The NFC East has been one of the more entertaining divisions over the years. Every team in it has a heated rivalry with each other, and they have more Super Bowl wins than any other division in the NFL, including the most recent.
But this year is not that. All four teams have had their own struggles this season — and all four have been a bit of chore to watch, if we’re being honest.
As we enter the stretch run, the division is still up for grabs. Only three games separate the first-place Cowboys from the fourth-place Giants. But two teams should have more confidence in their current direction, while the season has more or less devolved into complete chaos for the other two.
Here are the NFC East sadness rankings, from least sad to saddest.
Dallas Cowboys (7-5)
Reason for hope: The Cowboys defense is really starting to come together. During their current four-game winning streak, they’ve held teams to just 18 points per game. This includes holding the explosive New Orleans Saints offense to just 10 points — 24.9 points below their season average.
The Cowboys have one of the best young linebacker duos in the league with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith developing into wrecking balls this season. Add in edge rusher Demarcus Lawrence and cornerback Byron Jones and you get a defense that has dominant players at all three levels of the defense.
They’ve spent a lot of draft capital on their defense over the past few years and those young guys are turning into the elite talents that they were drafted to be.
Dallas has some playmakers on offense, too. In spurts, Dak Prescott can make plays that move the chains and score touchdowns in the red zone, but the backbone of this offense is Ezekiel Elliott. Elliott currently is second in the league in rushing behind Todd Gurley and has rushed for 100 yards in three out of their four last games.
Reason for despair: It’s still hard to trust the offense right now. Even though the Cowboys have won four games in a row, they’ve only eclipsed 30 points one time, which came in that Thanksgiving win. Prescott is streaky, but he did put together a pretty strong game against the Saints.
There are also questions about whether an offense led by its running back can still make a deep run in the postseason. Elliott is only in his third season with the team, but Dallas has not yet won a playoff game since drafting him fourth overall.
Sadness ranking: 3/10. There isn’t too much to be upset right now if you’re a fan of the Dallas Cowboys, except maybe the increased job security of Jason Garrett. After starting 2-3, the Cowboys are now 7-5 and have won five of their last seven games.
Philadelphia Eagles (6-6)
Reason for hope: They can win any game if Carson Wentz is dialed in and playing to the peak of his capabilities. Wentz hasn’t been as dominant as he was in 2017 before his late-season ACL tear, but at his best, he’s still as good as any quarterback in the league.
In the 10 games that Wentz has started this year, he’s finished with a passer rating of over 100 in six of them. He’s hit a passer rating of at least 98 in eight of his 10 games. Even with some of the red zone issues that the Eagles have had this year, they’re still a difficult offense to stop when Wentz is at the top of his game.
Reason for despair: The Eagles secondary is a cause for concern right now. Ronald Darby and Rodney McLeod are on injured reserve. Cornerbacks Sidney Jones, Avonte Maddox, Rasul Douglas, and Jalen Mills have all dealt with injuries this year as well.
When the Saints demolished the Eagles 48-7 in Week 11, they showed us that they might not have the horses in the secondary to keep up with some of the more explosive offense in the NFL. They still have to play on the road against the Los Angeles Rams and at home against the Houston Texans, both of which will test their limits as a defense as they push toward the end of the season.
Sadness ranking: 5/10. The book isn’t closed at all for the reigning Super Bowl champs. If they can win next week at Dallas, then they’ll be tied at 7-6 with Cowboys atop the NFC East. Unfortunately, it gets tougher with the Rams and Texans in back-to-back weeks. With those two teams lurking on the Eagles’ schedule, the game against the Cowboys is a must-win to give Philly a little leeway.
Reason for hope: Well, there isn’t much to be optimistic about in Washington, but the team is still tied for second place in the NFC East with the Eagles. They’ve lost three games in a row to get to 6-6, but mathematically they still have a chance. If their front seven can take over a couple games down the stretch, they’ll at least have a fighter’s chance to win some games.
It helps that all of their remaining games at least look winnable — even with Mark Sanchez at quarterback. Adrian Peterson will help too; he doesn’t have the dominance and consistency of his youth, but he does have moments of brilliance on the field. Washington plays the Giants, then it has has a two-game road trip against the Jaguars and the Titans, and then the team finishes the season at home against Philadelphia. Washington likely won’t win all those games, but it should at least be able to stay competitive as the season closes.
Reason for despair: They’ve been decimated by injuries this year. Washington has lost Alex Smith, Brandon Scherff, Paul Richardson, Robert Kelley, Derrius Guice, and Shaun Lauvao for the season. They also lost backup quarterback Colt McCoy and guard Jonathan Cooper to season-ending injuries in their Monday night loss to the Eagles. It’s just hard to sustain a winning style of football with so many key players on injured reserve.
Sadness ranking: 9/10. It’s going to be hard for Washington to get back on the right track now that the team is down to its third (and butt fumble-y) quarterback. With Philadelphia and Dallas being far more stable on offense, Washington’s chances of climbing back to the top of the division are slim.
New York Giants (4-8)
Reason for hope: They can still land a top-five pick! Despite winning three of their last four games, the Giants pretty much have no chance to make the playoffs this point — ESPN’s Football Power Index gives them less than 0.1% chance to make the postseason.
But with just a couple more losses, they’ll be in prime position to select Eli Manning’s successor — a quarterback like Ohio State’s Dwayne Haskins or Oregon’s Justin Herbert, if they declare.
Reason for despair: Their recent winning might knock them out of the top five of the draft. After an overtime win against the Bears, the Giants currently own the No. 7 pick in the 2019 NFL Draft. With Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, the Giants have the top-end skill talent to make life hard on most opponents — now it’s time to give them a quarterback. A few more losses can secure that, but they have work (read: losing) to do.
Sadness ranking: 10/10. The 2018 season is dead, but hey, the offseason launches the wildest dreams of perfect acquisitions and future success. That’s something to look forward to.