Keep in mind, when these predictions come out, no one knows who will be drafted, and by which team. This is an assessment of the teams as they are staffed by veteran players with track records. Rookies don’t usually shake up the NFC East division, so there’s a pretty good chance that what you see here, will be how it shakes out for the year.
Yikes! Last year showed a couple exceptions to the general rule cited in the above Preamble. The first example was the Dallas Cowboys. They powered their way to the top of the division behind the play of two rookies, one of which was a QB forced to make 16 starts, when the long-time incumbent pulled up lame. (Again.) The Philadelphia Eagles were the second exception. They thought so much of their rookie QB that they traded away their Starter, and let the rook do his thing all year long. While that may have cost them a game or two last year, it was clear to fans, media and Free Agents alike, that the Eagles may be onto something.
Now we separate the men from the boys:
Strongest Offense: DALLAS
While Dallas is returning all of their skill position Starters, they suffered a couple of hits to their offensive line. Those hits are simple enough to patch over, but where those hits will show up is in depth. Last season when La’el Collins went down, there was a player of Ron Leary‘s caliber to step in for him. This year they have no such luxury.
Will the Cowboys be who they were last year? No they won’t. Teams have film on them now, and the system they run is so simple, it shouldn’t take much to slow them down. That said, each of Dallas’s rivals have some issue that keeps their own offenses from being complete, let alone scary. The Cowboys are the only team in the division who are not suffering from a key deficiency.
Weakest Offense: WASHINGTON
I can tell you firsthand that the loss of WR DeSean Jackson changes the way teams play against your offense. It also takes away a number of easy underneath options that a QB comes to think of as their’s for the taking. Jackson was on the roster when Kirk Cousins became the Starter, so he is coming into a completely new reality in 2017. (Assuming that his mind is on 2017, and not on preserving his body for a long-term contract in San Francisco next year.) Washington’s one-dimensional run game won’t be of much help either, since most of it is derived from what the offensive line creates, instead of what the RB creates when the line gives him an opening.
While they have a good offensive line and a TE situation worthy of envy, they don’t have the glue to hold it all together. Their losses on defense will require them to throw more, and may yield more yards and touchdowns, but if you look under the surface at the end of 2017, you will see a clearly less effective and diminished offense on this team.
Strongest Defense: PHILADELPHIA
Dallas’s junior GM, Stephen Jones is on record agreeing that his team is worse off since Free Agency. Washington was already in the toilet before they lost DE Chris Baker. New York losing DT Johnathan Hankins and not being settled at MLB, puts a hole right down the center of their run defense (ranked #3 in 2016). Also, nothing so far has been done to bolster their 23rd ranked pass defense. Philadelphia on the other hand has added depth up front, but still hasn’t clearly addressed their Secondary concerns. However, their 2016 pass defense was ranked 13th not 23rd. (Note: There isn’t a team in this division that doesn’t have issues with it’s Secondary)
This isn’t a question of the strongest of the weak. There is no doubt about the Eagles strength at every level of their defense. Particularly on the Defensive Line. Better still, they have depth in most places. Last year the Eagles weakness was at CB, and so both starters are no longer on the roster. Patrick Robinson was to added to play slot CB, not as an outside starter. The remaining CB’s aren’t household names, but given the way Jalen Mills played in 2016 (his rookie season), he might become one soon.
Weakest Defense: DALLAS
They literally have problems at every level of their defense, and in every facet of it. Talent, depth, experience, and even health coming into OTA’s. Everything is wrong here. This defense is going to allow too many games to turn into shootouts, and force their offense away from the run just to keep up. Barring every other team in NFC East suffering a rash of injuries, this team has no shot at 12-4 again. The GM responsible for creating this mess should be fi– oh wait… Never mind.
Strongest Special Teams: PHILADELPHIA
This isn’t even close. Kicking, Punting, Returns and limiting return yards, The Eagles are the only team in the division that is good in all of these areas. Not just okay, or passable. Legitimately good. They are proficient across the board, where the other three teams have at least one deficiency.
Weakest Special Teams: NEW YORK
Playing musical Kickers as you habitually post lackluster numbers, while also making no attempt to improve neither your personnel nor your coaching staff… That says in plain language that the organization doesn’t give a damn about this facet of the game.
Projected Winner: PHILADELPHIA (10-6)
After being 0-2 these last 2 years picking the Eagles, it scares the hell out me to be picking them again after a second 7-9 season. I kept going over this to make sure I wasn’t overlooking something, or missing something, because I have no interest in wearing 0-3. However, the fact is, right now, before the Draft, as these teams are staffed today, the Eagles are the team best equipped to survive the 17 week meat grinder known as an NFL season.
The Eagles are the only team in the NFC East that didn’t get worse in some regard, during this offseason. While it has yet to be proven that they fixed their 2016 offensive problems, those problems weren’t ignored (like the giants pass defense for example). The Eagles attempted to fix their problems, and so they run the risk of actually improving in 2017.
The same cannot be said for the defenses of the Cowboys, Redskins and giants. Dallas’s defense is so bad that their Front Office is already making excuses. Now that they have definitely lost Hankins at DT, New York’s run defense (ranked 3rd) is likely to fall steeply. Their pass defense was already an issue in 2016, and so far, they‘ve done nothing to fix or even upgrade it. Washington’s defense was already crap in 2016, and now they have offense to match it. In fact, their offense (both in the long and short term), have football pundits shaking their heads from coast to coast.
Look Out For: DALLAS
I don’t think they stand a chance in Hell, of upsetting the Eagles, but it would h ave been tacky to write “NOBODY” as the team to look out for. Since the Pokes won the division last, I figured they were owed the respect of a write-in.