As we continue our sweep through the NFC, we make our way to the NFC East.
The first team of focus: Washington Commanders
Super Bowl winner: 80:1
Conference winner: 40:1
Division winner: 5.75:1
To Make Playoffs: No -190; Yes +158
Regular Season Win Total: o7.5 -125; u7.5 +105
Key offseason additions: Draft, trades, free agent signings
Via Free Agency: Trai Turner (G), Andrew Norwell (G)
Via Draft: Jahan Dotson (WR), Phidarian Mathis (DT), Brian Robinson Jr. (RB), Percy Butler (S), Sam Howell (QB)
Via Trade: Carson Wentz (QB)
Via Free Agency: Brandon Scherff (G), Matthew Ioannidis (DE), Ricky Seals-Jones (TE)
Landon Collins (S), Ereck Flowers (G), and Ryan Kerrigan (DE) the 2021 roster and are yet to sign.
Outside of the trade for Carson Wentz and what I view as a great draft, the Washington Commanders off-season was, for the most part, quiet. The odds are clearly against the Commanders coming out on top of the NFC East, but it is not a stretch to think this team can’t make some noise and be in the thick of things deep into the season. Ron Rivera is one of the most respected head coaches in the NFL and tends to get the most out of his players. However, last year it’s no secret that both the offense and defense were underwhelming. Jack Del Rio, the Defensive Coordinator, has proven he can coach a successful defense and needs to get his unit to bounce back this year. And Offensive Coordinator, Scott Turner, son of Norv Turner, added some nice pieces that should make his play calling much easier.
Washington is usually known for its offensive line play. They always seem to have an above average unit. Last year they lost Trent Williams to the 49ers and still excelled. Can they repeat the same success after losing another top guard in Brandon Scherff? Per PFF’s June rankings, the Commanders have the 15th best offensive line in the league. That’s right in the middle of the pack and frankly I believe it could outperform those expectations. Trai Turner and Andrew Norwell are formidable guards, while second year tackle Sam Cosmi showed real promise last year as a rookie. The other tackle, Charles Leno Jr. showed a rebirth of sorts after his stint in Chicago. If this offensive line unit can prove to be even in the middle of the pack it should be more than enough for this offensive to thrive. And that leads us to the most important position on the field.
I have always been a Carson Wentz supporter. I’ve always felt his talent level is there and that he has been unfairly criticized. Untimely injuries continue to be his achilles heel. But his leash in regard to showing how truly good he can be is coming to an end. You only get so many opportunities. If Wentz can’t return to his 2017 MVP season form that was abruptly stopped short due to a season ending ACL injury, then this season in Washington could be his last as a starter. The Commanders have savvy veteran Taylor Heinicke and new drafted Sam Howell waiting in the wings if Wentz cannot deliver. Fortunately for Wentz, the offensive skill players Washington has accumulated around him are undoubtedly the best he has ever had.
Wentz has always loved throwing the ball to his tight end and he has a good one in Logan Thomas. He has dealt with some injuries of his own but has shown signs of improvement each year. The wide receiver position Washington has surrounded Wentz with is the most talented group his has worked with. Terry McLaurin is a surefire stud. Jahan Dotson was worthy of a first-round pick in the latest draft and all signs point to him being a favorite target of Wentz’s already. And let’s not forget Curtis Samuel, who signed with the Commanders last year, but never truly got on the field due to injury. If teams don’t know about these three guys already, they will very shortly into the 2022 season. Lastly, the running back position is versatile and deep. Antonio Gibson has amassed 1,800+ rushing yards in his first two years combined to go along with 18 rushing touchdowns. And for as good as he has been, drafted rookie out of Alabama Brian Robinson Jr., is nipping at his heels for the lead role (per various pre-season reports). And to top it off, third down back J.D. McKissic is a real threat in the passing game.
