Since 2005, no team has won back-to-back division titles in the NFC East. More often than not, the race comes down to the last week or two of the season. Odds are that in 2018, the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins will produce another dogfight on the way to the playoffs.
Over the last 13 seasons, the Cowboys and Eagles have each won four NFC East titles. The Giants have won three, and Washington is unsurprisingly last with two.
2018 comes with the additional intrigue of the Eagles being the defending Super Bowl Champions. If the NFC East's history wasn't scary enough, the history of how teams fare in the season after winning the big one isn't pretty.
All this points to the usual reality that the NFC East is wide open. 2017 was an unusually down year; Philadelphia won the division by four games. But Dallas, New York, and Washington are all poised to improve and hopefully make things much more interesting.
With the Eagles kicking off the season later tonight, let's examine the Cowboys' division rivals and how they're looking heading into the season.
New York Giants
Last year was a disaster for the G-Men. Losing Odell Beckham Jr. and general disarray under the misguidance of Ben McAdoo sent them into a 3-13 spiral.
For their suffering, the Giants got the second pick in this year's draft and used it on Running Back Saquon Barkley. Since the Cowboys took Ezekiel Elliott fourth overall in 2016, a new trend of top RB prospects going high in the draft has begun. New York is hoping that Barkley can have the same impact on their offense that Zeke brought to Dallas.
The decision to stick with 37-year-old Eli Manning at quarterback wasn't a slam dunk, and the Barkley pick had a lot to do with trying to take pressure off their aged passer. New York has been diligent in adding offensive weapons with Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, but it's been a while since they had a running game which could carry the offensive load.
To that end, the Giants did a lot this offseason to work on their offensive line. They signed free agents Patrick Omameh and Nate Solder, then spent a second-round pick on Will Hernandez. But even with that work, they still have their own Chaz Green at right tackle in Ereck Flowers.
Defense is a question mark as well. There are still some great pieces like Safety Landon Collins and DT Damon Harrison, but DE Jason Pierre-Paul is gone and Oliver Vernon enters the season injured. Eli Apple and Janoris Jenkins are a solid but beatable tandem at cornerback.
Last year the Giants were dysfunctional, but they booted McAdoo and are hoping Pat Shurmur will provide both an offensive spark and better overall leadership. This is definitely not a 3-13 team given their talent, but did last year's woes do lasting damage? If they struggle early, will New York fall apart again?
There is no doubt that the Eagles are still Carson Wentz' team, but when will he return to duty? Until then, Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles will try to continue last year's run.
Philly has done a good job of avoiding a true QB controversy. No matter what Foles does to start the year, it is clear that Wentz will get his job back when he's healthy. If anything, the Eagles have an incredible luxury of allowing Carson to heal fully and not feeling much pressure to rush him back.
What could change that is if an offseason of praise and raised expectations have an adverse effect on Foles. Throughout his career, Nick has performed well as the underdog but not when teams counted on him to carry over his success.
Unlike some defending champions, though, the Eagles have been able to bring back nearly all of their talent from last year. Philly remains a young, dangerous team with both established stars and emerging talent. They are well-equipped to keep competing at a high level.
You could say this about any NFL team, but it really will come down to quarterback. Can Foles keep producing? If not, how quickly can they get Wentz back out there?
Last year, Philadelphia had an unusually easy road in the NFC East. The Cowboys were held back by injuries and the Ezekiel Elliott situation. The Giants plummeted from the issues we've already discussed. And Washington was their typical middling selves.
2018 won't be so easy. The Cowboys and Giants should definitely be better, and we'll discuss Washington more in a moment. Along with that, Philly now faces the huge challenge of trying repeat as Super Bowl Champions. The underdog status is over.
The financial war with Kirk Cousins finally ended, and Washington decided to try to keep things afloat with veteran Alex Smith instead of going into a full rebuild. How will that decision pan out in 2018?
Smith is one of the underappreciated quarterbacks in the NFL. He is efficient and provides a dual threat with mobility, even at age 34. But he's not an electric passer in an increasingly high-scoring, pass-focused league.
Alex has flourished with Andy Reid in Kansas City, but now he joins a much less proven coach in Jay Gruden. Will Gruden's system work for Smith the same way it did for Cousins, or will we find out that the QB was carrying the coach?
Hurting the chance for success is a lack of offensive weaponry. Their best one, Tight End Jordan Reed, can't stay healthy. Failed experiments at receiver and a lack of investment at running back has left them without much firepower. Things were bad enough that they're now kicking the tires on Adrian Peterson.
Like the Giants, Washington has some great players on defense but also several holes. Ryan Kerrigan and Zach Brown are studs at linebacker. Josh Norman has a big reputation and mouth, but is he still an elite corner at age 30?
Washington went 7-9 last year, so even minor improvement could put them into contention. But the change at quarterback just might be a downgrade, and improvement from the Giants could drive Washington back down into the NFC East basement.
