Is the NFC East suddenly wide open?
The assumption was that the Philadelphia Eagles would be the first NFC East team to repeat as division champs since Andy Reid’s Eagles in 2003 and 2004, but early indications aren't very encouraging.
Philadelphia finished the regular season last year at 13-3 and won the Super Bowl, but the Eagles have gotten off to a slower-than-expected start, with two losses already.
Even the return of quarterback Carson Wentz hasn't helped much. The Eagles beat the Atlanta Falcons on opening night but lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, did not look impressive in the victory over the Indianapolis Colts and lost to the Tennessee Titans.
Our reporters covering the NFC East take a look:
ESPN Cowboys reporter Todd Archer: Maybe a Super Bowl hangover is a real thing for every team except the New England Patriots. It is early, so there is no need to panic, but given the schedule at the start of the season, not too many people would have thought the Eagles would be 2-2.
The Cowboys seem to have returned to the 8-8 train they were on after Jason Garrett took over as coach in 2011. Can they get off the win-one, lose-one path and challenge the Eagles? Does any team have the consistency to match up with Philadelphia in the division?
The Cowboys may have the best chance to dethrone the Eagles because of their defense. If they can get any kind of consistency from the offense, they would have more than a puncher’s chance. The Cowboys’ strength is their pass rush, led by DeMarcus Lawrence. Perhaps they found their offensive formula in beating Detroit by riding running back Ezekiel Elliott as much as possible. Elliott has shown he can handle the load, but Dak Prescott will have to make chunk plays in the passing game for the Cowboys to truly be successful.
The Redskins appear better suited to make a run than in the past with quarterback Alex Smith, and running back Adrian Peterson might have some tread on the tires. The Giants should be better, but quarterback Eli Manning’s best days are long gone.
There’s just a feeling that Philadelphia will figure it out, get hot again and win the division. The Eagles might not be 12-4 or 11-5 like we thought, but given the state of the rest of the division, 9-7 might get it done.
ESPN Eagles reporter Tim McManus: It will be a tighter race than most projected. It's fair to say the Eagles have been fighting a Super Bowl hangover. It is not easy to completely drain yourself for 19 games and have a full tank by September. The focus, coaching and discipline simply haven’t been at 2017 levels. And the run took a physical toll. Receiver Alshon Jeffery (shoulder) and defensive end Brandon Graham (ankle) both delayed surgery and are just getting back onto the field and rounding into form. Wentz returned from ACL/LCL surgery in Week 3, but he doesn’t yet have the same elusiveness that made him so dangerous when he was making a charge for MVP last season. Meanwhile, fresh injuries have hit the team. Safety Rodney McLeod (leg) is the fourth player to land on injured reserve -- a blow to the secondary that cost the Eagles a win against the Titans -- and it leaves them vulnerable in the back end moving forward.
Facing a difficult first-place schedule (games against the Vikings, Saints, Jaguars and Rams loom), it will be hard for the Eagles to gain a lot of separation in the division.
The feeling here is that the Redskins pose the biggest threat. That said, I believe Wentz will improve and things will stabilize as the season matures, and the Eagles will come out on top in the NFC East for the second straight year.
ESPN Redskins reporter John Keim: Before the season opener, Redskins running back Chris Thompson talked about the need for a fast start. Every team wants that, of course, but Thompson knew it was important. Here’s why: “The Eagles have some guys waiting to get healthy, so they may miss guys in a couple games.” And the inference was simple: The Eagles might start slowly, so take advantage.
They are starting slowly; they’re 2-2 and with a few swings here or there they could be 0-4 (or, in fairness, 4-0).
While it was a no-brainer to pick the Eagles before the season -- nobody appeared to come close to closing the gap from a personnel standpoint in the offseason -- it’s clearly difficult to repeat.
The problem is, when you look long term in the division, who will challenge them? The 2-1 Redskins could make a big statement with a victory at New Orleans on Monday. In Weeks 1 and 3, the Redskins looked like a team that could win nine or 10 games; in Week 2 they resembled a six-win team. They have reason to be optimistic -- provided the defense plays well and Peterson continues to be effective -- but have enough questions that still must be answered. Dallas has a formula with running back Elliott and its defense, but does anyone have faith in the passing attack? The Cowboys will need some consistent success in the air to challenge the Eagles. The Giants still don’t look like a team ready to emerge.
The more Wentz plays, the better the Eagles should become. However, with three of their next four games against Minnesota, Carolina and Jacksonville, the Eagles are in a precarious spot. They might remain the favorites, but they no longer can be considered heavy ones. As of now, it’s more about them coming back to the pack than the rest of the division rising.
ESPN Giants reporter Jordan Raanan: There is opportunity for someone other than the Eagles to win the NFC East. Philadelphia hasn’t looked good early and has remaining road games against the Jaguars, Saints and Rams. That’s not easy, even if the Eagles were playing at a Super Bowl level, which they’re not.
Philadelphia has holes, some that will likely not get fixed before midseason. But so does every other NFC East team. The Redskins might be the most likely to threaten this season. They have a veteran team and appear strong up front on both sides of the ball.
The Cowboys also could be dangerous, especially if they get more out of their passing game. They just don’t have enough offensive firepower outside of Elliott. What they do have is a defense that is even better than expected. It's legit, which gives the Cowboys a fighting chance.
The Giants are the long shot. They need a mini miracle. They’re not strong enough on defense to ride that group, and they’re held back offensively by their quarterback and offensive line. The combo of those final two is so toxic that the Giants could be 2-6 before they blink.
In the end, the Eagles remain the most well-rounded team. They also have the difference-maker -- Wentz -- back from injury. He’s the best quarterback in the division by a mile. It would be silly to bet against the NFC East’s top QB unless something crazy happens.
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