(Kirby Lee/USA Today Sports)
Continuing our clockwise trip around the country, we arrive at the NFC East. The NFC East is always interesting because no team has won it in back to back seasons since 2004. And with the Eagles making some big moves, that streak may stay alive.
1. Dallas Cowboys, 12-5, 1st place, Lost in Divisional Round to 49ers
Every year, Cowboys fans come out in droves to exclaim that this is their year. Well, 2021 looked like it might actually be. The Cowboys earned the three seed and were within a game of the one seed. Unfortunately for them, they ran into the red hot Niners and got bounced round one. Did they make enough improvements to take the next step?
On offense, the Cowboys return their borderline top 10 QB, Dak Prescott, as well as Zeke Elliot, Tony Pollard, CeeDee Lamb, and Dalton Schultz. What this this team is missing from last year is Amari Cooper. After signing Michael Gallup to a big extension, that wouldn’t seem like such a big deal, except that Gallup is out for at least week one of this season. He’s going to really need to step up as the WR2, but coming off an injury, who knows how long it’ll take him to be ready to truly be effective in that role. The biggest issue with this team is the offensive line. Dallas’ offensive line has been strong for years, so it feels weird to say, but their line is weak this year. They spent a first-round pick on LT Tyler Smith and they return Zack Martin, but other than that, their offensive line needs some work.
This defense was surprisingly strong last year, led by rookie sensation Micah Parsons. Demarcus Lawrence, Leighton Vander Esch, and Malik Hooker all return as well. And of course, who can forget the most polarizing DB in football, Trevon Diggs. Diggs is polarizing not because of his attitude or actions, but because of his play. While he led the league in interceptions last year, he also was one of the worst DBs per advanced metrics. Basically, he was either getting burned or getting an interception. So while you have to mention his interceptions while talking about this defense, overall, he may be doing more harm than good.
Is this finally their year? I don’t think so. I’m still not convinced with Mike McCarthy as a head coach. He has shown time and time again that he doesn’t make great decisions in clutch situations. Even if the defense is solid again, I just don’t have a lot of faith in this offense. They have some great pieces, with Dak, Zeke, and Lamb, but their offensive line could render them all useless.
Final Record Prediction: 9-8
2. Philadelphia Eagles, 9-8, 2nd place, Lost in Wild Card Round to Buccaneers
After a sluggish start to new HC Nick Sirianni’s career, the Eagles got hot and made a push to an above .500 record and a playoff spot. Even though they got blasted by the Bucs, there was a lot to like about this team, and they spent their offseason getting better.
On offense, many key players return, including Jalen Hurts, DeVonta Smith, Miles Sanders, and Dallas Goedart. The offensive line also returns, which should be a strength for this team. And of course, the biggest addition for this team was the trading of their first-round pick for AJ Brown. I personally love when teams do this: take a first or second-round pick and trade it for a proven asset. It has clearly been working for the Rams, so why not the Eagles? With Brown and Smith, the Eagles have a chance to have one of the best receiver duos in football. The biggest “if” for this team will be if Jalen Hurts can take that next step. This team leaned on the run to squeak into the playoffs last year, but if they want to take it to the next level, Jalen Hurts will have to take the next step as a passer.
The defense was stout last year and just got better this year. Their first- and third-round picks were used on Jordan Davis and Nakobi Dean, two picks I absolutely loved. They also added James Bradberry, CJ Gardner-Johnson, Hassan Reddick, and Kyzir White. All of these additions complement some solid mainstays such as Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, and Darius Slay. This defense has a chance to be in the top 5 this year if they can avoid injury.
This team reminds me a lot of the Niners. Like the Niners, the Eagles roster is solid from top to bottom, and their season will come down to one person: Jalen Hurts. If Jalen Hurts takes the next step, this team has a chance to come out of the NFC. If he doesn’t, there will be questions of whether or not he needs to be replaced. Regardless of Hurts’ play, this team is just too good to not be at least .500.
Final Record Prediction: 12-5
3. Washington Commanders, 7-10, 3rd place
The artists former known as the Washington Football Team had a pretty mediocre season in 2021. They lost Ryan Fitzpatrick week 1, so relied on Taylor Heinicke. While Heinicke wasn’t bad, he’s not the guy who was going to carry this team to the playoffs.
