It’s a brand new year in the NFC East. The fans of all four teams have hopes, dreams, goals, and aspirations. Ask any fan of either team, and I’m sure you will find a few that will make a compelling case as to why their team will make the Super Bowl. Well, how about we break this down and see if the teams can even win their own division.
First up is the Dallas Cowboys. The winner of the division last year is already prone to not be better, or win the division, because the NFC East hasn’t had the same team win the division in back to back seasons since the Philadelphia Eagles won it 4 years straight from 2001-2004. However, if any team can do it, this team can. Will they have another surprise star emerge like Dak Prescott?
Reasons they can win the division: The Cowboys still have the Triplets 2.0 in Dak, Zeke, and Dez. Add in tight end Jason Witten, yes aging but still serviceable, and slot receiver Cole Beasley, and the Cowboys return a high powered offense that was 5th in points and yards, and 2nd in rushing. Yes, they ranked 23rd in passing, but they didn’t have to pass much with Zeke tearing it up on the ground. When they did have to throw, Dak and company were up to the task. If these guys can maintain the same form and level of play they had last year, then a playoff appearance is almost a certain, with a deep run within reach.
Reasons they can’t win the division: You probably noticed that I missed a key element above as to why they won the division last year. That is because the offensive line is now a reason they won’t win. To start off, they lost tackle Doug Free and guard Ronald Leary. Who are their replacements? La’el Collins and Jonathan Cooper. That is not exactly a direct play for player swap. However, the main reason the Cowboys won’t repeat as division champs is because of their defensive unit. A unit that could not rush the passer collectively or consistently last season did not upgrade. Yes, they drafted Taco Charlton, but rookie pass rushers usually don’t emerge right away. A secondary that was spotty replaced Carr, Claiborne, and Wilcox with Nolan Carroll and Robert Blanton. Byron Jones is the best player in the secondary and he can’t be everywhere. Sean Lee is prone to get injured and whenever he goes down, the unit as a whole takes a hit. Let alone, will the Cowboys ever go a season without a defensive player being suspended for violating substance abuse policies or from being in trouble with the law? Now maybe the defensive rookie class from last year and this year can fill those voids and even elevate the play, but when you are tied for the 10th toughest schedule in the league, you can’t afford for your young players to click later instead of sooner.
New York Giants
Coming in 2nd place in the division last year was the New York Giants. I don’t have much to say about this team in summary because at times they play like a Super Bowl contender, and other times, they play like the #1 draft pick is their goal.
Reasons they can win the division: Three letters. E-L-I. Oh you thought I was going to say OBJ? Well someone has to throw him the ball, right? This team will live and die by the arm of Eli Manning. If the Giants get vintage Eli, it doesn’t matter if he’s throwing to Odell, Marshall, Shepard, Engram, or himself, the Giants will be contenders. Having Odell Beckham Jr. on your team surely doesn’t hurt though. Whether they have a bonafide running game or not, whether their offensive line shows up or not, this team goes where Eli and his arm takes it.
Reasons they can’t win the division: If they get the Eli that threw 18 TDs and 27 INTs in 2013, go ahead and kiss the season goodbye. Yes, that was the season before Beckham arrived, but the receiving corp wasn’t the problem. Eli’s problem has always been his decision making. He will take risks because he trusts his receivers and he trusts his abilities. It’s just that sometimes, that trust shouldn’t be there. The defensive unit (probably the best in the division) is ready after a strong end to last season, minus the playoff game (we will blame the conditions in Green Bay for that haha). They just have to stay healthy. But once again, this team will live and die by their quarterback, Eli Manning.
Now, Eli will live and die by his offensive line, which was one of the worst in football last year, and the front office made no additions to it. No addition to the o-line in a division where you have to face Ryan Kerrigan, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, and Tyrone Crawford? Anyone else see a potential storm coming?
Washington (I refuse to call them anything else. CHANGE THE NAME!!!)
Washington just loves to be in the headlines. It’s either about their team name (which they need to change), their owner, their GM, their head coach, their QB, or their poor play at the end of seasons in which they start strong. You never know what Washington is going to give you each week, which is good and bad.
