Earlier this week, the President of the United States, as is the annual custom, pardoned two turkeys for Thanksgiving. The names of this year’s lucky birds were “Corn” and “Cob”.
For National Football League fans, two turkeys nicknamed “Cowboys” and “Football Team” will be served-up to millions of sleepy-eyed bloated fans on Thanksgiving Thursday afternoon in the Texas-sized “Jerry World” football stadium halfway between Big D and Fort Worth.
The game will pit two NFC East teams with identical 3-7 records in a game which has serious significant playoff implications.
No, you didn’t misread the last sentence.
As this crazy pandemic year 2020 keeps providing Americans with other-worldly life experiences, why shouldn’t we expect that the NFC East would feature a massive deadlock featuring all four teams with only three wins apiece after their first ten games?
For the record, the Philadelphia Eagles are technically in the lead with a 3-6-1 record. Philly actually played for a tie in a home-field overtime game early this season against AFC doormat Cincinnati. The Bengals are just 2-7-1 as of last weekend.
The stench of the NFC East is obvious, and, in an odd 2020-kind of way, intriguing, too.
Just a few short years ago, media types were lamenting that the NFL’s rules about player drafts and scheduling were trying to create parity with the goal of lifting-up the lousy teams and forcing last season’s Super Bowl contenders to play a brutal schedule the next year.
Though the attempt to create parity doesn’t exist across the entire NFL, apparently the four teams of the NFC East really believe in it!
The New York Giants (the other 3-7 franchise in the division) are on a massive roll as the G-Men have won two (gasp!) games in a row! It’s hard to believe that a team which was 1-7 just two weeks ago is now only one-half game out of the playoffs isn’t it?
The NFL, in its infinite wisdom, includes each of the divisional winners into the playoff mix. Regardless of how far below break-even (8-8) the eventual winner of the NFC East finishes, that team will be rewarded with a first-round playoff game after the regular season.
For pro football fans in Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, this is still serious business! The four teams comprising the NFC East have been playing football against each other since 1961.
While it makes perfect sense for Washington, Philly, and the Big Apple (all within a few hundred miles of Amtrak rails of each other along I-95) to be part of the NFC East, why are the Dallas Cowboys in this division? Dallas, Texas is a three hour flight west of all three of those East coast cities. Dallas is geographically closer fit to several other NFL teams – including one just down I-45 South in Houston.
So why is Dallas still playing in the NFC East in the year 2020?
Going back to the Cowboys’ entrance into the National Football League in 1960 (the same year which saw the fledgling American Football League place a team called the Dallas Texans in the same market), there just weren’t very many NFL franchises located in cities south of the Mason-Dixon line.
Once Dallas came into the league and, in their second year, placed into the NFL’s Eastern Division, it was another six years until the Atlanta Falcons were born in 1966 (for a measly $8.5 million, by the way). The following year in 1967, the New Orleans Saints became the next southern team admitted into the league. It took until 1976 for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to become the next deep South team to start play.
In the meantime, the Dallas Cowboys quickly developed a rather spicy rivalry with other members of the NFL’s Eastern Division. The Cowboys’ rapid improvement during the 1960’s later morphed into their self-declared “America’s Team” moniker by the late 1970’s. The love/hate passion for the Dallas Cowboys with other teams in the NFL Eastern Division kept television ratings high.
The NFL and its ownership pay a lot of attention to the weekly television ratings and didn’t want to risk sending the Cowboys to play in a new division against geographically closer cities such as New Orleans, Atlanta, and Tampa. At the time, each of those three Southern NFL newbies were all struggling just to reach the .500 mark in any season.
If the league had removed those twice-yearly matchups between the Dallas Cowboys and the three long-established teams (Washington, Philly, and New York City) in large East Coast population centers, the NFL risked lower television interest and a corresponding negative effect on the league’s overall value.
As they say, “Money talks!”, so the Dallas Cowboys (despite their obvious geography issues) continue to toil in the NFC East even today.
Back to 2020, this NFC East quartet of three win teams is now embarking on the professional wrestling equivalent of a “Battle Royale” with just six games to go. Simple math (3+6 = 9) means that the winner of the NFC East cannot win ten games this year. The other three teams are practically assured at failing to qualify for a wild-card game based on their putrid records.
The only road to the playoffs for the four NFC East teams will be to slug it out amongst themselves.
Let’s examine each of the teams’ remaining schedules:
Dallas (3-7): Is the only team which still must play each of their three NFC East foes one more time. In addition to those three games, the Cowboys hit the road for match-ups at Baltimore and Cincinnati while they will host San Francisco on December 20.
Washington (3-7): Finished 0-2 against the NY Giants this year. They face Dallas on Thanksgiving Thursday and play at the Eagles in their final game of the year. In between, the WFT (Washington Football Team) tees it up on the road at Pittsburgh and San Francisco and will also host Seattle and Carolina.
New York Giants (3-7): The G-Men have just one more divisional game (at home vs. Dallas on January 3). They will hit the road for games against Cincinnati, Seattle, and Baltimore and host two other home games versus Arizona and Cleveland.
Philadelphia Eagles (3-6-1): Will conclude their 2020 season with divisional games at Dallas and at home against Washington. Prior to that, the Eagles will host Seattle and New Orleans and hit the road to play Green Bay and Arizona.
I won’t predict who will win the NFC East, but the first team to reach seven wins will be the heavy favorite to make the playoffs.
IF they can win seven games, that is! Remember, it IS still 2020!