The polling resulted in a landslide outcome, with 87% of those responding predicting that the Washington Football Team will win the NFC East division title. The national narrative has clearly changed a lot since the team hit the season’s nadir at 2-7 after nine games.
Despite the Football Team clinging to a narrow lead of just one game over the Giants and 1.5 games over the Eagles with three games left, New York received just 9% of the fan vote, while Philadelphia mustered only 4%.
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This is a bit surprising, because the Giants, having swept the 2-game series with Washington, hold the tie break advantage. If the two teams finish with identical records at the top of the division standings, then New York would be declared the champs.
Furthermore, because Philadelphia has a tie with the Bengals on its 2020 regular season record, no tie breaker is necessary. If Philly and Washington finish with the same number of wins (and more than the Giants & Cowboys) then the Eagles would take the title. Given that the two teams play one another in Week 17, this isn’t as improbable as it might otherwise seem with just three games remaining.
Injuries take a toll
The outcome of the division race, then, is by no means certain. Washington has a tough game against the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday, and the quarterback that has led the team in its resurgence over the past month or so, Alex Smith, is sidelined with a calf injury on his right (reconstructed) leg. With Kyle Allen out for the season with a serious leg injury of his own, that leaves the offense in control of the once and future starting quarterback, second-year player Dwayne Haskins, who has been highly inconsistent in his very challenging rookie and sophomore seasons in DC.
Added to that, starting running back Antonio Gibson, who was sidelined with a toe injury on his 4th snap in Week 13, is questionable and not expected to play. Additionally, two linebackers — Cole Holcomb and Kevin Pierre-Louis, are out this week. Given the relatively weak linebacker play this season, and the fact that Holcomb and KPL have been among the better performers at the position, this could prove a difficult week for the linebacking group. Finally, it was announced this week that safety Deshazor Everett tore a pectoral muscle and is gone for the balance of the season. While the team has a capable replacement in Jeremy Reaves, the positional depth is now paper-thin, having lost Landon Collins earlier in the season to a ruptured Achilles tendon.
The injury situation adds up to an underpowered squad (missing QB, RB, 2 LBs, S) playing an important game against a strong 9-4 Seahawks team that is in a dogfight with the Rams for the NFC West title, and still in contention for the #1 seed in the NFC and the first-round bye that goes with it.
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It’s an equation that adds up to at least a very challenging home game.
Most online betting portals have Washington as 6.5 point underdogs this week. Meanwhile, the Eagles and Giants are listed with similar point spreads in their Week 15 matchups, but the wildcard — especially for Philly — may come at the quarterback position, where Jalen Hurts added a spark to the offense in Week 14, when the Eagles upset the favored and NFC-leading New Orleans Saints. They could prove difficult for the Cardinals to handle in this week’s game in Arizona.
In all fairness, there seems to be a path to the division championship for any of the three contenders right now. It seems surprising that such a plurality of those surveyed picked Washington as the eventual winner.
Still, it feels good to be not only relevant, but, for the moment at least, in the lead and in complete control of our own destiny. There haven’t been many Decembers lately where Washington fans could talk about the team’s playoff chances a week before Christmas. Typically by now, the fan base is busy arguing over mock drafts for the upcoming April selection meeting. This is a lot more fun.
So it’s not surprising, I guess, that Washington fans seem to be feeling very good about things.
In this week’s survey of fan confidence, 94% of fans surveyed said that they believed the franchise is headed in the right direction, matching the results from a week earlier. Back-to-back wins over the Steelers and 49ers have largely changed perceptions of the Football Team.
In fact, the national discussion about the entire NFC East has taken an about-face over the past month. Here are the teams’ records against non-division opponents since the start of Week 11:
- Washington 3-0
- New York 2-1
- Philly 1-3
- Dallas 2-1
The division has gone a combined 8-5 against non-division opponents in the past month, notching victories against the Steelers, 49ers, Seahawks, Vikings, and Saints. In other words, this isn’t a bit of “stat padding” solely at the expense of the Jets and Bengals; there are 5 high-quality wins in those 8 non-divisional victories.
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This creates a picture that is very different from the one being painted in mid-October when the Cowboys were leading the division with a 2-3 record. Whoever emerges as the NFC East champion is likely to have earned it in the second half of the season, and will have the chance to win games in the playoffs — not something that was imagined as recently as six weeks ago.