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Rendell: NFC East in Eagles' grasp if things fall the right way

THE NFL SEASON is five weeks old and the biggest surprise so far has been our own Philadelphia Eagles. Before the season began, most observers picked the Eagles to win somewhere from three to six games and finish last in the NFC East.

THE NFL SEASON is five weeks old and the biggest surprise so far has been our own Philadelphia Eagles. Before the season began, most observers picked the Eagles to win somewhere from three to six games and finish last in the NFC East.

But thanks to amazing rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and Jim Schwartz's stout defense, the Birds are 3-1, and could have easily been 4-0. They rank third in the NFL in points scored and second in the NFL in points allowed. I think it is fair to say that our most optimistic fans (myself included) never saw this coming. We fans face the remainder of the season with healthy optimism, tempered by a dose of reality. Can the Eagles make the playoffs? Can they win the division?

At this point in the season, the answers are yes and yes. They can win the division or potentially snag a wild card spot. But, as my colleague Ray Didinger often says, let's have a "reality check" and assess our chances. The good news is that the Eagles are better; the bad news is that so are the Dallas Cowboys, who present the Eagles their biggest threat to being division champs.

Many of us feared the New York Giants because of the return of wide receiver Victor Cruz. Having Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr. gave the Giants the potential of having an unstoppable passing game. So far, that hasn't happened. Beckham appears to be a head case and has caught only one touchdown pass. Cruz has been coming on, but clearly has not shaken the effects of his 2015 calf injury. In fact, their most stellar receiver has been rookie Sterling Shepard. The Giants are 2-3, rank 27th in points scored per game and 15th in points allowed per game. They are 1-1 in division games. The Giants' schedule does not seem to be a path for them to win the division unless they win three of the four remaining divisional contests, including two against the Eagles. They play the Ravens, Bengals and Steelers and are unlikely to beat any of them, but will likely get wins against the Browns, Rams and Lions. That gives them a total of give wins, plus four divisional games left. The Giants are the longest longshot in the division. What makes their chances even worse is that their best running back, Shane Vereen, is on injured reserve with a triceps injury and might not play the rest of the season.

Last year's division winner, the Washington Redskins, started out 0-2, but they have won their last three games and appear to have turned their season around. The same is true for their inconsistent quarterback, Kirk Cousins. The Skins also are 1-1 in the division and have winnable games against the Detroit Lions (at home) and Chicago Bears. I assume they will win both of those, but lose their remaining out-of-division games against the Bengals, Vikings, Packers, Cardinals and Panthers. That would leave them with five wins, and to get to 9-6, they would have to sweep their remaining four NFC East games. That is unlikely, although they could score wins against the Vikings and battered Panthers, whom they meet at home. The 'Skins rank 16th in the NFL in points scored per game and 19th in points allowed. Their chances of winning the division are better than the Giants', but not better than the Cowboys' or Birds'.

After suffering through a woeful 2015 season, the Cowboys had a great draft and appear to be a much stronger team, which is a legitimate contender for the division. They rank eighth both in points scored per game and in points allowed. Like the 'Skins and the 'Giants, they are 1-1 in divisional play and have an overall record of 4-1. They play the Browns, Buccaneers and the Lions (in Dallas), and I assume they will win those three. Their other non-division games are at Green Bay, Pittsburgh, at Minnesota and home against the Ravens. I also assume they will lose all four of those, although they could beat the Ravens at home. That would leave them with seven wins, with four divisional games left. If they split those remaining four games, they will have nine wins; if they win three out of four, they will have an insurmountable 10 victories. But what is most amazing is that the 'Boys are 4-1 without quarterback Tony Romo. That is because they stole Dak Prescott in the fourth round of the draft and got a superb running back in the first round in Ezekiel Elliott. Prescott has played sensationally, throwing 155 passes without an interception in his first five games. Elliott started out relatively slow, but, in the last three games, he has rushed for 140, 138 and 134 yards. He is averaging over 109 yards per game and has scored five TDs. He is truly a beast. The only adversity the Cowboys have faced so far has been injuries to key players, including the infamous Dez Bryant.

The Eagles are 3-1 and have yet to play a division game. Unfortunately for them, they have the toughest out-of-division schedule. They host the Vikings, Packers and rejuvenated Falcons, and face the Seahawks, Bengals and Ravens on the road. They could lose all six of those games, which would mean they would have to sweep all of their division games to reach nine wins. The best-case scenario would be to get victories over the Vikings or the Falcons at home, and either the Ravens or Bengals on the road. If they could win two of the six out-of-division games, they would have to win only four of their six divisional games to get to nine wins.

Can they do this? Possibly, but it would be an uphill fight, especially with the recent PED suspension of tackle Lane Johnson.

It would be terrific to start out with a win Sunday at Washington. That would go along way to improving their chances of going to the playoffs. I believe the Birds are good enough to win four out of six divisional games, and I think they can beat Minnesota or Atlanta at home and Baltimore or Cincinnati on the road.

If they do that, the season may come down to Sunday, Jan. 1, their last game, when they face the hated Cowboys at home. Imagine if both teams came in with nine wins. The Linc would be rocking as never before.

All things are possible if the defense and Wentz keep playing the way they are.