The NFL has become a league of nuance. It’s detail-oriented and intricate. Playbooks would be thick enough to fill four-inch binders, provided they came in binders anymore. It’s 2013, we’ve got iPads now.
There’s still a violent element, but so much of what makes the NFL the most popular American sport comes from the way the game has evolved mentally. While we may long for the nostalgic image we’ve always associated with the NFL (the snarling NFL Films videos with the mangled fingers and the furrowed brows), the league has anesthetized the pain and they’re playing better football because of it.
Yet, the division that might be playing the worst football of all–the NFC East–has somehow managed to become the most entertaining in the NFL.
Some of that has to do with the circumstance. The NFC East has four of the most passionate fanbases in the NFL in four major markets. It receives a LOT of media attention even when all four division members crawl out to appallingly bad starts.
There’s also the fact that the four teams are such fierce and bitter rivals that every divisional matchup is pitted as a grudge match. It satisfies the lingering lust for hatred and violence we all still associate with football, even as the league tries to distance itself from it.
However, even in a league that has become detail-oriented, there’s also something captivating about bad football–about four hated rivals raking each other through the mud in pursuit of a playoff berth.
In recent weeks, the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys have risen above the fracas to make it a two-team race, but for awhile everybody was playing so bad that they couldn’t separate themselves. With Chip Kelly at the helm, the Eagles were playing a more exciting brand of football, racing out to a 53-play first half in their first game of the year on Monday Night Football only to let a lifeless Washington Redskins squad crawl back into it. Yet, the Eagles would still emerge with a 33-27 win.
It did, however, set a precedent for bad football throughout the division for the first 10 weeks of the season, when all four teams were at .500 or below as late as last week.
However, the Eagles have managed to rally behind Nick Foles, winning three games in a row to get them to 6-5. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have been consistently inconsistent, with a seemingly different football team showing up on a weekly basis.
Yet, the ‘Boys are also at 6-5 and the two teams seem destined for a Week 17 showdown.
The New York Giants even made a go of it, winning four straight after losing their first six to start the season, before falling to Dallas last week and ultimately falling off the pace.
Needless to say, the football has gradually gotten better in the bad NFC East, but it’s still probably the worst division in football. However, that hasn’t stopped it from being entertaining.
Perhaps it’s masochistic, but between the Giants anemic pass rush and the Eli Manning struggle-face, the Cowboys overwhelming inconsistency, the controversy surrounding whether or not Robert Griffin III should be the starting quarterback of the Washington Redskins and the bipolar Eagles, I’m absolutely enthralled by the NFC East, bad football and all.
And with a tight divisional race taking shape, I won’t be able to turn my eyes away from the best bad division in football.
(Sorry, Big Ten Leaders!)