In 2020, all of the NFC East teams had losing records and ranked in the bottom ten for offensive PFF grades. Shoddy quarterback production was a huge issue for each team’s offense. However, the defenses of these teams benefitted from beating up their rivals’ quarterbacks. While 2020 was a bad year for everyone, there are two reasons for every fanbase to be optimistic about the future. First, according to CBS, the NFC East doesn't have a brutal out-of-division schedule this season, so most of these teams will record more wins next season. Also, many of these teams were active in the off-season and bolstered their rosters. This activity will bode well for success in 2021.
4. Philadelphia Eagles: projected 6-11
2020 Recap: After finishing 4-11-1, the Philadelphia Eagles fired former head coach Doug Pederson less than four years after he led the franchise its first Super Bowl victory. Additionally, the team traded their former franchise QB, Carson Wentz, after heavily regressing to one of the worst QBs and generating the most turnovers among all QBs. While Pederson eventually benched Wentz for poor play, his wide receivers and offensive line were also abysmal and hampered by injuries. During most games, Wentz struggled to locate his receivers, who regularly failed to gain separation quickly enough for Wentz to evade sacks. Consequently, the Eagles’ offense was a chaotic catastrophe generating the third-most giveaways, ninth fewest yards, and eighth fewest points per game in 2020.
Defensively, the Eagles showed more promise, especially with their tough defensive line. Last year Jim Schwartz’s defense generated 49 sacks (third-most in the NFL) and finished the season with the league’s second-highest PFF pass-rushing grade. Despite that success, Philly ended the season with holes at the LB and CB positions. Players like LB Nathan Gerry and CB Nickell Robey-Coleman were tremendous disappointments who struggled to tackle and cover opposing skill players.
Off-season moves and current roster: Despite Philly’s plan to compete with new coach Nick Sirianni and QB Jalen Hurts, the team is actively rebuilding, specifically for OL and WR. General manager, Howie Roseman, addressed these issues in the NFL draft by selecting Alabama WR DeVonta Smith and OL Landon Dickerson in the 1st and 2nd rounds. Smith will be the featured receiver next season, followed by Jalen Reagor and Travis Fulgham. The Eagles also added running back Kerryon Johnson and brought back RB Jordan Howard to add depth at the position.
Roseman selected four defensive linemen in the draft's later rounds to bolster the Eagles' front seven. However, Philadelphia lost important players such as LB Rudy Ford, WR DeSean Jackson, LB Duke Riley, and safety Jalen Mills. Unfortunately for Philly, their only significant signings were backup QB Joe Flacco, edge rusher Ryan Kerrigan, and safety Anthony Harris. Anthony Harris is a quality coverage safety, but the team still has a glaring hole at the no. 2 outside CB position. By stealing Ryan Kerrigan away from Washington, this signing will prevent him from destroying Philadelphia’s OL again.
2021 Outlook: Heading into the 2021-22 season, it is improbable for the Eagles to make the playoffs. Coach Nick Sirianni will likely employ a two-tight-end formation, with Zach Ertz & Dallas Goedert playing TE, Jalen Reagor in the slot, and Travis Fulgham or DeVonta Smith playing outside. Sirianni used a similar multi-TE scheme last season as the Indianapolis Colts’ offensive coordinator to create opportunities in the play-action game and maximize the rushing game. However, Zach Ertz’s recent trade request throws a huge monkey wrench into this plan. Veteran linemen Jason Kelce, Brandon Brooks, and Isaac Seumalo will be quality blockers, but there are still questions surrounding guys like Jordan Mailata and Andre Dillard.
Even though Philadelphia’s front seven will be a major strength on defense, their secondary only has one good cornerback with Darius Slay playing outside. Slay, Avonte Maddox, and Cre’Von Leblanc are good ballhawks who can stick with opposing receivers, but they all get bullied by physical wideouts like D.K. Metcalf. Overall, one can expect the team to build energy and possibly rally late in the season behind Hurts’ leadership and demeanor. Nevertheless, this team is not good enough to compete for a playoff spot, and head coach Nick Sirianni will have to overcome multiple obstacles throughout 2021.
3. Washington Football Team: Projected 8-9
2020 Recap: The Washington Football Team surprisingly stumbled into the playoffs despite averaging the league’s third-least yards per game last season. Washington’s initial starter, Dwayne Haskins, was a colossal bust on and off the field while recording the lowest PFF grade among all qualifying QBs. Alex Smith was a modest improvement, but he was practically an immobile jugs machine who rarely threw beyond 10 yards. As a result, Washington had to lean on their strong offensive line and running game rather than their passing game. As a group, Washington’s OL was a dominant unit ranking in the top three for PFF pass-blocking grade and tenth for run-blocking grade. However, Washington had a shaky receiving corps, with TE Logan Thomas, RB J.D. McKissic, and WR Terry McLaurin being the only pass catchers to have 35+ catches and 500+ yards.