Normally, Washington’s defense is their backbone, and you can always count on them. But this year, I have my concerns. Last year they started off extremely poor but were able to turn it around in the second half of the year. They can’t afford to start that poor out of the gate again this year and it all starts with the front four. As good as the front four is, they lost Ryan Kerrigan to retirement, Matthew Ioannidis to free agency, and Chase Young is out for the first few weeks as he comes back from his ACL injury last year. Montez Sweat, Daron Payne, and Jonathan Allen need to put this team on their back because linebacking crew and secondary rank on the weaker side. Jamin Davis is an exciting talent that showed some promise last year as a rookie, but more is needed from him. Kendall Fuller and William Jackson III are respectable cornerbacks, but they are not putting fear in opposing offensives. One player to keep an eye on is rookie safety Percy Butler. If he comes in strong it could be a big push this defense needs.
Stop me where you have heard this before, it all comes down to Carson Wentz. If he can regain his form and take advantage of what his skill players have to offer him, this Washington Commanders team will far exceed expectations. I may be the only person who believes so, but I think he gets it done.
Strongest Lean: Washington Commanders over o7.5 wins
Next up in the NFC East: New York Giants
Super Bowl winner: 100:1
Conference winner: 50:1
Division winner: 8:1
To Make Playoffs: No -292; Yes +235
Regular Season Win Total: o7.0 +105; u7.0 -125
Key offseason additions: Draft, trades, free agent signings
Via Free Agency: Mark Glowinski (G), Tyrod Taylor (QB)
Via Draft: Kayvon Thibodeaux (DE), Evan Neal (OT), Wan’Dale Robinson (WR), Joshua Ezeudu (OG), Cordale Flott (CB), Daniel Bellinger (TE), Micah McFadden (LB)
Via Free Agency: Jabrill Peppers (S), Evan Engram (TE), Lorenzo Carter (LB), Austin Johnson (DT)
Cut/Released: Logan Ryan (S), James Bradberry (CB), Blake Martinez (LB)
It has been a long time coming, but the David Gettleman experience in New York is over. It was a tumultuous era that was ultimately done in by trying to make short term fixes when they weren’t there to be had. The New York Giants were in desperate need of a rebuild and Gettleman refused to take notice. The best thing he did for this franchise and his successor (Joe Shoen) was trade the New York Giants 2021 1st round draft pick for a future 2022 1st round draft pick (and some). Other than that, he left new General Manager Joe Shoen, and his hand-picked Head Coach Brian Daboll, with a roster full of holes and lacking talent, along with no money to spend.
Speaking on the Giants 2022 draft, I think they nailed their first three picks. They were able to get a much-needed edge rusher in Kayvon Thibodeaux as well as add another foundational piece for their offensive line. Wan’Dale Robinson is one heck of a receiver that isn’t getting much mention nationally, but he will be a much-needed addition to a so far underachieving wide receiving core.
Daniel Jones is in a prove it year and while the odds are stacked against him, this season might be the best chance he has had in his young career to showcase his abilities. He has some experience under his belt and a true offensive mind calling the plays in new Offensive Coordinator Mike Kafka, with the blessing of Head Coach Brian Daboll. Most importantly for Jones is the fact that Shoen was able to add some protection on the front line. If any quarterback is going to succeed, he needs time. Its hard to thrive under duress or on your backside much of the game. Going into his third season, Andrew Thomas has proven (when healthy) he can anchor the left side of the line. Rookie Evan Neal was a top 10 pick and if he comes into his own the Giants could be set at the tackle positions for the foreseeable future. And Shoen did a great job acquiring veteran Guard Mark Glowinski and Center Jon Feliciano, two very under the radar additions.