Reasons they can win the division: YOU LIKE THAT!? Yes, Washington will go as far as their QB will take them, but he has done his job as of late. He has come through at the end of games and has shown that he is willing to sacrifice for his teammates. Now, you give him a taller version of DeSean Jackson, being Terrelle Pryor, and the passing attack shouldn’t really miss a beat, as long as Pro Bowler Jordan Reed can stay healthy. The running game should also continue trending up with the presence of Rob Kelley, Matt Jones, and rookie Samaje Perine. They also drafted one of the steals of the first round in Jonathan Allen at #17, and don’t sleep on 7th round pick Josh Harvey-Clemons.
Reasons they can’t win the division: Just to get it out of the way, they won’t win if Kirk Cousins throws late game interceptions in the red zone (look at Cowboys game last year). I know you can say that about any team, but it seems to be a habit of Cousins when his team is down, it’s crunch time time-wise, the score is close, and he feels he must make a play. Just take the safe play, unless it is 4th and forever. Cousins also won’t have Jackson or Pierre Garcon to bail him out. Now, the real reason this team can’t win the division is because of their defense. This unit was awful last year. When teams game planned to avoid Josh Norman, they tore apart the rest of the secondary. That’s a problem when the other teams in the division have 3 good/great receivers to deal with. They gave up 119.8 yards per game on ground. That’s a problem in a division where you have to deal with Zeke and Blount. Now, they did fire their DC Joe Barry, but the players have to learn a new system. Talk about early season growing pains.
For the final team in the division, the Eagles are the hardest team to gauge. They are great in some areas, but counter that by being poor and questionable in others. Does this team have the potential for a playoff push? Potentially. Does this team have the making of another let-down season? Potentially.
Reasons they can win the division: Forgot the fact that they are tied for the 10th toughest schedule in the league. Forget the fact that the common football fan can’t name a receiver on their roster outside of Alshon Jeffery. Forget the fact that that you can’t name a single corner on their roster. This team is fun to watch because of Carson Wentz. Everyone thought that he would need time to prove that he’s an NFL QB, but he proved that in week 1 of his rookie year. This team was 5-1 at the beginning of the season. Playing mistake free football, but then disaster struck. Lane Johnson had to serve his suspension. However, the true turning point in the season was when Ryan Mathews fumbled the ball in the Detroit game, and then Carson threw his first INT at the end of that game. Eagles ended the season 7-9. But this is supposed to be the optimistic portion. Carson gained vast experience through last season’s ups and downs. He experienced how a winning streak feels. He experienced how a losing streak can feel. He heard the praises and curses from the media. He experienced the feeling of blowing a team out, and the feeling of being blown out by a team. He threw for 3,782 yards with Jordan Matthews and Zach Ertz as his only reliable targets (even though Jordan is prone to drop a catchable one here and there). The rest of his receivers were afterthoughts. I see the fight in this kid. People say fight alone can’t carry a team, but I strongly disagree.
Reasons they can’t win the division: No team will run against the Eagles front 7 because all they have to do is attack whoever is playing the cornerback position. You have a second year starter that was up and down in his rookie year (expected), a draft pick that fits the mold but has speed questions, a draft pick that probably won’t even play this year, a former first round pick that has bounced from team to team and has never lived up to his draft selection, and a pair of former CFL players that have potential, but are buried on the depth chart for a reason. The team upgraded every problem area they had last year, except the secondary. Now Sidney Jones is a major upgrade, IF he returns to 100%, and IF he plays this season. The front 7 is stacked, especially along the defensive line. However, they won’t sack the quarterback on every pass play, and a running back and TE are prone to break free every once and a while. Those levels can afford those mishaps. The secondary can’t afford mishaps because it probably won’t be a play or two. The mishap will last all game.
The NFC East can realistically send 3 teams to the playoffs. They are built well on offense, but the defenses all have questions as either a unit, or along one of the three levels. Expect the divisional games to be shootouts! We will have a better understanding of the teams after training camp, preseason games, and final roster cuts. However, it will take all 17 weeks to determine if they are still the NFC Least, or if they have grown to the NFC Beast!
Written By: Andre Wingate