(CBS Philadelphia) -- The NFC East is already shaping up a little like it did last season, when it was known as the NFC Least. The Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Football team have all split their first two games, while the New York Giants remain winless. But there is also some reason for optimism among the four teams. The Cowboys have a fully healed Dak Prescott under center. The Eagles have exceeded expectations to open the season. Washington is getting by despite the underperformance of their normally dominant defense. And the Giants' Daniel Jones is learning to minimize the miscues.
Is that optimism is warranted? We may find more answers in the division's three Week 3 matchups. The Giants draw a favorable matchup against the winless Atlanta Falcons. Washington faces a Buffalo Bills offense that seems to have shifted into high gear. And the Eagles and Cowboys look to pick up a win against a hated division foe.
All times listed are Eastern.
Atlanta Falcons @ New York Giants, Sunday, September 26, 1:00 p.m.
After 0-2 starts, both the Falcons and Giants could already be in danger of missing the playoffs. History has shown that reaching the postseason is almost impossible after an 0-3 start. And that could mean a bit of desperation. The Giants are coming off a heartbreaking loss against Washington, a game they would have won if not for a key special teams mistake that gave the WFT another chance at a game-winning field goal.
But Daniel Jones has played well against two tough defenses in his first two weeks. He threw for 249 yards and a touchdown and ran for 95 yards and another touchdown against Washington. "Daniel Jones played mistake-free," Hartstein pointed out. "There were no turnovers in Washington. They should have won the game."
"We see how dynamic he can be running the ball and throwing the ball," Hartstein continued, "if he can just avoid the turnovers, which he did last week. And I just think, with everything that went on this week, with Kenny Golladay getting upset, and there being talk about are there issues with the offensive coordinator, I think they get it together for this week."
The Golladay dustup notwithstanding, the Giants offense efficiently moved the ball in Washington. Jones connected with Sterling Shephard nine times for 94 yards. The pair hooked up for 7 receptions and a 113 yards the week before. All that's missing is a reliable option out of the backfield, which Saquon Barkley many soon provide once again.
The Falcons have the NFL's worst defense in terms of points allowed. They've given up 80 total in two weeks. The offense hasn't done enough either, though they were able to hang with the Buccaneers for three quarters last week. Ryan tossed two touchdown passes to go along with three interceptions. "Matt Ryan, even though he did lead the team back, he's a statue at this point in his career," according to Hartstein. "He is so immobile, he can't move."
Washington Football Team @ Buffalo Bills, Sunday, September 26, 1:00 p.m.
While the WFT won on a last-second, second-chance field goal, the Bills beat the Miami Dolphins in impressive fashion. Buffalo knocked QB Tua Tagovailoa out of the game early and proceeded to roll over the Jacoby Brissett-led Dolphins, 35-0.
But maybe the win wasn't quite as it appeared. Josh Allen only threw for 179 yards, completing about half his passes. "If you look a little deeper, it wasn't that dominant of a performance," Hartstein pointed out. "And Josh Allen is not the same quarterback, at least so far this year, only completing 56 percent of his passes. You look at all the advanced metrics, and he's really been a top-of-the-bottom-10 quarterback so far this season."
Washington comes into this matchup with Buffalo as a heavy underdog. The much-touted defense has been made to look mortal in the first two weeks. Justin Herbert threw for 337 yards in Week 1, and Daniel Jones threw for 249 yards in Week 2. While both young QBs felt pressure, it wasn't enough to turn the tide of the game.
The WFT offense has found another leader. Ryan Fitzpatrick's injury in Week 1 opened the door for the return of Taylor Heinicke, who many remember from his inspired performance in the team's Wild Card loss to the Buccaneers last season.
"Taylor Heinicke, I mean that kid is really legit," according to Hartstein. "I think he is a legitimate starter in this league, 34-46 for almost 350 guards. And there's something about him, the players believe in him. So, yes, I think Buffalo wins. Yes, Buffalo might get up 10 or 14 points. But I think the backdoor will be open."
Philadelphia Eagles @ Dallas Cowboys, Monday, September 27, 8:15 p.m.
The Cowboys are expected to take the NFC East this season, with the return of Dak Prescott under center. Prescott hasn't shown any ill effects from the ankle injury that ended last season or the setbacks that limited his preseason. He opened the season passing for 403 yards and three TDs against the Bucs before coming back down to earth in a Week 2 win against over Los Angeles Chargers. To be fair, the reduced yardage was likely a function of a more balanced offensive attack, as the running game came to life.
The Cowboys may have to rely on their running game again against the Eagles as the injuries begin to pile up. "Amari Cooper showing up on the injury report with the rib injury," Hartstein noted. "They're already without Michael Gallup. That's going to leave CeeDee Lamb and Cedrick Wilson. I do think Cooper will play. But how many hits is he going to take, and is he then going to be forced to leave the game?"
The Eagles have their own injury concerns, which could affect the Cowboys' ability to run the ball. Defensive end Brandon Graham suffered an Achilles injury against the 49ers and is done for the year. On the other side of the ball, running back Miles Sanders has been limited in practice due to a chest injury. Sanders is averaging 4.6 yards on his 28 carries so far this season. And limited production from him would put more pressure on quarterback Jalen Hurts. The young quarterback has been the team's top rusher so far, with 82 yards last week and 62 the week before.
"The Eagles were dominant in game one against the Falcons," said Hartstein. "And in game two they actually outplayed the 49ers, even though they lost 17-11. They averaged six yards per play, the Niners only 4.5 yards a play. They blew it on fourth down. But otherwise should have definitely covered that game. Instead, they didn't cover or win. But I think they'll keep it close in a division matchup."
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