(CBS DFW) – NFC East was widely considered the worst division in the NFL last season. The Washington Football Team backed the title with a 7-9 record, having lost two of their last three games. A scenario where a record of 6-10 qualified a team for the playoffs and a Wild Card round home game was on the table for a period of time. Injuries certainly contributed to the poor showing up across the division. Dallas Cowboys with quarterback Dak Prescott would have been NFC East’s best team, but a serious ankle injury ended its season in October. The New York Giants lost races back Saquon Barkley to an ACL tear in week 2, obstructing their prospects.
“It was NFC at least last year,” according to CBS Dallas sports anchor Bill Jones. ‘And I think a lot of people are looking at it the same way this year. Much of it has to do with who stays healthy. One of the reasons the division was bad last year … looking at Philadelphia, they had a lot of injuries, especially in their offensive line. You look at the Giants the lost Saquon Barkley, two games inside the season. And then you see the Cowboys, besides losing Dak Prescott, they had a whole lot of injuries on their offensive line and elsewhere on their team. So I think things could be different this year if these teams stay healthy. ”
The Cowboys are another team without Prescott. And his return should be enough to push Dallas back to the top of the division standings. The Cowboys have plenty of offensive weapons to keep the ball going. Ezekiel Elliott is one of the NFL’s better backs when he’s not fumbling. Amari Cooper is Prescott’s top scorer on wide receiver, though CeeDee Lamb fielded veteran numbers in his rookie season. A healthy offensive line helps keep this unit from clicking.
“If Dak Prescott stays healthy for the Cowboys, I think the Cowboys are the team to beat,” as Jones sees it.
It may depend on whether Dallas did enough to improve on last season’s terrible defense. The unit gave up close to 30 points per. Match, which was among the NFL’s worst. Dan Quinn, former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons, takes over from defense coordinator for the late Mike Nolan. The Cowboys also added plenty of young defenders to the draft, including linebacker Micah Parsons with the 12th overall pick and cornerback Kelvin Joseph a round later. In fact, their first six picks were all defensive players.
The Cowboys need to use the defensive unit to gel early to have hopes of a strong start. Prescott has experienced very limited action in training camp due to a right shoulder strain, so the offense may not be running their season opener in Tampa Bay. “They start the season with Tom Brady and the Buccaneers on the road in the opening Thursday night,” Jones points out. “And then they play away again against the Chargers and another very good quarterback, who was Offensive Rookie of the Year last year in Justin Herbert. So the third week they come back and play Philadelphia in the game on Sunday night. It’s a big rivalry game, of course. They should get off to a good start this year. ”
Unlike Dallas, Washington does not want defensive talent. They had the NFL’s second-best defense last season, led by a defensive line filled with first-round picks. “Not only do they have the best defense in the division, they had almost the best defense in the entire league last year,” Jones notes. “They were number two in the league in total defense, second in the league in pass defense. There is no reason to believe that they will not be as good defensively unless there is some damage. They used a first-round draft pick on a linebacker, Jamin Davis. They have a guy on the defensive end in Chase Young who may just be the defender of the year entering his second year. He was Rookie of the Year last year. So they are strong defensively. ”
Despite the strength of the defense, the offensive struggled to get on the scoreboard with an average of only 21 points per. Match. The team has a couple of young playmakers in running back Antonio Gibson, wide receiver Terry McLaurin and tight end Logan Thomas. But quarterback play was a big issue. The addition of veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick could possibly solve the problem in the short term, though it may not. This will be the ninth team in his pro career.
The Giants seem to think they have their quarterback of the future in Daniel Jones and going into his third season as a starter, he may finally have some weapons available. Close end Kyle Rudolph comes over from the Minnesota Vikings. The wide receiver Kenny Golladay arrives from the Detroit Lions. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney was drafted in the first round out of Florida. Of the three, only Rudolph has seen the practice field in camp. According to Bill Jones, “if Barkley can stay healthy, the big X-factor is with them quarterback Daniel Jones, and whether their offensive coordinator, Jason Garrett, can get the most out of him. So there are big question marks there with them. ”
The biggest question mark may be the offensive line that the team did not add to in the draft. They were among the NFL’s worst last year. But the unit has a little more experience going into the season. Andrew Thomas, Matt Peart and Shane Lemieux are no longer rookies, and Nick Gates is more used to playing center. Nate Solder will also return after taking a year off due to COVID, though not likely in the starting lineup. The success of the offense depends on this unit making progress.
That Giants defense was better than expected last season, and could very well get better again. Cornerback James Bradberry turned out to be the lockdown corner the team needed. Linebacker Blake Martinez piled up 151 tackles last season, his first with the team and defensive tackle Leonard Williams had his very own career year. When security Jabrill Peppers enters the final year of its rookie contract, this device could be even better.
The Eagles welcome new coach Nick Sirianni after last year’s disaster of the season. “No one knows much about him,” Jones admits. “He has been with the Colts for the last three years as an offensive coordinator. Jalen hurts the quarterback, there are lots of question marks about him. And then Sirianni Hurts inherits, and he has Joe Flacco as his backup. ”
The Eagles’ offense was not good last year, with or without Carson Wentz. They averaged 20.9 points and 334.6 yards per carry. Match. With Wentz now in Indianapolis, Sirianni will seek to harness Hurts strength as a runner as well as a passerby. It could open things up a little more. Philadelphia also drafted Heisman Trophy-winning wide receiver DeVonta Smith out of Alabama. Like the Giants, however, any improvement depends on the game in the offensive line. Decimated by injuries, the unit allowed a league-worst 65 sacks in 2020. That number should get better, but will it improve enough to give Hurts room to develop?
They should not expect so much help from what promises to be an average defense that adapts to a new system. The line, led by Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox, is strong, and Ryan Kerrigan, coming over from Washington, is a good addition. The secondary was to be improved with the arrival of security Anthony Harris of the Minnesota Vikings. Early reports from training camps have been positive.
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