PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Ten wins weren’t enough to get the Philadelphia Eagles in the playoffs last year. Eight or nine should win the NFC East this season.
One thing is certain about this division at the midpoint: It’s mediocre.
A big hit by a rookie linebacker in Week 2 changed everything. The defending East champion Cowboys haven’t recovered since Philadelphia’s Jordan Hicks knocked Tony Romo out with a broken collarbone on Sept. 20.
Dallas (2-6) has lost six straight with Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel under center, but none of the other teams has run away with it.
Eli Manning has the New York Giants (5-4) in first place, a half-game ahead of the inconsistent Eagles (4-4). The Washington Redskins (3-5) are next.
The division winner will likely be determined when the Eagles visit the Giants in Week 17. It was an easy 27-7 win for Philadelphia against New York on a Monday night in Week 6.
“We’ll pick our heads up after that last game with the Giants and see if we’ve won enough games,” Eagles coach Chip Kelly said.
Here are some things to know about the NFC East entering the second half of the season:
MISSED OPPORTUNITIES: The Giants might be 8-1 if they didn’t blow three fourth-quarter leads in consecutive losses to the Cowboys and Falcons to open the season and the Saints in Week 8. Manning, Odell Beckham, Jr. and the rest of the offense are clicking — 108 points in the past three games. Jason Pierre-Paul is back, giving the defense a boost it needs even more now that defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins is out for the rest of the season. The Giants have a tough schedule down the stretch, starting with a home game Sunday vs. Tom Brady and the undefeated Patriots (8-0). They also have home games against the Jets (5-3) and Carolina (8-0) along with road games at Miami (3-5) and Minnesota (6-2).
“If I was to tell you at the midpoint of the season that you were in first place in the division, would it make a difference? You bet it would,” coach Tom Coughlin said.
IN SAM CHIP TRUSTS: Kelly has stuck with Sam Bradford at quarterback through several ups and downs in the first half. Bradford rewarded his coach’s confidence with his best performance in the win at Dallas, tossing a 41-yard TD pass in overtime. The run game behind DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews has been solid since a poor start, but the Eagles’ playoff hopes depend on Bradford’s arm.
“I think everything in Sam’s game has gotten better,” Kelly said. “I’ve seen Sam improve on a weekly basis here.”
ROAD CHUMPS: If the Redskins could find a way to win away from home, they’d be right in the mix. But they’re 1-10 on the road under coach Jay Gruden, including 0-4 this season. They still have to go to Carolina, Chicago, Philadelphia and Dallas so 0-8 is realistic. The Redskins are better than many expected, however. Kirk Cousins led them to a pair of impressive comeback wins and they nearly handed Atlanta its first loss in Week 5. When the run game with Alfred Morris and rookie Matt Jones is working, the Redskins are tough to beat. The problem is they haven’t had it going too often.
“When we’re good, our run game is good, but it also opens up our play-action passing game,” coach Jay Gruden said.
ROMO TO THE RESCUE: The Cowboys need to win just one game without Romo and they could be back in the middle of the race in a couple weeks. The team’s collapse isn’t all the fault of the backup quarterbacks, though. Weeden and Cassel played well enough to win two or three games, but were let down by the defense in a loss to Atlanta (39-28) and overtime losses to New Orleans (26-20) and Philadelphia (33-27).
“At the critical moments of the ballgames, we have to find ways to make stops, make plays on offense and do the things that teams that win the ballgames do,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We’ve done that in the past; we’re confident we can do that again.”
MARK THE CALENDAR: Before the Eagles-Giants showdown in New York in Week 17, there are other important games in the NFC East. The Giants have a tough game at Washington on Nov. 29, but they’ll be coming off a bye. The Cowboys could be trying to even their record when they visit the Redskins on Dec. 7. The Eagles were eliminated from playoff contention with a loss to Washington in Week 16 last year and they’ll play them again in the next-to-last game this season.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: Eagles, Giants, Cowboys, Redskins.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
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