The cream of the crop. The top dawg. The alpha division. That’s right, we’re here to talk about the mighty NFC East. In 2016, no division won more games than the East (39). Not only did it have the top record in the NFC (Cowboys, 13-3), but its worst team was a respectable 7-9 (Eagles). If there is a knock on the division, it’s the fact that neither team it sent to the playoffs could win a game.
But that was 2016, and the last time I scrolled up on my page, it said 2017 win total bets. So from here out, we’ll focus on whether the division can repeat its success from a season ago. Did the Eagles provide Carson Wentz with enough weapons to climb out of the basement of the division? Will Kirk Cousins perform in yet another contract year? Can the Giants supply Eli Manning with enough protection to utilize his talented pass-catchers? And will Dak Prescott and/or Ezekiel Elliott suffer through a sophomore slump?
We’ll be answering all those questions as we work through the win totals for the NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys: Over 9.5
The Cowboys needed no tricks last season to win 13 games. Their gameplan was simple: pound the ball down your throat. I’m taking a page from that playbook and keeping my analysis simple: Dallas will be good …
Ok, I’ll give you a little more than that.
Dallas’ offensive line is dominant. Losing Ronald Leary to the Broncos and Doug Free to retirement isn’t ideal, but the Cowboys have the depth to fill the holes. La’el Collins slots in as RT, which is what he was drafted as, and third-round pick Chaz Green, who started two games last season, will play LG. Even if Ezekiel Elliott only averages 4.9 yards per carry instead of 5.1, the Cowboys will be just fine.
Defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli squeezed every bit of potential out of his defense in 2016, as the unit ranked fifth in points allowed. Of the Cowboys’ nine draft picks in 2017, seven of them were used to bulk up a defense that got torched by Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs. In desperate need of an edge rusher, Jerry Jones selected Taco Charlton in the first-round, who will mostly serve as a pass-rushing specialist in his rookie year. Dallas then used its second, third, fifth, and sixth-round selections on defensive backs, after losing all but one starter in the secondary.
In the end, their offense is going to make their defense look better than it actually is. Dallas’ power running game allows the defense to stay fresh, and often play with a lead. Dak Prescott may not post another 104.9 passer rating, but (again) he doesn’t have to. The Cowboys will win in the trenches, which will lead to more than nine wins in 2017.
New York Giants: Over 9
If there’s one team in this division the Cowboys fear, it’s the Giants. New York handed Dallas two of its three regular-season losses in 2016, largely due to a dominant defense. The unit ranked second in points allowed and tenth in total defense. Its biggest strength was against the run: Damon Harrison and Johnathan Hankins were a forceful duo up the middle, while Jason Pierre-Paul and Olivier Vernon pride themselves on being more than just edge rushers. With Hankins heading to Indianapolis in free agency, the Giants will hope second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson can fill the massive hole.
Offense was clearly the focus in New York in the offseason. GM Jerry Reese signed veteran wide receiver Brandon Marshall and drafted combine standout Evan Engram in the first-round. While I’m sure Eli Manning loves the extra weapons, there’s still one major problem: Ereck Flowers is set to start at LT again. If the former first-round pick can’t improve his footwork, it won’t matter who Eli has to throw the ball to.
The Giants didn’t to much to bulk up an anorexic running game, but there’s hope yet. With defenses force to focus on New York’s litany of receiving weapons, Ben McAdoo may be able to establish a bit more of a ground attack. In turn, this will help out the offensive line in pass protection.
The Giants’ defense will remain their strength, but their offense will put a lot more points on the board this year. The result will be a new division champion.
Philadelphia Eagles: Under 8
Considering they started a rookie quarterback whose top target was a slow, big-bodied slot receiver, the Eagles had a very respectable 2016 season. Their 2017 offseason portends good things, particularly the signing of Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith in free agency. The former may not be a top-five receiver, but he is a legitimate WR1, and the latter brings an element of speed Philadelphia was severely lacking.
With a much improved arsenal, and the protection of the best pair of tackles in the league (Jason Peters and Lane Johnson), Carson Wentz will take a giant leap forward.
Losing Connor Barwin, Bennie Logan, and Nolan Carroll from the defense will hurt, but the Eagles replaced most their losses in free agency. Depending who you ask, Timmy Jernigan can be seen as an upgrade over Logan, and Chris Long is reliable. Jim Schwartz is also a very good defensive coordinator who always gets the most from his players. So don’t expect the 12-ranked scoring defense to take much of a step back.
“Wait, Matt … you took the under!”
I sure did, but that’s not indicative of what I think of the Eagles. It’s simply due to the division they play in, and having to play the AFC West. Not every NFC East team can have a winning record.
Washington: Over 7.5
If Washington possessed an average defense in 2016, the NFC East likely would have sent three teams to the playoffs. Kirk Cousins led a prolific passing attack that ranked second in the league, and the offense tallied the third-most yards in football.
Unfortunately, Cousins lost his top-two receivers from last season to free agency: Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Both hauled in more than 1,000 receiving yards last year. Washington brought in Terrelle Pryor to help fill the void, and will hope 2016 first-round pick Josh Doctson can contribute, as well.
With Cousins at the helm and Jay Gruden calling the plays, I don’t worry much about the offense, even if Washington continues to refuse to run the ball. The defense is what stands in the way of a playoff spot.
Unable to stop the run or pass last year, Washington made a lot of changes on the defensive side of the ball, especially up front. Washington will likely start all new defensive linemen, with first-round pick Jonathan Allen being the headliner. They also brought in the second-leading tackler from 2016, Zach Brown, and hard-hitting safety DJ Swearinger to shore-up the backend.
The defensive additions should be enough to bring the unit up to respectability. And that’s enough for the offense to win them eight games.