NFL Previews and Predictions: NFC East

Right now, there are few divisions, if any, talked about more than the NFC East. After all, the Cowboys are in the middle of contract disputes with three of their top offensive players and are arguably the most popular franchise, while the Eagles, Giants, and Redskins all play in large markets. Though this may actually be one of the easier divisions to predict, it’s still a very exciting one, featuring two contenders and two rebuilding teams looking for contributions from their young players. Are the Eagles as good as advertised? How will the Cowboys fare in the midst of all their drama? How long until Dwayne Haskins and Daniel start for the Redskins and Giants, respectively? Let’s take a closer look at the NFC East.

First Place: Philadelphia Eagles

Photo Cred:

Record Prediction: 12-4

Best Case: 16-0

Worst Case: 11-5

Power Ranking: 4th

Offense Ranking: 6th

Defense Ranking: 9th

Initial Thoughts: After winning the Super Bowl in 2017, the Eagles had a very strange season last year. Quarterback Carson Wentz missed the beginning of the season recovering from the ACL injury he suffered in 2017, then missed the end of the season with a back injury. During all of this, Philadelphia snuck into the playoffs, and almost beat the Saints in the divisional round with Nick Foles at quarterback. Now, Foles, a Philadelphia legend, is gone, but the Eagles are clearly just getting started; if they could make the playoffs through everything that happened last year, imagine what they could do this year.

Offense: Wentz has been highly criticized for being injury-prone, but his ACL injury was a freak injury, and he should be recovered from his back injury this season. When last healthy, he was the MVP front-runner; the Eagles have an elite quarterback, regardless if people want to admit it or not. He’ll be complemented by one of the most underrated receiving corps; they may not have a superstar, but they are incredibly deep. Alshon Jeffrey is a low-end #1 receiver, DeSean Jackson is back in Philly as one of the top deep threats in football, Nelson Agholor is fine as the third threat, and second-round rookie JJ Arcega Whiteside is an excellent catch-in-traffic receiver. Furthermore, Zack Ertz is one of the best tight ends, especially as a receiver, in football, and tight end Dallas Goedert would be a starter for almost any other team. Also, this offensive line on paper is one of the best in football; Jason Peters is a great left tackle when healthy, Jason Kelce is probably the best center, Brandon Brooks is one of the best guards, Lane Johnson is a top-three right tackle, and first-round rookie tackle Andre Dillard will provide tremendous depth. That’s huge for protecting Wentz and keeping him healthy, and so is having a great tandem at running back with second-round rookie Myles Sanders, a true three-down back, and former Bear Jordan Howard, more a short-yardage, bruising back. There’s absolutely no weakness with this offense; they should be able to attack defenses in a variety of ways, and considering they have one of the top play-callers in head coach Doug Pederson, this will be a scary unit to face.

Defense: Last season, the Eagles struggled defensively, particularly in pass defense, due to heavy injuries in the secondary. However, assuming they stay healthy this season, they should be a top ten defense. That secondary, which will get back cornerbacks Ronald Darby and Jordan Mills, as well as safety Rodney McCloud from injury, may not be star-studded, but they’re very deep and aggressive, and fit well with defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s scheme. That may be the weakest part of the defense, as the pass rush is fantastic. Brandon Graham is a super underrated pass rusher off the edge, and Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry will be able to provide pressure opposite of him. Meanwhile, Fletcher Cox is the best pass-rushing interior defensive lineman in football outside of Aaron Donald, and pairing him with free agent signing Malik Jackson could be downright terrifying for quarterbacks. Additionally, bringing Zach Brown to replace Jordan Hicks at linebacker was huge, and Nigel Bradham is also an above-average linebacker. The secondary could be better, but the pass rush, and even the run defense, will be elite, and as a result, the defense will find much more success this season.

Final Thoughts: No team in football may be deeper than the Eagles. General manager Howie Roseman has done an incredible job crafting this roster together; they’re the best team in the NFL. Especially with a reasonable schedule and the ability to beat up on the Redskins and Giants in this division, they should definitely earn a first-round bye this season.

Second Place: Dallas Cowboys

Photo Cred: Forth Worth Star-Telegram

Record Prediction: 10-6

Best Case: 12-4

Worst Case: 8-8

Power Ranking: 8th

Offense Ranking: 14th

Defense Ranking: 2nd

Initial Thoughts: Like the Eagles, the Cowboys also had a very strange season last season. They looked to be on their way to another mediocre season, but after trading for receiver Amari Cooper, completely transformed and made it to the divisional round. Unfortunately for Dallas, they currently in contract disputes with Cooper, quarterback Dak Prescott, and running back Ezekiel Elliot. That, combined with a tough schedule and some minor holes, may cause them to barely miss the playoffs, though they’ll still be a 9-10 win team.

