Here’s the need-to-know news around the NFC East this week
Amari Cooper, Savior of America’s Team?
Well, apparently Jerry Jones did. (We’re all equally surprised.)
That’s a pretty good metaphor for how the NFC East has played out in 2018.
While Cooper’s profile has risen suddenly (and maybe to the point of inflation), there is no doubting the impact he has made on the Dallas Cowboys.
Before Amari? 3-4. With him? 5-1.
The NFC Offensive Player of the Week has 40 receptions for 642 yards and six touchdowns in those six games. But more importantly, he has elevated the entire offense by becoming a deep threat in the passing game and opening opportunities for others.
Dak Prescott has produced a passer rating above 99.0 in five of those games and a rating of 104.9 or better the past three. And Ezekiel Elliott has rushed for at least 113 yards in four of his past five games. Not many expected this in October when the Cowboys traded a 2019 first-round pick for Cooper.
And now they possess a stranglehold on the NFC East: a two-game lead with three weeks remaining.
The question becomes: How far can they go? In all likelihood, they will host a rising Seattle Seahawks (8-5) at AT&T Stadium on wild card weekend. Can the Cowboys’ fourth-ranked defense (313.4) stop Russell Wilson? Can Cooper, Elliott and Prescott produce enough points to win in January?
Meanwhile, somehow the Philadelphia Eagles (6-7) are still alive in the NFC wild card chase despite the loss to Dallas last weekend. The Vikings’ loss to Seattle on Monday night kept them only a half-game ahead at 6-6-1 while they transition on offense following the firing of coordinator John DeFilippo. But facing the Rams (11-2) possibly without Wentz is not a recipe for success for Philadelphia (more on that below).
The Washington Redskins (6-7) are also technically still alive. But … well, don’t make us say it.
And the Giants (5-8) are still mathematically alive! Eli is back! Saquon Barkley is the favorite for Offensive Rookie of the Year. Hey, why not?
Here are some of the other big stories around the NFC East this week:
Prescott may not be Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers or Patrick Mahomes. But he does come up big in big moments, writes Blogging the Boys’ Cole Patterson. For instance, Prescott completed 17-of-20 passes Sunday for 234 yards and three touchdowns against the Eagles in the game’s final 17:00. Cole will tell you more.
And on defense, get to know dominant rookie LB Leighton Vander Esch a little better — and in his own words. He chronicled the team’s mindset following the gut-wrenching loss to Washington, when the season seemed to be slipping away, and why Dallas is where he always wanted to be.
This could be the week LB Sean Lee returns. He has not played since Nov. 5. But keep an eye on Elliott, who suffered a stinger Sunday.
As if the Eagles don’t have enough problems, then came Wednesday.
NFL Network reported that Wentz might not play this week and could be shut down the final three weeks due to back soreness and tightness. Brandon Lee Gowton went in depth, explaining how the young quarterback hasn’t been the same player this season, and maybe these struggles can be attributed to his back — which might stem from his ACL tear a year ago. That would mean the return of Foles, the Super Bowl LII MVP.
Almost a year ago to the day, Philadelphia was a rising power when it entered the L.A. Coliseum on Dec. 10, 2017 and left with an eye-opening 43-35 victory — their 11th in 13 games — over the Rams, but also lost Wentz to that torn ACL.
The Eagles enter their rematch a double-digit underdog. The Rams have plenty of incentive beyond just avenging the loss, after the Bears forced four Jared Goff interceptions, held the Rams to only six points and limited Todd Gurley to just 28 rushing yards.
Matt Harkenreader, for one, doesn’t have faith in the Eagles’ playoff hopes, no matter what the numbers say. As Matt put it, “With the season effectively over, and the Rams being a team that is good at football, I will keep this short.” But it’s still worth the read, brief or not.
And don’t expect the return of DeFilippo to save the day, at least not “at this time,” Doug Pederson said.
And oh yeah … even more bad news. As expected, RB Corey Clement and DE Josh Sweat were placed on injured reserve after getting hurt in the loss to Dallas, Bleeding Green Nation’s Brandon Lee Gowton says. They signed RB Boston Scott and DE Daeshon Hall to help replace them.
With the moves, the Eagles have 14 players on injured reserve.
What is there left to say?
The bottom has fallen out. Josh Johnson is their starting quarterback.
And worse, this is how it ends?
Captain Mason Foster called out both Redskins fans and teammates in an Instagram direct message that was made public, Hogs Haven’s Scott Jennings tells us.
”[Blank] this team and this fan base,” Foster wrote. He added that he won’t be a scapegoat “to make fans feel better about all these big money ppl who ain’t playin or getting dogged out.”
Meanwhile, LB Zach Brown told reporters he sees the “writing on the wall” for him in Washington after being benched.
Despite being just a half-game out of the second wild card spot, Mark Tyler takes a look at the off-season and what Redskins might become cap casualties.
With Alex Smith’s future in doubt, could Washington be considering a rebuild? If so, the cut candidates could include CB Josh Norman (an potential $8.5 million in savings), TE Vernon Davis ($5 million) and RB Chris Thompson ($3 million).
In other forward-looking news, it’s never too early for a mock draft! ESPN guru Todd McShay’s early prediction has Washington seeking help on the offensive line, selecting Oklahoma T Cody Ford.