The NFC East appears to be in transition with only last season’s champions, the Washington Redskins, maintaining any kind of continuity during the off season. Philadelphia and New York each have new coaching staffs and Dallas is starting the season without Tony Romo. Each team in the conference has plenty of talent across the board but none appear to be in reach of the upper echelon of the NFL. It should make for an interesting divisional race, perhaps the only one in the NFC.
New York Giants
The Giants finally parted ways with long time Head Coach Tom Coughlin, but they promoted Ben McAdoo - a long time assistant - in his place maintaining some level of continuity. Eli Manning is still one of the best quarterbacks in the league and he has Odell Beckham Jr., the game’s most electrifying player, to throw too making the Giants offense always dangerous. The team added Oklahoma wide out Sterling Shepard in the draft and welcome back Victor Cruz after two seasons of injuries derailed his career. The Giants should be able to score and appear to be among the best offenses in the NFC. Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen offer some nice options at tailback, but the Giants aren’t likely to become a running team. Defensively the team has talent along the line and in the secondary. They will be able to pressure the quarterback and should be able to generate turnovers in the passing game but their linebacking corps, the backbone of a defense, leaves a lot to be desired. Still, The Giants have fewer question marks than other teams in the East and I expect them to eke out a division crown at 9-7.
Jay Gruden did a terrific job in Washington last season and the hope there is that Kirk Cousins will have improved dramatically this season. Josh Doctson was brought in to alleviate some of the burden placed on Jordan Reed and Desean Jackson while Matt Jones seems to have found the favor of the organization at running back. Josh Norman was a late addition to the team’s free agent class and must be counted as a score. Like he did in Carolina, Norman will give the defensive staff some scheme flexibility. The front seven is comprised mostly of wily veterans with Ryan Kerrigan being the only stand out player. Washington was able to sneak up on a lot of people last season, and they absolutely played well, but this year their talent deficit compared to the other playoff teams will likely be more visible. The Redskins will finish 8-8 and just out of the playoffs.
Dallas realized how much they missed having a very good running back behind their very great offensive line last year and chose Ezekiel Elliott in the first round. Few players have entered the league with higher expectations for their rookie season than Elliott. Combined with Dez Bryant the team has the pieces in place to help Dak Prescott succeed, although Prescott still hasn’t see what NFL defensive coordinators are truly capable of. Romo’s return, if it happens, in the late season might help them salvage some victories but when was the last time Romo played well in December? The defense in Dallas is very pedestrian. They’ll need the best seasons from several guys if they expect to cover for an offense helmed by a rookie quarterback. They likely won’t be able to do that and will lumber towards a 6-10 season.
The Eagles made the late decision to start Carson Wentz in week 1 after saying that he might not play at all in year 1. It’s an aggressive move by Doug Pederson after trading Sam Bradford and one that should help the team in the future. Certainly recapping two draft picks after moving up for Wentz will help. The most credible information I have seen out of Philadelphia is that Darren Sproles looks like the best back on the roster. Wentz’s ascension to the starting job will only help him make that case. Jordan Matthews is an often overlooked receiver that is ready for a breakout year. Defensively Fletcher Cox leads the Eagles and Connor Barwin is a quietly effective pass rusher. Their defense is capable of generating pressure and turnovers but it doesn’t seem well suited to getting off the field consistently. That will make it very difficult for the Eagles offense, which probably won’t put up a ton of points this season. I predict they will finish 4-12.