NFC East preview: Best bets for every team

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The VSiN pro football experts have been hard at work this summer, writing up team previews and predictions for all 32 teams, including their favorite individual season win total and College Football Playoff bets.

Here are the team previews and best bets for the NFC East:

Philadelphia Eagles

In coach Nick Sirianni’s first year, the Eagles showed two different looks. Philadelphia was a flop in the first two months with a 3-6 record before turning it around in the last two months with a 6-2 finish. It added up to 9-8 and a playoff appearance, which resulted in a blowout loss at Tampa Bay. With no severe personnel losses and several important additions, the Eagles have the potential to be division winners instead of a wild-card entry.

Offense

Everything hinges on quarterback Jalen Hurts, who has won nine of his 19 starts in his first two seasons. He has totaled 22 touchdown passes and 13 interceptions in his brief career, and while those numbers are not bad for a young passer, Hurts has to take it to the next level for the Eagles to reach double-digit wins. It’s surprising that so many critics want to write off Hurts, who also ran for 10 TDs last season. It’s obvious his throwing accuracy needs to improve and his arm strength is questionable, but Hurts has strong leadership and playmaking abilities. He also has an outstanding supporting cast, especially after Philadelphia traded with Tennessee for veteran receiver A.J. Brown. With Brown, DeVonta Smith, Quez Watkins, Jalen Reagor and Zach Pascal, the Eagles are deep and fast at the receiver positions. Dallas Goedert is an above-average tight end, and running backs Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott have plenty of talent. The line looks solid, led by veterans Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson. The Eagles were a force on the ground, ranking No. 1 in the NFL in rushing (159.7 yards per game) and 12th in scoring (26.1 ppg) last season. The offense should be more explosive, assuming Hurts continues to mature as expected.

Defense

A weak pass rush and soft secondary were troublesome issues a year ago, but those big problems might have been solved through shrewd moves in the draft and free agency. The Eagles selected Jordan Davis, a 6-foot-6, 340-pound tackle from Georgia, in the first round and stole his college teammate, linebacker Nakobe Dean, in the third round. With Davis, Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett, Philadelphia has a deeper defensive line than the Cowboys. Haason Reddick, who totaled 23.5 sacks the past two years, and Kyzir White, who made a team-high 144 tackles for the Chargers, were wise signings as free-agent linebackers. Darius Slay and James Bradberry will make Philadelphia tough on the corners. The safeties are a soft spot, but there’s enough evidence on paper to predict Philadelphia will have the top defense in the division.

Outlook

When the Eagles rallied late last season, they did so against a soft schedule and picked up six wins from mid-November to early January against teams that failed to make the playoffs. What must change is the team’s lack of success against the Cowboys, who crushed Philadelphia by an average of 22.5 points in two meetings. It appears the Eagles have significantly closed the gap via smart personnel moves in the offseason, and they benefit from another weak schedule. Using opponents’ posted win totals for the regular season as a measuring stick, Philadelphia faces the second-easiest schedule in the league. Sharp bettors played the Eagles Over 8.5 when win totals opened in May, and the early birds got the best number. Unfortunately for those who are late to the Philly party, the win total has inflated to 9.5 with the Over price up to -150 at DraftKings. Still, it should be no surprise if this team overtakes the Cowboys and wins 10 games. The front office has done a lot to put talent around Hurts, who’s ready to elevate the Eagles to the top of the NFC East in his third year.

Pick: Over 9.5

Dallas Cowboys

It does not appear the Cowboys are better than last season, when they went 12-5 and dominated the division with a six-game sweep. It does appear the other three NFC East teams have improved. Expect to see some decline in Dallas and look for more signs of dysfunction as owner Jerry Jones is forced to make a decision on the future of a coach, Mike McCarthy, who never should have been hired. The Cowboys have not won a Super Bowl since the 1995 season, but they continue to stage the NFL’s most popular soap opera.

