Former NFL Head Coach Herm Edwards delivered a quote on October 30th, 2002 that will apply to the game of football forever.
"You PLAY to WIN the GAME!"
NFL seasons can yield many different personal achievements: Pro Bowl and All-Pro Selections, leading the league in yards or touchdowns, even the league's MVP award all are accolades that only one person can receive.
Wins are the statistic that TEAMS value most. Wins are what it's all about. Like Coach Edwards said, wins are why you play the game.
The NFC East is arguably the most difficult division in the National Football League, and it is certainly the most historic. The division owns the most Super Bowl titles of all eight divisions with 12 and it has had some of the most iconic games throughout history between its rivals.
Like a great cupcake and brownie, we're going to combine these two ideas today. Who wins the most in the toughest division in football? That's what matters, right? You can lay claim to your team's player leading in this or that category, but the team with the most wins is the one that plays in January. Which NFC East team is, simply put, the best at winning football games?
This isn't Mrs. Blackwell's history class so I'm not going to go back to the beginning of time here. To establish a sense of fairness I chose a year where the majority of these four teams' current nucleus was already or about to be in place... 2011.
- Jason Garrett began his tenure as the Dallas Cowboys Head Coach.
- The New York Giants won their second Super Bowl under Tom Coughlin.
- The Philadelphia Eagles were two years away from the Chip Kelly era.
- The Washington Redskins were a year away from the Robert Griffin III era.
I'm sure that all of you are going to totally agree with everything I say so there's no use in putting it off! Let's get started.
|Year||Overall Record||Division Record|
You'd think that in a world with seven Fast and the Furious movies that those would be the worst thing that we could ever lay eyes on, right? Enter... the Washington Redskins.
Trying to win football games as the Washington Redskins is like trying to grill hamburgers with spaghetti noodles. Their record isn't exactly the worst one in the NFL in that span, but it's not too far away from it.
The only year on here that the Redskins were even watchable was obviously 2012. RGIII was a rookie and for once in Washington, the sky was not falling. They put together 10 wins, including 7 in a row to end the season.
What happened? Well the Robert Griffin III experiment did. The front office got rid of Mike Shanahan after 2013's unimpressive 3-13 campaign. Jay Gruden was able to come in and summon enough talent to lead them to an improved 4-12 last season.
There's a lot of pressure on this team, and this quarterback, to not be completely terrible in 2015. They significantly trail their NFC East rivals since 2011 in overall wins, division wins, and in playoff wins... the Redskins have 0 in that stretch.
New York Giants
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*Playoff team, ^Super Bowl Champions
The New York Football Giants, baby. They are the only NFC East team to bring home a Lombardi Trophy in this stretch, earning their World Championship in the 2011 season.
The 2011 Giants immortalized themselves as the NFL's best, and there's no one that can take away from that. Since then? ...pretty mortal.
Coach Tom Coughlin has two rings to his name so he's not necessarily the person to doubt within the NFC East, but the Giants have dwindled since their Super Bowl run in 2011. In terms of overall and division wins since 2011, the New York Giants are 3rd within the NFC East; however, they easily have the most playoff wins with 4 total and 1 big one in Indianapolis.
The Giants have one of the NFL's most exciting players in Odell Beckham Jr., but how did his big-play making ability translate in the win column last year? In his 12 games the Giants were 4-8.
"BUT WHEN ODELL TAKES OVER THE GAME IS WHEN THE GIANTS WIN!"
Are you sure? Beckham topped 100 yards 7 times in 2014... only 3 of those games were victories. In fact his top two yardage performances were losses, one of which was against the division rival Eagles! Wins are what count, remember?
The Super Bowl victory in 2011 is impressive, that's obvious; However, since then the New York Giants haven't done much in the NFC East. With Victor Cruz coming back from injury this year they may have a shot, but if the Giants are relying solely on Odell Beckham Jr., it might not work out.
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One year ago the talk was all about how the Dallas Cowboys and their three straight 8-8 seasons were the epitome of mediocrity. Can somebody, anybody, please tell me what 32-32 spells out? I was the Spelling Bee champion in fourth grade so I think I can handle this: M-e-d-i-o-c-r-i-t-y.
