The regular season comes to an end for the fabulous NFC East on Sunday, and, barring ties, the four teams will combine for 24 wins and 40 losses this season. The Eagles still have the opportunity to emerge as division champion with a modest 9-7 record by beating the New York Giants on the road, but winning the bragging rights for this division, although better than the alternative, isn’t much to brag about.
While the honor is backhanded, there is some good news that comes with it. Recent NFL history tells us that the postseason team that comes out of a truly dreadful division is destined to win at least one playoff game before departing the scene. The Eagles, who will have required four straight wins to clinch first prize at this Ugly Sweater party, might not say so out loud, but they would sign on the dotted line for that deal.
In its wisdom, the NFL gives every division champion, no matter how humble, a home game in the postseason, and that is an obvious advantage that even a superior wild-card team can’t consistently overcome. The Eagles would get the same bonus, either against Seattle or San Francisco if they get past the Giants (or, failing that, if the Cowboys lose at home to the Redskins).
After losing on Dec. 1 to the Dolphins, currently 4-11, the Eagles hoped to be in the position they are now, but that seemed a faint hope. If they can finish their run by beating the Giants and then enjoy a feel-good win at home in the postseason, that might just add up to a successful season. In any case, they could sell it that way.
Whether they are completing a regular season in the worst division in recent NFL history is also worthy of debate. The NFL added Houston as its most recent expansion team for the 2002 season and the league realigned from three divisions in each conference to the current four divisions.
Since then, only a small handful of divisions combined for as few wins as the NFC East will compile this season. Do the 2019 Eagles, Cowboys, Giants, and Redskins constitute the worst division ever? They are certainly in the conversation. But as we await the last twist of the tale, let’s take a look at the other divisions with a seat at the table.
2008 AFC West
Combined Record: 23-41
The San Diego Chargers won the division on tiebreaker with the Denver Broncos. Both teams finished 8-8. The Chargers were in just the second season of the Norv Turner Century and appeared to be on the upswing. Denver was slogging through the final, grim season of Mike Shanahan’s 10-year reign.
In Oakland, the Raiders (5-11) were coming to the realization that JaMarcus Russell, taken by Al Davis with first overall pick of the 2007 draft, might not be the franchise quarterback Davis envisioned. Kansas City (2-14) was experiencing the last of three seasons with Herm Edwards as head coach.
San Diego won its home wild-card round playoff game, 23-17, over Indianapolis before losing in the divisional round at Pittsburgh, 35-24.
2010 NFC West
Combined Record: 25-39
The Seattle Seahawks won the division on a tiebreaker with the St. Louis Rams. Both teams had 7-9 records. There wasn’t a truly awful team in the division, however, just more mediocrity. San Francisco was 6-10 and Arizona was 5-11.
This was Pete Carroll’s first season in Seattle, and represented an uptick after the franchise stopped waiting for Mike Holmgren to reproduce his Green Bay magic, and then lasted through just one manic Jim Mora season.
The Rams, in the middle season of three under Steve Spagnola, were living through the Sam Bradford Medical Show. Spagnola lost his job the following season after finishing 2-14.
At the bottom of the division, Mike Singletary was relieved of his duties with the Niners with one game remaining, and the Cardinals under Ken Whisenhunt somehow managed to score 145 fewer points than their opponents.
The division came alive in the postseason, at least briefly. Seattle beat New Orleans, 41-36, at home before losing at Chicago, 35-24.
2014 NFC South
Combined Record: 22-41-1
The Carolina Panthers at 7-8-1 edged out the 7-9 Saints for the division. To be honest, there’s not a whole lot remarkable about this group. It was just sort of there.
The other teams were the 6-10 Falcons and the 2-14 Bucs. In Atlanta, the disappointment led to the firing on Mike Smith just two seasons after he took the Falcons to the conference championship game. This was Lovie Smith’s first season for Tampa Bay. He only got two.
Carolina did, in fact, win a postseason game, however. The Panthers beat the Cardinals in Charlotte, 27-16, before traveling all the way to Seattle to meet their fate in a 31-17 loss.
2016 NFC West
Combined Record: 23-39-2
It’s not easy, perhaps, to include this division among the worst of the worst, because it was won by the 10-5-1 Seattle Seahawks, who were clearly a representative team. But 23 wins is 23 wins, and, plus, there’s the Chip Kelly factor.
For Arizona, which finished 7-8-1, this was another lukewarm year, and Bruce Arians would get only one more of those. The Los Angeles Rams went 4-12 and finally fired Jeff Fisher near the end of the season. Meanwhile, in San Francisco, Chip was 2-14 in his farewell to coaching professional football.
Seattle beat the 9-7 Lions at home, 26-6, before losing the divisional round at Atlanta, 36-20.
So, take your pick. They all stink. If form holds on Sunday, would the 9-7 Eagles, 8-8 Cowboys, 4-12 Giants and 3-13 Redskins be the worst four-team division ever? That’s for the eye of the beholder, but the past tells us two things: There will be some coaching changes very soon in the division, and the champion of the motley lot is going to somehow win its home playoff game and then bow out.
If that works for you, considering where the team was a month ago, it probably works for the Eagles, too.