By Jose Castillo, sports columnist
What makes a sportswriter great? I would argue that it’s foresight: The ability to gauge and perceive the next big things in sports. This skill isn’t easily achievable, and requires a lot of studying, as predictions are typically based on a mixture of noticed patterns and gut feelings.
Outcomes in sports can be very difficult to predict and, in the NFL, it’s nearly impossible. Just ask Carolina Panthers quarterback Cam Newton, who stormed out of last Sunday’s post-game press conference after a 41-38 loss to the New Orleans Saints — or maybe don’t ask him, you won’t get a response. The loss adds to a 1-5 start for the Panthers’ season, a tough record to have, especially after last year’s near-perfect regular season.
It’s in the NFL where Heisman Trophy winners can be backups to once-unknown starters. Former Florida Gators star Tim Tebow left the NFL and now plays in minor league baseball, and Texas A&M bad boy Johnny Manziel went from taking on defensive linemen to standing behind defensive lawyers—and unfortunately you can’t run out of the pocket when your protection collapses in court.
A testament of the league’s unpredictability comes surprisingly from the league’s black sheep of a division: The NFC East. If the NFL divisions were high school classes, with the best division being equivalent to taking an AP/IB/Honors “try-hard” class, the NFC East would be considered a little bit less than a remedial study hall. For the past six years, no NFC East champion team has won 10 games or more during the regular season. By week six of last year, each of the four teams in the division were either barely breaking even in terms of win-loss records or were already in the red. The Washington Redskins clinched last year’s division title with a measly 9-7 regular season record, only to lose to NFC wild card Green Bay Packers, 35-18. At the time, winning the NFC East reminded me of how in high school I was able to win a math contest since all the smart kids were out of town for a mathletes competition.
During the summer before the start of the season, CBS Sports ranked the NFC East as the worst division in the league, noting the division’s lack of depth and inability to send two teams to the playoffs since 2009. However, in a very welcome surprise, only six weeks into the season and the NFC East has silenced the critics. The Dallas Cowboys, who finished last year with a distressing record of 4-12, lead the division 5-1, after winning their fifth game in row last Sunday. The Redskins defeated the Philadelphia Eagles over the weekend to continue their four-game winning streak, and while the Eagles have lost their last two games, their 3-0 start for the season had many heads turning. A touchdown pass to New York Giants wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. during the final two minutes of last week’s game against the Baltimore Ravens saved the last-place Giants from extending their losing streak and gave them .500 winning percentage, a percentage that would garnered them first place in the division this time last year.
What has changed over the summer, you may ask, that has helped improve the competition in the NFC East? According to an article from the Washington Post, rookie quarterbacks from both the Cowboys and the Eagles have made the NFC East a very tough division to play in. Both Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz and Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott have only thrown one interception so far in the season, with Prescott actually breaking New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady’s record for most pass attempts without an pick during a rookie season (162). Also helping the Cowboys is rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott, who has already rushed for over 700 yards.
As a Dallas native, I am thrilled that the NFC East is in the midst of an exciting season, but I’m also worried that the division’s early success might be a bit misleading. With the season only a third of the way completed, there is still very much room for these teams to repeat last year’s failures. Pride comes before the fall, a proverb forgotten by Redskins defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois, who, rolling off a winning high last Sunday, declared that the Redskins run “the damn East”. The comment was criticized by “First Take” co-host Stephen A. Smith, who stated, or more appropriately yelled, “You ain’t even in first place, you’re a game behind a team you already lost to, this year […] and you gonna sit up here and because you beat the Philadelphia Eagles, you running the NFC East? Shut the hell up!”
As a sports writer—in the loosest form of the title—I’m still working on my foresight skills, however, if Stephen A. Smith’s argument against you actually makes sense, I think even a blind man could see that maybe you are in fact doing something wrong.