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It's Cowboys vs. Eagles in NFC East

By Brady Kannon  () 

The NFC East was arguably the NFL’s worst division in 2019, but that requires some clarification. The Redskins and the Giants were not very good, period. The Eagles were not awful but were probably hurt by injury more than any other team. The Cowboys were good but just gross underachievers. Let’s take a look at what 2020 might hold.

Dallas Cowboys

2019 record: 8-8

2020 season win total: 9.5

2020 division odds: even (+ 100)

2020 non-division games: at Ravens, at Rams, at Vikings, at Seahawks, at Bengals, Browns, Cardinals, Steelers, 49ers, Falcons

It is surprising that Jerry Jones finally got rid of longtime coach Jason Garrett at the end of 2019. But it is not surprising when you consider how glaringly this team underperformed. Dallas had the second-ranked passing offense and the fifth-ranked rushing offense in the NFL. The Cowboys were only minus-1 in turnover differential and ranked sixth in the league in DVOA. All of that should have resulted in much better than an 8-8 finish and missing the playoffs.

In steps new coach Mike McCarthy, formerly of the Green Bay Packers. Dallas has also addressed its defense via free agency. As another sign of underachievement, the Cowboys were not that bad defensively in 2019, ranking 10th against the pass and 11th against the run. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been added in the secondary along with Maurice Canady. C.J. Goodwin, Darian Thompson and Anthony Brown have been retained. A couple of linebackers have been added, as have defensive tackles Gerald McCoy and Dontari Poe. The Cowboys lost Robert Quinn from the defensive front, but McCoy and Poe are not a bad 2-for-1.  On special teams, Dallas adds kicker Greg Zuerlein, who should shore up that position.

The Cowboys have one draft pick in each round except the fifth, in which they have two, and the sixth, in which they have none. Center Travis Frederick, a five-time Pro Bowler who just retired, is a big loss that will have to be addressed. Dallas has the luxury of not having an obvious area of weakness and can just plug in across the roster to strengthen an already solid starting lineup.

The skinny: Ranking sixth in DVOA and basically ranking in the top 10 on both offense and defense, this team was obviously good but finished .500 and missed the postseason. The NFC East will be a race between Dallas and Philadelphia, and both teams are good enough to compete for the conference championship. Dallas’ 9.5 season win total looks like the perfect number to hang. The Cowboys have a very tough schedule on paper, but I am leaning Over on the win total and passing on the odds to win the division. The division odds tell you it’s a coin flip between them and the Eagles.

 

New York Giants

2019 record: 4-12

2020 season win total: 6.5

2020 division odds: even (10-1)

2020 non-division games: at Ravens, at Bears, at Bengals, at Seahawks, at Rams, Browns, Cardinals, Steelers, 49ers, Buccaneers

For the first time in 16 seasons, the Giants’ opening-day starting quarterback will not be Eli Manning. He has retired, and Daniel Jones will take the reins in his second year in the league. The Giants’ new coach is a rookie. Joe Judge comes over after spending eight years as an assistant for the New England Patriots following three years with Alabama. A familiar face steps in as the offensive coordinator — former Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett.

Many new faces will be wearing Big Blue this season as general manager Dave Gettleman also went to work in the free-agent market after sorting out his coaching situation. New York signed 11 free agents, five each on offense and defense and one on special teams. Cornerback James Bradberry is worth noting, along with linebackers Blake Martinez and Kyler Fackrell. It’s a good start toward repairing a defense that ranked 28th against the pass and 20th in defending the run. Cameron Fleming comes over from Dallas and should work well with Garrett. Finally, running back Dion Lewis was brought in to shoulder some of the load being carried by Saquon Barkley.

The Giants have 10 draft picks. including No. 4 overall. This is the fourth time in the last five years New York has had a top-10 pick. Gettleman did well in free agency but will need to do even better in the draft. New York has a pick in each of the first six rounds and four selections in the seventh. This team has so many needs that it is hard to say which way the Giants will go. The offense needs weapons, especially on the line, which is where quite a few mock drafts have New York going with the fourth pick. And the pass rush and secondary must improve.

The skinny: Jones will have to grow up quickly in his sophomore season and limit mistakes, as the Giants were dead last in the NFL with a turnover differential of minus-17. That should improve, and so should the defense. Big Blue will be better, but I am still leaning toward Under 6.5 wins. Odds of 10-1 to win the division look juicy, but I think this team is still at least a year away and will probably have yet another top-10 draft choice in 2021.

