Racing to the Bottom with the NFC East

How bad is the National Football Conference East Division? Through seven weeks, they are a combined 7–20–1. Excluding matchups within the division, they’re 2–15–1. None of those wins came against a team with a winning record. By Week Six, the NFC East was flirting with the all-time worst division record, but their one tie kept them from breaking it. If the San Francisco 49ers — the worst team in the best division — were in the NFC East, they would lead the division by 1.5 games.

So, yeah. The NFC East is pretty bad.

The Philadelphia Eagles lead the division at 2–4–1. Their one tie holds off the 2–5 Washington Football Team and Dallas Cowboys. The New York Giants bring up the rear at 1–6, just 1.5 games away from the top. The NFL isn’t a stranger to bad divisions. The Tom Brady-led New England Patriots dominated a lowly American Football Conference East for years. But it’s rare to see an entire division lay down like the NFC East has. Based on their season so far, an average team could easily sweep the NFC East, but it doesn’t look like there is one of those in this division.

There’s no single answer for the NFC East’s sharp downturn. A combination of injuries, ineptitude, and bad luck has led this division to their historically bad season. Washington and New York were never expected to amount to anything, but Dallas and Philadelphia were projected to be at least average. The Philadelphia Eagles have, once again, been decimated by injuries, which explain some, but not all, of Carson Wentz’s regression. America’s Team’s 2020 season has gone as well as America’s 2020. Dallas lost their starting quarterback, Dak Prescott, for the season because of a broken ankle in Week Five. The Cowboys have fielded the 32nd ranked defense, whose 34.7 allowed points per game is in contention for the worst defense in NFL history.

No matter how poorly they play, we will be subjected to the NFC East. This division still dominates the primetime schedule, with five more NFC East Sunday Night Football matchups. But what’s worse is that this team still has a postseason spot. Meaning whoever manages to climb to the top of this dumpster fire of a division will be in the playoffs.

Mathematically, the NFC East can be won with a 4–12 record. ESPN predicts that there is a 66 percent chance that the division winner has seven or fewer wins. FiveThirtyEight has the Eagles making the playoffs at 7–8–1, while Football Outsiders gives the Cowboys the highest odds of winning the division. Regardless, none of these teams deserve to make the playoffs. Whatever team limps out of this division with a seven-win losing record is not one of the best teams in the league and should not take a playoff spot from a better team. That fact that this could happen feels wrong.

The league should change the rules of playoff qualification, and treat every playoff spot like the wild card. Records, not division championships, will determine if a team qualifies for the postseason. Division titles will mean a bit less, but division games will still matter since they make up over a third of teams’ schedules. Competitive conferences will have more teams qualify and noncompetitive divisions are kept out of the spotlight.

For now, we’ll be stuck with the NFC East. Maybe by next season, we’ll come up with a way to relegate them to the XFL.

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