There are some streaks/records in sports that are simply unexplainable.
From May of 1992 to July of 1993, Mets starting pitcher Anthony Young started his career with 27 consecutive losing decisions, an incredible stretch made even more incredible in that, during the streak, he put together a 23-inning scoreless streak. Notre Dame once won 43 straight games over Navy in college football. In January of 2020, Clemson’s college basketball team finally beat North Carolina on its home court for the first time ever, snapping an incomprehensible 0-59 run. Big league pitcher Johnny Van Der Meer remains the only pitcher in MLB history to throw two straight no-hitters.
The NFC East’s streak of 17 straight seasons without a repeat champion may not be quite as crazy, but it’s wild nonetheless.
The last team to repeat was, of course, the Eagles, who won four straight division titles during the height of the Andy Reid era, from 2001-2004. What’s happened since then?
Injury issues that have played a part, but mostly, off-field issues and the lack of a true, difference-making quarterback for any team in the division is to blame. Let’s take a year-by-year look at just how this insane streak has come to pass.
2005 Philadelphia Eagles
This nonsense all began the second Terrell Owens took off his shirt and started doing sit-ups in his driveway.
Coming off their heart-breaking loss to Tom Brady and the Patriots in the Super Bowl, Philadelphia’s divisional dominance was finally broken by injury and the bitter, team-dividing acrimony between Owens and his quarterback Donovan McNabb as well as a contract dispute with the front office. The Birds finished 6-10, last in the NFC East, with the Giants breaking the Eagles’ four-year run, beginning a new era of parity within the division.
2006 New York Giants
For a while there, it looked like New York was on a path to repeat, opening with a 6-2 record, but running back Tiki Barber, at the height of his career, announced he was going to retire for a career in the media at season’s end, causing a team-wide distraction. The Giants stumbled down the stretch and finished 2-6, barely making the playoffs as a wild card at 8-8. The Eagles, meanwhile, started the season 5-6 and lost McNabb to an injury for the season in Week 11, but Jeff Garcia rallied the team to five straight victories to close the season, including three divisional road wins in a row, to clinch the division. The Eagles beat the Giants in the wild card round, but fell to the Saints in the divisional round of the playoffs.
2007 Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles made a string of controversial decisions that off-season, deciding not to re-sign Garcia as a back-up or wide receiver Donte’ Stallworth, and instead inked Kevin Curtis and A.J. Feely to deals. They also cut popular linebacker Jeremiah Trotter and, with another injury to McNabb that forced him to miss two games in November, the team never found its footing. Meanwhile, the Dallas Cowboys jumped out to a 12-1 record under Tony Romo and finished 13-3, tops in the NFC, but lost in their first playoff game to a Giants team that went on to pull off one of the biggest upsets in NFL history, beating the previously unbeaten Patriots in the Super Bowl.
2008 Dallas Cowboys
44-6. That’s what happened.
Actually, it was the Giants who ended up winning the division, but like the Cowboys the year before, lost their first playoff game to a surging Eagles team that ultimately fell in the NFC Championship Game to the Arizona Cardinals.
2009 New York Giants
A year after racing to a 12-4 record in ‘08, the Giants fell back to 8-8, 3rd in the NFC East. New York started 5-0 and looked well on their way to repeating, but went 3-8 in their last 11 games. The Cowboys and Eagles dueled down the stretch, the Eagles with a chance to take the division and the No. 2 seed in the final week of the season if they could beat the Cowboys in Dallas. They didn’t, then had to play in Dallas again the following week in the wild card round, suffering a second straight humiliating loss in the process. Thus, ended the Donovan McNabb era in Philadelphia.
2010 Dallas Cowboys
Enter Michael Vick who, under Andy Reid, resuscitated his career with the Eagles and led them to 10-6 record that helped them secure first place in the NFC East, based on a tie-breaker with the also-10-6 Giants. A tiebreaker forged by a miracle.
Dallas started 1-7 and head coach Wade Phillips became the first Cowboys skipper to be fired in-season, replaced by Jason Garrett. Injuries at quarterback forced Jon Kitna to start nine games in place of Tony Romo, sealing Dallas’ fate.
2011 Philadelphia Eagles
The 2011 season was not a banner year for the division, with the Giants taking it with a meager 9-7 record, while the 8-8 Eagles finished tied with Dallas in 2nd place. This was, of course, the Dream Team season with Vince Young, and Juan Castillo, the offensive line coach, named defensive coordinator. It was pretty much a disaster from start to finish. The Giants, meanwhile, went on to beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl again.
2012 New York Giants
New York almost pulled off the repeat but, at 9-7, finished one game behind the Robert Griffin III-led Washington football franchise. Griffin’s stint as a franchise QB was short-lived, of course, as injuries derailed what was an extremely promising career, otherwise Washington might have won a couple division titles in a row.
