NFC East Playoff Picture Taking Shape

min read
Philadelphia Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts (1) talks with Dallas Cowboys wide receiver CeeDee Lamb (88)
(AP Photo/Rich Schultz)
Colton Pool @CPoolReporter Dec 02, 2022, 4:10 PM
  • The NFC East has drastically improved in 2022.
  • Two teams from the division are among the Super Bowl odds leaders.

Just like so many times before, Jalen Hurts stood comfortably in the pocket, scanned the field and found his target.

The Eagles quarterback had picked apart Washington’s defense in their first matchup of the season. Three touchdowns, 340 yards, no interceptions. He looked unstoppable.

But in the NFC East, appearances can be deceiving.

So when Hurts took a shot in a clash between the undefeated Eagles and the Commanders again in Week 10, the explosive felt inevitable.

Double coverage? Doesn’t matter. That’s AJ Brown he’s going to. 

Over 30 yards from the line of scrimmage? Deep throws hadn’t scared Hurts all season. 

The Eagles were winning, so why not turn to the running game? They haven’t been conservative, and there’s no reason for them to change.

This was different. Darrick Forrest picked off this throw, which helped the Commanders take the lead before halftime and deliver the Eagles their first loss of 2022.

The NFC East is volatile. In recent years, it’s been regarded as one of the weakest divisions in football. 

In 2022, every team has a winning record and would make the playoffs if the season ended today. While their rise to postseason contenders has occurred simultaneously, they’ve all taken their own paths to reach this point.

Super Bowl Odds for NFC East Teams

The Eagles (+600) and the Cowboys (+900) are among the top five teams in the league for Super Bowl odds. The Commanders (+10000) and Giants (+15000) are longshots.

But that’s much improved from 2021. Following Week 12 last season, the Cowboys were NFL betting favorites to win the NFC East at -750. But their odds of winning the Super Bowl were +1300, and Philadelphia (+10000), Washington (+15000) and New York (+50000) weren’t much better.

NFC Championship Odds for NFC East Teams

The Eagles (+230) and the Cowboys (+350) have two of the top three odds to win the NFC, with the 49ers also at +230. The Commanders are at +4000, and the Giants are at +6600.

That’s also significantly different compared to last season. The Cowboys had +600 odds to win the NFC, with Philadelphia (+5000), Washington (+8000) and New York (+25000) further behind.

Coach of the Year Odds

Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni is the NFL odds favorite to win Coach of the Year at -130 after leading his team to a 10-1 record thus far. But each coach in the NFC East has been paramount to this turnaround.

First-year Giants head coach Brian Daboll is fifth in those Coach of the Year odds at +1600. Cowboys head coach Mike McCarthy has helped his team go 8-3, proving he’s worthy of sticking around. He has the sixth-best odds to win Coach of the Year at +1800.

The Commanders are at the bottom of the division standings. Yet they’re 7-5, and head coach Ron Rivera is tied for 11th in Coach of the Year odds at +8000.

Ascension of Jalen Hurts, Defense Lifts Eagles

The Eagles rose from a wildcard team to a powerhouse in the NFC. Hurts, who’s second in football betting odds to win MVP at +325, has been wildly more effective in 2022 which has changed the complexion of the entire offense.

Hurts is 10th in DYAR, according to Football Outsiders, compared to 17th last season. He’s also graded the fourth-best passer by Pro Football Focus, whereas he was 16th last season.

His downfield accuracy has completely altered the Eagles’ offense. He’s 11th in PFF’s grades for passing 20-plus yards downfield compared to 33rd last year.

He’s also throwing with better rhythm and timing. He’s taking 2.81 seconds to throw on average this season. Last year, he took 3.12 seconds, which was the longest in the league.

Hurts threw for 3,144 yards, 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions in 2021. Through 11 games, with the addition of AJ Brown and the rise of DeVonta Smith and Dallas Goedert, he has 2,560 yards, 17 touchdowns and three picks.

This has benefited the rest of the offense. Miles Sanders faces eight-plus defenders in the box on 17.5% of his runs, which is 34th in the league. That’s helped him rush for 900 yards, the fifth-highest total in the NFL, behind an elite offensive line which is fourth in adjusted line yards.

The Eagles’ defense, though, could be the singular most important reason they end up with another Super Bowl victory.

Philadelphia is sixth in defensive DVOA, second against the pass. Comparing that to last season, when the Eagles were 25th in total and passing defense DVOA, the distinction becomes even more clear.

The Eagles allow 304.4 yards per game, which is second in the league and is better than their 328.3 yards allowed last season. Ranking fifth in adjusted sack rate is unlocking the defense’s potential.

Cowboys’ Defense Providing Steady Presence

The Cowboys are the least surprising team in this division. After a 12-5 record last season, they’re 8-3 through 11 games this year.

After a superb 2021, their defense is even better. Dallas was second in total defensive DVOA last year and is first this year.