Seriously though the Eagles have hardly been mediocre over the last four years. They are coming off of back-to-back 10 win seasons, the first two in the Chip Kelly era, and look to be a contender in 2015.
You know, however it plays out, the Chip Kelly experiment in Philadelphia is going to make for a fascinating sports documentary someday. Philly has the second most wins in the NFC East since 2011 and is tied for the most division wins, the stronger half of their tenure being under his watch.
The other side of that coin is that even as I type this I worry that somehow, someway, Chip Kelly is going to find a way to trade me away... and I'm not even on his team! He personifies mad scientist more than anyone else in recent history and is all-in with his current squad.
Breaking the rules a bit here, Chip Kelly is 20-12 overall and 8-4 against the division. The Eagles have, like the Redskins, 0 playoff victories in the overall time since 2011...despite an appearance in 2013.
The 32 overall and 14 division wins are impressive. The Eagles have managed to be a contender in the division for the last four years, but with so much turnover on their roster can they improve on that to become the best team in the division?
|Year||Overall Record||Division Record|
Overall wins since 2011... 1st in the division. Division wins since 2011... tied for 1st in the division. You PLAY to WIN the GAME.
The Dallas Cowboys Run The NFC East.
You're smart, I know that. I'm not fooling you with some fancy card trick or rabbit out of my hat. The most wins in the NFC East over the course of this analysis belong to America's Team... who are coincidentally the reigning NFC East Champions.
The Cowboys have built a team that can challenge for a Super Bowl title all while still remaining in contention for the NFC East crown year after year. That is incredible.
In 2011, 2012, and 2013 all 16 games of the Dallas Cowboys' regular season mattered. That can not be said for any other team in the NFC East in any season. Each other team had a drop off season, or multiple seasons, where their fans did their Christmas shopping knowing full-well that the playoffs were mathematically impossible. Not the Cowboys.
Since the dawn of the Jason Garrett era the Dallas Cowboys have bested their division brethren. It should be noted here that the Super Bowl victory that the Giants had in 2011 is the ultimate trump card, but even then what the Cowboys have accomplished is untouched by the others.
Beyond the overall and division records the Cowboys, not factoring in the 2011 Giants run, have the lone playoff victory. The Giants haven't been to the playoffs since 2011, the Redskins lost to the Seahawks in 2012, and the Eagles lost to the Saints in 2013... while the Cowboys bested the Lions in last year's wildcard round.
The best regular season of all four teams, across all four seasons, also belongs to the Dallas Cowboys. Their 12-4 performance in 2014 is two games better than the next best, 10-6, that the Redskins had in 2012 and the Eagles did in 2013 and 2014. Not to mention that the 2014 Cowboys are tied for the best single season division record with the 2011 Eagles and 2012 Redskins at 5-1.
A lot has been said in terms of whether the Cowboys can repeat on their 2014 success. What you should take away from this is that in 2014 the Cowboys repeated on their 2011, 2012, and 2013 success. They have for four straight years continued on the path that they have methodically built.
The 2015 Dallas Cowboys season is 38 days away. Look forward to then as the Cowboys will pick up where they've left off for the last four years and continue to run the NFC East.
If You Could Only Pay One: Ezekiel Elliott Vs. Byron Jones
But last week a couple of Twitter polls got me very interested in this topic, and I wanted to expand on my thoughts.
It all started when longtime Cowboys reporter Mike Fisher wrote that as the Cowboys look to sign their own free agents, Byron Jones will likely be the one who gets squeezed out. So while Elliott, Dak Prescott, DeMarcus Lawrence, Amari Cooper, and Jaylon Smith remain with the team, Jones will likely be off to find a new home.
if you can only pay one it should be
I put up this poll, pitting Jones against Elliott, and Jones came out as the winner. My colleague John Williams put out the same poll, but with Elliott running away for the victory.
Inspired by my teammate @KevinBrady88, if you can only pay one, which would it be?
His had many more votes, which likely makes his poll a bit more representative of the fan base's feelings (which reminds me, follow me on Twitter @KevinBrady88.) Plus, I have been carrying the Byron Jones flag for quite some time, so it's possible my followers are biased towards Jones.
