Only in the NFL could a team be nearly halfway through the season before it bumps into a division rival. It's like having to wait until the second year of "Breaking Bad" to see Tio ring his bell. So it goes in pro football, which likes to build its drama slowly — and, oh yes, make it harder for clubs to mail in games in the final weeks. (There are only 16 of them, after all.)
As the Washington Redskins gear up for Sunday's annual grudge match against the New York Giants at the Meadowlands, it's interesting to note that, at 3-3, they're hardly the worst-off member of the NFC East. This represents significant progress, because in the past four seasons they have been the worst-off member of the NFC East.
But now, well, just about everybody in the division has serious issues. Take the Philadelphia Eagles. Since DeSean Jackson beat the Giants in 2010 with a last-play punt return for a touchdown, the Eagles are 12-15 (playoffs included). In recent days, embattled Andy Reid, feeling none of Philly's brotherly love, has fired his defensive coordinator and given a lukewarm endorsement to his trick-or-treat quarterback, Michael Vick (13 turnovers, three game-winning drives).
It's just not a pretty situation. I mean, they haven't brought in a former bingo caller to help out with the coaching, but they've played six games this year, and they haven't shown they're much better anybody they've faced. (Largest margin of victory: two points.) With a bye this week and extra time to prepare for their next opponent, who's to say they won't get rookie QB Nick Foles ready to go?
In fact, from a distance, it looks like the Eagles have borrowed a page from the Dan Snyder Handbook. They spent heavily on free agents Nnamdi Asomugha and Jason Babin last season, swung a deal that brought another top defender, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, but have regressed — with Vick beginning to resemble a souped-up version of Mark Brunell.
Then there are the Dallas Cowboys, the division's drama queens. In the past three seasons, their record is 16-21. (Though they're on national TV so much, you'd think it was 116-21.) Sunday at Baltimore, in their continuing effort to confound, they had the ball at the Ravens' 34 with 26 seconds left and ran only one more play before pinning their hopes on a 51-yard field goal try. It drifted left, and they lost 31-29.
That, too, is very Redskinsesque. Indeed, just a month earlier in St. Louis, Mike Shanahan had let Billy Cundiff take a whack at a 62-yard field goal with 1:18 to go rather than leave Robert Griffin III to his own devices on fourth and 16. Cundiff, who had never made one longer than 56 yards in the NFL, came up well short, of course, and soon kicked himself out of a job.
But back to the Cowboys. They never cease to amaze in ways you don't want to amaze. If Dez Bryant isn't getting into Some Kind of Episode with his mother — "causing," in the immortal words of one report, "her bra to tear" — then Tony Romo is completing 72.1 percent of his passes against the Chicago Bears, but still managing to throw five interceptions. (Making him the most accurate five-pick quarterback in the last half century, if you can figure out what that means.)
Against this backdrop, the Giants have been a veritable bastion of normalcy. Despite losing Super Bowl hero Mario Manningham and bull-rushing Brandon Jacobs to free agency, they've gotten off to an NFC East-leading 4-2 start and just left the mighty 49ers floating head-down in San Francisco Bay. (Translation: The Niners finished with as many points as Alex Smith did INTs — three.)
But even the Giants have concerns, the biggest being: They're 0-2 in the division, and they don't want to make life more difficult for themselves by dropping to 0-3, not with the meat of their schedule still ahead. So we can pretty much count on Eli Manning and Co. bringing their 'A' game Sunday and, let's face it, they haven't always done that against the Redskins (who made them pay for it a year ago by sweeping them).
Anyway, that's a quick look at the NFC East. Not exactly a formidable aggregation at this point, is it? Which leads to this conclusion: There are two ways to improve your lot in the NFL. One is to get better; the other is for your competition to get worse. The Redskins seem to be benefiting from a little of both. And this next game should give us an even clearer picture of where they stand.
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