Updated: Sep 1, 2020
For the sake of this blog series, let’s just assume there will be NFL football played this fall. Will it actually happen? Nobody really knows, and while it may feel as though football is just around the corner, every American has seen just how much can happen in a month. This will be the second year of the divisional preview blog series. The purpose remains, as it was last year, to be informative and concise. So enough bloviating and let’s get on with it.
The NFC East is home to some of the largest, coveted brands in the league, and this offseason reporters didn’t exactly have to dig for storylines. Dak Prescott’s contract dilemma in Dallas already seems like old news in the wake of what’s occurred in Washington. In a pure football sense, the landscape hasn’t changed much from last year to now. It’s still a two-horse race, with the other two franchises in the midst of a rebuild (and a re-brand in the case of Daniel Snyder). None of the four teams figure to be Super Bowl contenders in a very deep NFC, but then again, nobody on the planet had Nick Foles leading the Eagles to the Super Bowl LII three years ago.
Dallas Cowboys (O/U 9.5)
Key Additions: WR CeeDee Lamb (1st RD Pick), DI Gerald McCoy, CB Trevon Diggs (2nd RD Pick), S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, K Greg Zuerlein, EDGE Everson Griffen
Key Subtractions: CB Byron Jones, EDGE Robert Quinn, C Travis Frederick, WR Randall Cobb, DI Maliek Collins, S Jeff Heath
The Cowboys are coming off about as disappointing a 2019 campaign as anyone, considering the expectations. They ended up 8-8, missing the playoffs entirely after losing the division to the rival Eagles, who were subsequently bounced by Seattle in the first round. It led to the firing of almost the entire coaching staff and gives way to Mike McCarthy – who will begin his second NFL head coaching gig. Offensive coordinator Kellen Moore was the only coach that was retained, and he will continue to run the offense under McCarthy. Mike Nolan will serve as the new defensive coordinator, and after some time out of the league, it’s fair to wonder how well he’ll fare. McCarthy credits him with his start in the NFL back in Green Bay, so the two will now team up in Dallas. Perhaps the most significant move Dallas made was by locking up Amari Cooper for five more years. That coupled with their selection of highly touted wide out CeeDee Lamb in the NFL Draft, should give the Cowboys plenty of weapons in the pass game. Especially now that Prescott has signed his franchise tender and won't be holding out, Dallas should yet again possess one of the league’s elite offenses (1st in yards and 6th in points last year). The 2019 Cowboys were a statistical anomaly, finishing in the top-11 in both total yards and points on both offense AND defense. And yet they still managed just a .500 record. Much of the blame has been attributed to ex-HC Jason Garrett, so the question becomes; Can McCarthy’s staff turn it around? The Cowboys certainly have the horses to contend for the Super Bowl, it’s now up to the coaching staff to lead them there.
My Prediction: 10-6
I think the Cowboys will struggle on defense a little despite their talent. From some of the film I got a chance to see from 2019, the linebacking core’s brand exceeds it’s production a little bit. They are lightning fast, but susceptible to the run, and losing Maliek Collins won’t help. They’ll also have an underwhelming secondary after losing Jones and Heath, whom they’ve replaced with Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and rookie Trevon Diggs. Add a new system to the equation under Mike Nolan, who seems like a bit of a suspect hire in the first place, and I think they’ll have issues. The offense however is good enough to carry them. I no longer believe the Cowboys are the Super Bowl contenders I thought they could be last year, but they’re a very talented team and should edge out the Eagles for the division.
Philadelphia Eagles (O/U 9.5)
Key Additions: DI Javon Hargrave, CB Darius Slay, WR Jalen Reagor (1st RD Pick), S Will Parks
Key Subtractions: T Halapoulivaati Vaitai, S Malcom Jenkins, LB Nigel Bradham, WR Nelson Agholor, CB Ronald Darby, RB Jordan Howard, EDGE Vinny Curry
As is evident above, the Eagles lost more than they gained in the offseason, but not all subtractions are bad ones. They will be a new-look, breath of fresh air compared to what they’ve been since their Super Bowl victory. Philly had gotten old and slow, and GM Howie Roseman had a clear vision to get faster and more athletic. The secondary has been the bane of the Eagles existence, and it should be infinitely improved after acquiring Darius Slay from the Lions. They were also able to resign their safeties (Rodney McCloud & Jalen Mills) as well as pick up a third in free agency. Starting Avonte Maddox across from Slay is not ideal, and the middle of the defense is barren, but the Eagles went a long way to improving their Achilles heel. On offense it’s all about the health of Carson Wentz. He’s developing the ‘injury-prone’ tag and desperately needs to play sixteen games this fall. Their RPO-heavy offense should be even better with top draft choice Jalen Reagor entering the fold, and the organization was able to coax Jason Peters back for one last season in the trenches. Miles Sanders looks to be a very good player and will likely be in line for a larger role this season with the departure of Jordan Howard. Philadelphia just needs to develop some level of consistency, and that starts with the overall health of the team – which isn’t off to a hot start given the head coach was just placed on the COVID-19 list.
