Had C.J. Beathard started for the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday night, the Philadelphia Eagles might be winless through the first quarter of the season.
Instead, they survived Beathard’s late rally and pulled out a 25-20 win and went from zero wins to first place. If there was ever an argument for eliminating automatic playoff berths for the division winners, it’s the 2020 NFC East.
The division is horrific. Through four games, the four NFC East teams have combined for three wins, and one came when the Washington Football Team beat the Eagles. The other two were a truly miraculous win by the Dallas Cowboys over the Atlanta Falcons, and Philadelphia’s win over the 49ers on Sunday night.
That means the NFC East’s best win, by far, is over a 49ers team that started Nick Mullens at quarterback. The Eagles took a lead thanks to some bad play by Mullens and held on after Beathard entered the game.
Again, that win and a disappointing tie against the Cincinnati Bengals means Philadelphia is a first-place team.
The rules won’t change, so someone in the NFC East has to be crowned division champion and get into the playoffs (and, unfortunately, host a playoff game). The New York Giants are an 0-4 mess — though just 1.5 games out of first place — whose offense looks incapable with Saquon Barkley out and second-year quarterback Daniel Jones not showing any improvement. The Washington Football Team is in a total rebuild, and since that Week 1 win over Philadelphia, it has lost by 15, 14 and 14 points. Anything is possible in a division this bad, but it’s likely we’re in the same place we were before the season, with Dallas and Philadelphia battling for the crown. We just thought each of those teams would be better.
The Cowboys can move the ball, especially after they fall behind by a few touchdowns, but might have an all-time bad defense. At least they do something well. At this point, the Eagles really have no strength at all. They’re decent on run defense. That’s about it. Carson Wentz broke out of a bad slump on Sunday night and will get some players around him back from injury, and maybe that gives the Eagles some momentum.
Dallas still seems like the best bet to win the division. At least its offense is a bankable asset. There’s not one other unit in the division anyone should be excited about. As the season goes on, we will likely be looking into whether the 2020 NFC East is the worst division ever. The 2019 NFC East was on that path for a long time. Someone will finish in first place. Maybe the Cowboys offense can overcome a terrible defense to do it. Perhaps the Eagles being mediocre in every way will be an edge over the awfulness of the other three teams. Washington and New York look hopeless, but it’s not like the other two teams are going to ever get too far ahead. Getting any of the four teams to 9-7 by the end of the season seems like a stretch right now.
Maybe we can start a petition now to give the NFC East’s playoff spot to the NFC West or AFC North.
Here are the power rankings after Week 4 of the NFL season:
32. New York Jets (0-4, Last Week: 32)
I think I’d take the Giants to win by about a touchdown on a neutral field against the Jets. And the Giants are clearly the second-worst team in football.
31. New York Giants (0-4, LW: 31)
The Giants almost won at the Bears and were very competitive at the Rams on Sunday. Daniel Jones and the offense couldn’t score enough to get either win. But at least there are moments of competitiveness, unlike the other New York team.
30. Washington Football Team (1-3, LW: 29)
Dwayne Haskins Jr. threw for 314 yards and no interceptions against a good Ravens defense. Washington didn’t win, but it was a reasonably positive outing for Haskins, who needed one to improve his job security.
29. Jacksonville Jaguars (1-3, LW: 27)
Despite the losses, the Jaguars seem to have hit on some young skill-position players. D.J. Chark and Laviska Shenault Jr. were both second-round picks and look like they should have gone in the first. Gardner Minshew II had 351 yards on Sunday, as the former sixth-round pick continues to look like a reliable NFL quarterback. James Robinson was undrafted and looks like a quality NFL back. That’s something to build on.
28. Denver Broncos (1-3, LW: 30)
Beating the Jets isn’t a reason for celebration. But it’s better than losing to them. If the Broncos can somehow win at New England next, the schedule gets a little lighter for a while. Maybe they can still get back in the race.
27. Atlanta Falcons (0-4, LW: 26)
The smart move might have been sitting Julio Jones, who aggravated his hamstring injury in the first half, and Calvin Ridley, who was clearly affected since he didn’t catch a single pass. But when you’re winless, you don’t have that luxury.
26. Houston Texans (0-4, LW: 20)
Don’t be in a rush to give the Texans credit for firing Bill O’Brien after four games. It’s the same franchise that kept increasing O’Brien’s power to Belichick-ian levels even though O’Brien hadn’t done much to earn it, and he was pretty clearly in over his head. His moves as the head of personnel have set back the Texans for a long, long time. Nobody will say O’Brien should have kept his job. But let’s not forget that team ownership shares in this mess, too.
