Luckily for Dallas, the Cowboys (6-7) will remain in first place in the NFC East even if the Philadelphia Eagles (5-7) beat the New York Giants (2-10) on Monday night, thanks to the Cowboys’ win over the Eagles in October. But this season, for both the franchise and the division, has been a complete bust.
According to data provided by TruMedia, NFC East teams are 3-20 against opponents with winning records, the division’s worst such mark at this point of the season since the NFL expanded to 32 teams and realigned into eight divisions in 2002. All three of those victories against opponents with winning records belong to Philadelphia. In another bit of ugliness, NFC East teams are just 10-28 in games outside of their division — again, the division’s worst mark at this point of the season since the birth of the current league configuration. The next-worst division this season? The NFC South, which is 15-17 in out-of-division games.
In fact, the NFC East is putting together one of the worst out-of-division records of the past 18 years. Only the 2008 NFC West, 2014 NFC South and 2008 AFC West were worse at this point in the season.
NFL rules dictate division winners earn playoff berths, so each of those division winners, despite their futile mark against non-division teams, were represented in the postseason. And, surprisingly, they weren’t embarrassed.
In 2008, the NFC West was represented by the 9-7 Arizona Cardinals, who lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII. That same season, the AFC West’s San Diego Chargers (8-8) won their wild-card game before losing to the Steelers in the divisional round. And in 2014, the 7-8-1 Carolina Panthers gave the NFC South a playoff win (over the Cardinals) before losing to the top-seeded Seahawks, the eventual Super Bowl runner-up.
As mentioned earlier, the Cowboys sit at the top of the division heading into Monday night’s game, with a 63 percent chance of winning the division. (That estimate is based on 1,000 simulations of the remainder of the season, using teams’ actual win rates, projected win rates based on total points scored and allowed and a regressed win rate that accounts for having played less than a full season of games.) The Eagles have the next-best chance at 37 percent. The Redskins and Giants have been officially eliminated from the postseason.
The remaining game that could swing this outlook the most is the Week 16 matchup between the Cowboys and Eagles. According to the New York Times Playoff Picture, an Eagles win in that game would improve their playoff chances from 33 to 60 percent, while a loss would shrink their playoff chances to a mere four percent. That’s irrespective of any other result over the next few weeks. If the Eagles manage to win their next two games (vs. the Giants and then at Washington), Dallas Week becomes much more important. A win in that scenario would push Philadelphia’s playoff chances from 50 to 88 percent, while a loss would reduce them from 50 to 10 percent.
If the Cowboys beat the Los Angeles Rams in Week 15, then they could virtually clinch the division against the Eagles the following week. Beating the Rams could also, at least marginally, bolster the division’s sagging reputation.
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