Mark Schlereth began his career as an offensive lineman for the Washington Redskins from 1989-94, an era during which the NFC East won four consecutive Super Bowls — all against the Buffalo Bills.
So seeing what has happened to the division in 2015 has come as even more of a shock to the ESPN analyst than it has to the rest of us.
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“I mean it kind of is what it is, and it’s pretty much garbage, which is sad,” Schlereth said Thursday in advance of a weekend that will culminate with the Giants visiting the Dolphins on “Monday Night Football.”
“It is interesting that every team has kind of just a myriad of different issues. When you look at each team, you see each team’s particular wart, and they’re all different. It’s just sad, though, because every team has a wart or a couple of warts.
“They’re all different, but each team is equally bad.”
Perhaps, but someone has to win the division, even with the Giants, Eagles and Redskins currently tied for first place at 5-7, and the Cowboys close behind at 4-8. So which team does Schlereth think will emerge?
“I‘ve sat on the Giants, simply because sometimes you can cover up a few warts with a quarterback and a favorite receiver,” he said. “You can make up for some problems . . . I have more confidence in Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. being able to pull something out than I do [the Redskins’] Kirk Cousins to DeSean Jackson or than I do [the Eagles’] Sam Bradford to whoever. And I certainly have no faith in [the Cowboys’] Matt Cassel to win anything.”
Schlereth also believes the Giants’ several late, come-from-ahead losses could be cause for optimism.
“If they just manage it better,” he said. “If [Tom] Coughlin doesn’t go for it on fourth-and-2 last week and just kicks a field goal, they beat the Jets, and the Jets are a pretty damn good football team.
“I keep watching the Giants and I see them do some good things. Even though they have deficiencies on the defensive side of the ball and they can’t rush the passer and their offensive line is banged up and they’re not very good, they’re still the one team in that division that keeps beating themselves.
“So I’m thinking to myself if they just don’t beat themselves, if they manage the end of the game properly — which is crazy with a coach like Tom Coughlin, you would think that would be second nature — I keep thinking they’re eventually going to not shoot themselves in the foot and end up winning that division.”
Regardless, the division is a far cry from what it has been for much of its history, including Schlereth’s era.
“When I came in it was either us, the Giants or the Cowboys were winning the Super Bowl, period; that was just the way it was,” he said. “Growing up there and kind of cutting my teeth as a member of the ’Skins, we used to just say, and believe it, that nobody else plays the physical brand of football that we play in this division.
“Teams think they can compete with us until they try to compete with us. Then we feed them a mouth full of Riddell and everybody goes, oh, they’re a little bit different than the rest of us. That was the NFL I cut my teeth in. So to see it as bad as it is is almost shocking.”