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.
~ ~ ~
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?
Dallas Cowboys: The Case For Regression In 2019
It's been a few years since things around the Dallas Cowboys felt this good prior to a season. Coming off a 10-6 year in which Dallas won both the NFC East and a home playoff game before losing a one possession road game to the future NFC champions, Cowboys Nation is expecting some big things in 2019.
After all, the Cowboys went out and improved their roster in multiple ways this offseason and brought in some new blood on their offensive coaching staff. Spirits are high among Cowboys Nation, and just about everyone is anticipating a two team race for the NFC East.
But some numbers indicate we should be thinking "not so fast."
The details of the 2018 season are not as pretty as the total picture. Rarely are they ever, of course, but these particular details point towards possible regression for the Cowboys in 2019.
Basically, their point differential a year ago spells out impending doom. (That was dramatic, but let's discuss).
The Cowboys were +15 in 2018, and by pythagorean wins expectation, they were about as strong as an 8-8 team (8.53 wins to be exact). This means they won nearly 2 more games (1.47) than would be expected, fourth most in the entire NFL.
This point is furthered when looking at their record in one possession games. Dallas went 8-2 when the game was decided by 7 points or less, winning close games at a rate that is simply not sustainable year to year.
These numbers make the Cowboys a prime candidate for regression in 2019, as they were in 2017.
Back in 2016, the Cowboys outperformed their pythagorean expectation by a whole 2 wins. The following season? Dallas finished the year 9-7. The model also indicated that the 7-9 Eagles performed 2 wins under expectations in 2016, meaning they would get back on track in 2017. As we know, they ended up winning 13 games and the Super Bowl the following season.
Of course, this isn't set-in-stone, and the Cowboys very well could outperform these expectations and avoid regression. This would mainly hinge on their coaching staff and quarterback performing at an elite level, carrying them through close games and winning more games by greater than one possession.
Newly Acquired DE Robert Quinn Brings High Expectations
Winning games in the NFL typically comes down to accomplishing two goals. One, being successful when passing on offense. And, two, stopping the opposing team's passing game.
The Cowboys set out to accomplish that second goal this offseason, re-signing defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, and trading for veteran pass rusher Robert Quinn. Quinn, who tallied 6.5 sacks last season for the Miami Dolphins, is one of the leagues more feared rushers when at his best. The former All Pro has multiple 10+ sack seasons under his belt, including a whopping 19 in 2013.
And, as expected, the Cowboys coaching staff is ecstatic to have such a respected pass rushing specialist on their roster.
“He’s got that first step. He’s an established pass rusher in this league, so he’s going to bring some good stuff for us.” - Cowboys defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli.
The Cowboys acquired Robert Quinn for a 2020 6th round pick, which could end up being the steal of the offseason. Quinn has played with some top-notch pass rushers in the past, and each time they have brought out the best in his own game.
Back with the Rams in 2017, when Aaron Donald was on the same defensive line, Quinn got to the quarterback 8.5 times. And, last season, he remained consistent in his sack totals playing alongside Cameron Wake. Now he joins a DeMarcus Lawrence who has 25 sacks over the last 2 seasons.
"I think it was kind of one of those where I get to have fun, pin my ears back and just disrupt the backfield, which is what they want us to do." - Robert Quinn told NFL.com.
Quinn and the always dominant Lawrence will form an impressive defensive end duo on passing downs, with the potential to be one of the best in all of football. Dallas is also hoping to add Randy Gregory into this mix, a piece which could prove vital late in football games if he is able to return from his current indefinite suspension.
Whether or not Gregory finds his way back onto the field, though, this defensive front will be in good hands. The edge combo of Quinn and Lawrence, combined with a plethora of skilled interior rushers such as Maliek Collins, gives the Cowboys a fearsome defensive line which should keep quarterbacks uncomfortable every Sunday.
Can Rookie OL Connor McGovern Compete For A Starting Spot?
Raising eyebrows in the third round of the 2019 NFL Draft, the Cowboys added Penn State offensive lineman Connor McGovern to their already deep OL depth chart.
McGovern, who played guard for the Nittany Lions, was reportedly by-far the best player remaining on the Cowboys draft board when they came on the clock in round three. Still, with seemingly more pressing needs yet to be addressed, Dallas' selection of McGovern was certainly a surprise.
When you watch the tape, though, you immediately see what the Cowboys loved about Connor McGovern.
A "plug-and-play" type guard, Connor McGovern is the type of rookie you'd expect to contribute in year one. On many teams he may be a candidate to start at guard or center from the beginning of his rookie season, but here in Dallas, his role for the 2019 season is somewhat in question.
Clearly, being a day two pick, there's no doubt that McGovern will make the Cowboys roster. But can he compete for a starting job?
During OTA's McGovern took reps at both guard and center, pointing towards the possibility of him being the first interior offensive lineman off the bench if one of the starters were to go down with an injury. Fellow interior linemen Joe Looney and Xavier Su'a-Filo each contributed in big ways during the 2018 season, however, and will be tough to beat out during camp.
While possible, I would still say it's unlikely. The Cowboys selection of McGovern seems to be more about 2020 and beyond than it is about the 2019 season. With right tackle La'el Collins coming up on a contract year, Dallas might elect to let him walk in free agency, move Williams back to his college position of tackle, and slide McGovern into the left guard slot.
This seems fool-proof in theory, but this many moving parts across the offensive line could spell trouble early on in 2020. Regardless, Connor McGovern's arrival gives Dallas the flexibility to consider all options on their offensive line.
In reality, McGovern strengthened a strength for Dallas, and may be needed to prove himself as early as this Fall if injury issues arise.
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