2013 Washington Commanders
After going 10-6, Washington stumbled to a 3-13 record and head coach Mike Shanahan was fired after a season that featured one of the worst special teams units in recent memory. RGIII started 13 games but was far from the dynamic player of his rookie season. Meanwhile, the Chip Kelly era began in Philadelphia, with Mike Vick, DeSean Jackson and LeSean McCoy transforming the Eagles’ offense into one of the most powerful in the NFL.
2014 Philadelphia Eagles
In what should have been the start of a glorious era in which the Eagles, under Kelly, transformed the game of football, Kelly’s ego sabotaged his tenure in Philadelphia. After jettisoning Jackson and McCoy for no real reason, the Birds’ stumbled down the stretch as a combination of Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez blew a 9-3 record and finished 10-6, out of the playoff picture. The Cowboys took advantage. After losing to the Eagles on Thanksgiving to fall to 8-4, Dallas and Tony Romo won their final four games to run away with the East.
2015 Dallas Cowboys
The Cowboys started 2-0 and finished 4-12, their worst record since their infamous 1-15 season in 1989. The reason? Four different quarterbacks started multiple games in the same season: Matt Cassel (7), Romo (4), Brandon Weeden (3), and Kellen Moore (2). They combined for 16 TDs and 22 INTs. It was ugly.
Washington took advantage of the power vacuum, with Kirk Cousins leading them to four straight wins at the end of the year to a 9-7 record and a division title. They lost in the opening round to the Packers.
2016 Washington Commanders
Amazingly, the Kirk Cousins-led Washington dynasty wasn’t meant to be. Although they went 8-7-1, just a half-game worse than the season before, they finished in 3rd place behind the Cowboys, who won the division at 13-3, and the Giants, at 11-5. You can probably blame the schedule for this one: along with the Philadelphia Eagles, Washington was the only team that played seven regular-season games against teams that would reach the playoffs that year. They went 2-5 in those games.
2017 Dallas Cowboys
Carson Wentz. Nick Foles. Brandon Graham.
The NFC East, and the rest of the league, just couldn’t match up with the Eagles in 2017.
2018 Philadelphia Eagles
Although the Birds made the playoffs as a wild card in 2018, they finished behind the Cowboys in the division due mainly to a catastrophic run of injuries, most specifically, to Wentz again. Foles saved the season one more time, and the Double Doink game in Chicago was fun, but those injuries were too much to allow them to repeat as division champs.
2019 Dallas Cowboys
After winning the East with a 10-6 record in ‘18, the race for the division title came down to two flawed teams in a division that was quickly becoming one of the worst in the NFL. After sitting at 5-7 through Week 13, Wentz got up off the mat and rallied the Eagles to four straight wins to save the season, including the Eagles’ 17-9 victory at Lincoln Financial Field in Week 16 that locked up the division title, at 9-7. Dallas fell short of the playoffs as a result, going 8-8.
2020 Philadelphia Eagles
What a weird and ugly year in the NFC East. Since the NFL expanded to 12 teams in 2002, Washington became just the fifth team to win the division with a losing record, finishing 7-9, a game ahead of the 6-10 Giants and Cowboys. Wentz, the should-have-been MVP of the league in 2017, saw his career crater with the Eagles in ‘20, eventually being benched in favor of 2nd-round pick rookie Jalen Hurts. The season resulted in the shocking firing of Doug Pederson and the end of a glorious Eagles era. Dak Prescott was also lost for the season with an awful leg injury, while Alex Smith somehow made it back from one of the worst leg injuries ever suffered in an NFL game to help lead Washington to its asterisk-laden division title.
2021 Washington Commanders
No one expected Washington to repeat as division winners last year and, of course, they didn’t. When free agent quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was lost for the season in Week 1, so was Washington’s chances of competing for a division title. Dak Prescott returned from injury and let a potent Cowboys offense and a revived Dallas defense to a 12-5 record in the new 17-game schedule.
So what will happen in 2022? By all appearances, we could be in for yet another new divisional champion this year.
Dallas has subtracted more than they’ve added this off-season, and with much of their defensive prowess buoyed by unsustainable turnover rates, they appear to have taken a step back. The Eagles just signed former Pro Bowl cornerback James Bradbury to a one-year, $10 million deal, yet another part of an off-season haul that has seen them add another No. 1 wide receiver, one of the top free agent edge rushers, a potential stud defensive tackle in the draft, a starting caliber linebacker in the draft, and another quality linebacker in free agency.
One of these years, an NFC East team will end this ludicrous streak. I wouldn’t put money on it happening this year, though.