If the offensive line makes the leap that is expected, it will also help Saquon Barkley get back to form. He is a full year removed from his ACL injury and ready to quiet the critics. He is one of the most electric players in the game and when right can be the catalyst on any offense. I personally think Barkley is ready to soar to new heights this year. And the Giants need it because the receiving core has been anything but reliable and could be considered a major part of Daniel Jones let down thus far. Kenny Golladay has been a major disappointment after signing his big deal last year. Kadarius Toney and Sterling Shepard can’t seem to stay healthy. Darius Slayton can’t seem to consistently hold onto the ball when needed. Wan’Dale Robinson has a real great opportunity to show he can be a core piece to this unit.
I think the offense has a lot to prove, but if things go right and the Giants catch some breaks, you can see the potential. The truly worrisome aspect of this Giants roster is the defense. The linebacking core is weak and the secondary has no true lockdown corners. Leonard Williams is an absolute force, but if Thibodeaux doesn’t fulfill the roll of a dominate edge rusher it makes it very easy for the opposing offensive lines to double Williams. Xavier McKinney and Julian Love are a respectable safety duo, but safeties can only have so much of an impact when the corner play is suspect, and the opposing quarterback has all day to throw.
One of the few things that the Giants have in their favor is their strength of schedule. NFL’s scheduling formula dictates the NFC East will face the NFC North and AFC South in 2022. In addition, because NFC teams will host the 17th game that was added in 2021, the New York Giants will have nine home games in 2022. Based on their 2022 opponents 2021-win percentage, the Giants have the 4th easiest schedule. Unfortunately, the only teams with “easier” schedules are held by the other three teams in their division.
All-in-all, the Giants face an uphill battle this year on all fronts. It’s a great opportunity for the new management and coaching staff to evaluate the talent on the roster, but the results are not going to be pretty.
Strongest Lean: New York Giants under 7.5 wins, New York Giants to miss the playoffs
Continuing within the NFC East, the team of focus: Dallas Cowboys
Super Bowl winner: 20:1
Conference winner: 9:1
Division winner: 1.35:1
To Make Playoffs: No +210; Yes -260
Regular Season Win Total: o10.5 +130; u10.5 -155
Key offseason additions: Draft, trades, free agent signings
Via Free Agency: Anthony Barr (LB), Dante Fowler Jr. (DE), Jason Peters (OL)
Via Draft: Tyler Smith (OT), Sam Williams (DE), Jalen Tolbert (WR)
Via Free Agency: Randy Gregory (OLB), La’el Collins (RT), Connor Williams (C), Cedrick Wilson (WR)
Via Trade: Amari Cooper
I’ll jump right out and say it. I do not like much of what the Dallas Cowboys did this off-season with their roster. I do not care how you slice it; this team did not get any better from a talent or needs perspective. Sure, players can improve, but when the talent brought in the door does not come close to the talent they let walk out the door things usually don’t end all that well.
The Dallas Cowboys staple over the last few successful season has been their offensive line. Luckily for them, they have the best offensive linemen in the game, in right guard Zach Martin. It is not an understatement that the Cowboys are going to have to lean on him more so than ever. In one offseason the Cowboys lost standout right tackle La’el Collins to the Bengals and reliable center Connor Williams to the Dolphins in free agency. In addition, the Cowboys will be without Tyron Smith for the season after sustaining a season ending knee injury earlier this preseason.
The Cowboys had a plan for the loss of Williams with third year backup Tyler Biadasz who they felt was ready to step in as a starter. They drafted Tyler Smith in the first round to add some bulk to the line. And they brought in seasoned veteran Jason Peters to fill-in for Tyron Smith. But these are some BIG shoes to fill.
The Cowboys receiving core is still solid but will lack some of the fire punch that it had in 2021. The Cowboys traded star Amari Cooper and lost Cedrick Wilson in free agency to the Dolphins. Michael Gallup is still recovering from a season ending injury last year and is expected to miss a few games this year (who knows how long it will take to kick the rust off). The Cowboys went out and signed James Washington, but he is already injured and on the Injured Reserve. We can expect to see a heavy dose of CeeDee Lamb this season and that is a great thing for Cowboys fans. Also, rookie wide receiver Jalen Tolbert, who has garnered notable praise this offseason has a chance to cement himself into the starting lineup while the opportunity is there.
