By ROB MAADDI
AP Sports Writer
The hottest team in the NFC East is the New York Giants.
A once-proud division that has more Super Bowl titles (12) than any other was the NFC Least for the first half of the season. Only Dallas (5-4) has a winning record and the last-place Giants (2-6) own the longest current win streak at two.
The Eagles (4-5) can’t win at home — 10 straight losses, including four this year. The Redskins (3-5) clearly aren’t the same team that came from nowhere to win the division title last year.
It may only take an 8-8 record to finish first this season, and it wouldn’t be a surprise if 7-9 did the trick.
Poor defense is the biggest reason these teams have struggled. The Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins have the three lowest-ranked defenses in the NFL. On the other hand, those three have offenses in the top 12.
The mediocre state of the division has every team thinking it has a chance. First team to win four in a row might run away with it.
Here are five things to know about the NFC East going into the second half:
TONY TERRIFIC: The Cowboys will go as far as Tony Romo takes them. Sound familiar? Been that way for years. Romo has been outstanding for the most part, throwing for 2,553 yards and 20 TDs to just six interceptions. His passer rating of 100.0 is fifth-highest in the league and second-best in his career. And he’s doing it without a run game. The Cowboys, who ran just nine times in Sunday’s win over Minnesota, are averaging just 75.7 yards on the ground.
Romo, however, won’t shed the can’t-win-the-big-one label until he delivers in a do-or-die game. He gave detractors more ammunition when he spoiled the first 500-yard passing game in Cowboys history with a crucial fourth-quarter interception in a 51-48 loss to Peyton Manning and the Broncos last month. But Dallas is 3-1 since that disappointment, including a 17-3 win in Philadelphia in a first-half battle for first place.
WORST TO FIRST?: Chip Kelly already has won as many games in his rookie year as Andy Reid did in his last season in Philadelphia. Kelly’s up-tempo, spread offense has been dynamic, but injuries to Michael Vick and Nick Foles slowed the Eagles down for two weeks. Foles, though, rebounded from a dreadful performance in the loss to the Cowboys with arguably the best game by any quarterback in NFL history — 22 of 28 for 406 yards, seven TDs and no picks in a 49-20 win at Oakland.
A defense that couldn’t stop anybody has steadily improved since a 52-20 loss to Manning and the Broncos in Week 4. Now if the Eagles can find a way to win at the Linc, they just might end up making the playoffs.
INCONSISTENT REDSKINS: After a 3-6 start in 2012, RG3 led the Redskins to seven straight wins and their first division title since 1999. The good news this year is they’re in a better spot. But they’re too up-and-down and Griffin is still working his way back following his knee surgery. At times, Griffin plays like the guy who nearly transformed the position during a sensational rookie year. Other times, he appears to have lost a step as he suffers through sophomore growing pains.
Defense is the team’s downfall. The Redskins are 30th in yards allowed and only Jacksonville allows more points per game than Washington (31.6). That’s too much for a working-his-way-back RG3 to overcome.
CHAMPS TO CHUMPS: The Giants won two Super Bowl titles in the previous six seasons and barely missed the playoffs last year. They were expected to contend for the division crown this season, but stumbled to an 0-6 start. Turnovers and no running game were major factors for the dreadful record. Eli Manning threw 15 interceptions in the first six games and didn’t get any help from his backs. The Giants have the third-worst rushing offense in the league at 69.9 yards per game. Defense didn’t do its part, either. Despite having pass rushers who used to torment QBs, the Giants got five sacks in the six losses.
But New York turned it around with two wins in a six-day span over Minnesota at home and in Philadelphia. The Giants had a bye last week while the rest of the division won, a big blow to their in-season worst-to-first hopes. Still, they have a slight shot.
PREDICTING THE FINISH: It’ll come down to Eagles at Cowboys in Week 17. Romo wins the big one and Dallas advances. Both teams may even finish 8-8, but Cowboys get the tiebreaker for sweeping the season series. Redskins stay in third place and Giants remain last.