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Witten on MNF Football

FILE - In this Sept. 8, 2019 file photo, Dallas Cowboys tight end Jason Witten (82) celebrates catching a touchdown pass as New York Giants defensive back Michael Thomas (31) defends in the first half of a NFL football game in Arlington, Texas. (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins, File)

Over the last two seasons, there is only one division in the NFL that's had more prime-time games than the NFC East's quartet of the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles and Washington. 

In 2020, hopefully the NFL scheduling gurus limit how much national exposure these four mediocre franchises get. 

For years, there has been a notion that teams need to earn their prime-time spots. The Buffalo Bills are an example. The Bills, who had similar years of mediocrity as all of the NFC East teams, were lucky to get a Thursday night or Monday night game. For 12 years, they were shut out of the NFL's prime prime-time spot: NBC's "Sunday Night Football." That will change Sunday, Dec. 15, when the Bills play the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sunday Night Football. 

It's easy to see why the NFC East, despite its average play on the field, gets this much attention. The division boasts several large media markets: Dallas, New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C. Those numbers matter to a money-hungry and ratings-hungry league. 

But should they? Or should the league, in its lineup of (usually) three prime-time games ever week, emphasis quality over quantity? 

The Giants were a bad team last year (finished with a 5-11 record in 2018) and it was projected that they would be a bad team again in 2019. Sure enough, they've lived up to the billing. Entering Week 14, the Giants are 2-10. 

Yet, the Giants will play in their third prime-time game of the season when they visit the Philadelphia Eagles Monday night. 

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Washington finished 2018 with a 7-9 record and with a lot of holes in the roster, they were expected to finish with a low win total this season. Through 13 weeks, Washington is 3-9. They played in two prime-time games this season. 

Dallas and Philadelphia were playoff teams a season ago, but they finished with 10-6 and 9-7 records, respectively. Each club will have played in five prime-time games this season. 

To put this in perspective: The New England Patriots, easily the best franchise in football over the last two decades, will play in five prime-time games this season. The Kansas City Chiefs, who came within a win over a Super Bowl appearance last season with reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, have five prime-time games. 

Last season, NFC East teams appeared in 16 prime-time games, equaling the league-high total for AFC West and NFC North teams. This season, NFC North and NFC West teams will appear in the most prime-time games with 16 apiece. The NFC East isn't too far behind, though. Dallas, New York, Philadelphia and Washington will appear in a combined 14 prime-time games. 

Interestingly, the division with the fewest prime-time appearances over the last two seasons is the AFC South. In 2019, AFC South teams will appear in eight prime-time games. That's mind-boggling when you consider three teams in the division — Houston, Indianapolis and Tennessee — had winning records a season ago. (Houston and Indianapolis each had 10-plus wins and made the playoffs.) 

This year, the AFC South is competitive again. Houston is 8-4, Tennessee is 7-5 and Indianapolis is 6-6. But the teams received minimum prime-time exposure compared to their counterparts in the NFC East. 

Going forward, the NFL should emphasize quality. The NFC East teams may be competitive again, but they should have to prove themselves before receiving the highest (or second-highest) number of prime-time games. It's silly to keep trotting out these mediocre squads when better teams receive less attention. 

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Online producer Robert Harding can be reached at (315) 282-2220 or robert.harding@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @robertharding.

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Online producer and politics reporter

I have been The Citizen's online producer and politics reporter since December 2009. I'm the author of the Eye on NY blog and write the weekly Eye on NY column that appears every Sunday in the print edition of The Citizen and online at auburnpub.com.