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NFC East roundup: Winter could come early for Dallas

In back-to-back weeks, the Cowboys will travel up North to face an NFC opponent.

Dallas Cowboys v Minnesota Vikings Photo by Stephen Maturen/Getty Images

NFC East Pick ’em record: (21-10)

We were happily wrong about the Eagles and Commanders game last week in this column, but very confused as to why the Cowboys made us look silly.

By any statistic and metric measuring the sport of football, Dallas was leading Green Bay in almost every positive category. That’s why fans have been disappointed with the loss all week. Especially after watching Thursday Night Football, Week 10 was a game the Cowboys should have won.

It’s going to get cold pretty quickly in Dallas if they fall to 6-4 this weekend against the 8-1 Minnesota Vikings. In recent years in the NFC East, a 6-3 record would be at least second place in the division, possibly first. However, it’s a new era of football when the Cowboys’ record is third place in their division.

Here’s a look around the NFC East for Week 11.

Dallas Cowboys (6-3) @ Minnesota Vikings (8-1)

The Minnesota Vikings are having a similar season to the New York Giants. No one outside the building and fanbase truly believes they are what their record says. The Minnesota offense has been a revelation, but with Kirk Cousins at quarterback, can they really be taken seriously as an offensive juggernaut?

The defense has been average at best. They allow an average of 21.2 points per game (14th in the NFL), give up 4.5 yards per carry (16th in the NFL), and have 26 sacks on the season (12th in the NFL). However, for all their middle-of-the-road stats, the Vikings defense is second in the league in takeaways with 18. That can be the dagger for a Cowboys offense that’s been turning the ball over lately.

Dallas wins this game if they play their best football of the season. If the Giants keep winning and the Philadelphia Eagles return to being dominant, the Cowboys will be looking at trying to keep pace for a Wild Card spot. Having the seventh team in the expanded playoff picture helps, but they can’t use it as their safety net. If Ezekiel Elliott comes back, it should provide balance for the offense. The run defense needs to clean up their mess, and they’ll be motivated enough this week to do so.

The Vikings will win this game if the defense can force turnovers and if Adam Thielen plays a significant role. Justin Jefferson is becoming the unquestioned No. 1 receiver in the league, but they can’t win with just him contributing. Dallas knows Minnesota will run the ball with Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison, but they’ll be left with nothing if the offense can put the dagger in the Cowboys pass defense.

It’s hard to pick against the Cowboys out of loyalty, but after seeing how Green Bay played against Tennessee and how Dallas couldn’t beat them, the Vikings are much better than the Packers. The game will be close, but the call is Minnesota 24-21.

Philadelphia Eagles (8-1) @ Indianapolis Colts (4-5-1)

The Indianapolis Colts will win this game. Just kidding.

After getting embarrassed at home losing to a Taylor Heinicke-led Washington Commanders team, the Eagles are looking to bounce back. As one of the NFL’s best rushing offenses, Philadelphia was just under 100 yards rushing for the second time all season. The first game it happened—Week 3 against the Commanders. To be fair, the Washington front seven won’t allow any team to run against them (see: Cowboys vs. Commanders Week 4).

The Colts run defense is not something to scoff at, either. They aren’t giving up more than 3.8 yards per carry, which is second-best behind the San Francisco 49ers. Indianapolis has a second lease on their season with Jeff Saturday now in as head coach. The Colts were on the downside and looked like a completely different team against the Las Vegas Raiders. Yes, the Raiders are among the league’s trash, but a win is a win and can build momentum.

The Eagles will win this game if Jalen Hurts can return to being a refined passer. Receivers weren’t doing him any favors against Washington, specifically Quez Watkins, who fumbled the ball at the end of the game. A.J. Brown needs to be elite like he was to start the season and pass the century mark, something he hasn’t done in almost a month.

The Colts would pull off the impossible if they could find a way to beat Philadelphia, finding a way if their run game gets going. Jonathan Taylor had almost 150 rushing yards for the first time since Week 1 and looked great behind an energized Colts offensive line. The Eagles are scrambling to stop opponents from rushing all over them by signing Linval Joseph and Ndamukong Suh this week. It will be better for the Colts offense if they can’t get on the field after one week of practice.

While the Eagles will end up winning this game, the Colts will keep it closer than expected in a 27-21 Philadelphia victory against Saturday on Sunday.

New York Giants (7-2) vs. Detroit Lions (3-6)

The Detroit Lions had to win at the wire for their third win of the season against the Chicago Bears. The Cowboys know firsthand how bad the Bears defense is. The Giants defense is much better.

Defensive coordinator Wink Martindale has his defense blitzing at an absurd rate. Going into last week’s game, the Giants are sending an extra rusher on over 40 percent of their plays. They’ll need to do so facing a Lions offensive line that’s only allowed 15 sacks in 2022, which is fourth best.

The one thing Detroit can hang their hat on this season is that their offense hasn’t been a complete disaster because of the offensive line development. D’Andre Swift was playing well to start his second season but suffered a shoulder injury that sidelined him and still looks to slow him down. They’ll have early success if the offense can get him going this week and take pressure off Goff to make plays.

Unfortunately, for all the joy the Lions offense brings, the defense equals it with a giant lump of coal. New York’s winning record has come on the shoulders of Saquon Barkley, rushing for 931 yards on almost 200 carries. Barkley’s success has helped Daniel Jones play better, who hasn’t had a turnover since Week 3. Unheard of in this era of Giants football.

As mentioned above, the Lions are not strong on defense. The game plan will be simple for New York. Run Barkley into the ground. Detroit is giving up 160.9 rushing yards per game to their opponents. Even if the Giants want to add Matt Brieda into the mix, that should be the plan, especially if it’s going to be a cold-weather game.

If the Lions can force Jones to make costly turnovers or fumble the football, which used to be his bread and butter, then that should lead to points for their offense. This game has the makings of being under three hours if both teams emphasize running the football. I’m a big fan of Detroit after their appearance on Hard Knocks and envision this being their signature win that keeps Dan Campbell around for another season. The Lions upset the Giants, 17-15.

Washington Commanders (5-5) @ Houston Texans (1-7-1)

Well, well, well. The Washington Commanders still have a pulse to make the playoffs in 2022. The crystal ball said the team would struggle with Carson Wentz at quarterback and Ron Rivera would turn to Sam Howell by the season’s end. However, Taylor Heinicke being 3-1 was not in the picture.

This has always been the case for the Commanders. If they could have someone stable the ship at quarterback and let the defense control the game, they would be in the playoff conversation every season. It’s just become a struggle for the team to find consistency at the position. With Heinicke getting his second chance, he’s making the most of it. Think back to the Vikings game a week ago; if he doesn’t turn the ball with eight minutes in the fourth quarter, the Commanders are on a four-game winning streak.

There’s really nothing to say about the Houston Texans. Along with the Raiders, they are among the bottom third of the NFL. The Texans do play hard and are always in it until the end. However, the Commanders coming off their best win and all the momentum is on their side, and should easily win this game. Not to mention it’s a road game in mid-November, avoiding the cooler weather playing indoors.

Washington wants to win for their coach, who was emotional after recently losing his mom, saying she would have loved how the team played. Teams in Wild Card contention right now, including the Cowboys, should be on their toes with this Washington team. When they win this game 21-7, they’ll be 6-5 and right in the thick of it come Thanksgiving.

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