Washington gears up for crucial stretch of NFC East


In May, when the NFL calendar came out, Ron Rivera was already embracing what he called a “round robin.” It wasn’t hard to see why. The Washington coach saw his team end the season with five straight division games – a streak that could very well determine the NFC East.

“Once we get the hang of it,” Rivera said on the team’s website, “that’s all about, where’s the standings?”

This section has finally arrived and the ranking is clear: Washington is right in the thick of it.

Yes, the Dallas Cowboys (8-4) hold a two-game lead in the division heading into Sunday’s game at FedEx Field. But this weekend marks a crucial chance for Washington (6-6) to gain ground in the race when the team welcomes Dallas. With this first of two clashes, Washington still has an opportunity to overtake its main rival.

And that’s all Rivera et Cie could ask for after their bad start to the year.

“We’re at the part where we control it,” Rivera said. “For us, what will happen to the Washington football team is now in our hands. We go out and play the way we can. We give ourselves a chance and this is where we wanted to be. This is one of the things we talked about when the calendar first came out because you can get to this point and you have a chance.

“You have an opportunity now, you have to make the most of it. “

Washington players and coaches understand how a division can rock when taking care of business against division rivals. Despite finishing 7-9, the Burgundy and Gold won the NFC East with a 4-2 record over the Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants. Washington, in particular, swept Dallas and Philadelphia.

But make no mistake, Washington faces a tall order despite having won four in a row. The Cowboys remain a big favorite to win the NFC East, with punters listing them at -700 to do so. For context, someone would have to bet $ 700 to win $ 100 on the Cowboys winning the division.

It’s not just the players who see the Cowboys as a safe bet either. Five Thirty-Eight’s advanced statistical model rates the Cowboys’ probability of winning the division at 79%. Not only does Dallas have more wins than Washington, but the Cowboys rank in the top 10 in offense (seventh) and defense (fourth) in Football Outsiders DVOA metrics, which measure effectiveness.

Last season, Washington beat Dallas without having to face quarterback Dak Prescott. That won’t be the case this season as Prescott is now in good health.

And yet the Cowboys have been uneven in recent weeks as Washington has surged. One of the biggest improvements for Burgundy and Gold came in defense – where the unit allowed just 17.5 points per game during their winning streak. The team were much better to come off the field in third, keeping the teams at a 30.8% conversion rate.

“I don’t think we were ever out of it,” Washington defensive tackle Matt Ioannidis said. “Obviously the schedule seemed grim, but ultimately everyone in this building believes in everyone in this building. So after the week off we recovered, we went out and I think we are forming an identity.

Even if Washington manages to beat the Cowboys, who are favorites by 4 points, the last four games will go a long way in determining the race to the playoffs. The Eagles, Washington’s opponent after Dallas, are just outside of a wild card spot with a 6-7 record. If Washington slips, the team could drop in the standings – and out of the playoffs – as an NFC squad hovers around 0.500.

Only the Giants – Washington’s last game of the year – are practically out of the divisional race at 4-8. New York is without starting quarterback Daniel Jones (neck), substitute Mike Glennon (concussion) and the offense, as a whole, has not come together.

Washington, however, barely squeaked from the Giants with a last-second field goal in Week 2. And the Giants have beaten Washington twice in 2020.

You can’t take much for granted.

“It’s really about to get serious – five division games to end the season – and we understand that,” said Washington defensive tackle Jonathan Allen. “We’ve put ourselves in a great position to get to where we want to be. So now we have to capitalize, we have to be healthy and we have to get back to work because it’s going to be hard. “


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