The Cowboys won't run the East in 2015. As much as it pains us, it's going to be one of those other guys. The Washington Redskins, Philadelphia Eagles, and New York Giants all sit with a 6-7 record and are all fighting it out for a playoff spot. Winning the division means that you get an automatic bid to the big dance. Regardless of what they have done up until that point, the slate will be cleaned and they'll have a chance to run the gauntlet and maybe, just maybe, finish their season hoisting the Lombardi Trophy while confetti falls on them. That's reasonable, right? And if you believe that, you might want to check out my separating thumb. It'll freak you out, man!
Now that we've thrown all that silliness aside, I think we can all agree that the NFC East playoff representative is going absolutely nowhere in the post season. No...where. It is not unfathomable that they pull off a playoff victory. Even the sun shines on a cat's leg sometimes (I'm not sure if that's how the saying goes), but to string together some wins in the playoffs, that's asking a lot. In all likeliness, it will be a short-lived post season experience and most likely result in a blowout exit. So that's something to look forward to.
But hey, at least their fans will have bragging rights. After all, that's a pretty impressive feat. Who's not going to be proud of that? It's like winning the prison karaoke contest. It might feel good at the time, but it's not going to impress your buddies in the courtyard.
So now that we got all the perks out of the way, let's take a look at some of the downsides to winning the division. It starts with a big one - draft position.
If the season ended today, the NFC East winner would earn a draft pick no better than the 21st overall pick. If they do some winning in the playoffs, that pick would get progressively worse. On the flip side, the third place divisional finisher will likely be slated somewhere between 10 and 15. There stands to be a sizable gap between these teams come draft time next year. That's a significant difference in talent among collegiate players. As a frame of reference, according to the draft chart trade value - if these teams wanted to swap picks in the draft, it would cost the division winner a second-round pick to move up. So while they might hold the tie-breaker that wins them the division, the cost is equivalent to a premium draft pick.
And of course, this position advantage would exist in every round of the draft. It's like being a member of the jelly of the month club - it's the gift that keeps on giving. (Special shout out to BTB member, Jessy S who gets the assist on that joke)
So even if teams end up with the same record, the non-division winners are going to be sitting much better come draft time.
Besides draft position, there is another negative of finishing higher up the divisional ranks - their NFC South and West opponents for 2016. Every year, each team in the division has 14 games that are identical, with the only differences being the two conference opponents that will be chosen based on where the teams finish in their division. In 2016, these two games will be from the NFC South and West divisions. That means the NFC East winner is guaranteed to get the Carolina Panthers next year, who should have Kelvin Benjamin back. It's tough to imagine an undefeated team getting even better, but I just did it. And it looks like the Arizona Cardinals will win the West. These are much more challenging games than playing teams like Tampa Bay and St. Louis. Sure, these are just two games from an entire schedule of games, but in a division that should be another tight race next season - it could make all the difference.
So now the question begs - which team do you root for?
Do you want the immediate satisfaction of watching a particular team fail? Maybe you're hoping for Chip Kelly to crash and burn and coach his way back to the collegiate level. As an Oregon State Beaver believer who has a penchant to root against anything to do with the Oregon Ducks - that sounds appealing. Of course, I like the great work he's done in Philadelphia and I'm not sure I want him to leave just yet.
Maybe you got a soft spot for a former Cowboys' player? Is there any part of you that would like to see DeMarco Murray, Dwayne Harris, or Jason Hatcher be successful? Yeah, me neither.
Or maybe you want the most threatening team to get stuck with the handicap that the divisional winner will inherit? A tougher schedule plus a lower draft pick is going to help the Cowboys chances of taking back the divisional crown in 2016.
Whatever the reason, there's definitely some solid arguments for pulling for a particular NFC East foe. And don't think of it as rooting for them, but rather going against someone else.
With all that in mind, which team do you want to win the division?