The Beasts of the East

Mike Ketchum

The National Football League is heating up and thus far one thing seems for certain; the NFC East is by far the most dominant division. Currently the New York Giants sit atop the division at 4-0. While the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins stand at 4-1 in the division and appear to be serious Superbowl contenders. The fourth team in the division, the Philadelphia Eagles, trails the pack at 2-3, however, one of their wins has come against the Pittsburg Steelers, who lead their division and are arguably the second best team in the AFC to date. In addition, every Eagles loss has come against a team with a winning record, and with San Francisco, Atlanta, and Seattle as their next three opponents, a 5-3 mark after week 9 seems very reasonable.

What is the key to success for this powerhouse conference? Ultimately it starts with the leader on the field. Each of these NFC East teams has a more than competent quarterback at the helm. Tony Romo is emerging as a superstar in the NFL, Eli Manning has shaken off critics and proven he not only can be an effective quarterback, but also has the capability of making the big plays his team needs at the end of games. Jason Campbell, in just his second full season as the starting quarterback, appears to be the long-term solution for a Redskins team that has been plagued with quarterback issues since Mark Rypien left the team in 1993. And, despite a rocky start for the Eagles, Donovan McNabb has been Donovan McNabb, posting a 92.9 quarterback rating for the season. With the tremendous quarterback play from the NFC East division it is easy to see why the division has been so dominant, but that does not tell the entire story.

The three teams at the top have also proven that they can run the ball. The Giants lead the league with a whopping 181 yards per game on the ground. The Redskins and Cowboys are not far behind ranking 5th and 7th respectively in the NFL in rush yards per game. Even the Eagles, who currently reside towards the bottom of the league, have shown the ability to dominate the trenches when Brian Westbrook is healthy (which has not been often this season). With tremendous quarterback play and the ability to control the clock on the ground, it is no wonder that the NFC East is touted as the best division in football. Perhaps the most telling sign is time of possession. Every team in the NFC East resides in the top 13 in the league in time of possession. Recent NFL history has shown that the team who wins the time of possession battle wins the game between 60-70 percent of the time, depending on the year.

Offense, however, is only half the story. Aiding this powerhouse conference is the ability of each team’s defense to get off the field. The Giants are second in the league in points allowed per game and third in yards allowed per game. With a pass rush that seems determined to prove it has not lost a beat with the departure of Michael Strahan, the Giants defense looks playoff ready and it is only week 6. The Redskins have been solid on defense ranking near the top third in points allowed per game and yards allowed per game all season. The Cowboys and Eagles also rank in the top half of the league in points and yards allowed per game and a closer look shows that these defenses are perhaps even better than what we have seen. Excluding division games for the Cowboys and Eagles where all four of these teams have absolutely beat up on each other, the Cowboys have allowed only 16 points per game while the Eagles have allowed a mere 11 points per game (the current league leading Tennessee Titans have surrendered 11.2 points per game). The balance that each of these teams possess is necessary to win a ring (just ask the 2003-2005 Indianapolis Colts) and at this point in the season, each team would be disappointed with anything less.

Looking at the overall statistics for the division only further demonstrates their dominance. The NFC East is a combined 10-1 against non-division opponents. As a whole they have scored 514 points and allowed 355. The NFC East is undoubtedly the best division in football this year and it is really not even close. Unfortunately for these four teams, at least one of them is going to be left out, and given that 6 of each teams 16 games is going to be against NFC East opponents it seems all too likely that two teams will be left watching the playoffs from home. It should be a crazy year in the NFC East, and with only 4 of the 12 conference games played thus far, there is still time for anything to happen.