennessee up next, which isn't too daunting, but it'll be very tough for them to win on the road in Seattle in Week 16 and a home season finale with the Niners will be a toss-up.
The point is that everybody the Eagles are competing with could be beating up on each other.
Which NFC East teams will make the playoffs?
Unless the Eagles finish 4-0, Dallas will win the division with a 3-1 finish by virtue of their divisional record, which would automatically be better than Philly's. In other words, if the Cowboys win each of their next three games, and the Eagles lose any of their next three, that Week 17 matchup won't mean much, if anything, to America's Team.
Regardless, Dallas would need to gain one game on the Lions over the next four weeks in order to earn the No. 3 seed and set up a possible matchup with the Eagles, which I'm sure is something they'd prefer with a team like New Orleans or Carolina very likely to land in the No. 5 spot.
What are the odds Dallas picks up that extra game on the Lions? Monday's game in Chicago is a pick'em in Vegas right now, but the Cowboys are well-rested coming off a Thanksgiving game and the Bears might still be without starting quarterback Jay Cutler. In Week 15, they host a Packers team that might also be without its starting quarterback, who just happens to be the highest-rated passer in NFL history. They should be a small favorite there as well as in Washington in Week 16.
Even if the Cowboys don't go 4-0, there's a chance the Lions go 2-2 or worse, because they have to travel to Philly before taking on the desperate Ravens, the suddenly hot Giants and then the Vikings. They might only be favored in two of those games, and they've opened up as a three-point underdog against the Eagles.
The Cowboys and Eagles couldn't care less who they play in January, so long as they're playing. Neither team has made the playoffs the last two years and the NFC East hasn't sent two teams to the postseason since that '09 season.
That streak could end in one of the most unexpected of years, and there's even a chance we get an all-NFC East matchup on Wild Card Weekend.