Now, there’s a new sheriff in town and his name is Carson Wentz. Wentz is now on his third team in three years. After a solid season in Indy, Wentz was run out of town after losing in a must win game in week 18 against the Jaguars. I’ve always been a Carson Wentz truther and believe that he will be able to lead to team to a solid record. On offense, they return Antonio Gibson, although he looks to be taking a backseat to rookie Brian Robinson Jr. The receiving core returns Terry McLaurin, Dyami Brown, and Curtis Samuel, while also adding Jahan Dotson in the first-round of the 2022 draft. Logan Thomas returns from injury, and looks to be a reliable option at tight end once again. This offense has enough fire power that they should be at least middle of the pack. It will mostly be about making sure Carson Wentz is confident, as confidence has seemed to be the big think he’s lacked the last couple years.
Two years ago, this defense carried this team to a division title. Last year, the defense took a huge step back. The slew of first-round picks on the defensive line, Montez Sweat, Johnathan Allen, and Daron Payne, all return. Chase Young should be back some time soon, but starts the season the PUP list. Washington added to their myriad of defensive linemen, drafting Phidarian Mathis in the second-round. The linebackers are led by 2021 first-round pick Jamin Davis and Cole Holcomb. In the secondary, they return Benjamin St-Juste, William Jackson III, and Kendall Fuller. While the front 4 and even front 7 should be solid for this team, the secondary could prove to be an issue. Fortunately for them, they are in a division where the two best teams will likely be more run heavy, so they could still make some noise, even with a weaker secondary.
I feel like I say this a lot, but once again, this team’s season will come down to their QB. Wentz was an MVP candidate back in 2017, but he hasn’t really returned to that form since. If he can be even 75% of 2017 Wentz, then this team could take back the division crown. However, this team doesn’t have the strongest roster. It’s going to take everyone playing well, not just Wentz, if this team is going to be NFC East champions.
Final Record Prediction: 6-11
4. New York Giants, 4-13, 4th place
I honestly don’t even want to talk about the Giants. They made the weird decision to hire Joe Judge two years ago. Like many predicted, that was a disaster. The roster is just barren and they are so far from competing.
On offense, Daniel Jones returns and this is likely is final chance to prove whether he’s going to be the franchise QB for them or not. After what new HC Brian Daboll did for Josh Allen, there is still hope for Jones to turn things around. Saquon Barkley also returns, and is hoping to play a full season for the first time in a couple year. At receiver, Kenny Golladay and Kadarius Toney return. Golladay has done nothing notable as a Giant and Toney spent more of his rookie year injured. New York also added Wan’Dale Moore in the second-round to round out this receiving core. The offensive line also got a boost in the draft, adding Evan Neal with one of their two top ten picks. Other than Saquon, this offense is entirely uninspiring. Toney showed some very very very brief flashes last year, but struggled to stay healthy. Unless Daboll is even better than we think, I expect to see much of this offensive core completely gutted and revamped by next year.
The defense got a boost with the addition of Kayvon Thibodeaux. He joins Azeez Ojulari, Dexter Lawrence, and Leonard Williams on the defensive front. While it’s certainly not the best defensive front in football, it should still be pretty good and probably be a strength of the defense. The rest of the defense looks similar to last year, with Darnay Holmes, Julian Love, Aaron Robinson, Xavier McKinney, and Tae Crowder all returning. Much like the offense, the defense doesn’t have much to get excited about.
Even just writing this preview for the Giants, there just wasn’t a lot to talk about. This team was bad last year and largely due to a lack of attractive for free agents and some large contracts, they just didn’t have a way to attract any big free agents. The new regime is off to a good start with two great picks in the first round of this past draft. But with this being Daboll’s first coaching job, I imagine this year is meant to evaluate the roster before making massive changes next year. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this team with the number 1 overall pick next year.
Final Record Prediction: 2-15
Final NFC East Standings
1. Eagles, 12-5
2. Cowboys, 9-8
3. Commanders, 6-11
4. Giants, 2-15