(CBS New York) — Judging by the standings, and many other metrics, the NFC East is the worst division in football. The New York Giants, winners of four in a row, sit atop the pile with a 5-7 record. The illustrious Washington Football Team, also 5-7, has won three straight themselves. The Giants hold the tiebreaker, however, thanks to two mid-season wins over the WFT.
Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys, both originally thought of as favorites for the division title, are fading fast. The Eagles, who, at 3-8-1, just benched Carson Wentz, are in complete disarray and seem destined for a rebuild they can’t afford. The 3-9 Dallas Cowboys give up the most points in the NFL and have struggled to compete since Dak Prescott went down.
And yet, because of all the losing, every team is still in contention for the division title. It’s been a strange season in the NFL and a particularly strange one in the NFC East. CBS New York sports anchor Steve Overmyer looks at the division’s Week 14 matchups.
All times listed are Eastern.
Arizona Cardinals @ New York Giants, Sunday, December 13 @ 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
The Giants are coming off an impressive win over the Seattle Seahawks last week, holding one of the NFL’s top scoring offenses to just 12 points. They sacked Russell Wilson five times. Their own offense, behind backup Colt McCoy, didn’t exactly light it up. But a pair of third-quarter touchdowns proved to be enough. And the ground game, behind Wayne Gallman and Alfred Morris, racked up close to 200 yards.
They’ll be facing a Cardinals team that’s struggled of late. “Arizona hasn’t won a game by two since week seven,” Overmyer notes. “That’s half the season ago since they won a game by more than two points. They’re on a horrendous run right now, where they’ve lost four of their last five. And Arizona’s only win came on that Hail Murray play.”
Part of the problem is that Kyler Murray is banged up. According to Overmyer, “this Arizona offense is really the difference in why you want to choose the Giants in this game. And it’s because this offense has not been the same since Kyler Murray injured his AC joint. His shoulder shouldn’t have an issue with his legs, but Kliff Kingsbury is just not calling the run plays for him anymore. It’s limited this offense. As a matter of fact, in the last two weeks, only the Cincinnati Bengals have fewer yards per play than the Arizona Cardinals.”
The Cardinals will be looking to stay alive in the Wild Card hunt. The Giants need to keep winning to stay on top in the NFC East. The run game, for both teams, may be the key.
Dallas Cowboys @ Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, December 13 @ 1:00 p.m. (FOX)
Neither the Cowboys nor the Bengals are playing very good football. Each has nine losses, with Dallas dropping their last two and Cincinnati dropping their last four. And neither shows much promise for salvaging something good from the season.
Both defenses are among the worst in the NFL, both allowing over 380 yards per game. The Cowboys also give up a league-worst 32.8 points per game. But can either offense put up enough points to get the win?
“I know that the Cowboys defense is atrocious, and they let everybody run over them,” Overmyer says. “But this Bengals offense has been horrendous. They just lost a left tackle as well. Even though Joe Mixon is expected to be coming back, this team hasn’t rushed for more than 40 yards in three straight weeks. So you can’t expect to see this Bengals offense somehow find their form this next week.”
The Cowboys offense can move the ball. They just can’t score, averaging just 22.3 points per game. But maybe they’ll be inspired this week by revenge. “Andy Dalton did not come into the season thinking that he would ever play against the Cincinnati Bengals,” says Overmyer. “He was the backup to Dak Prescott. But the situation has opened the door to allow Andy Dalton to be the quarterback, to face the team that unceremoniously let him go for a quarterback that is now injured. So if you want to use the revenge factor as a way to hopefully see some offensive points here from the Dallas Cowboys…”
Dalton did find the end zone twice last week against the Baltimore Ravens while throwing for 285 yards. That level of production could be enough against a Bengals team that will struggle to move the ball, even against this Cowboys defense.
Washington Football Team @ San Francisco 49ers, Sunday, December 13 @ 4:25 p.m. (FOX)
The 49ers have dealt with injuries and COVID scares this season, much like many NFL teams. They’ve just had them to an extreme. And now they can’t play home games at Levi’s Stadium. According to Overmyer, “we can’t overlook the fact that the Niners are all staying in a hotel, that they’re not around their families. They’re living in Arizona. They’re playing basically what is a road game for them.”
At 5-7, coming off a tough loss to the Buffalo Bills, they’re basically out of the NFC West race. The Washington Football Team, also at 5-7, has a legitimate shot at NFC East title. “Washington has proven that they’ve got a stellar defense,” says Overmyer. “They’re clearly coming off a huge victory over the Steelers.”
The Washington offense did enough in that important win. But they’re not going to win many games on their own. Alex Smith can still manage a game, but remains limited in what he can do. Starting running back Antonio Gibson may also be sidelined with a toe injury.
But Washington, unlike the 49ers, still has something to fight for. “Washington is fighting, right now, for a chance to be at the top of the NFC East,” says Overmyer. “I think, that if you were talking about the pros, they love to look at numbers. And here’s one number that that really stands out to me. Road dogs, against Kyle Shanahan’s 49ers, are 11-3-1 in his era. So that leans heavily towards the Washington Football Team this week.”
New Orleans Saints @ Philadelphia Eagles, Sunday, December 13 @ 4:25 p.m. (FOX)
The 2021 Eagles season hasn’t quite played out as planned. After losing four straight, Philadelphia is on the brink of dropping out of the NFC East playoff race. And that’s saying something, given the state of the division. Furthermore, they’ve just benched starter Carson Wentz in favor of rookie Jalen Hurts. (What’s even worse, Wentz signed a $128 million contract extension last year that’s due to kick in next season.)
Hurts is in for a tough debut, against one one of the NFL’s best defenses. “New Orleans’ defense is number two in DVOA (Defense-adjusted Value Over Average), second only to the Steelers. But they’re number one in man-defense interceptions. So that means that you will most likely see a lot of man defense, with a spy against Jalen Hurts, so that Hurts can’t run out of the pocket and run wild. And he’s going to be seeing a ton of pressure.”
The Eagles have allowed 53 sacks so far this season, the most in the NFL, by a lot. The Saints defense has picked up 36 sacks, among the highest totals in the league. Hurts’ “…welcome to the NFL is going to be against this Saints defense that doesn’t just attack. As the (Saints linebacker) Demario Davis says, ‘we hunt down here.’ They are hunters on that defense. And this experiment of trying to throw Jalen Hurts out there against an attack-style defense could end up being a failed Philadelphia Experiment.”
On the other side of the ball, the Eagles defense will have to contend with a Saints offense that continues to roll without Drew Brees.