Thanksgiving is here, and that means it’s time for a full day of NFL games, that includes an NFC East game. As always, the Dallas Cowboys will elbow their way into your Thursday feast, and this year, they’re dragging along with them the sack of wet dog food that is the Washington Football Team.
Under normal circumstances I’d tell you to avoid this game — or, really, any NFC East game — at the risk of tossing your gravy. Children should not be exposed to this filth on a holiday. These teams are to football what roadkill is to your Thanksgiving table. But this year, friends … this year, we’re on the verge of history, and it all starts Thursday afternoon.
All four teams in the NFC East — Dallas, Washington, Philadelphia and the New York Giants — have three wins apiece. Three. In Week 11. That’s 12 total wins across an entire division. The Pittsburgh Steelers have 10 wins. I present to you these basic mathematical facts because history is here:
One of these teams almost certainly will be the worst playoff team in NFL history.
Yes, thanks to a flaw in the Death Star that is the NFL’s playoff superstructure, a godawful team can wend its way into the postseason as long as it’s the least terrible of its mates. And that’s what we’re looking at here.
Prior to 2020, the worst playoff teams in the 16-game era were the 2014 Carolina Panthers (7-8-1) and the 2010 Seattle Seahawks (7-9). Both slouched their way into the playoffs the same way the NFC East “champion” will, via automatic bid. (The 1969 Houston Oilers were 6-6-2 (!), while the 1982 Cleveland Browns and Detroit Lions were 4-5 in a strike-shortened year.)
Again, basic math: to even match those wretched paragons of futility, the NFC East winner is going to have to win four of its next six games — a whole lot to ask when they haven’t managed to win four of their first 10.
Let’s run the numbers. All four teams wrap up the year with divisional matchups, and three of them have more than one NFC East game remaining. Unfortunately, they still also have to play outside the division … and that’s where the trouble comes in.
It’s fine to beat up on your kin, but the world’s a whole lot tougher outside the NFC East. How tough? Let’s take a look at each team’s remaining slate of games and see, with odds to win the division courtesy of our pals at BetMGM:
Seattle, @Green Bay, New Orleans, @Arizona, @Dallas, Washington
Oh, boy. That’s four playoff teams right there. Philly’s on a two-game losing streak that could very easily stretch to six by the time they meet the Cowboys. Five wins on the season might be asking too much. Philadelphia currently leads the division by virtue of a Week 3 tie, but that fingernail grasp might not last the week.
Washington, @Baltimore, @Cincinnati, San Francisco, Philadelphia, @Giants
On paper (or phone screen), this projects as the most favorable schedule of the four, largely because of a Joe Burrow-less Cincinnati. Plus, the Cowboys get three games against the terrible NFC East (have we told you how horrendous that division is yet?). Philly has a half-game edge because of that tie, but Dallas has the smoother road ahead.
New York (+300)
@Cincinnati, @Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland, @Baltimore, Dallas
Pity poor New York, having to venture out into the world beyond the division for five games. Cincinnati is a winnable one for reasons outlined above, but the other four are against playoff-caliber teams before the Dallas season finale. The Giants are going to need multiple Manning-to-Tyree-level miracles to get through this run.
@Dallas, @Pittsburgh, @San Francisco, Seattle, Carolina, @Philadelphia
Wouldn’t it be great if Washington knocked off the undefeated Steelers? Yeah, probably not happening. If you’re matching up common opponents remaining, Carolina is a tougher out than Cincinnati, on Dallas’ schedule, which makes Thursday’s game … well, not “must-win,” but “really probably ought to win.”
So there you go. Do you see any of those teams getting four wins out of those schedules? Yeah, me neither. Our only solution: root for chaos, and maybe we’ll end up with a five-win division champ.
Interesting sidelight: the 2014 Panthers and the 2010 Seahawks actually won their wild-card playoff games, the Panthers because they drew a Cardinals team down to its third-string quarterback, and the Seahawks behind Marshawn Lynch’s “Beastquake” that demolished the Saints. This year’s NFC East winner will likely draw someone like Seattle, the Rams or Tampa Bay. Anything could happen on a playoff Sunday, sure, but would you bet on a five-win team over any of those?
So tune in Thursday and enjoy — OK, that’s too strong a word, maybe “tolerate” — the Dallas-Washington game. But remember the good news: every NFC East game we watch now brings us closer to the end of the NFC East’s season once and for all. Now that’s a reason to celebrate.
Jay Busbee is a writer for Yahoo Sports. Follow him on Twitter at @jaybusbee or contact him at email@example.com.
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