Philadelphia Eagles

2019 record: 9-7

2020 season win total: 9.5

2020 division odds: + 110

2020 non-division games: at Cardinals, at Browns, at Packers, at Steelers, at 49ers, Rams, Seahawks, Ravens, Bengals, Saints

The Eagles really were a remarkable team in 2019. Sure, they had moments when they looked awful, but to overcome the injuries they had to key personnel and to win the division is an accomplishment that bettors can’t overlook. Big names like Nelson Agholor, Corey Clement, Ronald Darby, Zach Ertz, DeSean Jackson, Malik Jackson,  Alshon Jeffery, Timmy Jernigan, Lane Johnson, Jason Peters and Darren Sproles played hurt, missed significant time or wound up on injured reserve in 2019. Even so, the Eagles ranked 11th in DVOA. Oh, what could’ve been had Philadelphia been at full strength all season.

The weakest piece of the 2019 squad was the passing defense, ranking 19th in the league. Malcolm Jenkins was let go from the secondary and Darby has signed with Washington, but three-time Pro Bowler Darius Slay was acquired from Detroit via trade. Will Parks and Nickell Robey-Coleman were brought in via free agency. Safety Rodney McLeod and cornerback Jalen Mills were retained. Nose tackle Javon Hargrave has come in as a free agent to join Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson on the defensive front.

The offense lost wide receiver Agholor to the Raiders, running back Jordan Howard to the Dolphins and tackle Halapoulivaati Vaitai to the Lions.

The Eagles have eight draft picks. They have the 21st choice in the first round, and many think they will look to grab a No. 1 receiver with Agholor gone, Jeffery struggling to stay healthy and Jackson getting older. They also have selections in the second, third, fifth and sixth rounds plus three picks in the fourth.

The skinny: Philadelphia was third in the NFL last season in rushing defense, 11th in rushing offense, 11th in passing offense and 19th in passing defense. Upgrading the defense has been the focal point of the offseason and in free agency. Like the Dallas Cowboys, the 9.5 season win total looks like a really good number to hang, but as with the Cowboys, I am also leaning Over with Philadelphia. This team scratched out nine wins last season being as banged up as a team could be. I think the Eagles have a great shot to win at least 10 this season. But again, I’ll hold off on betting them to win the division as I see it being another coin flip with Dallas.

Washington Redskins

2019 record: 3-13

2020 season win total: 5.5

2020 division odds: 22-1

2020 non-division games: at Cardinals, at Browns, at Lions, at Steelers, at 49ers, Rams, Seahawks, Ravens, Bengals, Panthers

It has been a long time since the Redskins were a real threat. Jay Gruden was let go during the 2019 season, and Bill Callahan took over as interim coach. Former Carolina Panthers coach Ron Rivera was hired immediately after the season, becoming the Redskins’ 10th coach in 20 years. Since 2000, Washington has had only five winning seasons. One can argue that besides Mike Shanahan and Marty Schottenheimer, Rivera looks to be the best coaching hire this team has made since Joe Gibbs.

In the interim role, Callahan had the Redskins competing, and they got all three of their wins under him. Coupled with Rivera now in charge, Washington fans may have a glimmer of hope. 

Rivera has gone to work in the offseason, signing 11 free agents and retaining three key players, including placing a franchise tag on offensive guard Brandon Scherff. Alongside Scherff on the offensive line, seven-time Pro Bowler Trent Williams remains a question mark. He held out in 2019 with a medical issue and will want a new contract if he is to stay, which could mean he’ll be traded.

The Redskins ranked 31st in rushing defense and 18th in defending the pass. They were 22nd in rushing offense and dead last in passing offense. They were ranked as the third-worst team in football in 2019 at 30th in DVOA. Washington is equipped with seven draft picks, including No. 2 overall. Many see the Redskins grabbing edge rusher Chase Young out of Ohio State, whom some regard as the very best player in the draft. Quarterback Colt McCoy has left to join the Giants, and Dwayne Haskins was ineffective in his rookie season. Some have speculated that the Redskins will draft another quarterback, such as Tua Tagovailoa, with that second pick.

The skinny: The problem for Washington is having so many areas to address on both sides of the ball. This is not a one-year turnaround project for Rivera; it may take three to five years. Redskins fans should hope Rivera is given the chance to make change happen. While 22-1 to win the division is an awfully big price, it’s not big enough. Crazy things happen year to year in the NFL, but I see this team again finishing last in the NFC East. The season win total of 5.5 is a pass for me as well, as I could see this team winning four to six games. From a wagering perspective, my stance is wait and see what Rivera can do in 2020 and look to 2021 before investing in any Redskins props or futures.

 

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