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2021 NFL schedule: Why the league set up loaded NFC East divisional matchups at end of season

The Washington Football Team has one of the weirdest scheduling quirks the NFL has seen in recent years. Washington will close its season with five straight divisional games, becoming the first team since the 1995 Tampa Bay Buccaneers to close the year with that many consecutive games within the division (back when divisions had five teams instead of four). 

The Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles are two other teams that will play four division opponents over the final five weeks (Carolina Panthers are the other), an interesting trend involving the NFC East teams. The New York Giants also play division opponents in three of their last four games, so the NFC East is likely to come down to the final week once again. 

Why did the NFL set up the majority of NFC East games to close out the season? Charlotte Carey, the league’s director of broadcasting, explained the unique quirk on the NFL Reddit page Thursday. 

“We generally like to see division games at the end of the season,” Carey said. “We think the NFC East is going to be really competitive this season so we’re excited to see how it shakes out this year. So it didn’t happen on purpose but we didn’t preclude it either.”

The NFC East has featured a different division winner in 16 consecutive seasons, the longest current streak in the NFL. The last repeat division winner was the Philadelphia Eagles from 2001 to 2004, so the league is banking on that streak to continue. Washington won the division with a 7-9 record, while Dallas and New York finished 6-10 as the division was decided in the regular season’s final week — or final game in the division’s case (Washington beat Philadelphia to wrap up the division). 

While the NFC East has fallen on hard times over the last few years, the division still houses three of the top five television markets in the United States and four of the top nine. New York is No. 1 followed by Philadelphia at No. 4 and Dallas-Fort Worth at No. 5. Washington D.C. comes in at No. 9. Another reason why the league favors the NFC East, as these matchups can be used for the flex scheduling the league provides late in the season. 

Expect the NFC East to go down to the wire, just like it has in each of the past three years.