My Prediction: 8-8
I don’t think the struggles of the past two seasons have been about talent or culture. Philly has plenty of both. They are a well-run organization with a borderline elite franchise QB. The problem is that same QB has battled injury after injury, and the Eagles have had MASSIVE holes at certain position groups due to lack of depth and injury. Last season it was the receivers. The year before it was corners. A lot of it is just bad luck, and because of that – it’s tough to judge what they’ve handed in. I believe Wentz will be a top-five quarterback in this league for years, and I believe Doug Pederson and Howie Roseman have established a culture of winners. However, I also know the Eagles are far shorter on talent than the Cowboys are at the moment. I think it’ll again be a hard-fought division, but keep in mind the Cowboys’ 2019 campaign was considered an epic failure, and Philly still just barely squeaked by. Assuming the Cowboys can just play close to their talent level, it leaves the Eagles in a tough spot.
New York Giants (O/U 6.5)
Key Additions: CB James Bradbury, LB Blake Martinez, TE Levine Toilolo, EDGE Kyler Fackrell, T Andrew Thomas (1st RD Pick)
Key Subtractions: QB Eli Manning, S Antoine Bethea, T Mike Remmers, LB Alec Ogletree
The Giants are now officially one year into the Daniel Jones era, and whether Giants fans liked or disliked the draft pick at the time, there has to be a sense of relief amongst the fanbase that the Eli Manning saga is over. The Giants are officially Jones’ team. New York has been an utter disaster the past few seasons. One roster move after another hasn’t worked out. What’s worse is the Giants have missed on more than their share of draft picks - the latest appearing to be 2019 first round draft choice Deandre Baker out of Georgia, who’s currently in serious legal trouble. But to GM Dave Gettleman’s credit, they’ve made a significant push to be better in 2020. They’ll officially start a new era with first-time HC Joe Judge, and the team made a slew of additions to the roster. They drafted four offensive linemen this spring, two of which came in the first three rounds. The priority moving forward is clearly to protect their asset in Daniel Jones, while at the same time trying to capitalize on the special running ability of Saquon Barkley. The defense should be better as well. Sandwiched between the linemen drafted, the Giants took Xavier McKinney (widely considered top safety in the draft) to pair with Jabrill Peppers. They were able to hold onto both Leonard Williams and their sack leader Markus Golden, while also adding a much-needed presence in the middle of the defense in Blake Martinez. Their biggest signing was CB James Bradbury, who isn’t the best corner in the league by any stretch – but miles better than what they’ve had the past few seasons. The team finally appears headed in a positive direction after such a steady decline, but their future, like most franchises, will rest on the shoulders of their quarterback, Daniel Jones.
My prediction: 5-11
New York is practically at the very beginning of what they hope is an up-turn. They have a second-year QB, a brand-new coaching staff, and a reworked offensive line. The hope is that they’ve just laid the foundation of a winner, but the cement in this analogy is still very wet. They have some young talent, and did a nice job covering up warts in free agency – but they just don’t have the horses. The other problem with the Giants is this; we’ll likely have a pretty good idea at the end of this season as to what Daniel Jones is going to be, but right now the highly criticized first-round pick is as big a question mark as ever. Will he demonstrate a better ability to hold onto the ball? What does his improvement as a passer look like? In a loaded NFC, New York just has too many question marks to put any amount of faith in for 2020.
Washington Football Team (O/U 5.5)
Key Additions: T Cornelius Lucas, TE Richard Rogers, WR Cody Latimer, CB Aaron Colvin, EDGE Chase Young (1st RD Pick)
Key Subtractions: T Trent Williams, TE Vernon Davis, CB Josh Norman
Washington has had quite possibly the most tumultuous year of any professional sports organization ever. They had a scandal in which they allegedly didn’t tell their best offensive lineman about a cancerous brain tumor. They fired the whole coaching staff yet again. They had multiple huge sponsors threaten to pull their money if they didn’t abolish their controversial team name. Their entire leadership was called on the carpet in a Washington Post article that illustrated a misogynistic culture in which female employees had been sexually harassed and mistreated. And to cap it off, they plan to play the 2020 season without a team name or logo. They’ll be known as, “The Washington Football Team.” To say Daniel Snyder’s ownership of a once proud franchise has been rocky is putting it as pleasant as possible. They’ve struggled mightily off the field and just as much on it. The team traded its best player in Trent Williams to the 49ers after he essentially demanded out, and who can blame him after the tumor incident. Their new franchise QB Dwayne Haskins led them to the second overall pick, but it’s nearly impossible to make an accurate assessment of him because his surrounding cast was in shambles. Washington hopes top draft choice Chase Young develops into a dynamic pass-rusher under new HC Ron Rivera, and the team is trying the best they can to turn the page and usher in a new age. Rivera is a legit coach, and if anyone can turn around The Football Team’s fortunes it’s him. But what does he have to work with this season? Washington has seasoned veteran talent like Ryan Kerrigan and Brandon Scherff, as well as some up-and-comers in Terry McLaurin and Chase Young. But how will they stack up against other NFL rosters built to win? This team is a project.
My prediction: 3-13
I try my best to always point out something positive a player/coach/team did, rather than something negative. But it’s hard for me to hide my disdain for Daniel Snyder and Washington’s leadership. The on-field product has been a microcosm of the organization’s circus-like tendencies, and this year feels no different. That said, for all the negative press surrounding Snyder, his action in firing the previous staff and hiring Ron Rivera is certainly a step in the right direction. Rivera comes from Carolina where he turned a smaller market franchise into a yearly contender. But his situation is less than ideal. They’ll have to just see what sticks this year, and hopefully find out about themselves and how they want to build their team moving forward. Next offseason will be a big one. But for 2020, this is the dawn of a completely new era – and the team is just trying to get the plane off the ground.