25. Detroit Lions (1-3, LW: 21)
You run out of ways to describe how bad the Lions have been under Matt Patricia. But here’s another one:
2020 Lions have joined the 2011 Vikings as the only teams in NFL history to lose 3 of their 1st 4 games after holding double-digit leads
'11 Vikings started 0-4 & blew a double-digit lead in 3 of those gms, before finishing 3-13
The Falcons could join these teams tomorrow night
— NFL Research (@NFLResearch) October 4, 2020
24. Cincinnati Bengals (1-2-1, LW: 28)
This section should be about the Bengals’ first win of the Joe Burrow era, but it’s becoming hard to ignore A.J. Green’s huge decline this season. He had 3 yards on Sunday. He has 14 catches for 119 yards through four games. It’s not like Burrow hasn’t been good enough to get him the ball. Green just has not looked like his usual self, or anything close.
23. Miami Dolphins (1-3, LW: 22)
Brian Flores, when asked about Tua Tagovailoa (via Cameron Wolfe of ESPN.com), said “if it was my kid and he had a serious injury like that, I wouldn’t want his coach to be in a rush to put him in there because of media pressure. ... No one is going to pressure me into doing anything.” If it’s a health issue with keeping Tagovailoa out, that’s fine. But he’s not going to get better by sitting, if that’s part of the thought process. That’s an outdated notion. And he’s going to have to play and test that hip sometime.
22. Los Angeles Chargers (1-3, LW: 19)
Anthony Lynn still won’t say whether Justin Herbert will be his starter when Tyrod Taylor is healthy, even though Herbert has been very impressive through three starts. On one hand, it makes sense: Taylor only got benched because a team doctor punctured his lung administering a shot. It seems heartless to bench Taylor over that. But there’s also reality: Herbert is clearly the best choice for now and the future. If Lynn is sticking with an old approach that players shouldn’t lose their jobs because of injuries, it might end up being a decision that costs him his own job.
21. Dallas Cowboys (1-3, LW: 18)
Dak Prescott is somehow on pace for 6,760 passing yards. Plenty of that has come with Dallas trailing, often by a lot. Prescott has one completion, two attempts and 11 yards with the Cowboys leading all season. While Prescott’s stats are pumped up by game scripts, it’s hard to put the blame on him for the Cowboys’ start.
20. Philadelphia Eagles (1-2-1, LW: 23)
As stated here last week, Eagles coach Doug Pederson got heat for punting on fourth down in overtime of Week 3, but the tie was much-needed and will be important in the NFC East race all season. That unpopular decision could be the difference in the Eagles making the playoffs.
19. Minnesota Vikings (1-3, LW: 25)
Dalvin Cook has come alive the past couple weeks and Justin Jefferson has been a revelation (it’s damning that the coaching staff didn’t give full-time snaps to their first-round pick until Week 3). All of a sudden, the Vikings’ offense isn’t too bad. The defense needs to improve, but maybe it’s not too late to get back into playoff contention.
18. Carolina Panthers (2-2, LW: 24)
Matt Rhule and his staff, specifically offensive coordinator Joe Brady, deserve a lot of credit. The Panthers defense looked terrible through two weeks, and the offense lost Christian McCaffrey. Now they’re 2-2 coming off an emphatic win over a Cardinals team everyone was hyped up about two weeks ago. That kind of rapid improvement says a lot about the coaching.
17. Chicago Bears (3-1, LW: 15)
The Bears offense can be hard to watch. It seems like half of it is Allen Robinson making circus catches. Nick Foles didn’t make it look any better on Sunday. They can win a few games when the defense plays well and/or when Foles is on one of his hot streaks, but many weeks, it won’t be pretty.
16. Arizona Cardinals (2-2, LW: 11)
Kyler Murray’s improvised runs are a great bonus to an offense, but you can’t build an offense around that. The Cardinals had 51 yards on 17 carries from running backs on Sunday, and Murray had 133 passing yards on 31 attempts. Murray had 78 rushing yards, too, but the Cardinals can’t rely on that as the foundation of their offense.
