It doesn’t matter, and not because the mania over guaranteeing wins is the most overrated thing in sports. (Shouldn’t all teams expect to win?) The Cowboys and Eagles aren’t in a position to guarantee anything. They each come into a Sunday night matchup with many more questions than either expected to have after six weeks.
The NFC East always looked like a two-team race, and it looks like that’s how it will play out. Before the season, it also looked like it would be a race between two of the best teams in football. Not yet.
The Cowboys and Eagles got to this place of desperation in different ways. The Eagles started the season slow, at 1-2. A huge win at the Green Bay Packers got them back on track. But after a walkthrough win over the hapless New York Jets, the Eagles looked terrible against the Minnesota Vikings. They fell behind early and were never in the game. The defense was torched by Kirk Cousins. It was rough.
The Cowboys got off to a good start this season, at least. They beat three bad opponents, but despite the soft schedule Dallas got early season buzz as perhaps the best team in the NFC. A loss at the Saints wasn’t bad. Even a loss at home to the Green Bay Packers wasn’t awful, even though the 31-3 deficit was troubling. A loss to the previously winless Jets? Yeah, that’s bad.
In a game that might draw the highest television ratings of the first half of this season, the loser is going to be in a bad spot at 3-4. There are many good teams in the NFC and the competition will be fierce for the two wild-card spots, so winning the NFC East becomes enormous for these two teams. It feels like the first of two NFC East championship games.
Philadelphia has been up and down all season, though it’s hard to pinpoint a great reason why. Drops plagued them in a surprising loss to the Lions. The secondary, which is dealing with multiple cornerback injuries, didn’t cover anyone against the Vikings, but the defense hasn’t been terrible throughout the season. The Eagles have just had letdowns in inopportune spots. Winning at Green Bay showed the Eagles have the ability to beat a quality team and do it on the road. They also got blasted by Minnesota, which isn’t a great sign.
Do we know the Cowboys can beat a quality team? They beat the Giants with Eli Manning, the Redskins and the Dolphins. They had two very close losses to the Saints and Jets, but didn’t look good in either game. They deserved to lose both. Dallas isn’t getting a lot of production from its best defensive players. The play-calling of new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was praised early, and hasn’t been as good the past few weeks. An injury to left tackle Tyron Smith hasn’t helped. It’s a mess. Coach Jason Garrett is getting heat, and rightfully so. The Cowboys aren’t getting the most out of their best players, and that’s a problem.
The Eagles look like the better bet to turn things around. They’ve shown signs of being a good team. The Cowboys look overrated due to their 3-0 start and their typical place in the spotlight. However, their top-end talent is undeniable. Dallas has the blue-chip players to get on a run, like it did last season.
Sunday night is a fascinating matchup, but not in the way we figured. This isn’t a showdown of two of the NFC’s best teams. It’s a game between two teams trying to figure out who they are and how to consistently reach their top gear. We’ve seen the best from both teams only in spurts this season.
“I know the sky’s falling outside; it’s falling, and I get that. And the fans are reeling just a little bit,” Pederson said Monday on WIP. “But we’re going down to Dallas and our guys are going to be ready to play and we’re going to win that football game, and when we do we’re in first place in the NFC East, we control our own destiny, we’re right where we need to be.
“Has it been perfect or beautiful or all that? No. But all we’ve gotta do is try to be 1-0 this week, beat the Dallas Cowboys and we’re in first place. And listen: They’re reeling too, they’re struggling too, they’ve dropped their last three games. So this will be an exciting football game.”
One of these two teams will exit Sunday night’s game with a 3-4 record and a little bit of panic. The winner might not have everything figured out, but it will feel a lot better than being under .500 nearing the middle of the season.
Here are the Power Rankings after Week 6 of the NFL season:
32. Miami Dolphins (0-5, Last week: 32)
I know, losing to Washington ultimately helps the goal of getting the first pick. This Dolphins season would be even more useless if they screwed up getting the top pick. It’s not too early to wonder if that was their best chance at avoiding 0-16.
31. Cincinnati Bengals (0-6, LW: 29)
I thought the most fluky result of Week 1 (we see one every season that makes no sense by midseason) would be the Titans blowing out the Browns. With the Browns being bad, the weirdest Week 1 result might be the Bengals outplaying and almost winning at Seattle. How did that happen?