Offense

A year ago, there were plenty of questions about quarterback Dak Prescott, who was returning from a broken ankle. Prescott answered by starting hot and finishing with 37 touchdown passes, but he fizzled in a 23-17 playoff loss to the 49ers. Dallas has a deteriorated line, which is no longer among the league’s elite, and Prescott lost his No. 2 wide receiver, Amari Cooper. The only reason running back Ezekiel Elliott is still around is the guaranteed money in his contract. Elliott rushed for 1,002 yards and 10 touchdowns last season, but he’s fading fast and was less effective than his backup, Tony Pollard. On the positive side, top wideout CeeDee Lamb is a legit star and Dalton Schultz is a highly productive tight end off a 78-reception season. Prescott was outstanding while the Cowboys led the league in total offense (407 yards per game) and scoring (31.2 ppg), so there are always reasons for optimism. Still, the Cowboys are thinner at the receiver positions and weaker on the line, so there are signs that regression is coming unless Elliott makes a surprising resurgence.

Defense

Dallas was lucky a star, — linebacker Micah Parsons — fell to the 12th pick in the 2021 draft. Parsons picked up 13 sacks as a rookie and should become an All-Pro. The key to a more effective defensive front will be keeping end DeMarcus Lawrence and linebacker Leighton Vander Esch healthy and on the field. Trevon Diggs made 11 interceptions last year and proved to be a ball hawk, but the Cowboys ranked 20th in pass defense (238 ypg) and the secondary as a whole was weak in coverage. It’s worth questioning if a Dallas defense that ranked seventh in scoring (21.1 ppg) was somewhat phony due to the anemic offenses it faced in the NFC East. Dan Quinn is a sharp coordinator who will probably hold this unit together, and Parsons’ versatility makes him one of the most valuable defensive players in the league.

Outlook

The Cowboys still have the best quarterback in the division, but Prescott will be challenged to replicate his 2021 numbers with a weaker supporting cast. The media spotlight will be on McCarthy, who’s 18-15 in two years and walking on thin ice. If things turn sideways, there will be intense pressure on Jones to dump McCarthy and hire former Saints coach Sean Payton. It’s not enough to win a bad division and exit early in the playoffs, as Dallas did last season, yet there’s no more proof this team is a serious Super Bowl contender. With the Eagles and Giants rising in the East, the Cowboys will not be on cruise control and the rest of their schedule is a tougher task with games against the Buccaneers, Bengals, Rams, Packers, Vikings, Colts and Titans. While the DraftKings win total of 10 looks right, the Cowboys could hover around .500 for much of the season. McCarthy is not a bet-on coach, and this team is not going to overachieve again unless all of its stars stay healthy. A win total of 10.5 (Under -145) is available, so that’s a better bet.

Pick: Under 10

Washington Commanders

The third year of the Ron Rivera era is also the first year with Carson Wentz, and it’s time to see if the coach and quarterback will sink or swim together. Washington has been a sub-.500 team five years in a row and hasn’t won a playoff game since 2005. This is arguably the most dysfunctional organization in the NFL, with most of the blame pinned on owner Dan Snyder. Rivera, who was brought in to change the culture and clean up the mess, has a 14-19 record. With a new name, new logo and new quarterback, the Commanders hope to finish above the Giants.

Offense

Washington has started eight quarterbacks the past three years. This is probably Wentz’s last chance to prove he’s a worthy starter in the league. Wentz wore out his welcome in Indianapolis and Philadelphia, but the Commanders view him as a potential savior, and the No. 2 overall pick in the 2016 draft is only 29. He passed for 27 touchdowns with seven interceptions last season, yet flopped in big games down the stretch and was dumped by the Colts. Taylor Heinicke is a quality backup, and rookie fifth-round pick Sam Howell is being groomed with an eye on the distant future. The offense does feature talented wide receivers Terry McLaurin, Curtis Samuel and Jahan Dotson, a first-round pick from Penn State. There is solid depth at running back with Antonio Gibson, J.D. McKissic and Brian Robinson Jr., a third-round pick from Alabama. A below-average line could turn into a major concern, but for now the focus is on Wentz in what might be his make-or-break year.

Defense

Rivera’s initial plan was to build a team that runs the ball and dominates on the defensive line to keep games close in the fourth quarter. Washington has been competitive, winning seven games in each of the past two years, but the defense took a big step back in 2021 and ranked 25th in the league in scoring (25.5 ppg). Chase Young, who slumped in his second season before blowing out his knee in Week 10, needs to recapture the form that made him an elite edge rusher as a rookie. The line will definitely be strong with Young and Montez Sweat on the ends and Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne at the tackle spots. The back seven is much weaker with no outstanding linebackers or defensive backs. If Young makes an impressive comeback, the Commanders can be a force up front, so that’s a reason to be optimistic.

