The Philadelphia Eagles and Chicago Bears face each other as two first-place teams on Dec. 22. However, the Eagles and Bears each needed a lot of help to get there. Both teams lost their opening day quarterback for a time, both got lucky to win a few games -- and both are benefiting from two of the bigger collapses in the NFL today.
For the Eagles, they are mainly in first place because the Dallas Cowboys refuse to seize control of the division. For the Bears, they have sole possession of first because the Detroit Lions have tumbled -- which the Eagles helped with by beating the Lions on Dec. 8.
The Cowboys have already beaten the Eagles once, while the Lions have knocked off the Bears twice. Yet despite holding tiebreakers, they are each a full game back of clubs they've already beaten, and could each be eliminated with one more loss in Week 16.
Presumably, Dallas and Detroit should put added pressure on Philadelphia and Detroit before tonight's kickoff. The Cowboys only have to visit the 3-11, Kirk Cousins led Washington Redskins at 1 p.m. est, before the Lions host the 5-9 New York Giants three hours later. If the Cowboys win, it assures that their matchup with the Eagles on Dec. 29 will decide the NFC East, while the Lions will remain alive if they win and the Bears lose.
However, a Cowboys loss would let the Eagles clinch the division early by beating the Bears. Meanwhile, a Lions loss would eliminate them and leave the Bears and Green Bay Packers as the last teams standing in the NFC North. With Chicago and Green Bay facing off on Dec. 29 in Soldier Field, there could be two divisional championship games next week in the NFC alone -- truly putting the Eagles and Bears in the same boat.
Philadelphia would go to Dallas for its championship game, while Chicago gets to host Green Bay. Yet with just a little more help from the declining Cowboys and Lions, to say nothing of the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers, the winner of tonight's Eagles-Bears game may well be an early divisional champion.
Both Philadelphia and Chicago may well win their divisions anyway, whether by their own merits or not. Nevertheless, the help they've gotten in November and December will be hard to carry over into January -- if they get there.