Dalton Schultz has proven to be a quality tight end, so much so that the Cowboys placed the franchise tag on him. Schultz really made a leap last year and became one of Dak Prescott’s most trusted targets. That trend will most likely continue.
Complementing the receiving weapons for the Cowboys is their 1-2 punch of Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard. Elliott appears to have slowed down, but he is still one of the most feared running backs in the league. And Tony Pollard is one of the best backup runners in the league. Both have the ability to run the ball, no matter the situation, and have proven to be adequate pass catchers.
This offense, although more than capable, is not what it was. Quarterback Dak Prescott has plenty to work with and it is now his time to show he can truly elevate his teammates. He has put up the numbers and most of the time the situations have been ideal. He is smart, mobile and has shown he can make all the throws. It’s his second year in Head Coach Mike McCarthy’s system. But now is the time. As is the case with most teams, as Prescott goes so will the Cowboys.
Last year the defense had a few pleasant surprises in the Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons along side the emergence of All-Pro Trevon Diggs. As a team the Cowboys were able to get to the quarterback and did an excellent job of generating turnovers. The hope is that after Randy Gregory’s departure that Demarcus Lawrence can return to form of creating havoc. He’s the catalyst of that defensive line and they need the pressure he is capable of putting on opposing quarterbacks. By him being a focal point, it allows Parsons to be even more dynamic. I am not sure that the Cowboys secondary can replicate how well they played last year, but if they do if they do it starts with Diggs. The knock-on Diggs is that for all the interceptions he had, he allowed for far too many big plays. He needs to limit those this year. Safeties Malik Hooker and Jayron Kearse are very capable ball hawks. In my opinion, the strong point of the Cowboys defense is their linebacking crew made up of Parsons, Leighton Vander Esch (when healthy), Anthony Brown, and recently signed Anthony Barr.
As is the case with all the NFC East, the Cowboy’s strength of schedule is among the softest in the league. Based solely on this year’s opponents 2021-win percentage, the Cowboys are tied with the Washington Commanders with the easiest projected schedule in the league. The Cowboys’ home schedule is especially friendly. Only the New York Giants project to have an easier schedule at home than the Cowboys. Dallas is due to host five teams projected to win fewer than eight games and just one club projected to win more than 10. The road schedule is a tad bit more difficult. With away games against the Packers, Rams, Titans, and Vikings, their road schedule ranks as the 11th toughest in the league.
The Cowboys still have one of the better teams on paper as reflected in the projected win totals. Especially when you consider the elite level skill position players on offense and some of the young stars on defense. The soft schedule makes the Cowboys are expected to face is baked into that win total. However, the Cowboys have taken a hit in the trenches on both sides of the ball and Mike McCarthy has not yet proven he can lead this team. There always seem to be untimely blunders and coaching errors at the wrong time. And it’s going to catch up to them.
Strongest Leans: Cowboys under 10.5 wins, Cowboys to miss the playoffs
The last team cover in the NFC East, but not least: Philadelphia Eagles
Super Bowl winner: 25:1
Conference winner: 11:1
Division winner: 1.3:1
To Make Playoffs: No +155; Yes -175
Regular Season Win Total: o9.5 -140; u9.5 +118
Key offseason additions: Draft, trades, free agent signings
Via Free Agency: Haason Reddick (LB), James Bradberry (CB), Kyzir White (LB), Zach Pascal (WR),
Via Draft: Jordan Davis (DT), Cameron Jurgens (C), Nakobe Dean (LB)
Via Trade: A.J. Brown (WR), C.J. Gardner-Johnson (CB)
Via Free Agency: Steven Nelson (CB), Rodney McLeod (S)
I’m not sure where to start other than by saying, “Wow”! Eagles General Manager Howie Roseman had one heck of an offseason. The Eagles exceeded expectations in 2021 and were able to sneak into the playoffs. Since then, all the Eagles have done is bolster their roster on both the offensive and defensive sides of the ball. Last year the Eagles were able to take people by surprise. This year, the Eagles are going to be knocking on everyone’s door and letting them know they are true contenders.
