Weak division makes the Eagles a sure thing

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The Eagles' NFC East rivals all have serious weaknesses that were shown in Week 1. (Yong Kim/Staff Photographer)

What can only be counted as a great day in the NFC East, at least from the perspective of the Philadelphia Eagles, came to a close near midnight on Sunday when Dallas quarterback Tony Romo offered up a headscratcher of an interception to New York Jets cornerback Darrelle Revis and, one easy field goal later, the Cowboys were a dispiriting 0-1 on the season.

Earlier in the day, following the Eagles walkover against the not-quite-ready St. Louis Rams, the Redskins beat a disorganized New York Giants team and came away from the game with the always dangerous belief that Rex Grossman is the man for the quarterback job in Washington.

Welcome to the NFC East. Motto: If You Don't Absolutely Stink, We Have a Name for You - Division Champ.

Against the wide landscape of a 16-game season, what happened around the league in Week 1 is little more than a snapshot taken from a passing train. There are no lasting truths on the opening weekend aside from the dependable maxim that wins look better than losses and prove to be much more useful.

That said, the Eagles could hardly find themselves, in this season of high expectation, in a better spot to pick the low-hanging fruit of six division wins. As we know from the past, this isn't always the case, and the Eagles have had several successful seasons that might have been short-circuited by the failure to secure home field advantage for the postseason. There are years in which the NFC East is formidable enough to boast three legitimate contenders, with the Giants and Cowboys usually the other suspects.

Since the Eagles won a championship, the three teams that now share their division have won 11 championships. (Of course, since the Eagles won their last championship, Marconi also invented the wireless radio.) More recently, in the six seasons since they advanced to the February 2005 Super Bowl, they have only won the division twice and neither time had a good enough record to earn a wild-card bye. So, there have been years in which merely being good, or even bordering on great, wasn't necessarily going to be good enough in the NFC East.

This isn't one of those years.

In no particular order, the Giants are old and injured, the Cowboys are serial underachievers and the Redskins are, well, they are still the Redskins. The Eagles have their issues, too, plenty of them, but they should be favored in every division game this season and there is no reason they can't sweep this bunch.

Not that long ago, it was a popular parlor game to decide which NFC East team had the best quarterback, either for the present or the future. Depending on the season, the rankings usually went something like: Tony Romo, Donovan McNabb, Eli Manning, Jason Campbell. Sometimes McNabb was considered the best. Sometimes Eli would jump up a spot on the list. Sometimes the Redskins would trot out a Patrick Ramsey or a Todd Collins just for comic relief.

Regardless, there were legitimate arguments all around and the division was as deep as any at quarterback. That was then. Now, Romo and Manning are still in the same places, but neither are promising kids any longer. Romo is 31 and Manning is 30. Romo has shown a remarkable ability to extrude agonizing defeat from very promising situations. Manning, after his one, shining, dude-catches-ball-upside-head moment, has revealed himself as mostly a player with a long perdigree and a short arm. As noted before, Grossman is the current choice in Washington, having overcome both John Beck and his own egregious resume.

Romo's late interception against the Jets on Sunday night came on a pass that a great quarterback - or even a sentient one - does not attempt. Teams will not follow leaders who are always intent on locating the nearest swamp. Manning, against an unremarkable Washington defense, led the Giants to a 1-for-10 day in third-down situations, including 0 for 6 in the second half. He highlighted his contribution with a third-quarter interception that was returned for a touchdown, giving the Redskins the lead for good.

That leaves Mr. Grossman, who came away from what should have been a solemn remembrance on Sept. 11, to offer us this quote: "Being it's Sept. 11, 10th anniversary, Colin Powell's in the locker room giving you the pregame speech, and then coming out and the fans are chanting, 'USA.' It was a fun day."

Well, each to his own method, but this should have been an anniversary to remember, not celebrate, even though the NFL took scripted advantage at every turn, right down to the "Never Forget" slogan emblazoned on the palms of the players' gloves. The league has to be forgiven some of its excesses, of course, because it has so many of them.

As for Grossman, he can be forgiven, too. How would he know how to properly celebrate a win? And, anyway, let him enjoy himself until he becomes Rex Grossman again and the Redskins become the Redskins again. After a season in which the 'Skins blamed all their troubles on McNabb, they could lose next Sunday because of Kevin Kolb. There's a certain wonderful symmetry there.

In the current divisional quarterback rankings, the other three guys are all playing for second place now. Michael Vick, as long as he remains upright, is better than each of them, and it isn't even close. That doesn't mean the Eagles will sweep the division for the first time since their Super Bowl season or scale the heights they seek, but it's a nice place to start.

The goal to get a division sweep begins Sept. 25 against the Giants, and ends Jan. 1 against the Redskins. If the Eagles can't do it, they will have only themselves to blame. The opponents shouldn't have that much to say about it.

 


Contact columnist Bob Ford

at bford@phillynews.com and read his blog at http://www.philly.com/postpatterns.