30. Washington Redskins (1-5, LW: 31)
They needed a stop on a two-point conversion, in which the Dolphins called a bad play, to avoid losing to perhaps the worst NFL team in the Super Bowl era. Not going to get too excited about that win.
29. Atlanta Falcons (1-5, LW: 27)
Vic Beasley was an All-Pro in 2016. He had 15.5 sacks. Since then, he has 11.5 in 36 games. The Falcons’ terrible defense desperately needs a playmaker, but Beasley has just 1.5 sacks this season. That 2016 season is the outlier in his career.
We’re redoing the 2018 draft. Baker Mayfield or Sam Darnold?
27. Arizona Cardinals (2-3-1, LW: 28)
Cornerback Patrick Peterson returns and the Cardinals need him. Their defense has been awful, but at least the Falcons’ defense was worse on Sunday.
26. Tennessee Titans (2-4, LW: 23)
Ryan Tannehill probably gives the Titans the better chance to compete now. But Marcus Mariota is still the best hope the team has to be a long-term answer at quarterback. Once the Titans make the move and name Tannehill their starter, that’s basically it for Mariota in Tennessee. This is not a one-week decision; it changes the way the franchise looks at the future. That’s why the Titans have to be right before they make that move.
25. Cleveland Browns (2-4, LW: 22)
I’m kind of baffled by Baker Mayfield. Robert Griffin III had a similar drop from Year 1 to Year 2, but he also had injuries. I don’t know of another player who’s fallen this far after a very good rookie season, unless it was health related. There are reasons for Mayfield’s struggles but make no mistake: He is a bad quarterback right now.
24. New York Giants (2-4, LW: 24)
If you watched last Thursday night, you know the Giants were a lot closer to New England than the final score indicated. Given their injuries on offense, it was impressive. In the second half of the season, when they get healthy and Daniel Jones gets more experience, this might be a team nobody wants to play.
23. Jacksonville Jaguars (2-4, LW: 21)
The Jalen Ramsey situation is not going away. The team owner said Ramsey would play this week. Ramsey was reportedly going to “listen to his body.” On Sunday, he was inactive. It’s natural to wonder if he’d be playing if it weren’t for that trade demand. The trade deadline is Oct. 29.
22. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4, LW: 20)
At least Jameis Winston didn’t keep us waiting long. Winston’s first play, a terrible interception at maybe about 9:40 a.m. ET on Sunday, let us know that we were getting a Bad Jameis game. And it was really bad.
21. Los Angeles Chargers (2-4, LW: 19)
Here’s the most disappointing team in the NFL. The Chargers faced undrafted Steelers rookie quarterback Devlin Hodges, who threw 92 of his 132 passing yards to running backs. The Steelers were entirely one-dimensional, which was predictable. And the Chargers got destroyed. I mostly liked Anthony Lynn through two seasons. But I hated the Chargers’ game plan in the playoffs against New England last season. And, even when considering some rough injuries, they are an absolute embarrassment this season.
20. Pittsburgh Steelers (2-4, LW: 26)
It’s amazing that the Steelers’ receivers and tight ends had 40 receiving yards combined and they still won comfortably. Some of that is the utter debacle that is the Chargers, but hey, whatever works. Devlin Hodges did fine in his first start, but presumably Mason Rudolph will reclaim his job after the bye if he’s cleared.
19. Denver Broncos (2-4, LW: 25)
This is life in the NFL, where luck plays a bigger part of the season than we like to admit: If the Bears and Jaguars hadn’t been the recipient of terrible roughing-the-passer penalties, or they miss last-second field goals, the Broncos are 4-2 and tied for first place in the AFC West heading into a home game against a slumping Chiefs team. A bounce here or a call there can completely change the perception we have of a team. It’s a tough, competitive league.
18. Detroit Lions (2-2-1, LW: 18)
The Lions had their chances, of course, and no one call is going to determine a football game. But yeah, they should be salty about the officiating on Monday night. That was really bad.
17. Dallas Cowboys (3-3, LW: 11)
The Cowboys were down 21-6 at the half. Ezekiel Elliott still had 28 carries despite the deficit and a 3.8-yard average on those carries. Had Dallas opened up the offense a bit earlier, could they have avoided a third straight loss?
16. Oakland Raiders (3-2, LW: 15)
The Raiders catch a decent scheduling break this week. They’re coming off a bye, and taking on a Packers team that played on Monday night. That’s a lot of extra time. The Raiders, who will spend almost two months between games in Oakland, aren’t going to complain.
