Week 7 in the NFL is usually more known for its crisp late-October weather changes and burgeoning trade deadline implications than it is as a “must-win” week.
However, for the four teams in the NFC East, the two intra-divisional matchups happening over the next 72 hours could be the most pivotal games of the 2020 season – now and later.
The latest projections have the Philadelphia Eagles winning the NFC East at 6-9-1, which would be the worst record ever for a division winner, but they could just as easily end up behind the eight-ball come Sunday night – as we could have a virtual three-way tie for the division lead at 2-5 come the end of Sunday’s Dallas-Washington game.
So, then, why is this week a must-win for all four teams? Oh, let us count the ways!
DALLAS COWBOYS (2-4)
Ah yes, the division leaders, with their .333 winning percentage kick this off, and it’s real simple for Dallas: no Dak, yes problem. The offense under Andy Dalton in Monday’s loss to Arizona looked nothing like the offense under Dak Prescott, and the sledding ain’t getting any easier.
On a short week, where players are griping at each other and coaches, Dallas must go to Washington and face a team that already has one divisional win and was within a whisker of another on Sunday. The Not-Skins may finally be getting it together under Kyle Allen, and with Dallas’ next two pre-bye games a Sunday night showdown in Philly (with the Eagles on 10-days rest) and hosting the currently-undefeated Steelers, a loss on Sunday could knock Dallas from the division perch to the bottom of the barrel at 2-7 come their Week 10 respite. They also still have the Vikings, Bengals, and Ravens on their schedule with the other three divisional games, so it’s not hard to see six wins being their ceiling come Nov. 1.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (1-4-1)
There are many that would argue that even with all of their injuries, the Eagles might actually still be the best team in the division…even though they blew a 17-point lead to Washington and couldn’t beat the Bengals. Somehow, though, they fought hard against the Ravens and Steelers, and were the one NFC East team so far to actually beat the Niners.
Beat the Giants, and they have 10 days to prep for what’s in some form a showdown for first place against Dallas, then a bye ahead of Giants again and three tough games with the Browns, Seahawks, and Packers. Don’t beat the Giants, though? They’re 1-5-1 and 0-2 in the division with 10 days to stew, and then still have those three tough games plus four divisional tilts…oh, and the Saints and Cardinals. The Eagles are tough, but their schedule is tougher than the rest the rest of the way.
NEW YORK GIANTS (1-5)
THEY WON ONE! Cause for celebration for sure, and now, they head to Philly on their first victory high of the year. A win, and they have a ridiculous 11 days to prepare for a tough game against the Bucs while savoring their two-game streak. They also take a stranglehold on the division in a way at 2-1, at least for now.
But what happens if the Birds prey on Big Blue? They go to 1-2 in the division, have 11 days to stew before the Bucs come to town – which most will already check off an “L” for – and then get rematches with Washington and Philly ahead of their bye. Only one divisional game in the last six, and the other five are Cincy, Cleveland, Seattle, Baltimore and Arizona, so the G-Men need all the NFC East wins they can get.
WASHINGTON FOOTBALL TEAM (1-5)
Last and certainly least, the WFT, who are last via tiebreaker of not getting that late two-pointer on Sunday. Being last in the division is reason enough to need to win Sunday, so let’s just go with the negative: if they fall to 1-6 and 1-2 in the division, they’re even further behind the Giants in tiebreaker, plus well below Dallas and maybe Philly, too.
The WFT’s bye is next week, so they’ll have a week off to celebrate/fume regardless of the result, and they’re coming into the Charmin portion of their schedule; they host the Giants coming out of the bye and then play at Detroit and against Cincinnati ahead of a Thanksgiving showdown in Dallas, so they certainly have a path with a win this week to be in the black (aka 6-5) on Black Friday. Given that 6-9-1 is the predicted division championship, they would then realistically need only a win in a brutal December (at Pittsburgh, at San Fran, Seattle, Carolina) before a Week 17 showdown in Philly (y’know, the one team they beat).
Whichever team emerges from this raging trash-bin inferno the least scarred then gets to host a playoff game, and while you may laugh knowing that he standings through Week 6 have the Packers, Rams, and Cardinals as the Wild Card teams, remember this: the only two times a seven-win team won a division, they also won their Wild Card Weekend game.
But hey, one step closer to .500, right?
Follow Lou DiPietro on Twitter: @LouDiPietroWFAN