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In the end, the unexpected and unpredictable will likely decide the NFC East. September's favorites can easily wind up with next April's high draft picks if a few things go wrong. The difference between 10-6 and 6-10 is much slimmer than most people realize.
After going 9-7 last year despite their own roster issues, the Dallas Cowboys are poised to return to contention. They have questions marks, just like most teams, but the potential is there for big things.
Coming out of the NFC East is its own challenge. It's tough, competitive standard is why only two of the last 22 Super Bowl winners have come from our division. NFC East teams don't get to waltz into the playoffs every year like the Patriots, Steelers, and some others do.
But that said, I wouldn't have it any other way. Part of what makes every season so exciting is knowing how much every game counts, and that's truer in our division than others.
2018 is looking like another tough, competitive year in the NFC East. All of our rivals have a case to be contenders this year.
Did we expect anything less?
Xavier Woods Among Cowboys with Something to Prove in Seattle
The Earl Thomas trade rumors have been relentless this offseason. We've heard about them. I've written about them, and for better or worse, they just won't stop. No doubt Dallas Cowboys Safety Xavier Woods has heard them as well.
When Woods went down with his hamstring injury and as Earl Thomas continued his hold out, the clamor for Thomas grew louder and louder.
Per reports, it looks like Woods is set to make his 2018 debut. With a good game against the Seattle Seahawks, he can put a silence to the trade rumors.
I've been a proponent of making the deal for Earl Thomas all offseason. From the time he came running down the tunnel toward the Dallas Cowboys locker room, I've been all aboard the Earl Thomas hype train. Opportunities to add All-Pro players don't come along very often and if you're hoping to win football games in the short term, like the Dallas Cowboys are, you make the move.
My opinion isn't a knock on Xavier Woods, who was good as a rookie last year. He was especially good when asked to play in the slot early in the 2017 season. It has more to do with Woods still being a bit of an unknown and Thomas being a known quantity.
Xavier Woods has shown potential to be a really good safety in this league. In college, he played a lot of single high safety and played it very well. He has a knack for making plays on the football and can be a game changer for the Dallas Cowboys.
If the Dallas Cowboys can come away with a victory in Seattle, facing the player that the Dallas Cowboys have been linked to for months, and Woods has a good game in the process, then all of this will go away.
Heading into Sunday, Xavier Woods isn't the only player on the Dallas Cowboys roster who has something to prove.
Two Wide Receivers
The Cowboys added another wide receiver this week when they resigned free agent Brice Butler. I agree with Inside The Star Staff Writer Jess Haynie that adding Butler doesn't make a ton of sense, but it definitely adds question marks to the wide receiver room, in particular wide receivers Terrance Williams and Allen Hurns.
These two wide receivers were expected to be the starters on the outside and the primary targets, aside from Wide Receiver Cole Beasley, and yet, they've failed to have much of an impact in either of the two games in the 2018 season.
Take a look at their stat lines.
- Allen Hurns: 5 targets, 2 receptions, 29 yards, 0 touchdowns, on 55% of the team's offensive snaps.
- Terrance Williams: 3 targets, 2 receptions, 18 yards, 0 touchdowns on 25% of the snaps.
Those two are tied for fifth in receptions through two weeks of the season. Wide Receiver Deonte Thompson has found himself as a favorite target of Quarterback Dak Prescott through the first two games and has seven receptions for 60 yards.
With now seven wide receivers on the roster, there are less snaps to go around and with the increase in playing time for Tavon Austin and Michael Gallup, Terrance Williams may have already found himself as the odd man out. Brice Butler complicates things further for Williams and may eat into Allen Hurns snap count as well.
Now it looks like Terrance Williams is facing a suspension. If the suspension comes down before Sunday, he's going to really have a hard time finding a role on this team when he comes back.
Sources: Cowboys WR Terrance Williams faces suspension stemming from May arrest for public intoxication https://t.co/of11Xlb7wD via @sportsdaydfw
If he comes back.
Defensive End Making a Comeback
Things started out really well for returning Defensive End Randy Gregory. During the preseason he flashed the tools that made him a highly coveted player before his failed drug test at the NFL Combine.
Unfortunately the start of his 2018 season was derailed due to a concussion early in the Carolina Panthers game forcing him to miss week two.
In his place, Taco Charlton emerged as an impact player on the right side of the defensive line. Charlton has played the most defensive snaps of any defensive end through the first two games of the season; DeMarcus Lawrence included. Taco went from a 73% snap share in week one to an 83% snap share in week two. It's obvious that he's earned his snaps and the coaching staff wants to get him on the field.
This doesn't even begin to mention the contributions by rookie fourth round pick Dorance Armstrong, who like Charlton, saw a 10% snap increase from week one to week two and played really well when in the game.
This is a bit of a problem for Randy Gregory. Yes, he flashed in the preseason and early in the Carolina game, but the NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" league and Gregory hasn't done much of anything in the regular season, yet.
