The Dallas Cowboys made NFL history with their 38-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Monday night, becoming the first team since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger to lead its division through six weeks with a losing record.


The once-proud NFC East, the only division in which every member has won at least one Super Bowl, is an absolute mess. The league’s biggest dumpster fire will burn brightly before a national television audience Thursday night, when the 1-4-1 Philadelphia Eagles host the 1-5 New York Giants. Thanks to the division’s collective ineptitude, the winner of Thursday’s game will move into prime position for a playoff berth.

Here’s a primer on the worst division in football.

Okay, so the NFC East is bad, but how bad is it, really?

The NFC East’s four teams have combined for a 5-18-1 record through six weeks. Every other division has at least nine wins. Furthermore, six teams — the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens, Tennessee Titans, Kansas City Chiefs, Chicago Bears and Seattle Seahawks — have five wins, and three of those teams already have had their byes.

The NFC East is the only division in which every team has a negative point differential. The Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Washington Football Team are a combined 2-15-1 against teams outside the division and have been outscored by an average of more than 10 points in those games. The Cowboys have allowed 218 points, the most by any team through six games in the Super Bowl era, while the Giants are scoring 16.8 points per game, second fewest in the league, ahead of only the 0-6 New York Jets.

Surely, the advanced metrics paint a better picture than the NFC East’s win-loss records.

Nope. After accounting for points expected both for and against based on the down, distance and field position of each play, NFC East teams are collectively seven points per game worse than expected this season and nearly twice as bad as the AFC East, the second-worst division. Football Outsiders ranks every NFC East team 26th or worse per their defense-adjusted value over average metric, which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every play with a league average based on situation and opponent. The people who chart games at Pro Football Focus agree after subjectively grading every play. They rank every NFC East team 24th or worse heading into Week 7.

NFC East quarterbacks have combined for an 80.8 passer rating, seven points worse than the quarterbacks in the AFC East, who have the second-worst mark. That’s on par with how Dwayne Haskins performed for Washington before he was benched for Kyle Allen after Week 4.

NFC East teams have scored an NFL-worst 1.8 points per drive.

Meanwhile, opposing quarterbacks have a 100.6 passer rating against NFC East teams this season, which is several points higher than the league average (94.1). Dallas is allowing nearly three points per drive, the fourth-highest rate at this point in the season since the league expanded to 32 teams in 2002.

Is this the worst division in NFL history?

There’s still time for the NFC East to get its act together, but it’s shaping up to be, by at least one measure. Since the NFL adopted its eight-division format in 2002, no division has posted a lower collective winning percentage than the 2008 NFC West. Led by the 9-7 Cardinals, who went on to lose to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, the division finished 22-42 (.344) overall and combined for a point differential of minus-372. The 2014 NFC South was only slightly better record-wise (22-41-1) than the 2008 NFC West, but its four teams combined for a less-abysmal point differential of minus-227.

The NFC East’s winning percentage this season is .229, the second-worst mark by a division through six weeks since the 1970 merger, behind only the 1984 AFC Central (.208). The NFC East finished a combined 24-40 last season, which was the fifth-worst winning percentage by a division since the merger.

Why is the NFC East so terrible?

Washington and the Giants were expected to stink, but the Cowboys and Eagles were considered Super Bowl contenders at the start of the season. Dallas’s offensive line has been decimated by injuries, and the Cowboys lost MVP candidate quarterback Dak Prescott for the season after he fractured and discloated his ankle in Week 5. The Eagles have been hit even harder by injuries, with only two of their projected starters on offense from training camp finishing this past Sunday’s game against the Ravens. One of those starters, quarterback Carson Wentz, has thrown nine interceptions, second most in the league.

The NFC East champion is guaranteed to host a playoff game, no matter how awful and undeserving the division winner is, right?

Yep. The prospect of some 11-5 team playing a road game against the 5-11 NFC East champion on the postseason’s opening weekend has led some to call for the NFL to change its playoff seeding format.

Wait, a 5-11 NFC East champion? Is that even possible? How many wins will it really take to win the division?

There are actually a few scenarios in which a team could win the division with only four wins. In 1,000 simulations of the season that take into account a team’s actual record and expected record based on points scored and allowed, the Eagles won the division with a 4-11-1 record three times, while Washington won the division outright in one instance with a 4-12 record. There’s a 25 percent chance the NFC East champion will have six or fewer wins, but the most likely scenario (32 percent of all simulations) is that the 2020 champion wins seven games.

How many teams have made the playoffs with a losing record?

Four — but only two in non-strike-shortened seasons. The most recent example was the 2014 Carolina Panthers, who, under current Washington coach Ron Rivera, won the NFC South with a 7-8-1 record and then defeated backup quarterback Ryan Lindley and the Cardinals in the first round. The 2010 Seattle Seahawks won the NFC West with a 7-9 mark and then upset the 11-5 New Orleans Saints in a first-round game best remembered for Marshawn Lynch’s “Beast Quake” touchdown run.

The Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions both made the playoffs in the strike-shortened 1982 season with 4-5 records before losing their playoff games by a combined score of 58-17.

Because someone has to win the NFC East, which sorry team will it be?

Based on simulations that take into account a team’s actual record and expected record based on points scored and allowed, the Eagles have a 45 percent chance to win the NFC East this year, thanks in part to a tie in Week 3 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Dallas isn’t too far behind at 36 percent, followed by Washington (12 percent) and the Giants (7 percent).

2020 NFC East
Projected record
Win division
Philadelphia Eagles
45 percent
Dallas Cowboys
36 percent
Washington Football Team
12 percent
New York Giants
7 percent

Got any fun NFC East jokes and memes?

Oh yeah.