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Writer's Blocks: An Ode To A Bad Division


FRISCO, Texas – No, I did not forget about my column.

Back-to-back Thursday games just aren't a good mix for a weekly column that's supposed to be published on Thursday. Now, could I have altered the schedule a little bit and published them at other times? Sure.

But have you seen what's going on around here? Three games in 12 days, all of them losses. One the ugliest stretches of the Jason Garrett Era. They cut the kicker. There's speculation galore about the future of the head coach. To be blunt, my snarky column has been low on the list of priorities.

Anyway, it's back to the regular schedule after a weekend off, so I'm back. I've got a few thoughts about this current state of affairs, not to mention the future.

So, here:

1. Let me climb up on my soap box real quick:

I'm so utterly tired of people using the pitiful NFC East to make their case for re-seeding the NFL playoffs. For those of y'all with alarmingly short memories, this is a thing that happens somewhat often in the NFL.

Since the NFL realigned to eight divisions in 2002, two teams have won their division with a losing record – and fittingly, they both won their playoff game. The 2010 Seattle Seahawks went 7-9 and beat the New Orleans Saints in the legendary "Beast Quake" game, while the 2014 Carolina Panthers went 7-8-1 and defeated the Ryan Lindley-led Arizona Cardinals in the wild card round.

Expand the criteria just a bit and the results are pretty astounding. Two teams have won their division at 8-8 in the past 16 years, and the Green Bay Packers got it done with an 8-7-1 mark in 2013.

And what about 9-7 – which is, after all, a measly winning percentage of just 56 percent? Since 2002, nine different teams have won their division at 9-7, just one game above .500.

Add it all together, and the numbers say that 13 mediocre teams have won their division since 2019. In other words, it's actually pretty rare for all eight division winners to have 10 or more wins.

Dallas and Philadelphia both still have the ability to win nine games. And they play each other, so one of them at least has to finish 7-9. This is hardly unprecedented territory, despite everyone's whining.

2. Now, do you want to hear my conspiracy theory about the whining?

Shockingly, it's because of the teams involved.

The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are two of the NFL's publicity elites. They are massive, popular clubs with massive, insane fan bases. Their games get the best ratings, and therefore they play a lot of spotlight games.

It's pretty ironic, not to mention bad for business, that the entire NFC East is terrible. This is a division filled with ratings heavyweights, and it's not a great look when they play terrible football against each other on national TV – like New York and Philly did last Monday night.

How's that going to sit with fans and media all over the rest of the league? Not well. People get tired of hearing about the Cowboys and Eagles when they're good. It's got to be twice as annoying to hear about when they're bad.

But honestly, deal with it. You didn't hear this much hand-wringing when the NFC West was a dumpster fire, or when the AFC South was an annual example of ineptitude. Because none of the teams in those divisions are as big or as polarizing as the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles. Sorry if that sounds arrogant, but it's true.

The NFC East is bad. It won't be the first time or the last time it happens. Winning your division should still count for something. Grumble all you want, but there's nothing wrong with the NFL's current format. A mediocre team is going to host a playoff game, and if the Seahawks/49ers/Vikings/Whoever are as good as we think they are, they should be capable of winning it on the road.

It's really not complicated.

3. I'm not trying to sell you on Jason Garrett.

The Cowboys are 6-7, they're struggling through a three-game losing streak. They haven't beaten a team with a winning record, and they've lost to some teams with some unimpressive records.

Most importantly, they don't currently look like a team that's about to take that all-important "next step" to the NFC Championship Game.

Again, it's not my intention to defend the job that Jason Garrett has done to this point.

All of that said, this was always the way it was going to be in 2019. Jerry Jones famously did not extend Garrett's contract in the offseason, so we've known for quite some time that this was a "prove it season." The Cowboys want to take the next step, and they want to see if Garrett can do that for them – all the way through to the end of the season.

Thanks to the aforementioned lousy NFC East, the Cowboys are still in first place and still have a chance to accomplish all their goals. It doesn't look at all likely that they're going to, but they still have that chance – and that's why it's not remotely surprising that Garrett is still in charge.

Jerry Jones wants to be right about Garrett. He has his back, and he has said that a million times. He's going to give Garrett the opportunity to dig out of this hole, just like he did last year.

I can understand why that's frustrating, but this is the way it was always going to be. This is a "prove it" season, and the season isn't over.

4. It does make me wonder, though: if the Eagles were currently 10-3, and the division crown was out of reach, would the Cowboys still play out the string?

It's hard to know for sure, but I think I'd still say yes. If the Cowboys do change coaches in the coming weeks, I think it makes much more sense to start all over, rather than try to move forward with a member of this coaching staff. With that in mind, I'm not sure what you gain by trying to audition an interim coach for a job you don't want him to win.

Maybe the state of the NFC East is buying Jason Garrett some extra time, but I really don't think so. Again: for better or for worse, I think this is the way 2019 was always going to be.

5. With everything else that's been happening the last few weeks, I lost track of the fact that Michael Gallup is putting the finishing touches on a pretty fantastic second season.

Despite missing two games with a knee injury, Gallup is currently sitting on 905 yards for the season, which means he only needs to average 32 yards per game these next three weeks to finish with 1,000. If he maintains his current pace, he could finish the year with as many as 1,300 yards.

That's a hell of a jump for a guy who struggled with consistency as a rookie. From the time he arrived in training camp in July, Gallup has looked like a playmaker. It's been fun to see that translate to a breakout season where he has averaged a nifty 16.5 yards per catch.

There's still plenty of stuff to clean up. Gallup had some bad outings and some costly drops, but he's trending toward being one of the better No. 2 receivers in the NFL.

For perspective: if Gallup hits the 1,000-yard mark, it'd be just the seventh time in Cowboys history that two different receivers hit that milestone in the same season.

The lineup of guys who have done it is pretty impressive: Tony Hill and Drew Pearson, Terrell Owens and Terry Glenn, Terrell Owens and Jason Witten, Jason Witten and Miles Austin, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant.

We already knew Amari Cooper belonged in that company, but Michael Gallup is working his way in that direction.

6. We spend so much time following the playoff chase, but I'm just telling you now: the race to the top of the draft order is particularly important to Cowboy fans this year.

New York and Washington are two of the most futile teams in the league, and though they may not be able to catch Cincinnati, they're going to be positioned very high up the draft board.

That's unsettling for a lot of reasons, but mainly because of Chase Young.

If you don't follow college football, the Ohio State pass rusher is an absolute freak of nature and is currently sitting on 16.5 sacks in just 10 games this season. He's arguably the most talented player in this draft class, and he will be an instant force for the team that drafts him.

That's problematic, because Cincinatti looks likely to draft a quarterback No. 1 overall in this year's draft. If they do, it leaves Young sitting there for whoever's up next – and who's up next is New York and Washington.

The Giants are currently No. 2 in the draft order, and Washington is right behind them at No. 3. New York finishes the season with Miami, Washington and Philly, while Washington finishes with Philly, New York and Dallas.

As fun as it is to root against your division rivals, it would be really great if these two could find some ways to win some games. Top-tier pass rushers can have a way of transforming a team's fortunes, and if you don't believe me, just ask San Francisco about Nick Bosa.