Sizing Up the NFC East

The Eagles may not be a dream team, but the competition is worse

We’re a full week into the NFL season, and I don’t think I’ve been this confident about an Eagles team winning the division—ever. The team’s performance against the Rams wasn’t exactly impervious to critique. The line was shaky (we knew they would be), the linebackers looked inexperienced (they are), and Michael Vick wasn’t very efficient throwing the ball (he never is). But, as a whole, the team looked solid and, even though the final score of 31-13 doesn’t indicate a complete blowout, the only Rams touchdown came on the second offensive play of the game and it never really felt as though they were within reach.

While it was good enough on Sunday, Philly’s week-one performance didn’t exactly reinforce the “Dream Team” aesthetic. Luckily for them, it really doesn’t matter whether or not the Eagles are the “Dream Team” because the 2011-12 season is going to be a nightmare for the rest of the NFC East. I don’t want to put too much stock into week-one performances—especially considering that the lockout cut the offseason short—but after the first games of NFL action, it’s hard to envision the division shaping up with someone other than the Eagles at the top. And that’s not necessarily a commentary on how incredible the Eagles will be—it’s more of a process of elimination.

The Redskins have entered the season with Rex Grossman as their starting quarterback—and nothing instills confidence in a team like having Rex Grossman behind center. They’re relying on a mediocre Tim Hightower (25 carries for 72 yards against a depleted Giants defense) at running back, have very limited talent at the wideout position and haven’t won the NFC East since Savage Garden was climbing the Billboard charts. And with Dan Snyder calling the shots in D.C., Skins fans are better off hopping a ship to a new world than waiting for that famine to end. While Washington did manage to squeak past the G-men this weekend, they won’t be able to parlay that into an elongated run of success in 2011.

As for the Giants, they have a slew of their own problems. Not only have they started off the season 0-1 with a loss in the division, but their defensive unit needs more substitutes than Philadelphia Catholic schools. Even an above average season from Eli Manning fueling a balanced offense built around a quality running back corps and phenomenal receiving from Hakeem Nicks won’t be enough to counter a defense with more missing pieces than a second-hand jigsaw puzzle. The Giants will certainly stay competitive in a number of games this year, but it looks like injuries rained on New York’s parade heavier than Tropical Storm Lee. If they dropped game one to the Skins, I don’t expect them to be able to come out and beat the Birds or the Boys.

Ah, the Cowboys. Counting on Tony Romo at gut-check time is as responsible as investing with Lenny Dykstra. Choking on Sunday night with the interception to Revis and then not being ready for the snap on the final drive serve as helpful reminders that no matter how good the Cowboys look on paper, Romo and company will find a way to drop the ball (literally).

I’m not going to suggest that the Eagles are going to go 16-0. Hell, they might not even go 11-5. But, with two games against the Giants, Redskins and Cowboys—and those three teams playing two depressing round-robins of their own—shouldn’t 9-7 do the trick? And that kind of season would, in theory, make for a terribly boring dream for this Eagles team. But, when that dream ends, they’d wake up and still be in the playoffs. If you weren’t counting sheep before the season started, get ready to pop an Ambien and throw on your footie pajamas. And don’t bother to plug in a nightlight because there won’t be any monsters under the Eagles’ bed this year.