Washington’s daunting defense was a powerhouse in 2020. Head coach Ron Rivera and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio utilized an aggressive 4-3 system to harass rival QBs like Carson Wentz and Andy Dalton. Throughout 2020, this defense accumulated the sixth-most sacks and interceptions while allowing the second-fewest yards and fourth-fewest points per game. 2020 defensive rookie of the year, Chase Young, made an immediate impact with 40 pressures and six sacks. Edge rushers Montez Sweat, Ryan Kerrigan, and Tim Settle also generated 5+ sacks each last season. In the secondary, defensive backs Jeremy Reaves, Ronald Darby, and Kamren Curl were also great at playing in coverage.
Off-season moves and current roster: Washington’s front office filled multiple holes in the off-season. New QB Ryan Fitzpatrick should provide a spark offensively since he had the 4th-highest deep passing (20+ yards) percentage, according to PFF. The football team also improved their receiving corps by adding receivers Adam Humphries, Curtis Samuel, and Dyami Brown, who will bring explosive slot and deep-threat ability. The loss of OL Morgan Moses will hinder the O-line’s chemistry, but Washington mitigated this problem by adding OTs Samuel Cosmi and Charles Leno Jr.
The addition of cornerbacks William Jackson and Danny Johnson should also offset Washington losing CBs Ronald Darby and Fabian Moreau, who were capable playmakers in Washington. However, the loss of Ryan Kerrigan will be a decent blow to Washington's defensive line. Fortunately for the football team, they added depth at their needy LB position by adding David Mayo, who has experience working with Ron Rivera in Carolina. Overall, the team will have no holes in their front seven or secondary next year.
2021 Outlook: Washington will most likely be better on offense in 2021 since they drastically improved at QB and WR. McLaurin projects to be the division’s best route running receiver while Samuel plays in the slot and Logan Thomas continues being a suitable TE. Running backs Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic will also bring a one-two punch in the rushing and receiving games. Still, this team won’t be a consistent or elite offense since Fitzpatrick is an erratic QB whose tendency to target deep passes frequently backfires.
Ron Rivera is a great head coach who will stabilize Washington through any rough patches in the upcoming season. As a result, the football team will contend for a wildcard spot and stay close to .500 since they have the most robust defense in the division. However, NFL defenses are volatile from season to season, so it’s fair to assume Rivera’s defense could regress from an elite top-three group to a borderline top-ten unit. Therefore, I wouldn’t bet on this team to win the division in 2021.
2. Dallas Cowboys: Projected 9-8
2020 Recap: Last season, Dak Prescott’s horrific leg injury ruined the Dallas Cowboys’ season. Despite suffering an injury in week five, Prescott led a sizzling Cowboys offense while finishing with the most 400+ passing yard games in the NFL. However, Dallas’ offense considerably regressed after Prescott, and multiple linemen went down with injuries. Nobody suffered more from those injuries than RB Ezekiel Elliot, who ran behind the fourth-worst run-blocking unit and recorded the most RB fumbles. Therefore, it’s not surprising that the Cowboys finished the season with a 6-10 record while QB Andy Dalton struggled as a game manager.
Despite entering the season with standout defensive linemen Gerald McCoy, Dontari Poe, Everson Griffen, Demarcus Lawrence, and Aldon Smith, injuries crippled Dallas’ DL. Consequently, the Cowboys’ defense failed to stop the run and allowed the second-most rushing yards per game in 2020. Also, even though Dallas was better at limiting passing yards, they were still a subpar defense, which ranked in the bottom ten for yards and points allowed per game. Therefore, it is not surprising that owner Jerry Jones fired defensive coordinator Mike Nolan after the 2020-21 season.
Off-season moves and current roster: Re-signing Dak Prescott was the most significant move the Cowboys made in the off-season. With Prescott leading the way, Dallas has a top-ten QB who produces on the field and motivates his team off the field. Surprisingly, their offense maintained WRs Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Ceedee Lamb while adding TE Jeremy Sprinkle. Also, they successfully brought back OL Tyron Smith, La’El Collins, and Zach Martin while also restructuring their contracts to gain salary cap relief. Overall the offense’s depth chart is pretty similar to last season, indicating that Dallas anticipates their players staying healthy.
The Cowboys used their first six draft picks to address the defensive side of the ball. Their first-round pick, Micah Parsons, is an aggressive pass rusher who will enter a linebacker room with Leighton Vander-Esch and Jaylon Smith. Meanwhile, their second-round pick Kelvin Joseph will add some depth at the CB position to help corners, Trevon Diggs and Jourdan Lewis. Interestingly, Dallas signed strong safety Keanu Neal in the off-season but will move him to LB. While Dallas lost DT Antwaun Woods, the front office drafted edge rushers Osa Odinghizuwa and Chauncey Gholson in the third round of the NFL draft.
