For all the reasons to hate the National Football League—danger, greed, arrogance, disregard of safety in service to the schedule, institutionalized corporate plunder, Adam Gase, Comrade Magary’s psychosexual relationship with the Minnesota Vikings—you may now add the death of the death of the NFC East.
We were just coming around to enjoying this Mariana Trench of football, in which all four teams were nationally popular while being spectacularly awful. We were actually jazzed about the possibility that a four-win team could be a four-seed in the postseason, with a home game for fans simultaneously excited for a Super Bowl run and firing its coach down a mine shaft. All of these were in play, and life, while still largely lousy, offered us a shard of hope. But the NFC East is now just mediocre with an outside chance of being merely inconsequential.
Just a few short weeks ago, the chance of a division winner with only four or five wins was still a very real and attainable thing. All it took was a team with the gumption to split its remaining games against divisional rivals and lose everything else. And any of the four could have done it because they were all in bog-paced lockstep, marching boldly to expected defeat after expected defeat. The only hiccup was Philadelphia’s inexcusable tie with Cincinnati in Week 3, an abomination in the eyes of God if God hadn’t long ago abandoned us for a planet with only bacterial life orbiting a dying sun. Even that primordial-ooze-encrusted ball of damp dirt promised better football than the NFC East.
But because 8-8 is not just the most ordinary of records but the inescapable mean around which all teams orbit, the NFC East started to lose the plot. While the Eagles clung to the plan by cornering the market on sacks allowed and turnovers lost, the Washington FT wandered from the path and beat not only Dallas (permissible) but Cincinnati (not helpful but understandable given that Joe Burrow had his knee blown to smithereens) and the undefeated Pittsburghs. They are now 5-7 with apparently winnable games against San Francisco in Arizona, a foundering Seattle team, the habitually unsightly Carolinas, and the aforementioned Die Eagles Die. They could get to 8-8, which is the essence of nothing and nowhere even with Alex D. Smith’s improbable legs.
Sadly, there is more. The Giants, who started an admirable 1-7, have won four straight, albeit by a total of 20 points, and Sunday beat the ostensible best of those teams, Seattle FC, with Colt McCoy at quarterback. More improbable, they got 135 rushing yards of the previously unheard-of four-year veteran Wayne Gallman, whose given name sounds like a pal of your dad’s, the guy who’s run Gallman Air Conditioner Repair since 1983, and two touchdowns from once and future Guy Alfred Morris. They have won four on the trot, two against Washington and Philadelphia (again, acceptable under the original scenario), Cincinnati (unavoidable given Brandon Allen as the Bengals’ quarterback) and the Seattle outrage, but their schedule is less forgiving. Arizona is going all Cardinal on us, but Cleveland is good, Baltimore might still be, and Dallas—well, still awful but with a chance to deceive us yet. That’s kind of 8-8able, too, sadly.
If the Cowboys beat a still-threadbare Ravens roster today, they too get Cincinnati and then San Francisco, which isn’t competitively dead but can see the graveyard from where it stands, and finish with the Eagles and Giants. That’s only an 8-8 if they win out, and that is profoundly unhinged thinking.
Then again, given where every team in this fetid stewpot was a month ago, none of this was possible. Now, with the right, meaning wrong, set of circumstances, the Giants and WTFs could each go 9-7, with the Giants winning the division by a tiebreaker and Washington having a 93 percent chance of making the playoffs as well. The taste of vomit would be everywhere.
But because we are people devoted to hope here (see the previous sentence), there is still a preposterously small chance that all four teams could end up with five wins, which is this way:
Dallas: Loses to the Bengals and 49ers, beats the Eagles and Giants.
Philadelphia: Loses to the Saints and Cowboys, beats the Cardinals and WTFs.
New York and Washington: Lose out.
NFC East Champion: The 5-10-1 Eagles, by virtue of tying Cincinnati in Week 3. Think of it.
Sadly, though, we see no rational way to believe in this. We will be stuck with a seven-win divisional champion, maybe even the horror of an eight-win team, and a banner will be made to fly at the rim of the winner’s stadium as though this was an accomplishment in which one could or should take pride. It would be an act of shame entirely in keeping with the year and the teams. The new Mt. Rushmore could be Jerry Jones, John Mara, Jeff Lurie, and Little Danny Snyder all looking like they’d force-fed rancid eels.
But imagine the Eagles’ fan base as the banner is lashed to a flagpole with the legend “2020 NFC East Champions, 5-10-1.” They would, well, react with justifiably Philadelphian good humor about it and raze the statue of Billy Penn to the ground in a lager-fueled fire, and let’s be honest, it would be the only fitting ball-drop of the New Year. I mean, in those circumstances who would need Carson Daly when you could have Carson Wentz?