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Sunday, September 17, 2006

Cognitive Dissonance and the NFC East

From the sports section of today's Washington Post:

"Writing Another Chapter In NFC's East Side Story
A Lot of Talk Precedes Loaded Division's Marquee Matchup

By Jason La Canfora
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, September 17, 2006; Page E01

The trash-talking began well before the season did.

Calls and text messages were exchanged between Washington, Dallas, New York and Philadelphia throughout the summer, with players in each city boasting that they had the best team in the NFC East. All could agree on one thing -- that after years of mediocrity, this was the most competitive division in the NFL. Nearly everything else was open to debate..." [Emphasis added]

I don't know why I keep hearing this refrain. After one week of the NFL season, here are the standings of the NFC East teams:

Philadelphia 1 0 0 1.000 24 10 Won 1 0-0 0-0
Washington 0 1 0 .000 16 19 Lost 1 0-0 0-1
NY Giants 0 1 0 .000 21 26 Lost 1 0-0 0-0
Dallas 0 1 0 .000 17 24 Lost 1 0-0 0-0

Last week, Washington was beaten by the Minnesota Vikings, a team that was riddled with offseason controversy and features a first-year head coach, a career backup at runningback, and Brad Johnson, who just celebrated his 38th birthday. Washington's star player - Clinton Portis - is injured. Their quarterback is Mark Brunell's decomposing corpse, and their backup quarterback is a cocktail.

Last week, the Dallas Cowboys were beaten by a marginal AFC team - the Jacksonville Jaguars. (Yes, I know what Jacksonville's record was last year. And yes, I know they present a particularly tough matchup for my beloved Steelers this week. But I don't care - I just don't think they're that good.) At some point this year, Tony Romo might be prominently involved in Dallas' offense. (But hey, he had a spectacular preseason.)

Last week, the New York Giants were beaten by the Indianapolis Colts in what was admittedly a very competitive game. While it's true that the Giants have one of the best running games in the league and tremendously upgraded their defense in the offseason, there are still a lot of questions surrounding their passing game. Eli Manning hasn't exhibited very good decision making skills in his short career (witness last weekend's fourth quarter toss-up interception), and Plaxico Burress - who didn't exactly give up a promising career in theoretical physics to play football - once spiked a live ball. I wouldn't call them one of the NFL's "elite" teams just yet.

The only team from this "loaded" conference to win last week was Philadelphia. And they beat the Houston Texans, who have become the Washington Generals of the NFL.

So can we please put a moratorium on this whole "the NFC East is the most competitive division in the NFL" thing until these teams actually win some games?

UPDATE: Thank you, Michael Wilbon, for echoing my sentiments in your column today. I feel vindicated. (If you haven't figured it out yet, the real power conference is the AFC North, with Pittsburgh, Baltimore, and Cincinnati. Cleveland's the only dog (so to speak) of the bunch.)


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