Outlook

While this is not one of the NFL’s worst teams, it’s still probably a mediocre one with little hope of reaching the playoffs. Still, in the NFC East, there’s always a chance. Washington will overachieve only if Wentz turns back the clock to 2017, when he was a legit MVP candidate. By opening the season against the Jaguars and Lions, the Commanders have an opportunity to get out to a good start and they face a schedule that also includes the Bears, Falcons and Texans and is much softer than a year ago. In a scheduling oddity, Washington has back-to-back games against a division opponent in December, facing the Giants before and after a bye week. The DraftKings win total of 8 is shaded Under -120, which appears to be the right price on a team that projects to win seven or eight games. It would be surprising if Washington wins nine, so playing Under is the way to go. Rivera is not exactly on the hot seat, but he and Wentz have a lot to prove and the odds are not in their favor

Pick: Under 8

New York Giants

After too many years of getting it wrong, the Giants probably got it right by hiring Brian Daboll as coach. Daboll, the Bills’ former offensive coordinator, will hit the reset button and try to revive a fringe franchise quarterback and a feeble offense. Is this team a year away? Maybe. It’s a semi-rebuild because of a negative salary-cap situation that cannot be fixed overnight. There was no doubt it was time to move on from former general manager Dave Gettleman and coach Joe Judge. The Giants do have enough talent, especially on offense, to overachieve with a few breaks.

Offense

In three years as a starter, Daniel Jones has a 12-25 record. Wins and losses are not quarterback stats, however, and Jones is far from the only one to blame. His development has been hindered by a bad offensive line and injuries to running back Saquon Barkley, who was among the best in the league when healthy. Jones passed for 24 touchdowns with 12 interceptions as a rookie before regressing, totaling 21 TDs and 17 picks the past two seasons. Jones has the ability to succeed, yet he’s not strong enough to carry an offense without a lot of help. Barkley’s comeback is a key factor. The former Penn State star has missed 18 games the past two years. As a rookie in 2018, Barkley totaled 2,028 yards from scrimmage (1,307 rushing, 721 receiving) and was a prime target in the passing attack with 91 catches out of the backfield. Barkley is a dynamic player who commands respect from defenses and makes everyone around him better. Evan Neal, a 6-7, 350-pound tackle from Alabama, is one of two first-round picks who provides a building block up front. Daboll has some pieces to play with, and putting Jones back together is the first piece of the puzzle.

Defense

When the Giants were good, and occasionally great, their pass rush was dominant. Using a first-round pick on Oregon edge rusher Kayvon Thibodeaux was a step in the right direction. A defense that ranked 23rd in the league in scoring (24.5 ppg) last season was soft on all three levels. New coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale is known for his aggressive, blitzing scheme that was a big hit in Baltimore. Martindale has run stoppers and pass rushers ready to attack with Thibodeaux, Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams, Blake Martinez and Azeez Ojulari leading the front seven. The secondary is more of a mystery and a potential problem, though Xavier McKinney is a versatile safety who can plug some holes.

Outlook

It’s not too much to ask Daboll to win eight or nine games with this roster, especially in a weak division, but it would be a big jump. The Giants finished 4-13 in 2021 after going 6-10, 4-12 and 5-11 the previous three years. It’s more realistic to ask Daboll to win seven, which is what oddsmakers are forecasting. Outside of the NFC East, New York hosts Baltimore, Carolina, Chicago, Detroit, Houston and Indianapolis, and the Giants figure to be favored in four of those six games. Much will be riding on Jones’ development and Barkley’s durability, and those remain major question marks. Daboll, who did impressive work with Josh Allen as a young quarterback in Buffalo, was hired to bring the best out of Jones and reconstruct an offense that ranked 31st in scoring (15.2 ppg). The Giants finished last season on a six-game losing streak while scoring more than 10 points only once. A bet Over the win total is too optimistic. While Daboll was a smart hire, smart money says he likely needs a year to get the Giants back on track.

Pick: Under 7

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