NFC East winner?

SportsNation
EAGLES
REDSKINS

Philadelphia's problems are fixable

Fox By Ashley Fox
ESPN.com
Archive

It certainly doesn't seem like it right now in Philadelphia, where bloodthirsty Eagles fans are calling for a sacrifice after the team blew a third consecutive fourth-quarter lead to start 1-3. Juan Castillo, the career offensive line coach who is overseeing the defense this season, would suffice. Andy Reid, the man who boldly -- and some say arrogantly and foolishly -- promoted Castillo, would do, too.

Eagles fans are not known for their patience, and they have tired of Reid's act. This is his 13th season. He has delivered division titles and even a conference championship in 2004, but he has not won the hardware that matters.

And now, again, the Eagles' slump is his fault. Reid has taken responsibility for the team's failings so many times that the fans have come to agree with him.

Although the sky is falling today in Philadelphia, it is worth taking a moment to consider the long view. Look at the roster. There are good players on the Eagles, Pro Bowl players, game-changers.

They still have the most dangerous player in the league playing quarterback in Michael Vick. They have uncanny speed at the skill positions on offense, and a young running back in LeSean McCoy who is blossoming into a versatile weapon. They have the best cornerback trio in the league and an aggressive defensive line coach with equally aggressive pass-rushers at his disposal.

Yes, Philadelphia has continued its decadelong approach of ignoring the linebacker position, and it is really hurting the Eagles this season. They couldn't stop a Pop Warner back right now. The safeties are terrible, and the offensive line is small and now further depleted by the loss of left tackle Jason Peters, who is out with a strained hamstring.

But it is not as if the Eagles are getting blown out. They are beating themselves. A fumble here, a horrid play call there. The issues are fixable. It starts with turning around the trend of the past three weeks, when Philadelphia scored zero fourth-quarter points and allowed 36.

Since 2000, Reid has a .680 winning percentage in regular-season games played from November on. If he can guide this team to a .500 record heading into the bye in Week 7, it can make a run at the NFC East.

The Eagles have dug themselves a deep hole, but it is not too late to climb out of it. It starts Sunday at Buffalo.

Ashley Fox covers the NFL for ESPN.com.

The schedule favors Washington

Clayton By John Clayton
ESPN.com
Archive

For the record, I bought into the Dream Team, and, like the majority, I went with the Philadelphia Eagles. They won the offseason, and they had Michael Vick.

Well, we're four weeks into the season, and we have to come up with alternatives. If I had to admit my Eagles pick wasn't right, I'm going to surprise you with the next option. Believe it or not, the Washington Redskins might win the NFC East.

As you know, schedules are everything, and the final 12 games give the Redskins the best opportunity to win the division. The key is winning home games within the division. If Washington can do that, it will win the East.

Sure, it sounds crazy to go with a team led by Rex Grossman, but the closing schedule can negate the woes of one of the worst closing quarterbacks in the league. First of all, the Redskins face a .417 closing schedule, second to only the Arizona Cardinals as the easiest closing schedules in football.

With the season being only four weeks old, those numbers might not mean much. Here is the clincher. In the two non-common games among the four NFC East teams, the Redskins draw the easiest lot. They visit the Carolina Panthers on Oct. 23 and host the Minnesota Vikings on Dec. 24. Those are winnable games, and wouldn't it be fitting for Mike Shanahan to be facing Donovan McNabb with a chance to clinch the division late in the season?

Of course, by then, the Vikings, who are 0-4 with McNabb, probably will be starting Christian Ponder. That will allow Jim Haslett the chance to unleash his blitz packages against a rookie quarterback. Ouch.

We'll get a true sense of whether the Redskins' chances of winning the division can come true a week from Sunday when they host the Eagles. Everything breaks right in the schedule for the Redskins to win it. The league gave the Redskins three of their first four divisional games at home. They've beaten the Giants 28-14. They host the Cowboys on Nov. 20, a chance to neutralize that 18-16 Monday night loss in Dallas.

If the Redskins can go at least 3-3 in overall divisional play, they can have a huge edge in the divisional race if they beat the Panthers and the Vikings. Look at what the other NFC East teams face. The Eagles already have lost to the Atlanta Falcons and have to play the Chicago Bears at home. The Cowboys lost a home game to Detroit and have to travel to Tampa Bay.

The Giants drew an impossible second-place schedule and have to face Green Bay and New Orleans. If the Redskins can go 2-0 in their non-common games, they already will have a game in hand over the Eagles and Cowboys and two over the Giants if New York loses to the Packers and the Saints.

For talent, the Redskins aren't the best team in the NFC East. They have the fourth-best quarterback and the division's lowest-scoring offense. But the defense has improved by allowing 7.9 fewer points a game, and Washington does have Shanahan as its coach.

Give the Redskins the best chance to win now that the Eagles have gotten off to a 1-3 start.

John Clayton, a recipient of the Pro Football Hall of Fame's McCann Award for distinguished reporting, is a senior writer for ESPN.com.