Coming into the Seahawks game, Gregory is going to have to earn back some of those snaps. By all accounts he has a chance to be an elite defensive end on the right side of the Dallas Cowboys defense, but he has to prove that he can stay on the field and effective when on it.
He needs to shine in week three.
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Who are your players with something to prove heading into the week three matchup with the Seattle Seahawks? Let us know in the comment section.
How The Seattle Seahawks Have Increased Importance In Cowboys’ Lore
You can't talk about this decade's Dallas Cowboys without discussing the Seattle Seahawks.
In 2012, when Golden Tate took out Sean Lee on a crack-back block and the Seahawks embarrassed a Cowboys team who had just defeated the defending champion New York Giants, we saw which of the two teams was truly ready for the big stage.
In 2014, as Rolando McClain intercepted Russell Wilson and the Cowboys clinched a critical road victory, we knew that Dallas was a legit contender.
In 2015, when Seattle finally came to Dallas and rendered the return of Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant meaningless in a 13-12 win, the then 2-5 Cowboys were sent further into a Romo-less abyss.
And, in 2017, Dez Bryant's key drops and Dan Bailey's missed field goals during a horrendous home loss to the Seahawks on Christmas Eve might have sealed each of their fates for the following offseason.
The most important moment in this Cowboys/Seahawks history, however, occurred during a preseason game. A meaningless preseason game which turned out to be the most meaningful day in recent Cowboys history.
Cliff Avril dragging Tony Romo down from behind, effectively ending his career, and kicking off the roster massive turnover we have seen the last two offseasons. From Dak Prescott, to a brand new secondary, to the retirement of Jason Witten, and the cutting of Dez Bryant. All of this change, which put an end to the Romo era rosters in Dallas, began with that hit in Seattle.
Since 2012 the Cowboys, and the rest of the NFC really, have been judged by how they play against two teams: the Packers and the Seahawks.
They have been the class of the NFC, and while we like to think that if the "Dez Caught It" game went how it should have Dallas would've handled Seattle, that will forever be an unknown.
Sunday's game is not expected to carry the franchise-changing implications that some of these other match ups have had. The Seahawks are 0-2 and reeling, with a shaky offensive line and reported distrust throughout the organization.The Cowboys, however, can jump-start their season with a big road win over a winless team that they should beat in the minds of many.
But knowing how things between these teams tend to go, Sunday afternoon may end up having major implications on the rest of the Cowboys' season.
Where this could be the case is in a potential Earl Thomas trade. It's been speculated that Seattle has been hesitant to deal Thomas to Dallas before their week 3 match up, but could be more willing to do so after the game.
Especially if that game is a loss which sends them to 0-3. The Cowboys have been actively pursuing Earl Thomas, and Thomas has certainly made it clear that he wants to be in Dallas. The only party not willing to make it happen thus far, are the Seahawks.
So, this weekend, there is a chance another chapter is added to those franchise-changing moments in Cowboys/Seahawks lore.
A Look Around The NFC East: Week 3
Week two didn't go as planned for much of the NFC East, with only the Dallas Cowboys reigning victorious last Sunday.
Now, three teams are locked in a tie for first place at 1-1, with the New York Giants lagging behind with a winless record. Week 3 is shaping up to be a potential early turning point, however, with Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz returning and each team facing a very beatable opponent.
Let's take a look around the division and see what the Cowboys' foes will be facing this week.
The Eagles fell victim to one of the more surprising upsets of the weekend last Sunday, as Ryan Fitzpatrick led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers over the Eagles 27-21. While their defense got off to a shaky start in the loss, it was the offense which proved too little too late in their push down the stretch.
Carson Wentz is expected to not only return but to start on Sunday in the Eagles' match up against the Colts. Indianapolis upset the Washington Redskins last week, but will be 6 point underdogs when the game kicks off in Philadelphia on Sunday.
Wentz should give the defending champs an extra boost, and while they haven't looked as dominant as many expected through the first two games, this could be the game to spring them the rest of the way.
As mentioned earlier, the Redskins fell in Indianapolis last week, and are now tied for first place in the division with a 1-1 record. As dominant and impressive as Washington looked in their opener against Arizona, Washington's week two loss featured lethargic offensive play for four quarters.
This week the Redskins are three point home underdogs as Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers come to town. Green Bay tied Minnesota a week ago, but behind Rodgers and their potent offense, they have the chance to take advantage of Washington's suspect secondary down the field.
Sunday will be a tough test for the Redskins as they look to get back above .500 against a tough conference opponent.
New York Giants
The Giants' season is on the brink this week, and that really isn't a dramatic statement at all. Now at 0-2 with a division loss to the Cowboys last week, the Giants have to beat the 0-2 Texans on Sunday to get some confidence and keep pace within the conference.
Lucky for them, the Texans haven't looked impressive whatsoever through two games. Unlucky for them, the Texans have strong pass rushers like JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney ready to abuse their weak offensive line.
Houston is a six point home favorite over the Giants, proving it will be an uphill battle for New York to save their season.
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