2021 Outlook: Right now, the Cowboys are the betting favorite to win the NFC East with 9.5 wins. Dallas has the highest floor offensively, and their offense will improve from their 2020 woes if Dak can stay healthy. Without Dak, the Cowboys ranked 14th in terms of yards per game, so you can expect Dallas’ offense to rank inside the top ten for yards per game next season. Unlike Washington, the Cowboys can be an elite offense due to their star QB, loaded receiving corps, and creative offensive coordinator, Kellen Moore. Therefore, they will be in contention to win the NFC East since they have a far superior offense to Washington and Philadelphia.
However, the Cowboys’ defense is a potential Achilles heel. For starters, there is no telling whether their new defensive coordinator, Dan Quinn, will find a way to improve the group in 2021. Quinn will especially struggle to create a scheme to incorporate LBs Parsons, Vander-Esch, Smith, and Neal into the same system. Furthermore, while linemen like Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are proven talents, players like Bradlee Anae, Odinghizuwa, and Gholson are not. Plus, their DB room is shallow since Diggs, Lewis, and Joseph are all capable of being busts next year. Compared to New York, Dallas is an incomplete team that projects to compete for a wildcard spot rather than an NFC East title.
1 New York Giants: Projected 11-7
2020 Recap: Last season, the New York Giants were one game short of the NFC East title after finishing with a 6-10 record. Despite having the second-worst offense in terms of yards and points per game, the G-men would have made the playoffs if Philly defeated Washington in Week 17. However, it is essential to note that RB Saquon Barkley’s ACL tear stymied New York’s offense early in the season. Plus, their QB, Daniel Jones, suffered a hamstring injury in Week 12 that hobbled him for the rest of the season. Nevertheless, the Giants were a resilient team with players like RB Wayne Gallman rising to the occasion when necessary.
On the other side of the ball, defensive coordinator Patrick Graham led an above-average defense to a top ten ranking in limiting points per game. Of course, much of this success stemmed from beating up signal callers like Alex Smith, Carson Wentz, Kyle Allen, and Andy Dalton in 2020. Still, the Giants had flashes of greatness, including when they limited Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks to only 12 points in Week 13. Plus, players like CB James Bradberry, DE Leonard Williams, DT Dexter Lawrence, and LB Blake Martinez all emerged with career years in Graham’s system. Therefore, the Giants’ defense can replicate similar success next season.
Off-season moves and current roster: When the Giants signed Kenny Golladay, they acquired the division’s best overall WR. With that signing, Daniel Jones finally gained a true no. 1 wideout who can win at every level of the field. They also signed TE Kyle Rudolph, who will be a reliable pass catcher in red-zone situations. Rudolph’s blocking ability and an improved OL will also benefit Saquon Barkley, who is always an explosive threat for long TD runs. However, the loss of OG Kevin Zeitler was a considerable blow to the interior of the Giants offensive line.
New York managed to add three tremendous defenders after signing CB Adoree Jackson and drafting DE Azeez Oljuari and CB Aaron Robinson. These additions were bolstered by the re-signing of Leonard Williams, who had 11.5 sacks in 2020. On paper, the Giants will have the best secondary in the NFC East with Logan Ryan, Adoree Jackson, James Bradberry, Jabril Peppers, and Xavier McKinney. Plus, they have a stacked front seven headlined by Blake Martinez, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams.
2021 Outlook: After being a conservative GM for the past couple of seasons, Dave Gettleman spent the most money in free agency and filled the most holes among all NFC East teams. As a result, the Giants have the most potent receiving corps with WRs Kenny Golladay, Darius Slayton, KaDarius Toney, Sterling Shepard, RB Saquon Barkley, and TE Evan Engram. More specifically, they have a complete arsenal of weapons for Daniel Jones, who now has a high-end possession receiver, solid deep threat, two explosive slot receivers, and much more. Pressure is on Daniel Jones to maximize this unit, but fans can be optimistic since QB Josh Allen looked like an MVP after the Buffalo Bills invested in his receiving corps last year. The loss of Kevin Zeitler could slightly hinder the G-men’s offense, but the rest of the division’s issues at OL relatively minimize this issue.
New York’s defense likely won’t be an elite unit since they won’t benefit from terrorizing shoddy NFC East QBs next season. However, the money and draft capital they invested in the off-season should offset their rival’s potential improvement at the QB position. Plus, their off-season moves make them a nearly complete roster with the fewest holes in the division. Therefore, head coach Joe Judge will most likely lead this team to a division title due to his stern demeanor and steady leadership.