Either way, let's examine the situation here.
On one hand is Ezekiel Elliott. The former fourth overall selection in 2016, Elliott has led the league in rushing two of his first three seasons in the NFL. While this is true, his ability (and usage) as a receiver deserves to be questioned, and his lack of touchdown production in comparison to some other elite-level backs is concerning as well.
Yes, this is not totally his fault, as Scott Linehan and an overall lack of offensive weapons outside of Elliott have handcuffed him a bit. But if we are going to place the blame for his faults onto others, then we should at least attribute some of his excellent raw rushing totals simply to opportunities.
Elliott carried the ball 304 times in 15 games, averaging 20.3 rush attempts per game. The next closet player in terms of total carries? Saquon Barkley, who carried it 261 times in 16 games, averaging 16.3 rushes per game. That's a massive gap.
No individual running back is taking the wear and tear that Elliott is on a per game basis. And while it helps make his raw rushing totals look outstanding, it is also likely hurting his shelf life as an elite runner in the NFL.
The main argument I received supporting paying Elliott over Byron Jones was that while cornerback is more important than running back in a vacuum, Elliott is such a special player that his importance is greater than that of a normal running back.
Maybe. But let's talk about how special Byron Jones is and can be.
Jones' spider chart puts him in elite company, with the likes of Jalen Ramsey, Antonio Cromartie, and Terence Newman. Except, Jones was even more athletic that each of these Pro Bowl caliber cornerbacks.
Cornerbacks with the athletic profile that Byron Jones has rarely ever miss, and most of the time they reach an All Pro level. This is exactly what Jones did in 2018, getting named second team All Pro and to his first Pro Bowl in the same season. Both these honors also came during his first season as a full-time cornerback. Imagine what his ceiling can look like as he continues to work with Kris Richard and get more comfortable in his permanent home.
There's no doubt that Jones struggled a bit more in December last year than he did in September, but he was playing at a pace few players ever have played at or kept up over a long period of time. Even accounting for these "struggles," Jones was graded as the sixth best cornerback in all of football by Pro Football Focus. Elliott, on the other hand, had his overall value questioned by PFF.
Of course PFF is not the be-all-end-all here, but it's certainly a piece of the argument. Both Elliott and Jones will command top money at their position whenever it is their turn to get signed. The Cowboys have struggled for years to find themselves a number one cornerback. Despite paying Brandon Carr big money and trading up for Morris Claiborne, it simply hasn't worked. Really since Newman began aging, they haven't gotten that guy.
On the other hand, Dallas produced two 1,000 yard rushers back-to-back seasons before Elliott even became a Cowboy. Running back is a more replaceable position at the top than cornerback is, and if Dallas believes that Jones should be considered "at the top" of his position group, than the choice between the two becomes clear.
I will say, however, that there is a human element to this as well. Elliott is a clear leader on this team, and if the Cowboys strong-armed him out of town, it could have serious implications across the roster. Jason Garett loves Zeke, Jerry Jones loves Zeke, and quarterback Dak Prescott loves Zeke.
Zeke is going to get paid by the Cowboys, I have no doubts or issues with that, but if all these guys getting paid squeezes an All Pro corner out of town, that could bite this franchise in the butt down the line.
Jason Garrett Has Hard Road Ahead in Contract Year
It seems like every year we talk about how hot is Jason Garrett's seat. This year though, it will be one of the biggest storylines surrounding the Dallas Cowboys. Garrett will enter the 2019 season without an extension. However you feel about the Cowboys head coach, being in a contract year automatically means dealing with low job security.
What is clear though is that Garrett's contract year might be a difficult one.
First of all, the Dallas Cowboys haven't managed to get their superstar 26-year old pass rusher signed to a long term deal. DeMarcus Lawrence has made it clear that he will not play under the tag and until a contract is signed, he'll even postpone his pending shoulder surgery.
Cowboys Nation is hoping to see D-Law get his long term deal before it's too late, and as we know, the Cowboys want to sign him. Who wouldn't? But there's a reason it hasn't happened yet and if this drags out, it won't be good for the team. Jason Garrett can't be happy about not having his best defensive player ready to work.
