Whenever you are in the mood for a good chuckle, look at a list of NFC East quarterbacks who squared off against the Eagles during the early years of the Andy Reid era and read them aloud in the style of a high school commencement emcee: Patrick Ramsey, Quincy Carter, Tim Hasselbeck, Vinny Testaverde. From 2000 through 2004, 18 quarterbacks attempted at least five passes against the Eagles while playing for the Redskins (seven), Cowboys (eight), or Giants (three). And that doesn't include the two seasons when the Cardinals were part of the division.
I bring this up not just because it is a fun way to kill an hour at the bar. It is also a relevant thing to consider as this year's Eagles begin to shift their sights to Week 1. (If you aren't in the mood to consider relevant things, feel free to spend the next five minutes trying to name all 21 quarterbacks, then scroll down to the end of this column to find the list. I won't be offended if you choose this course of action: it all counts as engagement time on the web analytics.)
For those who are still with me, let's focus on one of the biggest reasons that the Eagles will enter each season in the foreseeable future with an excellent chance at replicating their Super Bowl run. It's the same reason they were in position to advance to five straight postseasons and four straight conference championship games between 2000-04.
It's the NFC East.
The Giants might have Saquon Barkley and Odell Beckham, but they also have an offensive line that has spent the last several seasons getting pushed into the backfield. Speaking of O-lines, the Cowboys will enter the season with a unit that has been ravaged by attrition and injuries since the 2016 campaign that saw them go 13-3. Three of the five starters from that group have moved on (Ronald Leary to the Broncos, Doug Free to retirement) or are battling serious health problems (all-pro center Travis Frederick has been diagnosed with a potentially career-threatening autoimmune disorder). It could be a long season in Big D, even if two-time all-pro guard Zack Martin recovers from a hyperextended knee in time for Week 1.
As for the Redskins, well, they remain the Redskins. The best player on the field in Friday's preseason dress rehearsal was 33-year-old Adrian Peterson, and there wasn't anybody else particularly close. The good news is Peterson gained 56 yards. The bad news is he has reached that total in exactly three regular season games since the end of the 2015 season.
The NFC East might not be as bad as it was during the early Reid years, but the fact remains that the Eagles are one of only three or four teams that will enter 2018 as the clear-cut favorite in their division. At last check, only the Patriots and Steelers were stronger betting favorites to win their respective divisions, with the Rams checking in as the only other team at better-than-even-money.
For the last decade, the Patriots have been the brightest example of the benefit of playing in a weak division. But those early Reid teams are the case study that hits closest to home.
Between 2000 and 2004, no team in the NFL dominated its division the way the Eagles did. In those five seasons, they outscored their NFC East opponents by an average of 11.5 points per game, nearly double the average margin of the second-best team (Green Bay, which had an average point differential of +5.8 in division games during that time frame). The Eagles' 27-7 record against its division in those years was the best in the NFL, with only the Packers and Rams coming close.
That dominance played a huge role in the Eagles' annual trip to the NFC Championship game. During that stretch, the Eagles outscored nondivision opponents by 236 points, while outscoring division opponents by 392 points. While both of those marks ranked first in the NFL, the difference between them ranked first as well (not coincidentally, the Cowboys and Giants ranked third and fourth).
Compare all of that to the Eagles' performance over the last eight seasons of the Reid Era. From 2005-12, they went just 23-25 against the division, with a +38 point differential, which ranked 18th and 13th in the NFL during that stretch. Against nondivision opponents, they were 43-36 with a +175 point differential, both of which ranked 12th.
Much of that disparity had to do with the quarterback position, where the Cowboys, Giants, Redskins, and Cardinals combined for an average QB rating of 72.1 in NFC East games from 2000-04. The Eagles, with Donovan McNabb at the helm, had a rating of 84.3. Conversely, from 2005-12, all four NFC East teams had quarterback ratings between 82 and 87 in division games.
QB Rating in NFC East Games, 2000-04
1. Eagles 84.3
2. Giants 78.9
3. Redskins 72.3
4. Cardinals 68.8
5. Cowboys 68.4
QB Rating in NFC East Games, 2005-12
1. Cowboys 86.8
2. Eagles 85.0
3. Giants 84.7
4. Redskins 82.7
This is where things look particularly rosy for the Eagles as you start to project the next three to five seasons. Eli Manning is 37 years old and is coming off a season in which threw for fewer yards than any season since 2008. In Washington, Alex Smith is a 33-year-old quarterback who has already been traded in for a younger model twice in his career. In Dallas, Dak Prescott looked like he had the makings of a franchise quarterback as a rookie, but 2017 saw significant regressions in QB rating (-17.5 percent), yards per attempt (-15.0 percent), and interception percentage (+300 percent).
The situations are better than they were in 2000-04, when Washington rolled out Ramsey, Tony Banks, Jeff George, Brad Johnson, Hasselbeck, Shane Matthews, and Danny Wuerffel, and Dallas went to war with Carter, Testaverde, Randall Cunningham, Ryan Leaf, Chad Hutchinson, Anthony Wright, Clinton Stoerner and, for five passes, Troy Aikman. In New York, Kerry Collins yielded to Kurt Warner, and Warner yielded to Manning.
But last season, the Eagles' advantage at the quarterback position was the primary reason for their 5-1 record in division games.
QB Rating in NFC East Games, 2017
1. Eagles 100.2
2. Cowboys 85.6
3. Redskins 79.4
4. Giants 78.1