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The Biggest 2013 NFC East "What Ifs"

What if Jerry hadn't fired Jimmy? What if Romo had held on to that field goal snap against the Seahawks, or perhaps had been able to run it in for a score? What if Patrick Crayton had caught those passes late in the playoff loss to the Giants?

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

What if, what if, what if. We see questions like the above almost every day here on BTB, and I usually just move past these comments without a second thought. But the other day I started thinking, what would be the biggest what if of last season?

So today we'll look at some of the biggest what ifs, and not just for the Cowboys, but for the rest of the NFC East for 2013. Chime in with your own what ifs in the comments section.

1. What if Michael Vick hadn't gotten hurt and remained the starting QB in Philly?

In the week five game against the Giants, Michael Vick injured his hamstring late in the second quarter after a 13-yard scramble. Nick Foles finished that game and started the next two, but three weeks later, in the Week 8 game against the Giants, Vick was back as the starter, only to 'hear his hamstring pop' late in the second quarter. Matt Barkley would finish that game, and Nick Foles would start the remaining games after that.

In Nick Foles' ten starts, the Eagles were 8-2; with Michael Vick starting, the Eagles were only 2-4. If you're an Eagles fan, then of course Nick Foles is the greatest ever, for everybody else, the Nick Foles hype sound suspiciously like Kevin Kolb 2.0. In the 2011 offseason, after having started seven games in the previous two seasons, and winning two Player of the Week awards, the media-manufactured hype around Kolb reached its all-time high, and Kolb was eventually traded to the Cardinals in July 2011, in exchange for cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and a second-round draft pick. Kolb is now a free agent with a 9-12 career record.

We'll see what the future holds for Foles, but for now his record stands at 8-2, and it's hard to imagine that Vick would have compiled such a record after a 2-4 start. With Vick under center, the Eagles could easily have missed the playoffs, perhaps even by quite a margin.

2. What if Kyle Orton hadn't thrown behind Miles Austin with 1:49 left in the fourth quarter of the Week 17 game against the Eagles?

1:49 left on the game clock in the fourth quarter. The Cowboys are trailing by two points and get the ball on their own 32-yard line. They only need a field goal to make the playoffs, and need to go about 40 yards to be in field goal range. On the first play of the drive Kyle Orton, filling in two days after Tony Romo underwent back surgery, throws behind Miles Austin and into the arms of Brandon Boykin. Game over.

Instead of the playoffs, we get endless discourses on smoothies, Duran Duran songs and the supposed greatness of Chip Kelly, whose claim to fame really isn't much more than an errant Kyle Orton pass.

Had the Cowboys won that game, there's a good chance their playoff run would have ended the next week against the Saints. Still, the entire season outlook for 2014 would likely have have been different.

3. What if the Giants had played with an offensive line (deserving of the name) in front of Eli Manning?

Ed Valentine of Big Blue View offered this assessment of the Giants' QB play in his 2013 season review earlier this year.

The general manager says the quarterback has to play better in 2014. The co-owner says the quarterback has to play better. Even the quarterback says the quarterback needs to play better. Guess what? That's because the quarterback was lousy in 2013, and needs to play better. An amazing 27 interceptions. A career-worst 69.4 passer rating. Manning got the snot kicked out of him all season due to the poor line play in front of him, and the accumulated beating pretty much knocked all of the good football out of him, too. His fundamentals went out the window, his decision-making became questionable and his play simply did not resemble that of a two-time Super Bowl MVP. The Giants, and Manning, have to fix it.

For his career, Manning has an 81.2 passer rating. Among the active NFL QBs, that ranks 18th - worse even than Jason Campbell. He has led the entire NFL in interceptions in three of his nine years as a full time starter. Manning simply isn't a very good quarterback, and the poor play of the offensive line just made that more obvious.

Then again, a 39-sack season like Manning had last year is going to take its toll on any QB. But what's the upside for the Giants? With much better protection over the previous four years (2009-12), and Manning averaging an 86.6 passer rating and only getting sacked an average of 23 times per season, the Giants finished with 8-8, 10-6, 9-7, and 9-7 records. Which suggests that even with a good offensive line, the Giants' ceiling would probably have been a 9-7 record, and the Giants may or may not have challenged for the division crown.

4. What if the Redskins weren't a dysfunctional organization?

2013 was another year of complete anarchy in Washington. There were early signs of problems in Washington when reports emerged of trouble brewing in D.C., trouble that had Robert Griffin and Dan Snyder (+ Bruce Allen) going against Mike and Kyle Shanahan. The coaching staff fired back by letting it be known that Griffin had returned too soon from his ACL injury because he feared losing his job to Kirk Cousins. The coaches seemingly left no stone unturned when it came to painting their franchise quarterback in a bad light. Then, once the Shanahans had been fired, Griffin "bragged to teammates that he could procure favors from the owner and influence the franchise’s direction," which went over real well with his teammates.

New names, new faces, same old Redskins.

For the Redskins, the question comes down to whether the 10-win 2012 season will be the future norm, or whether the three-win 2013 season will be closer to the norm. Odds are it's the latter: In the 15 years that Snyder has owned the team,  the Redskins have managed a 10-win season just three times, and a nine-win season once.

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