The last team to win the NFC East back-to-back was the Donovan McNabb-led Philadelphia Eagles in 2004. The accomplishment was capped off by a crushing Super Bowl defeat at the hands of Tom Brady and The New England Patriots, 24-21.
As random as the division-winning results have looked on paper since then, there must be some pattern and reasoning behind the disorder.
Since 2004, the Giants and Football Team are tied with three division wins, and the Eagles and Cowboys are tied with five wins each. In a much more important stat, however, the Giants lead with two Super Bowl wins, followed only by the Eagles with one in that span.
The 2020 NFC East was a train wreck, but each team was horrible for entirely different reasons. The Football Team and Giants both had excellent defenses and inept offenses, while the Cowboys suffered from the opposite problem. The Eagles managed to finish bottom twenty in both categories.
But teams manage to regularly undo these stats, which should be a very accurate measurement. For example, the 2010 San Diego Chargers finished the season leading the NFL in offensive and defensive ranking, and missed the playoffs entirely. The 2019 Dallas Cowboys finished first in offense and ninth in defense in 2019 and landed at the familiar (and now impossible) 8-8.
As important as the quarterback position is, the three NFC East Super Bowl champions of the last sixteen years were accomplished by Eli Manning and Nick Foles. Manning’s rings will never be forgotten, but in terms of passing efficiency, he finished almost half his seasons in the bottom half of statistical performance and closed out his career with a record of 117-117. Nick Foles has shown moments of inexplicable greatness but has never stayed consistent as a starter in a near decade of play.
Only two NFC East champions since 2004 have won the division without a top sixteen defense. This points to a Washington advantage, as they finished with the second best defense of 2020.
Defense, not quarterback play, has been the key for each of the last three NFC East champions. However, the consequences for poor quarterback play quickly become apparent in the playoffs. Taylor Heinicke’s play in the Wild Card round was impressive, but even if they had snuck past Tom Brady, they would have advanced to play some of the NFC’s best defenses and a couple of future HOF quarterbacks in Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers.
The league is far too unpredictable. Last year’s best team may draft in the top five the following offseason. Two-win teams rise from the ashes and push for a playoff spot, without a coaching change or big offseason additions. The only common theme that builds Super Bowl Champions is the narrative and identity of a team.
Super Bowls come from stories like Tom Brady managing to convince the world that he’s an underdog after winning six rings, or backup Nick Foles coming into the season late and beating all the odds to bring Philadelphia its first Lombardi trophy.
A narrative is being built in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers and Devante Adams simultaneously posting the same picture of Michael Jordan and Scottie Pippin on their instagram stories this week. The Packers have been in the mix almost every season for a decade, but sometimes a team just needs a jumpstart of momentum. In this case, Aaron loosely implies that this is his “last dance” in Green Bay. The pressure is on.
A junior narrative is building in the nation’s capital ahead of training camp. An underdog that defied all expectations to win the division last season, led by a thirty-eight year old journeyman quarterback who seems to just now be entering his prime.
2021 will also be the second (and hopefully only) season this team spends without a name. It seemed like Washington found some identity in the strangeness of their situation, but now they lie in a confusing position. This team desperately needs its leaders and coaching staff to maintain the underdog narrative and give the players momentum to prove the critics wrong.
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