The NFC East has long been the NFL's best example of divisional parity.
Since the Philadelphia Eagles went four straight seasons as division champions at the dawn of the century, the East has yet to feature repeat title winners. Those same Eagles have traded first-place finishes (2006, 2010, 2013) with the Dallas Cowboys (2007, 2009, 2014, 2016), New York Giants (2005, 2008, 2011) and Washington Redskins (2012, 2015) since Philly went all the way to the Super Bowl in 2004.
Regular-season records haven't been the only things in the NFC East to spark divisional debate over which club is truly superior, however. (The Giants, by the way, should lay claim to that simply because they've actually won the Super Bowl in the last decade.) There's also the sport's most important position: Quarterback. And in a division that's seen its fair share of greats -- albeit polarizing ones -- just in recent history, the question as to which team reigns supreme rages on.
Here, we attempt to sort through the NFC East's four starting quarterbacks and rank them from best to worst. It's no simple task, mainly because some of today's best signal-callers don't have even a fraction of the resume of older gunslingers, but there's also no denying the disparity between the 2017 passers. If, right now, with the playoffs approaching, we had to choose someone to go under center, here's how we'd assess our options:
1. Carson Wentz, Philadelphia Eagles
As was the case when Wentz NFL MVP, not NFC East MVP), the only excuse in denying that the second-year man is the real deal is that you haven't watched him play. His numbers are off the charts (28 touchdowns, five interceptions, 104.0 passer rating), but his poise is just as obvious. With a better supporting cast than his up-and-down rookie year, Wentz has still been the Eagles' best player on the field, and it hasn't been close. The 2017 losses to left tackle Jason Peters and running back Darren Sproles haven't hindered his growth one bit, and no one has extended and made plays with as much consistency this year.(that's
Wentz looks the part in more ways than one, even eliciting support from some Cowboys fans (!), and it's important to note that plenty of league executives saw this kind of elite ability in No. 11 before he, you know, helped turn the Eagles into the NFL's best team. Former Redskins general manager Scot McCloughan, for example, called Wentz the best young QB in the game -- in August. Another league source, one with ties to two NFC East teams, told CBSSports.com that Wentz's game is viewed as "very similar to the great Roger Staubach from Dallas" and that, "other than Tom Brady, there is no other QB teams would rather have."
2. Kirk Cousins, Washington Redskins
Those who feed on debates over Eagles and Cowboys quarterbacks will be disappointed to see this, but the only reason you'd go with a certain signal-caller from Dallas over Cousins is: a.) you prefer off-balance interceptions to pocket passing or b.) you're willing to bank on long-term upside. In regards to the latter, let's be clear that Cousins, who will be 30 with or without the Redskins at the start of the 2018 season, is not the sexiest "face of the franchise" guy (Washington has demonstrated this all too well). But if steady quarterbacking is the name of the game, then Kirk wins that game. For all of Cousins' struggles in the "big" moments, only Brady, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan have logged better passer ratings since 2015.
Not all of these numbers came when the Redskins really needed him, but just try to consider these 2015-2017 totals and not admit that Cousins is top-15 QB material: 4,166 yards, 29 TDs, 11 INTs ... 4,917 yards, 25 TDs, 12 INTs ... 3,038 yards, 19 TDs, 6 INTs. He's got his limitations, sure, and when Jay Gruden proclaimed years ago that Washington was "Kirk's team" in the wake of the Robert Griffin III fallout, it all seemed almost laughable. But everything checks out on paper, and both production and experience dictate that he's No. 2 in the NFC East as it stands.
3. Dak Prescott, Dallas Cowboys
One of the cleanest young quarterbacks of 2016 is suddenly perhaps the most polarizing of his draft class. Even if the former fourth-round draft pick did benefit from Ezekiel Elliott's historic rookie campaign (who wouldn't?), Prescott deserves credit for his turnover-averse start, which obviously played a big part in Dallas' 13-3 run. Just as Wentz wasn't written off for sloppiness in a 2016 season that afforded him few weapons, we also can't label Dak a bust for his stark regression without Elliott. Still, Prescott's slump has been more profound and far more disconcerting than anticipated -- his interception percentage (.026) in Year Two is worse than what Wentz posted as a rookie (.023) with Dorial Green-Beckham and a drop-happy Nelson Agholor as his receivers.
Couple Prescott's 2016 and 2017 numbers, and you still get a pretty, promising picture: 5,985 yards, 39 TDs, 13 INTs. But in just the three games he's played without Elliott, he's yet to throw for more than 176 yards and has amassed no touchdowns to five picks, logging an average passer rating of 57.7. That's bad. But is it Prescott failing to lift the offense, or the offense failing to lift Prescott? In any event, the Cowboys still have a smart, athletic quarterback on their hands -- a league source said "most GMs" still think he'll be great for years to come. But he needs time to prove he's even the second best QB in this division, let alone on Wentz's level.
4. Eli Manning, New York Giants
Maybe the toughest of the four quarterbacks to rank, Manning's career has been a seesaw of insane highs and rock-bottom lows -- the inexplicable Super Bowl titles in 2007 and 2011, the infamous 27-interception campaign in 2013. What he's lacked in consistency he's more than made up for in durability, too, as his streak of 221 consecutive starts (including playoffs) stands to this day. But at 36 years old behind a patchwork offensive line, on a team that's finished under .500 in three of its last four years and is on the way to double-digit losses in 2017, Manning hardly seems like a guy you'd trust to come in and light it up at QB. Like Prescott, his circumstances are daunting, but nothing suggests he's got the magic to overcome them.
Just about everything you could think of has gone wrong not only for Manning but for the Giants in 2017, and yet the corresponding fallacies of Eli's play aren't anything new to anyone who's seen No. 10's career. In every single season he's been a full-time starter, he's thrown at least 10 picks, eclipsing 15 eight times, so turnovers have always been a problem. As odd as it sounds considering he finagled two Lombardi Trophies, Manning will probably depart from New York having won way less than he could've thanks to Giants management. And yet, still, today, he's hardly worth the gamble otherwise.