Jalen Hurts is back under center to lead this team. Not much was expected of him heading into last season, but he proved many doubters wrong. He was not a top-tier quarterback, but he improved over the course of the season. He’s a hard worker, humble, and knows his strengths and weakness. His teammates vouch for him, and you can tell he just wants to get better and better. To help him get better, Howie Roseman did everything he could to put the right players around him.
We already know the Eagles offensive line is, almost without question, the best in the league. The offensive line is experienced, deep, and cohesive and is made up of top caliber players that most of the league is drooling over. The starters include Jason Kelce, Lane Johnson, Landon Dickerson, Jordan Mailata, and Isaac Seumalo (filling in for recently injured Andre Dillard). The backups include Cam Jurgens and Jack Driscoll. Plain and simple, the offensive line is not one Jalen Hurts, head coach Nick Sirianni or the Eagles management have to worry about.
The running game has always found a way. As was the case last year, the run game will be by committee. Miles Sanders, Kenneth Gainwell, and Boston Scott all complement each other well. Sanders is the preferred every down back, but he has yet to kick the injury bug. Even without all world talent at the running back position, the strength of the Eagles offensive line is all they really need. Not to mention, Jalen Hurts is an extremely mobile quarterback who can make plays using his feet as well.
The Eagles biggest splash of the off-season came on draft night where Howie Roseman traded for A.J. Brown. A very underrated move this off season was the signing of receiving Zach Pascal who is a better route runner and pass catcher than people give him credit for and is an outstanding blocker. Add these two weapons to second year wide receiver Devonta Smith and stand out tight end Dallas Goedert and this offense is going to look much different than it did last year, especially through the air.
For as good as the offense could be, the defense could be even though much better. The two weakest parts of the defense are safety and linebacker. Avonte Maddux was shifted from corner to safety, matching him up with K’Von Wallace and Marcus Epps. None are household names but the strengths in the other parts of the defense should help make up for that. The linebacker group is a little underwhelming, but Kyzir White is an underrated signing. Haason Reddick is the key to this group and is considered a big win in free agency for this unit. The corner positions are witnessed a massive upgrade heading into this season. Darius Slay proved to be one of the best corners in the game last year. To further cement their secondary prowess, the Eagles went out and signed James Bradberry after he was released by the New York Giants and traded for standout slot corner C.J. Gardner-Johnson. Bradberry had a down year last year, but if he can regain his form that he had in his last year in Carolina and first year in New York, it is an even bigger addition to this secondary that initially thought.
The bread and butter to the Eagles defense is its stout defensive line. There are no weaknesses and that includes experience and depth. The defensive tackles consist of Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave, and Jordan Davis. The edge positions are made up of Brandon Graham, Josh Sweat, and Derek Barnett. Good luck to opposing teams’ offensive lines and quarterbacks.
Another positive point to consider for the Eagles is their favorable strength of schedule. Philadelphia’s overall schedule ranks as the second easiest in the NFL, behind only the Cowboys and Commanders who are tied for easiest, based on this year’s opponents 2021-win percentage. The Eagles are set to face five teams that qualified for the playoffs last season.
This team is ascending, and you can feel it. They have the right mixture of veterans and young guys out to prove themselves. They are a hungry unit with that has been battle tested. This team will thrive this year based off the strengths of both the offensive and defensive lines, secondary, and offensive skill position players. If Jalen Hurts can make the next step this team will be scary.
Strongest Lean: Philadelphia Eagles over 9.5 wins, Philadelphia Eagles division winner, Philadelphia Eagles to make playoffs