We know who's not going to win the NFC East (we think), but who will win it? There have been various front-runners throughout the season (except the Giants), but injuries and poor performances have created a revolving door of possibilities.
As the four teams prepare for two intra-division games this week, kicking off with the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins on Thursday, ESPN's NFC East reporters provide their insight into who they think will ultimately win the division.
After losing to Tennessee on Monday Night Football on Nov. 5, the Cowboys were 3-5 and looked dead in the water. They were facing consecutive road games at Philadelphia and Atlanta while holding a 0-4 road record. But the Cowboys won both games and now will be playing for first place with the best chance to win the division. Washington lost starting quarterback Alex Smith. The Eagles have lost almost everybody and are slipping fast. The Giants are playing better but may have dug too deep a hole with their 1-7 start. The Cowboys are the favorite because of Ezekiel Elliott. He should start getting some MVP attention. Dak Prescott is playing better since the arrival of Amari Cooper. The line has performed better since Marc Colombo took over the group. The defense has been top-notch all season and is now taking the ball away at least a little bit. Four of the Cowboys' final six games are at home, which is a plus, although one is against the New Orleans Saints. But there’s always a word of caution when it comes to the Cowboys. Just when you think it’s safe to peek above the covers, something will scare you unexpectedly. Two weeks ago, they were dead. Now they’re alive. Two weeks from now, who knows? Just hold your breath.
-- ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer
Whoever wins Thursday’s game. It’s not as if the Redskins would be dead if they lost to Dallas and, indeed, could still earn a wild-card berth. But with the Redskins having multiple unknowns, the easy pick is to say Dallas because it’s the healthier team. I might favor them by a 51-49 margin. Let me be clear: The Redskins can still win. Colt McCoy is a quality backup capable of playing well in an offense he is well suited to run -- and for a coach who has the utmost confidence in him. The Redskins also, believe it or not, might get healthier as left tackle Trent Williams, running back Chris Thompson and corner Quinton Dunbar all could return soon. Each one represents a big boost. But McCoy must prove he can be durable; he hasn’t been in previous seasons when having to play. And the Redskins’ defense has lived off creating turnovers. That’s why they’re ranked fourth in points allowed per game over the past six games despite being 19th in yards per play and 22nd in yards per game. They make teams drive long ways because the offense doesn’t turn it over and punter Tress Way has been fantastic. But if that formula changes, the defense must be more stout. It helps that none of the remaining five games are against teams ranked in the top 13 in passing offense; all six teams are 22nd or lower in offensive points scored per game, though the Titans and Giants are in the top 13 over the last four weeks.
-- ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim
I think the Cowboys are going to win it. I wouldn’t have said that prior to this weekend, but Sunday’s events appear to have altered the division’s trajectory. The devastating injury to Smith puts Washington’s fate in the hands of Colt McCoy. At the risk of underselling the veteran QB, I’m not seeing a seamless Carson Wentz-to-Nick Foles-type handoff here. Speaking of the Eagles, they put on their underdog masks for their trip to New Orleans but got their doors blown off by the Saints. There is something very, very wrong with the offense right now, and injuries have hit the secondary so bad, they’re signing guys off the street and throwing them into the fire. It has gotten to a point that even this weekend’s game against the Giants doesn’t feel like a sure thing. It would be three in a row for New York if it pulled off the upset -- and I still wouldn’t be buying it. The G-Men have a ways to go.
Dallas just might be able to capitalize on the division’s sorry state. They’re in pretty good health, Elliott is heating up (388 total yards, three TDs in past two games), and the Cowboys play four of their past six games at home. With the third-best defense in points allowed (19 PPG) and a passing attack bolstered by the arrival of Cooper, they have what it takes to finish atop a mediocre NFC East.
-- ESPN Eagles reporter Tim McManus
I wanted to come up with a reason to pick anyone other than the Cowboys. But the Redskins are missing half their offense, including their starting quarterback. The Eagles are playing terribly and have a secondary filled with practice-squad players. They may be the defending Super Bowl champions but they have a three-week stretch later on against the Cowboys, Rams and Texans. That’s too much for them to get streaking. The Giants, meanwhile, need to win out and have already lost a game to everyone in the NFC East. Good luck with that. They've dug too deep a hole.
Then you look at the Cowboys’ schedule and realize they have the most realistic path to nine wins. That is all it will take to win this NFC East. Dallas also plays four of its final six games at home and finishes against the Bucs and Giants, two teams with a combined 6-12 record.
It has undoubtedly become the Cowboys’ division to lose. Dallas is a flawed team -- its passing attack with Prescott at the helm is the worst in the division by just about any metric -- but it has the best defense by a wide margin. It’s conceivable by the end of the season that no team allows fewer points. The Cowboys are currently allowing 19.0 point per game. That will be enough to win this division.
-- ESPN Giants reporter Jordan Raanan