Offense: Right now, it’s really difficult to project the Cowboys offense for 2019, since it’s unclear if Elliot will end his current holdout. What we do know is Prescott is a satisfactory, but mediocre quarterback who is capable of winning with a strong supporting cast. Whether he has that is debatable; although Cooper was excellent last season, he probably isn’t a true #1 receiver yet, and unless Michael Gallup can step up in his second season, this is still a below-average group of receivers. The most encouraging part may be the offensive line, which will be getting center Travis Frederick back this season, still has an elite left tackle in Tyron Smith, and arguably the best offensive lineman in the entire NFL in guard Zack Martin. Still, guard Connor Williams and right tackle La’el Collins are question marks; this isn’t the dominant offensive line it once was. If Elliot returns to the team, this offense could look a lot like last year. If not, they’ll likely be relying on rookies Tony Pollard and Mike Weber, as well as veterans Alfred Morris and Darius Jackson. They could get the job done behind this offensive line, but there’s no doubt they’ll be a better offense with Elliot. The key to this offense may actually be offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, who is in his first season as a play-caller. If he can bring some innovation to this offense, perhaps it can be strong enough to be a playoff team. If not, this will likely be a middle-of-the-pack unit at best.

Defense: For a defense that isn’t being talked about a lot, the Cowboys have an amazing unit. Defensive backs coach Kris Richard, who formerly was on Seattle’s staff during the “Legion of Boom” days, played an integral role in improving this defense last year. Byron Jones was not able to convert from safety to corner, but do so at an elite level. Behind him, the cornerback depth is strong with young players such as Chidobe Awuzie, Anthony Brown, and Jordan Lewis, while free safety Xavier Woods is a fine safety. In an ideal world, Jeff Heath wouldn’t be the team’s strong safety, but there’s still a lot to like about with this secondary. Furthermore, Demarcus Lawrence is clearly one of the edge rushers in football, and by adding Robert Quinn (suspended two first games), this team may have found an ideal partner for him. Either way, this team should be able to scheme up some sort of pressure. We haven’t even gotten to the best part yet; the linebacking group is incredible. Jaylon Smith is at least a top-five linebacker, Leighton Vander Esch may get to that level in his second year, and Sean Lee is still a useful veteran player. This is by far the best group of linebackers in the NFL, and their ability to make an impact in coverage and in run defense, sideline to sideline, can’t be overstated. The secondary and pass rush are solid and the linebackers are elite; the pass defense and run defense should both be great. This is a top-three defense, and definitely, one that should be generating more attention.

Final Thoughts: With a top-notch defense and a decent offense, the Cowboys could definitely be a playoff team in 2019. However, their overall upside is very low, and with a very difficult schedule and the Eagles in their division, that may come back to bite them.

Third Place: Washington Redskins

Photo Cred: Washington Times

Record Prediction: 4-12

Best Case: 8-8

Worst Case: 2-14

Power Ranking: 26th

Offense Ranking: 26th

Defense Ranking: 25th

Initial Thoughts: At one point last season, the Redskins were 6-3 and looking like the favorite to win the NFC East. Then, quarterback Alex Smith went down with a potentially career-ending leg injury, and the team collapsed. Since they have so much money tied up into him, they didn’t have a ton of money to spend. As a result, this team probably won’t be too competitive this season, which is really unfortunate given how promising they looked last season.

Offense: The Redskins added two quarterbacks as a response to Smith’s injury; veteran Case Keenum and first-round rookie Dwayne Haskins. Keenum is the definition of a replacement-level starter; he won’t make any big plays, but he won’t cost his team the game. Meanwhile, Haskins, if ready, would give this offense a higher ceiling, but he’s looked shaky in the preseason and would probably be best served sitting. That’s especially true when looking at the supporting cast around these quarterbacks. This team may have the worst group of receivers; Josh Doctson has been extremely inconsistent since entering the league, Paul Richardson is overpaid and not very productive, Trey Quinn is a decent slot receiver but unproven, and it’s unclear what to expect from third-round pick Terry McLaurin. Furthermore, tight end Jordan Reed can never stay healthy and Vernon Davis is 35-years-old. The offensive line looked to be fine, but left tackle Trent Williams is refusing to play for the team, and although they signed Donald Penn, that’s still a significant downgrade. Outside of right guard Brandon Scherff, and possibly right tackle Morgan Moses, this offensive line could be a liability. Ereck Flowers at left guard is risky, center Chase Roullier isn’t exactly starting-caliber, and we don’t know what to expect from Penn, or tackle Geron Chrisitan if Penn isn’t ready. I do like the running back by committee approach with Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson, and Derrius Guice, but at a not very impactful position, none of them will be enough to elevate this offense. Head coach Jay Gruden is actually an underrated offensive mind, but he doesn’t stand a chance with this offense.