15. San Francisco 49ers (2-2, LW: 9)
San Francisco’s season so far: Lose to Arizona at home, beat the beyond-awful Jets, beat the slightly-less-awful Giants, lose at home to an Eagles team that was decimated with injuries and might not be very good. Injuries have certainly affected the 49ers, and it’s clear after watching Nick Mullens that they need Jimmy Garoppolo back, but that’s not a start that will create much optimism.
14. New Orleans Saints (2-2, LW: 14)
At 14-0 less than five minutes into the game at Detroit, it seemed the Saints were in serious trouble. Not just for Sunday, but for the season. That was a rally that might have saved New Orleans’ season (especially with Tampa Bay at 3-1).
13. Las Vegas Raiders (2-2, LW: 12)
Clelin Ferrell played 35 snaps (57% of the Raiders’ defensive snaps) on Sunday, the lowest of the season for him. He had one tackle. He has seven tackles and no sacks in four games. The Raiders proudly went against conventional wisdom taking Ferrell fourth overall in the 2019 draft. “It all goes back to this: There were flashier players who people may have had higher on their boards,” general manager Mike Mayock said on draft night). “On our board, it was him and [Nick] Bosa right next to each other at that position.” To this point, it looks really bad.
12. Cleveland Browns (3-1, LW: 17)
The Browns put up 508 yards and 49 points without any player posting 100 rushing or receiving yards, and with Baker Mayfield putting up just 165 passing yards. They also did it with Nick Chubb missing most of the game due to injury. That speaks to the offense’s efficiency and depth, the latter of which will be tested with Chubb out a few weeks.
11. New England Patriots (2-2, LW: 8)
On one hand, Bill Belichick did a great job keeping his team focused and putting together a defensive game plan that kept New England in the game a lot longer than expected. But starting Brian Hoyer over Jarrett Stidham looked like a mistake after Hoyer played terribly and Stidham actually made a few plays. Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference. Either way, we saw how much Cam Newton means to New England.
10. Tennessee Titans (3-0, LW: 7)
Let’s just hope the Titans play this week. Their bye week is already accounted for. If the Titans can’t play in Week 5 due to COVID-19 cases, I’m not sure what the NFL would do other than having them finish with 15 games played.
9. Indianapolis Colts (3-1, LW: 16)
Indianapolis’ ascension from a middle-of-the-road defense to the best defense in the NFL through a quarter of the season is startling. Of all the paths the Colts had to become AFC South champions, a dominant defense didn’t seem to be one of them.
8. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-1, LW: 13)
Before this season, there were only 22 touchdowns through NFL history thrown by quarterbacks who were at least 43 years old, according to Pro Football Reference. Tom Brady has 11 in four games.
7. Los Angeles Rams (3-1, LW: 10)
The Rams got just 15 first downs and 240 yard against the Giants. If not for a 55-yard touchdown by Cooper Kupp, the Rams wouldn’t have had any big plays and likely would have lost at home to a really bad team. We’ll just chalk it up to a letdown game as a big favorite, but it’s worth keeping in mind going forward.
6. Pittsburgh Steelers (3-0, LW: 6)
If the Steelers can handle business against the Eagles this week, it will set up a fun Browns-Steelers game on Oct. 18. It would be the biggest game in that rivalry since a playoff game 18 seasons ago.
5. Seattle Seahawks (4-0, LW: 5)
The Seahawks have allowed 1,345 yards to wide receivers this season. Through Sunday’s games, no other team had allowed more than 845. Russell Wilson is great, but it’ll be hard to overcome those coverage issues all season.
4. Buffalo Bills (4-0, LW: 3)
The Bills have been good, but there is still room for improvement. The Raiders had more yards and first downs on Sunday, but the Bills forced some well-timed turnovers and made some big plays to get the win. This team is going to get better as the season goes on. There’s a lot of talent, a good coaching staff and they have a 4-0 start in their back pocket.
3. Green Bay Packers (4-0, LW: 4)
Aaron Rodgers keeps rolling without Davante Adams. He didn’t have Allen Lazard either on Monday night, and it didn’t matter. Russell Wilson has been great, but it’s not like Rodgers is far behind in the early MVP race.
2. Baltimore Ravens (3-1, LW: 2)
It turns out the Ravens still look good when they’re not playing the Chiefs. That dominant win over the Browns in Week 1 is aging well, too.
1. Kansas City Chiefs (4-0, LW: 1)
The Chiefs have played four games, and in two of them, the Chargers and Patriots held the offense down well into the second half. It doesn’t mean the Chiefs aren’t the best offense in the NFL. It just means that there are ways to slow them down, at least for a while.
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