With the help of their astounding pass rush, the Cowboys’ pass defense is first in DVOA. They are also first in adjusted sack rate and total sacks (45).

At -1400, Micah Parsons is by far the favorite for Defensive Player of the Year. He’s capable of lining up all over the field and covering tight ends or receivers. He’s 25th among all players in PFF’s coverage grades.

But he’s made a substantial impact rushing the passer. Parsons is second in the league with 12 sacks and third with 54 pressures.

While their defense has been their staple for the whole season, the most crucial component of their winning record was the first six weeks. Star quarterback Dak Prescott fractured the thumb of his throwing hand in Week 1, keeping him from playing until Week 7.

Backup Cooper Rush kept the season alive when panic ensued and led the Cowboys to a 4-2 record during that stretch.

They’ve only been better since Prescott’s return. They’ve won four of their last five games, averaging 33.8 points during that stretch.

The Cowboys are sixth in rushing DVOA. Tony Pollard (761 yards) and Ezekiel Elliott (577 yards) have helped them run for the seventh-most yards in the league at 139.2 per game.

Brian Daboll’s Arrival Fueling Giants

During Daboll’s introductory press conference when he became the Giants head coach, he said his offensive philosophy would depend on the players. He didn’t offer bold promises, but whether it was for quarterback Daniel Jones or anyone else on the team, he sought to develop a scheme dependent on their strengths.

Consider that a promise fulfilled.

The Giants, a team many considered to be rebuilding for 2023 and beyond, won six of their first seven games to solidify their place as a playoff contender.

Jones, who was creeping toward a bust label after going sixth overall in 2019’s NFL Draft, is on track for a career year in several areas. Through 11 games, he’s completed 64.6% of his passes and has a 1.3% interception rate, both of which would be the best he’s recorded. That’s all with a receiving corps that’s been depleted by injuries.

Designed runs for Jones have been critical. He often showed elusiveness and speed before, but coaching staffs of the past didn’t know how to utilize it.

Daboll, who was the offensive coordinator for Josh Allen and the Bills before 2022, has maximized Jones’ mobility. He’s ran for 451 yards and 82 yards after contact, already career highs through 11 games. He’s also rushed for 36 first downs, many of them in critical moments.

Jones’ triumphs are often set up by Saquon Barkley, who’s revived his career in 2022. He ran for 992 yards, fourth in the NFL and well within reach of his career-best 1,307 yards from his astounding rookie season.

Barkley has helped the Giants climb up to 11th in rushing offense DVOA, substantially better than 30th in 2021. He has the second-best Comeback Player of that Year odds at +175.

Switch at Quarterback Sparking Commanders

When the Commanders started 1-4, they appeared doomed for another season of mediocrity at best.

Then they held the Bears to seven points in a Thursday night win. Then Taylor Heinicke took over for an injured Carson Wentz behind center and led Washington to a win over the Packers. Then everything seemed different.

Heinicke hasn’t been overly efficient, throwing for 1,169 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions on a 60.8% completion percentage. But he’s given the offense a new life.

His presence has most notably helped elevate Terry McLaurin’s production. The wide receiver was targeted 37 times which led to 22 catches and 367 yards in six games with Wentz as the starter.

Heinicke has gone to the talented wide receiver more often. In his last six games, McLaurin’s been targeted 49 times. He’s turned it into 473 yards and 32 receptions.

A competent passing attack has taken pressure off Washington’s running backs. Both Antonio Gibson (476 rushing yards) and Brian Robinson Jr. (467 rushing yards) have shined at different moments this season.

Running the ball and stopping the run have been a part of an old fashioned yet effective formula for the Commanders. They are top 10 in rushing yards allowed (108.4 per game), total yards allowed (310 per game) and points allowed (20.3 per game).

They are fourth in rushing defense DVOA and 11th in total defensive DVOA. They were seventh and 27th in those categories in 2021.

Schedule Affecting NFC East Playoff Picture

The thing keeping every NFC East team from reaching the playoffs will likely be itself.

In the final six weeks of the regular season, there will be six inter-division matchups. That’s highlighted by the Giants playing at Philadelphia and the Cowboys going on the road to take on the Commanders in Week 18.

So despite all these improvements, regardless of the strides each of these franchises have made, it’s highly possible not every one of them sees the postseason. 

But it will be a thrilling race to the end.

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About the Author

Colton Pool

Read More @CPoolReporter

Colton Pool is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM living in Bozeman, Montana, focusing on the NFL and NBA. Previously, he covered Montana State football at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and worked at newspapers in his home state of North Dakota. He graduated from North Dakota State in 2015.

Colton Pool is a Web Content Writer for BetMGM living in Bozeman, Montana, focusing on the NFL and NBA. Previously, he covered Montana State football at the Bozeman Daily Chronicle and worked at newspapers in his home state of North Dakota. He graduated from North Dakota State in 2015.