Written by Stephen Brown III
Now that we’ve covered the most exciting division in the NFC, let’s move to what may be the least exciting. The NFC East is notorious for having teams that underperform year in and year out. Just about the only exciting thing about this division is that there hasn’t been a repeat winner since the Eagles won the division for the fourth straight year in 2004. Will the Eagles be the first repeat winners in 16 years? Or will the streak continue?
Philadelphia Eagles, Last year record: 9-7, 1st place
This team had a lot of ups and downs last year. The biggest hurdle for the playoff push was the fact that they were decimated by injuries. By the final week, Carson Wentz was throwing to practice squad players. Despite this, he became the first QB in NFL history to throw for 4000 yards, despite not having a receiver reach 500 receiving yards.
On offense, this team definitely improved. While Alshon Jeffery is still out for a few weeks, this team does return DeSean Jackson, who was dynamic in the few games he played last year. However, their biggest free-agent acquisition, Marquise Goodwin, has decided to opt-out for the season. The receiving core has improved though, with the drafting of Jalen Reagor in the first round. With Jordan Howard gone, Miles Sanders, who had a breakout rookie year, should get the bulk of the touches out of the backfield. Finally, the skill position players are rounded out by Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert at tight end. While Goedert will still be second fiddle to Ertz, he’s improved each of his first two years in the NFL. And with Goodwin opting out and Jeffery injured, he should get a lot of targets from Wentz early on in the season. The biggest potential X-factor on this offense is Jalen Hurts. Hurts was drafted in the second round by the Eagles and is a dynamic player at the QB position. Considering Doug Pederson’s propensity for creativity, I’m sure he’ll find a way to utilize Hurts in the offense.
On defense, this team gained some nice pieces. Although they lost Malcolm Jenkins, they did add Javon Hargrave, Nickell Robey-Coleman, and, their biggest addition, Darius Slay. They also drafted safety K’Von Wallace from Clemson, who many think could make an impact similar to Malcolm Jenkins (although not at the same level). Last year, this unit was ranked 11th in DVOA according to Football Outsiders. Considering their additions outweigh their subtractions, I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team be in roughly the same position this coming season.
This team barely squeaked into the playoffs last year. Their division win was as much about them overcoming diversity as it was about the Cowboys imploding. With some key pieces healthy again and Wentz having another year under his belt, this team is poised to make yet another run at a division title.
Final Record: 10-6
Dallas Cowboys, Last year record: 8-8, 2nd Place
Ah yes, “America’s Team”. Really, this is the team that America loves to hate. Expectations are always sky high for this team and yet somehow, they always manage to disappoint. This team should’ve had the division locked up last year, but some late-season losses to Chicago and Philly derailed their season. Now, with a new coach and some new toys on offense, expectations are once again Super Bowl or bust for the Cowboys. But can they get out of their own way this year?
On offense, the big three of Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliot, and Amari Cooper return. These three are the core of their offense and the team’s success depends on how these three perform. However, this core is also surrounded by talent. This offensive line should still be excellent, giving Zeke holes to run through and Dak time to throw. At receiver, Michael Gallup will look to build on a strong second season, where he went 66/1107/6. Adding to the dynamism at the receiver core is rookie CeeDee Lamb. Lamb was considered the best receiver in the draft by many, and the Cowboys were fortunate that he fell to them. The biggest question mark on offense will be new head coach Mike McCarthy. McCarthy was last seen getting fired in Green Bay due to his offense getting stale. With a year and a half off to study and revamp his offense, folks are expecting him to bring innovation and excitement to a Cowboys offense that also seemed to be stale (thanks to Jason Garrett).
The Dallas defense was ranked 6th in DVOA last year according to Football Outsiders, however, I don’t expect them to be that high again this year. While they return some key pieces such as Demarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, and Jaylon Smith, they lost some big contributors. Robert Quinn, who had 11.5 sacks, signed with Chicago this offseason and CB Byron Jones signed with Miami. Plus, long time Cowboy Sean Lee finds himself on the IR. They did add Dontari Poe, Everson Griffin, and Trevon Diggs (via the draft) however, the first two are older and have seen declining production while the latter is an unproven rookie. While I’m sure this defense will still be good, I doubt they’ll be a top 10 defense this year.
The identity of this team is their offense. If this team is going to win the division, they are going to need their offense to put up points. Their defense should be good enough to not cost them games. But if the offense falters, then this team could once again find itself missing the playoffs or exiting in the wild card round.
