Embarrassing NFC East race still favors Eagles

As the losses pile up on the Philadelphia Eagles, coach Doug Pederson is feeling the heat and getting most of the blame. Critics are taking shots at quarterback Carson Wentz too.

In the NFL, it’s not uncommon for the coach and quarterback to hear their jobs are in jeopardy when a team spirals toward rock bottom. In this case, however, Philadelphia is in first place. With a 3-5-1 record, the Eagles sit atop the NFC East, which appears destined to become the worst division race in league history.

“The winner of the division could have six wins, which is really embarrassing,” DraftKings sportsbook director John Avello said. “I’m not sure any of the teams can get to seven wins. Funny, isn’t it?”

This is “The Bad and the Ugly,” because there’s nothing good about it.

Four teams in NFL history have reached the playoffs with losing records, and it has happened only twice in the last 35 years. Carolina (7-8-1) won the NFC South in 2014, and Seattle (7-9) won the NFC West in 2010. A team almost certainly will be added to that list in 2020, but will it be the Eagles, Giants, Cowboys or Washington getting a home playoff game?

“You have to favor the Eagles,” said Vinny Magliulo, VSiN oddsmaker and Gaughan Gaming sportsbook director. “A two-game lead in the loss column through 10 weeks is big. The Eagles are still in the driver’s seat.”

The NFC East race is a four-car crash, and it’s comical to watch. DraftKings lists the Eagles as odds-on favorites (-159) to win the division, followed by the Giants (3-1), Cowboys (7-1) and Washington (8-1).

The Giants improved to 3-7 and closed the gap by beating the Eagles 27-17 on Sunday to split the season series. In the end, the difference could be Philadelphia’s 23-23 tie with Cincinnati in Week 3.

“That tie is going to come into play,” Magliulo said. “I would make the Eagles -190 or -200, and I would give more of a price on the Giants.”

Realistic or not, a path to the playoffs exists for the Giants, who next play Nov. 29 at Cincinnati. Beating the Bengals is essentially a must. The Giants’ next four games — at Seattle, home versus the Cardinals, home versus the Browns, at Baltimore — are against teams with winning records before a Week 17 finale versus the Cowboys. A 4-2 stretch run and 7-9 record could be good enough to come out on top of the trash heap.

“Daniel Jones is typically a turnover machine, but the last two weeks he didn’t turn the ball over,” Magliulo said.

Is it realistic for the Giants’ quarterback to string together several strong games without committing crushing turnovers? Jones has six career wins and 16 losses as a starter, with a 4-0 record against Washington.

NFC East teams are a combined 2-18-1 in non-division games this season. The most impressive accomplishment is owned by the Eagles, who were 8-point underdogs in a 25-20 win at San Francisco in Week 4.

“The Eagles are the best of the four bad teams, even if they don’t eventually start playing like people keep thinking they will,” said Scott Kellen, a professional handicapper and VSiN analyst. “They are probably good enough to go 6-9-1 and have one more win than the Giants or Cowboys. In a season of mostly losses, a tie at home with the Bengals might be what wins the Eagles the NFC East.”

Still, here’s a sobering fact facing Philadelphia: The Eagles, who are 3½-point underdogs at Cleveland this week, will not be favorites in a game again until after Christmas. After playing the Browns, Seahawks, Packers, Saints and Cardinals, the Eagles go to Dallas in Week 16 and finish the regular season by hosting Washington.

“To say the Eagles will win six games right now is a pick-’em,” Avello said.

Wentz is a hot topic, because he’s obviously talented but also has regressed. He has completed a career-low 58% of his passes with 12 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He also has taken a league-high 35 sacks. Injuries on the offensive line and with the wide receivers are part of the problem. In 2017, his second season as a starter, Wentz went 11-2 before going down to a knee injury in December. He had 33 touchdown passes and was playing at an MVP level. He also had Frank Reich as his offensive coordinator, but Reich left for the Colts’ coaching job after the Super Bowl win. Reich is sharper than Pederson, and if the Eagles decide to part ways with Wentz down the road, don’t be surprised if he relocates to Indianapolis.

“The Eagles were just pathetic Sunday,” Avello said. “I don’t think Wentz has ever learned how to win big games. I’m not sold on him. It’s his fifth year and he’s still struggling out there.”

The Cowboys, the preseason NFC East favorites, are 2-7 with their two wins by a total of four points. Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury against the Giants in Week 5, and veteran quarterback Andy Dalton is returning this week for Dallas, which is 1-8 against the spread.

Alex Smith’s comeback from a gruesome leg injury is a miracle, so don’t count him out. Washington, 2-7 with each of its last three losses by three points or fewer, is a 1½-point home favorite over the Bengals this week.

On the oddsmakers’ scorecard, the Giants are the division’s lone overachievers with a 7-3 ATS mark. Spread wins are great for gamblers, but they don’t get a team to the playoffs.

“All four teams have some sort of a chance,” Avello said. “The Cowboys are not out of it yet. The Washington team is not playing bad but just has not learned how to win. I would think one team goes on some sort of a run.”

I would bet on that team being the Eagles, who can get healthy down the stretch, and I’m not giving up on Wentz. Last year Wentz led the Eagles to a four-game winning streak in December as they overtook Dallas to win the division at 9-7 — a lofty record by current NFC East standards.

 

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