Defense: The Redskins are trying to establish an aggressive, old-school style of defense. Unfortunately, I’m not sure it’ll work. Safety Landon Collins was brought in on a $84 million contract that is simply outrageous; he’s a solid box safety, but is very limited in coverage. Montae Nicholson is passable at free safety, but since Josh Norman is regressing and sometimes struggles to defend the vertical passing game, it would be ideal to have better depth at corner than Quinton Dunbar and Fabian Moreau. The same goes with the pass rush, as Ryan Kerrigan is a very underrated pass rusher, but unless first-round rookie Montez Sweat exceeds expectations, it’ll be up to Ryan Anderson to be the teams #2 pass rush. I expect some pressure from the interior with Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne, and Matthew Ionnadis, but it’s still not a great pass rush. Furthermore, following the loss of Reuben Foster to injury, the linebacking core is one of the league’s worst with Jon Bostic, Shaun Dion Hamilton, and fifth-round rookie Cole Holcomb the team’s best options. This team’s investment in run defense will allow them to thrive in that area, but in a passing era, their inability to defend the pass will hamper them significantly.

Final Thoughts: The Redskins are strong in some areas, but not in the right areas. They may eventually finish a successful rebuild with Haskins at the charge, but for now, it’ll be a tough season for them, especially with their brutal schedule.

Fourth Place: New York Giants

Saquon Barkley
Photo Cred: Flickr

Record Prediction: 2-14

Best Case: 3-13

Worst Case: 1-15

Power Ranking: 32nd

Offense Ranking: 31st

Defense Ranking: 31st

Initial Thoughts: No team had a worse offseason than the Giants. After trading Odell Beckham Jr. for pennies on the dollar and whiffing the draft, the state of this franchise may have been set back multiple years. That starts this season, as the Giants are clearly the worst team in football

Offense: Somehow, the Giants front office still believes quarterback Eli Manning is a starting-caliber quarterback. He’s shown over the past two seasons that his arm strength is all but wiped out, and although he’s padded his stats with check-downs, the eye test will tell you all you need to know about his current abilities, or lack thereof. It may be only a matter of weeks before rookie Daniel Jones takes over as the starting quarterback, but either way, the focus on this offense will be on Saquan Barkley. The team selected him with the second overall pick in the 2018 draft due to the fact that he’s a rare, generational type talent, but although he’ll be great for fantasy, the position he plays prevents him from making much of an impact in wins. Even if Manning tries to throw down the field, he’ll be targeting Cody Latimer, Russell Shepard, and Bennie Fowler until Sterling Shepard is healthy and Golden Tate returns from his four-game suspension. Even when those two come back, they’re both slot receivers who can’t play on the outside, and since tight end Evan Engram has been inconsistent at the NFL level, this group has more name value than actual value. New York’s offensive line, meanwhile, is very similar to Washington’s. They have three solid players in left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Will Hernandez, and right guard Kevin Zeitler, but center (Jon Halapio) and right tackle (Mike Remmers) look to be major red flags, and an offensive line is only as strong as its weakest link. It also would be great to see what head coach Pat Shurmer could do with a quarterback who could push the ball down the field, but the front office’s puzzling commitment to the veterans prevents us from finding out.

Defense: On defense, the Giants have three solid nose tackles in Dalvin Tomlinson, first-round rookie Dexter Lawrence, and BJ Hill, but this is 2019, and at important positions, they’re lacking in talent. The pass rush, led by Kareem Martin, Lorenzo Carter, Markus Golden, and third-round rookie Oshane Ximines, is poor, especially since there will be no interior pressure. Furthermore, Janoris Jenkins is an aging corner, and unless first-round rookie Deandre Baker, Sam Beal, or Grant Haley are drastically better than anticipated, they’ll struggle to defend the pass. The latter part is notably true when considering they’re relying on a 35-year-old Anthoine Bethea and an inconsistent box safety in Jabrill Peppers; the back-end won’t be covered at all. Plus, Alex Ogletree may be the most overrated linebacker in football, and none of Tae Davis, BJ Goodson, or fifth-round rookie Ryan Connelly spark any excitement. It’s simply unclear what this defense does well at all, besides possibly defending the run, and as a result, opposing offenses will walk all over them in 2019.

Final Thoughts: To be frank, this roster is really, really, really bad. They have a quarterback well past his time, a poor pass defense, no receivers, and no athleticism whatsoever. Really, all this team offers is Barkley highlights and the anticipation of Jones’ debut; they stand no chance at all.

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