Final Record: 9-7
New York Giants, Last year record: 4-12, 3rd Place
For years, the Giants denied that they needed to rebuild. They finally accepted it last year by drafting Daniel Jones and eventually, starting him over Eli Manning. With the rebuild in full effect under new head coach Joe Judge, this team is actually in pretty good shape. While this team isn’t going to be competing for the division or even a wild card spot this year, they could be looking to approach .500 and play spoiler for some potential playoff teams later in the season.
The only real addition to this offense was the drafting of LT Andrew Thomas. Thomas is a solid prospect who the Giants are hoping will protect Daniel Jones blindside for years to come. Speaker of Jones, entering his second year, people in the organization will be looking for Danny Dimes to make a big leap in his second year. The Giants were trashed for taking Daniel Jones with the sixth pick in the draft in 2019. Many thought they could’ve used that pick to grab someone else, and then grab Jones with their second first-round pick. However, despite the negativity surrounding him, Jones had a pretty good first season. He completed 62% of his passes for 3027 yards, 24 TDs, and 12 Ints. His big issue was fumbling: he led the league with 18 of them. However, ball security is something that can be corrected, especially early in his career. As far as skill positions, Saquon Barkley, Evan Ingram, Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard, and Golden Tate all return. Barkley and Ingram will be the biggest assets to Jones' growth, while Slayton, who had a breakout rookie year, will look to continue to grow with Jones.
On defense, this team is very unexciting. They return some young players such as Dexter Lawrence, Jabrill Peppers, Leonard Williams, and Julian Love. They also added Blake Martinez and James Bradberry. There really isn’t much to say about this defense. The like offense, the defense will be looking to develop some of their young players, such as Lawrence and Peppers. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this defense ranked in the back half of the league.
This isn’t the year for the Giants to make the playoffs. Even with expanded playoffs, I don’t see them compiling enough wins. However, if their offense can look good, then hopefully that will help attract some free agents next offseason. Pair that with a good draft, and 2021 might be the year for the Giants.
Final Record: 4-12
Washington Football Team, Last year record: 3-13, 4th Place
Record-wise, Washington was the second-worst team in football. They are also in rebuild mode, however, the future looks less promising for them than the Giants. They have a new head coach, they have a young QB, they have a stud pass rusher, but will it translate to wins in the next couple of years?
Much like how the Giants will be looking to develop Danny Dimes, Washington will be looking to spend this year developing Dwayne Haskins. Unfortunately, Haskins’ year was less encouraging than Jones’. In 9 games (7 starts), Haskins was under 60% for completions, with 1365 yards, 7 TDs, and 7 Ints. However, Haskins was only a rookie who had very little around him. So, while it might be hard to be optimistic, it’s certainly too soon to write him off yet. The rest of the offense is largely unchanged. Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice were both cut (for very different reasons, leaving room for guys like JD McKissic, Antonio Gibson, Peyton Barber, and Bryce Love to jockey for touches. Breakout rookie Terry McLaurin headlines this receiving core, who doesn’t really have much else. The only other guy to look out for on this offense is rookie receiver Antonio Gandy-Golden. AGG is a big body receiver who had two excellent seasons at Liberty. He’s a big target that could become a safety blanket for Haskins if he can prove himself as a reliable receiver.
On defense, this team has a chance to be average. The front four is loaded with talent, boasting a first-round selection by Washington from each of the last four drafts. The most exciting player of the four is rookie Chase Young. Young was the consensus best non-QB in the draft. He absolutely dominated at Ohio State and considering how well DE talent seems to transfer from college to the NFL, he’s expected to be a force. Outside of the front four, this team is fairly average to below average. They have some pieces, such as Landon Collins, Kendall Fuller, and Jon Bostic. However, with how poorly this offense is likely going to operate, I think the defense will be spending a lot of time on the field, which doesn’t typically translate to success.
So, I have a radical idea for Washington. Don’t start Dwayne Haskins this year. He clearly looked overwhelmed and not ready. If Alex Smith is ready, I’d start him. For one, he’s a great player to learn from (as evidenced by Patrick Mahomes’ success). Second, he’s clearly not your future. If you start him and he plays well, then you can maybe get a second or third-round pick for him to help the rebuild (and if he plays well enough, a desperate team might give up a first-round pick). The only thing Washington is fighting for is third place. This season is nothing more than developmental. Might as well get some draft capital so that this team can be relevant again sooner rather than later.
Final Record: 2-14
There really isn’t much to watch this year in this division. It’ll be two teams fighting for first place and two teams fighting for last (and a top-five pick). Despite high expectations, I wouldn’t be surprised if by Week 16 or 17, the Cowboys and Eagles are simply fighting to see who is less incompetent.