The NFC East has been a competitive division for some time. Although the Dallas Cowboys took the undisputed lead last season, all three other teams demonstrated impressive levels of play, and let’s not forget (although it’s pretty easy to do so) the New York Giants also made the playoffs. We have a long way to go before the season officially kicks off, but there have been a few significant shakeups this offseason that beg the question, what will the standing of the NFC East look like come week 17? I’m only going to be conjecturing based on these teams’ strengths and weaknesses from the past year, along with the potential of their recent acquisitions. This is all speculation and moot until the season actually begins. However, it’s June and we’re woefully too deprived of football, so hopefully, this helps.
The Dallas Cowboys: 1st Place
Best Positions: Entire Offense (Offensive Efficiency and Time of possession)
I was very tempted to follow the route of many fellow sports writers and list Ezekiel Elliot and the offensive line as the Cowboys greatest strengths. And, yes, of course, those positions tower over their NFC East challengers (and most of the league for that matter). However, I felt compelled to give the rest offense some love too because they were an overall outstanding unit!
, Offensive Rookie of the Year winner, surpassed all expectations from the moment he took the field in the preseason. The young quarterback displayed an accurate arm, very capable running abilities, and most importantly, poise. Prescott did not look like a rookie. On numerous plays, he evaded tackles, kept his eyes downfield, and made precise passes, rarely throwing an interception. With a year under his belt and his improving rapport with Dez Bryant
, Jason Witten
, and Cole Beasley
, Prescott is likely to lead his team to yet another NFC East title.
Weaknesses: The Secondary
This has been a well-documented issue ailing the Cowboys for some time. Many sports commentators viewed it as the Boys greatest hurdle to a Super Bowl victory last season given that they would likely face at least one pinpoint passer (Matt Ryan
, Aaron Rodgers
, Tom Brady
, or even Big Ben). Although their bout with Rodgers came down to the wire, it was clear that their secondary cannot keep pace with a high caliber quarterback. The Cowboys have to rest their hopes in the play of their stout front seven and a balanced offense.
The New York Giants: 2nd Place
Best Positions: The Secondary and Wide Receiver Corps
Prior to discussing the very hyped receiving trio, I think credit is due to a defense that consistently bailed out the lackluster play of Eli Manning
. The Giants’ defense was arguably the best in the NFC East. In the second half of the season, the Giants’ defense held their opponents to a little over 300 yards a game and a mere 15 points. The combination of Landon Collins
, Janoris Jenkins
, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie
was superb all year, and likely to further develop as a cohesive unit during the offseason.
On to the Giants more flashy and published trio, their receivers. This is easily the best wide receiver corps in the NFC East, and arguably in the entire league. Odell Beckham
is a show stopping superstar. Brandon Marshall
is a big-bodied sure-handed veteran. And Sterling Shepard
is a talented young player that displayed a lot of promise during his rookie campaign. I could go on, but I don’t want to belabor a point that’s already been written about a hundred times over.
Weaknesses: Running Back and Quarterback
Inversely to their wide receivers, the Giants have the worst running game in NFC East. Rashad Jennings
was pretty porous last season, and if Paul Perkins
couldn’t overtake him on the depth chart, well, there’s not much hope there either. Perkins will aim to improve as he is the heir apparent atop the depth chart.
Eli Manning is an enigma. The veteran quarterback is a two-time Super Bowl Champion, yet his level of play has been uninspiring for a couple of seasons now. The man has built a reputation for stringing together five solid games, even sneaking in a great one every so often, along with his usual 10 mediocre or straight awful performances. As last year’s post-season matchup taught us, a defense can only keep you in the game for so long, before, well, you can check the final score to see where I’m going with this.
The Philadelphia Eagles: 3rd Place
Best Positions: Defensive Line
I wanted to talk about the additions of Alshon Jeffery
and LeGarrette Blount
, but I can’t in good faith say they’re the greatest strengths of the Eagles. However, the defensive line is quite talented, unfortunately, it’s often overlooked due to the abysmal play of the secondary. Lead by their all-pro defense tackle, Fletcher Cox
, the line is constantly disrupting opposing quarterbacks and running backs. Cox can easily clog up a couple of gaps in the middle, while budding young end Brandon Graham
, and newly added veteran Chris Long
will handle the edges. This group will continue to help the ailing secondary, and maybe, muster up a few more wins.
Weaknesses: The Secondary
You’re probably thinking, who are the Eagles defensive backs? Well, no one you’d ever heard of except Malcolm Jenkins
, the lone quality player in the unit. This secondary couldn’t match the front seven’s level of play. The Eagles were consistently torched through the air, which extended their opponents drives, and subsequently exhausted their defensive line. The defense backs deficiencies made it challenging for the entire defensive unit to string together stops. And although the secondary did manage a decent amount of takeaways, and the half the unit is going to be different, and the coaches are changing their defensive schemes, I don’t imagine a major improvement just yet. The talent is simply not there.
The Washington Redskins: 4th Place
Best Positions: Tight End and Quarterback
This was one a tough one. The Redskins don’t quite possess any one trait or position that blows me away. So, think of the this as more like their “main positions,” or “most likely to win them a game” positions. Jordan Reed
was an obvious choice for this section. He’s a massive tight end with great speed, leaping abilities, and sure hands. Reed is easily the best tight end in the NFC East and certainly one of the best in the league, albeit he doesn’t have a ton of competition. My main reservation against Reed is his health. His tenure with Redskins has been riddled with injuries. Given how physically demanding that position is, unfortunately, I don’t picture him staying healthy for an entire season.
was the logical second player to pick (sorry Josh Norman
). A quarterback is the most vital position in football. Period. And Cousins continues to be a puzzle to fans everywhere. Is he good? Is he bad? He’s probably both. Cousins has had a slew of brilliant performances, like multiple TDs and over 300 yards kind of games. However, he’s had equally underwhelming showings, which is why I (and just about everyone) is never totally sold on Cousins as a premier quarterback. Unless Cousins plays like a man possessed in the upcoming season, he’ll remain a solid middle of the pack passer.
Weakness: Running back
Making the lives of Cousins and Reed even more difficult is the ineptitude from the Redskins’ running game. Matt Jones
? Robert Kelley
? I think I can count the quality games from both backs on one hand. Neither player really dazzles in any key skill for a back. They’re not strong enough power runners, they don’t display quick cutting moves, and they don’t have jaw-dropping breakaway speed. Shoot, they don’t even catch passes out the backfield (Chris Thompson
handles passing downs). Maybe one of them steps it up this year, or more likely, maybe the Redskins’ rookie selection Samaje Perine takes the reins.
Final Division Predictions:
Dallas Cowboys: 11 – 5
New York Giants: 9 – 7
Philadelphia Eagles: 8 – 8
Washington Redskins: 7 – 9