In the comments section on Monday’s post, Jake, a ‘Skins fan, posed the question of which NFC East team should scare us the most.  Dan’s replied that while the ‘Skins deserve credit for what they’ve accomplished thus far, the Cowboys – once they get Romo and their guys back – scare him more.

In order to have this conversation, I think we need to define what “scares us” means.  Are we talking about the team most likely to overtaking us for the Division lead?  Or the team we’d least like to face in a late-season of playoff game?  Those two different questions have two different answers.

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In terms of overtaking us, the ‘Skins 6-2 record – and their second half schedule which includes three bad teams (Seahawks, Bengals, Niners, albeit on the road) and home dates against the NFC East – makes them the biggest threat.

I think Dan was a little dismissive about the ‘Skins when he said they’ve been “overachieving.”  They have been a little, but not by all that much, and it’s possible the difference will be offset by having the NFC East at home during the second half.

To be clear, their 6-2 record is not a mirage: their 20.5% DVOA ranks fifth in the league.  Defensively, their defense has actually been worse than last year (-3.3% to -7.2% — remember, a negative DVOA is good on defense).  Offensively is where they’re probably overachieving: their 19.9% is much higher than their 1% last year, which speaks to Dan’s point about water seeking its level.

On the other hand, it’s possible that Campbell has truly arrived.  His 27.7% DVOA ranks seventh in the league, just ahead of Eli’s 27.5%.  Last year, Campbell’s DVOA was 4.4%, ranking him 22nd in the league.  Eli’s?  -13.5%, though that only includes the regular season.

So is it really fair to assume that the ‘Skins O is a fluke and ours isn’t?

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In terms of the most scary team in what Mike Francessa would call a Big Spot, I agree with Dan that it’s still the ‘Boys.

Think about it: the ‘Boys beat us twice in the regular season last year and then outplayed us in that playoff game.  If Patrick Crayton doesn’t break off his route on that final drive, or if Crayton doesn’t drop two key first down passes, or if Romo doesn’t grievously overthrow T.O. on that third quarter crossing pattern deep in our territory, the Cowboys probably win that game.  Taking nothing away from what we accomplished and how much the Cowboys choked, we were lucky to win that game.  Any time you win a game in which you were outgained 336 to 230, you’ve gotten lucky.

This year, the ‘Boys, at 5-3, haven’t played well, even considering the injuries they’ve had.  Their DVOA of -5.2% places them 20th in the NFL, and owes largely to their shoddy defense (10.2%), far worse than their -5.8% last year.

But two of those losses – a 2-point loss to Washington and an overtime loss to Arizona – could have gone either way.  And if last week’s game against Tampa Bay is any indication, their defense is coming around.

It’s a long season, and their best football is ahead of them.  And do you think there’s anything the Cowboys would relish more than coming into the Meadowlands in January and avenging last year?  That prospect is not unlikely, and has to scare you.

What is unlikely is the Cowboys overtaking us, especially because they will be very hard-pressed if they don’t win on Sunday.  It’s possible, and the 11-point line is a little steep, but I don’t think Brad Johnson is beating us.

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Lastly, just as Dan said, don’t forget about the Eagles.  No, don’t forget about the Eagles at all.

You guys might be a little tired of DVOA by now, but let me point out that it’s actually the Eagles, not the Giants, who rank first in the NFL in the arcane but all-important stat.  (The Eagles are at 38.6%, while the G-Men are at 37.2%.)

They’re in a bit of a hole at 4-3, but in one of those losses, they severely outplayed the Bears (these types of early-season losses seem to always happen to the Eagles).   More importantly, they just got Westbrook back.  4-3 notwithstanding, this team is really good.

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So in conclusion, in terms of the teams that are the biggest threat to overtake us for the division, I would go 1) ‘Skins; 2) Eagles (they’re gonna beat the Seahawks this week); and 3) Cowboys.

But in terms of teams who I fear most in a big game down the stretch, I would go 1) Cowboys; 2) Eagles; and 3) ‘Skins.

We knew that the NFC East was good going into the year, and aside from the Cowboys’ injuries and drama, it has been better than expected.  And the Cowboys, we must assume, will get their shit together.  Scary.