15. Indianapolis Colts (3-2, LW: 14)
Eagles at Cowboys is probably the marquee game of Week 7. Not far behind is Texans at Colts. Like the NFC East matchup, the AFC South looks more and more like a two-team race, and Sunday’s game will go a long way in determining who wins it.
14. Baltimore Ravens (4-2, LW: 17)
Lamar Jackson ran for 152 yards and it didn’t even seem like that big of a deal. It’s the third-most in a game by a quarterback in NFL history, according to Pro Football Reference, going back to 1950. Michael Vick has the top two spots on that list. Jackson is different than every other quarterback in the league right now, and he’s a joy to watch.
13. Philadelphia Eagles (3-3, LW: 8)
Cutting linebacker Zach Brown, the day after he played 81.7 percent of the team’s defensive snaps, was surprising. It doesn’t seem like he was the problem. Maybe the Eagles felt they needed to send a message.
12. Los Angeles Rams (3-3, LW: 7)
Yahoo Sports’ Jeff Eisenberg summed up Sunday’s game from the Los Angeles Coliseum very well: Jared Goff is a problem, but that starts with a struggling offensive line. Pro Football Focus has Goff with 99 passing attempts under pressure this season. No other quarterback has more than 86. If the Rams can’t protect Goff — who is clearly good at best but definitely not great, despite his contract — then this won’t get any better.
11. Chicago Bears (3-2, LW: 10)
The Bears have only two games left against teams who are currently under .500. They face the Chargers and Giants, who are both 2-4 and not totally incapable. If the Bears make it back to the playoffs, it’ll be impressive.
10. Carolina Panthers (4-2, LW: 13)
The Buccaneers sold out to stop Christian McCaffrey and held him to 31 rushing yards on 22 attempts. McCaffrey still had an impact with two touchdowns, the Panthers still won, but expect future opponents to have a similar approach when it comes to defending the Panthers’ offense.
9. Kansas City Chiefs (4-2, LW: 3)
The NFL isn’t a running league anymore. However, if you are absolutely incapable of stopping the run, you will struggle. Seeing Marlon Mack pound out yards in Week 5 wasn’t so bad. But Carlos Hyde? This is a problem in Kansas City.
8. Houston Texans (4-2, LW: 16)
What if you said before the season that DeAndre Hopkins would look average, at least by his standards (40 catches, 402 yards, two touchdowns), but they’d still be 4-2 with a win at Kansas City? You’d think that if Hopkins can get going, Houston might get on a huge roll.
7. Minnesota Vikings (4-2, LW: 12)
OK, that was a quality win. Kirk Cousins played well. They have opened up the offense, which needed to happen after that miserable loss to the Bears. It’ll be a week-to-week thing if they can sustain that and if Cousins can continue to play well against good opponents, but Sunday was a good sign.
6. Buffalo Bills (4-1, LW: 9)
The Bills still have two games against the Dolphins and a home game vs. the Redskins. Assuming Buffalo goes 3-0 against those two awful teams, that’s seven wins. They should make the playoffs with 10 victories. They’d have to go just 3-5 in their other eight remaining games to get there. Maybe even 2-6 will do it.
5. Seattle Seahawks (5-1, LW: 6)
I have no problem with Russell Wilson as MVP after six weeks, though I think Christian McCaffrey and Deshaun Watson also have great cases. Drew Brees is probably going to retire as a top-five all-time quarterback but without one MVP award; let’s make sure Wilson doesn’t have the same thing happen before he goes to the Hall of Fame.
4. Green Bay Packers (5-1, LW: 5)
Yes, the Packers got bailed out by the officials. But also give credit to them, for pulling that off with no-names left at receiver for the second half.
3. New Orleans Saints (5-1, LW: 2)
This might be Sean Payton’s finest season. The Saints have reinvented themselves without Drew Brees and have gone 4-0 without him. And that means Brees is coming back to a very well-rounded team.
2. San Francisco 49ers (5-0, LW: 4)
No offense to the Saints but it’s time to put the 49ers at No. 2 after those past two performances. Any doubts should be gone now. And I think they can get even better if they can get the passing game going. This is a really good team.
1. New England Patriots (6-0, LW: 1)
The Patriots didn’t play particularly well against the Giants, everyone on Twitter wanted to retire Tom Brady after every incompletion, and New England still beat the Giants by 21 points. With the Chiefs losing two straight home games, the Patriots look like they could have the No. 1 seed wrapped up in early December.
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