Photo Credit to Charles LeClaire, USA Today Sports
Rounding out the NFC half of our preview is what some might consider the most interesting division in football. Not because it has four legitimate playoff contenders like the NFC West, but because it has four teams who could easily go sub .500 (like they did a year ago). The NFC East has always been interesting, even when they are good, because of the parity. There has not a been back-to-back division winner since the Eagles in 2003 and 2004. And going into week 17 last year, the three teams who hadn’t won the division the year before were in the mix to capture the title in 2020. With all that in mind, let’s see what 2021 has in store for the NFC East.
Washington Football Team, 2020 Record: 7-9, 1st place, Lost in Wild Card round to Buccaneers
For years, WFT has been stockpiling defensive linemen. In 2020, it paid off. WFT won the East thanks to one of the best defenses in football. Pair that with a breakout rookie year from Antonio Gibson and average-ish QB play from everyone not named Dwayne Haskins, and this team had just enough juice to squeak out a division win.
Heading into 2021, this team will be looking to repeat, and have made some upgrades to help them do that. The first change was upgrading the QB position. Enter the ageless gunslinger, Ryan Fitzpatrick. Fitzpatrick played well last year for Miami before being benched for rookie first-rounder Tua. While Fitzpatrick isn’t the long-term solution at QB, he was thrust into a similar situation last year: a solid defense with good offensive weapons. The difference here is, Fitzpatrick doesn’t have to worry about a young QB breathing down his neck. Fitz will also have some new toys to place with, as WFT added Curtis Samuel and Adam Humphries to the receiver core via free agency. They also drafted Dyami Brown, a dynamic receiver from UNC, and Samuel Cosmi, a solid tackle from Texas. On defense, this team should be just as good, if not better than last year. Their stacked defensive line is back in full force, which was the strength of their defense. In the second level, WFT drafted linebacker Jamin Davis. And while there weren’t any major additions made to the secondary, they do get Landon Collins back, who went down in week 7 last year with a torn ACL.
This team is going to live and die by Ryan Fitzpatrick. When he’s FitzMagic, they should be blowing out teams. Unfortunately, we will at times see FitzTragic. But, this defense is good enough that they should be able to survive at least a few games when FitzTragic makes an appearance.
WFT 2021 Record Prediction: 7-10
New York Giants, 2020 Record: 6-10, 2nd place
Despite their 6-10 record, New York was actually better than expected under first-year coach Joe Judge. This team was in a lot of games and was a couple of plays away from being 8-8 (dropped catch by Engram to end the Eagles game and Danny Dimes hesitating on a huge play at the end of the Buccs’ game). The Giants are hoping to build on a strong first season by Judge to capture their first NFC East title since the days of Eli and Odell.
The biggest story on offense will be how Daniel Jones performs in year 3. Because of pressure from fans and owners, QBs have a shorter and shorter shelf life to prove if they’ll be any good. After an up and down first two years, Danny Dimes will have to show more consistency in year 3. And offensively, there’s not a lot of excuses for him to not succeed. First, he’ll be getting back one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL, Saquon Barkley. And at receiver, this core received some big upgrades. The Giants used their first-round pick on Kadarius Toney, an explosive receiver from Florida, and signed former Lions’ standout Kenny Golladay. They also added some depth at wideout, signing former first-round pick John Ross and claiming former Jaguar Collin Johnson as well. Add this to the already present Darius Slayton and the perennial “breakout year” contender Evan Engram, and Danny Dimes has no reason to not succeed. Last year, this defense was pretty average, ranking 17th in weighted DVOA. Personnel-wise, they didn’t really make any huge improvements. The only addition made to the starting lineup was the signing of Adoree Jackson to the DBs.
At the moment, there’s really no clear-cut best team in this division. With a loaded offense and a replacement-level defense, the Giants have as good a chance as anyone to win the NFC East. Really, it comes down to Daniel Jones. His make-or-break year will also make or break the Giants.
Giants 2021 Record Prediction: 5-12
Dallas Cowboys, 2020 Record: 6-10, 3rd Place
Hopes were high for Dallas last year. They finally got rid of Jason Garrett, they had a stacked offense, and they were playing in a weak division. Many people not only picked America’s Team to win the NFC East but even the entire NFC and in some cases, the Super Bowl. Fast forward, and this team was well below .500 thanks to one of the worst defenses in football and a season-ending injury to Dak Prescott.
Now that everyone is back, people are expecting huge things from this Dallas offense. They get Dak Prescott back from his ankle injury and still have a ton of playmakers on offense with Zeke, Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup. The offensive line should be better this year with Collins, Martin, and Smith all fully healthy, which should help both Dak and Zeke. On defense, this team made some strides to not be atrocious once again. They used their first five picks on defensive players, including a first-round pick on LB Micah Parsons. In free agency, Dallas’ biggest move was adding Damontae Kazee to the secondary. While Dallas tried to get better on defense, it likely won’t be enough to rank them in the top half of the league. Which could hurt their chances of winning the division
While many expect big things from the Cowboys’ offense and this team in general, my expectations are more tempered. Sure, Dak Prescott was on pace to eclipse 6000 yards passing last year in his four games. But the team was still 1-3 in those games, with their one win coming off a nearly impossible comeback 20+ point comeback against the Falcons. Their offensive explosion last year wasn’t sustainable and was the result of constantly playing from behind. Plus, Dak is still coming off a gruesome ankle injury and is starting this year with should issues. This offense will be good (assuming Dak is healthy), but to think they will be a top 5 offense that overcomes bad defensive play and lead to an easy division win is debatable at best.
Cowboys 2021 Record Prediction: 5-12
Philadelphia Eagles, 2020 Record: 4-11-1, 4th Place
After winning the division in 2019, 2020 was a disaster for the Eagles. There were a plethora of injuries on both sides of the ball, the highly drafted receivers didn’t produce, and Carson Wentz just didn’t play well at all. While he’s hardly the only reason the team was terrible, he received the brunt of the blame, which strained his relationship with the team and front office, leading the team to move on from him. Now, the Eagles are looking to bounce back with a new QB and coach.
As previously mentioned, the biggest change for the Eagles is their head coach and QB. Nick Sirianni, the former Colts’ OC, is the Eagles' new HC (and a first time HC) while 2nd year, second-round pick Jalen Hurts takes the reins at QB. Hurts had moments last year where he looked good and a lot where he looked bad. But like Wentz, Hurts was thrown into an impossible situation with a team riddled with injuries. While the injured players being healthy certainly helps, the Eagles also made some additions. On offense, they used their first-round pick on the explosive Heisman winner Devonta Smith. Smith is a playmaker who may end up being a better version of Desean Jackson for this Eagles team. He joins an otherwise lackluster receiving core featuring JJ Arcega-Whiteside and Jalen Reagor. The rest of the skill position core is rounded out by Zach Ertz, Dallas Goedert, and Miles Sanders. While there aren’t any standout players on offense, there are enough above-average players that this offense can be a problem if Jalen Hurts takes a big step forward this year. On defense, this team really didn’t make major upgrades. Their best players are getting older (Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham) and their biggest addition was Anthony Harris, who’s a good player, but isn’t exactly a guy who’s a huge difference-maker on defense.
This team has some potential for upside, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. However, a below-average defense and an offense that even at full potential, likely isn’t a top 10 offense. This will likely be a rebuilding year for this team who will look to use the draft and free agency to reload for next year.
Eagles 2021 Record Prediction: 4-13
Final NFC East Standings
Washington Football Team 7-10
Dallas Cowboys 5-12
New York Giants 5-12
Philadelphia Eagles 4-13