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The NFC East has been one of the most hotly contested divisions in the NFL for several years. Last year it was the Philadelphia Eagles reigning supreme after the Cowboys took the honors in 2016. The year before that it was the Washington Redskins, and in 2011 it was the Giants who won the division and the Super Bowl. It seems that every team has a shot at winning the division this year although the Eagles are clearly the favorites. Let’s take a look at what each team has in store for us this season.
New York Giants
2017 is a year that the Giants and their fans would like to forget. There is indeed reason to expect a better year out of them especially now that Odell Beckham Jr. is back and they appear to have a talented running back finally. The key here is Saquon Barkley. Before OBJ got hurt, New York’s game plan was “throw it to Odell” and not much more. Now they can attack on the ground too, and there is every indication that they will do just that. We will just have to wait and see if the additions of Nate Solder and rookie Will Hernandez can improve their sub-par offensive line.
There have been a few changes on defense too. Jason Pierre-Paul is gone, Kareem Martin and Alec Ogletree are in. There are plenty of holes to plug in New York’s defense, and we’ll soon find out how their off-season moves pay off.
It’s going to be tough sledding for the Giants especially in the first half of the season. A season opener at home against Jacksonville will be followed by road dates in Dallas and Houston. Then they have to face New Orleans, Carolina, Philly, and Atlanta before closing out the first half of the season against Washington. It’ll be nothing short of a miracle if they can notch three wins in that stretch. The second half of the schedule sees them play Tampa, Chicago, and Indianapolis but those may not be gimmes this year.
Kirk Cousins is out, and veteran Alex Smith is in while coach Jay Gruden looks like he’s on the hot seat. The Redskins finished 2017 with a 7-9 record, but they could have easily been a .500 team if it wasn’t for an embarrassing loss to the Giants in Week 17. To be fair, their eight other losses came against teams with winning records, but they were decidedly outclassed in most of those losses. This year they will be paying visits to New Orleans, Jacksonville, and Tennessee while hosting Green Bay, Carolina, and Atlanta. They have to get wins against Arizona, Indy, Tampa, and Houston as well if they are going to compete in their division. Speaking of their division, Washington went just 1-5 against their NFC East rivals last year.
Depending on the stats you look at, Alex Smith is a bit of an upgrade over the departed Kirk Cousins. If healthy, Washington’s offensive line has the potential to be quite good with the likes of Trent Williams and Brandon Scherff. Except for tight end Jordan Reed, Washington’s receivers can be summed up in a single word: Potential. It gets a little sketchy when we talk about their running game though. They are so thin at running back that they signed 33-year-old Adrian Peterson to be their featured back.
On the defensive side, this is a team that needs to improve. They allowed the 12th-most yards per game in the league last year and the 5th-most points per game. No team was as putrid against the run as Washington who allowed 134.1 rushing yards against per game. In a division that features running back like Ezekiel Elliott, Jay Ajayi, and rookie Saquon Barkley, a repeat of last year’s performance could be severely damaging. They drafted a pair of defensive tackles and managed to sign linebacker Zach Brown, but this defense will still struggle.
All things considered, the Cowboys had a relatively good season in 2017. They went 5-1 in the division, but they just couldn’t seem to beat the good teams. Excluding their win against Arizona, who finished 8-8, the Cowboys went just 2-5 against winning teams. They also lost to Green Bay right before Aaron Rodgers was injured. This year they can look forward to playing nine teams that had winning records in 2017.
Dak Prescott took a bit of a step back from his rookie year performance. His receiving corp is arguably less talented than last year’s, but it should still be slightly better than average. It’s really all about Ezekiel Elliott when we discuss this offense. He looks healthy and should be in the lineup for the entire season, which is a boost for the team. The offensive line was a bit questionable last season, but they should be better if they can get bounce-back seasons out of Travis Frederick and Zack Martin. Tyron Smith will be helpful if he can stay healthy and a solid rookie campaign out of Connor Williams will make things that much better.
The Cowboys were good against both the run and the pass in 2017, and we can expect that to be the same this year. They won’t be an easy team to score against, but they would be helping their cause if they could generate a few more turnovers. Especially against good teams.
The Eagles were a very well-rounded team in 2017, and it looks like they are set to be well-rounded again this year. One difference might be the quality of their opponents. Last year they played seven teams that finished with a winning record, and they went 4-3 in those games. This year they will play nine games against winning teams from 2017. It’s going to be a whole lot tougher for them to achieve the same level of success.
The Eagles’ offense was quite a story last year. They won with Carson Wentz, and they won with Nick Foles. They scored a lot of points through the air and a lot on the ground. Expect the same type of approach this year as they continue to mix it up and befuddle opposing defenses. Their receivers are pretty good, and Jay Ajayi will carry the bulk of the running game after the departure of LeGarrette Blount. Although the offensive line allowed their quarterbacks to be hit more than most other teams, they are still strong and are capable of opening up those running lanes.
As for their defense? They were one of the best in 2017, and it will be one of their many strengths in 2018. They gave up the fewest yards per game on the ground and were middle of the pack in passing yards allowed. In the end, Philadelphia allowed the 4th-least points per game.
Current Odds to Win the Division and Projected Order:
1st Philadelphia -175
2nd Dallas +250
3rd Washington +750
4th New York +700
Win Total Predictions
Philadelphia: Over 10 (-140) –
The bookmakers don’t think Philly will get as many wins as last year. Their schedule is a bit tougher, but they’ll still take the division and win 11 games.
Dallas: Over 8.5 (-155) - Bookmakers put the Cowboys win total at 8.5 games this year. We think Prescott bounces back and that should be enough to propel them to ten wins and firmly into the wildcard conversation.
Washington: Over 7 (-110) - It feels like the bookmakers have nailed the number for the 'Skins. If Alex Smith repeats his performance from last year and the defense steps up, Washington could find themselves over .500 and in the mix for a wildcard.
New York: Under 7 (+140) - The sportsbooks have their win total pegged at 7. That seems to be optimistic. Eli Manning is a year older, and it's doubtful the rookie Barkley can put them on his back yet. Look like another long year for the G-Men.