Rather than an unfortunate situation, this feels more like a bold approach by Garrett. After firing Scott Linehan, the Cowboys promoted Kellen Moore to offensive coordinator. Moore's potential has since been praised by players and coaches around the country and I'm actually excited about what he can bring to the table. But he's still a rookie OC. Young coaches like Sean McVay have taken the league by storm but it still feels like a bold move by Garrett to put Moore in this position. This was undoubtedly a Jason Garrett move and it only makes sense for the Cowboys to let him put together his own staff before the season.
Under the "Cowboys are one player away" narrative, many believed a big free agency signing was bound to happen in Dallas. Specifically, the discussion revolved around one of the newest members of the Baltimore Ravens, Safety Earl Thomas. So far, though, it's been same old, same old for the Cowboys during the start of free agency. Top free agents are off the shelves and Dallas has been pretty quiet so far.
Also worth noting is that the Cowboys will not have a first round pick during the 2019 NFL Draft. Now granted, that first round pick they don't have was worth it thanks to Amari Cooper's arrival but it's still a difficult situation for a football team that has many needs, including one at wide receiver after letting Cole Beasley leave for the Buffalo Bills.
A potential holdout by DeMarcus Lawrence, a rookie offensive coordinator, no splash in free agency and no first round pick... Jason Garrett's approach to his contract year certainly seems like a risky one. Not to mention this is only what we're talking about now. What if Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott or Cooper decide to holdout (even if it's just for a while and eventually come back)? Hopefully this isn't the case, but with the way things go in the NFL today it wouldn't be a surprise.
The Dallas Cowboys will play in an NFC East that might sound like an easy division but surprises happen every single year. If Jason Garrett manages to lead his team to a successful season under such circumstances, he should earn the respect of many fans that want him out of the picture. The question will of course be: "How much does he needs to accomplish to keep his job?" Will making it to the playoffs be enough? Or will he need to make a bigger statement?
Would Cowboys Trade Joe Looney if the Saints Came Calling?
The hits keep coming for the New Orleans Saints. Not only are their fans extremely disappointed in the way the Saints 2018 season ended, and rightfully so, but now they have to deal with the fact that one of their best offensive players has decided to retire. Ouch!
Source: Saints C Max Unger has retired. Wow.
No matter how you slice it, Max Unger's decision to retire is a huge blow to the Saints offense. The three-time Pro Bowl center is still one of the best in the game at his position and he's a huge reason why New Orleans has been so successful on the offensive side of the ball since he joined the team in 2015.
Unger's ability to keep the middle of the pocket from collapsing on Quarterback Drew Brees, while also blocking for Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram in the running game is the lifeblood of the Saints offense. Without him, the entire offense could be in trouble. Finding someone to step in and fill those huge shoes won't be easy.
As luck would have it, the Dallas Cowboys may have the answer to their problems. Joe Looney had to step in and replace Travis Frederick, another one of the top centers in the NFL, and filled in admirably during his absence. He could do the same thing for the New Orleans Saints.
With Frederick set to return to the Cowboys starting lineup in 2019, Looney suddenly becomes nothing more than a backup C/G once again. Because of that, he could become expendable, making him an intriguing tradable asset for teams looking for a starting caliber offensive lineman with versatility to play any interior position. This could be exactly the kind of player the Saints are targeting.
Unfortunately for New Orleans, they don't have a lot of draft capital in the 2019 NFL Draft to find a starting caliber center. Like the Cowboys, they don't have a first-round pick this year and don't make their first selection until the second-round. After that, they don't have another draft pick until the fifth-round. This further complicates replacing Unger as well as trading for anyone, such as Joe Looney.
It's highly unlikely the Saints are willing to part ways with their second-round pick and the Cowboys would probably want more for Joe Looney than a fifth-rounder. Looney after all has proven to be a serviceable starter, which is probably more valuable for Dallas considering the unknown about Travis Frederick's health moving forward.
So, even if the New Orleans Saints picked up the phone and called the Dallas Cowboys to acquire about trading for Joe Looney, I just don't think the two teams would be able to come together on trade compensation. I guess that means we can put this potential trade rumor to bed.
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