In the Tony Romo era, the NFC East has been called many things, but certainly not predictable. Over the past ten seasons, the Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles have won 3 division titles each, while the New York Giants and the Washington Redskins have won two, respectively.
Over that period of time, no team has won back to back division crowns.
Playoff appearances have been anything but consistent for these clubs over the past ten seasons. No team has made it to the postseason more than half the time since 2006.
But if there is one constant here, it is that the unexpected can be expected.
New York won two Super Bowls (2007 and 2011) after being written off by many, based on unimpressive regular season records in their championship years (10-6 and 9-7). Washington managed to win a division title in 2012 with a rookie quarterback, and then another last year despite being picked as the consensus division losers in the preseason. Philadelphia featured some unpredictability under Chip Kelly the past two seasons.
Dallas is no different. The health of Tony Romo has always made them difficult to forecast. It also seems like when expectations are high, they are never met, but when they are low, they are exceeded. The last two seasons are a perfect example of this trend.
Overall, the unpredictability of the NFC East makes for an interesting best versus worst case analysis for each team in 2016.
2016 Dallas Cowboys
Ceiling: 12-4 scenario
Dallas takes advantage of one of their lightest schedules in recent memory, picking up right where they left off in 2014. Ezekiel Elliott is Offensive Rookie of the Year and then some, while Dez Bryant dominates in the red zone for another year. The offense reigns supreme in time of possession behind an All-Pro offensive line, keeping their defense fresh. The team is a top-five finisher in total offense.
The defense stays off the field — as it did in 2014 — and wins the turnover battle often. A healthy Sean Lee anchors the front-seven at a Pro Bowl level. The secondary carries the thin defensive front-four as the team boasts a nice one-two punch with Orlando Scandrick and Byron Jones.
Morris Claiborne finally flashes that top-ten potential in his contract year. DeMarcus Lawrence posts double-digit sacks despite missing the first four games as the pass rush exceeds expectations.
Oh yeah, and Romo stays healthy for a full 16.
Floor: 4-12 scenario
Plain and simple, Romo goes down again and the team implodes.
Rookie quarterback Dak Prescott is thrown into the mix too soon, and the offense struggles. Dez Bryant becomes frustrated as the ball is not coming his way enough, and Elliott can’t establish himself as a premier rusher as he starts to see too many loaded boxes.
The lack of talent on the defensive line haunts the team all year, and the secondary suffers as a result. The team picks in the top-five again in the 2017 NFL Draft.
2016 New York Giants
Ceiling: 11-5 scenario
The phrase, “the best ability is availability” was surely invented for Eli Manning. He plays yet another full season as he posts statistically his best year yet through the air. Odell Beckham Jr. continues tearing apart opposing secondaries as rookie Sterling Shepard steps nicely into the wide receiver two role.
The team’s three big free agency signings of Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, and Damon Harrison live up to their contracts as the team’s defense begins to have shades of their recent title years.
Floor: 6-10 scenario
The belief that winners in March are hardly ever winners in January proves true here, as their free agent moves fail to live up to the hype. The offense keeps them in many games, as it did last year, but once again they fail to close them out.
What the team produces in the passing game, it lacks severely on the ground as the offense becomes too one-dimensional.
2016 Washington Redskins
Ceiling: 10-6 scenario
Kirk Cousins continues to develop and improve, and Washington wins back-to-back division titles for the first time since 1984. Cousins leads a talented passing arsenal of Josh Doctson, Jordan Reed, and DeSean Jackson, complimented by an underrated Matt Jones running the ball. Their offense carries the team.
Defensively, Josh Norman backs up his talk and contract figures and has another All-Pro year. The 28th ranked defense from a year ago gets a much-needed boost.
Floor: 6-10 scenario
Never beating a team with a winning record continues to hang over Cousins’ head, as Washington digresses.
The team has the toughest schedule in the division, and playing teams like Carolina and Arizona prove too much for Washington’s shaky defense. Josh Norman falls into the long list of bad Dan Snyder contracts as the surrounding lack of defensive talent dooms him.
2016 Philadelphia Eagles
Ceiling: 9-7 scenario
Change is good in Philly as Doug Pederson and a brand new defensive coordinator take the Eagles to a winning season.
The 30th ranked defense from a season ago becomes more formidable as the offense causes matchup problems on the other end. Carson Wentz takes over as the starter, exceeds expectations and makes the most out of Darren Sproles, Jordan Matthews, and Ryan Mathews. Nelson Agholor has the second year breakout that many thought would come a year ago.
Floor: 4-12 scenario
The Eagles suffer the aftermath of the post-Chip Kelly overhaul in the worst way. The lack of offensive talent gets thinner as injuries continue to linger into the season for Matthews and Mathews. Philly falls victim to a QB carousel, and the 30th ranked defense from a year ago doesn’t improve nearly enough to win games.