NFC East – Are the Cowboys still the ones to beat?

All the dust has settled from Free Agency Frenzy and the NFL Draft in Vegas, and the offseason lull officially begins.

For degenerates such as myself, that triggers the cursory glance at the divisional odds for the upcoming season. Upon review of the NFC East odds, I was more than taken aback that the Cowboys were odds-on favourites for the division. They have eased slightly in the last few days but there is still 10/11 widely available for that (and a best-priced 11/10 if you shop around).

OK, the NFC East is far from competitive and hardly full of Super Bowl-calibre teams, but are the Cowboys a shoo-in once more for the NFC East, a division where there has not been a repeat winner for almost two decades?

Let’s take a look at how the offseason has shaken up the NFC East so far:


Dallas Cowboys

Best odds: 11/10

Brandon Wade | AP

It’s not been a great offseason for the Cowboys in terms of personnel. Randy Gregory headed for the exit after Stephen Jones got too particular with contract verbiage. That was a sign of things to come with Amari Cooper also heading for the out-door as the Cowboys’ front office staff were not willing to/not able to pay Cooper a seemingly sensible amount of money, especially considering the dollars Tyreek Hill, Davante Adams et al got. They turned Cooper, a player they traded a 1st round pick for, into Matt Waletzko, their 5th round draft pick from the recent draft.

They say things come in threes, so let’s add talented offensive lineman La’el Collins also departing the Cowboys to the Bengals. This for a team that is now a far cry from having the “Great Wall of Dallas” and one that now often crumbles when their offensive line is not healthy, something they have struggled with over the last year or two.

Moving on to the draft, there are not many people shouting from the rooftops that the Cowboys had a good or even a decent draft. A lot of players were reached for in the eyes of many and while those closer to following the Cowboys will be cautiously optimistic with their haul, especially with their recent draft history and the amount of picks they have hit on. They are players that tick the boxes the Cowboys look for (no, not necessarily the “previously arrested/off-field issues” box) and you have to applaud Dan Quinn’s efforts to turn this sieve-like defence around into one of the most opportunistic in 2022.

The Cowboys will have a “division winners” schedule in 2022, which includes games against the Bengals, Packers, Rams and Buccaneers.

As it currently stands, there are a few holes on the offensive line and a few question marks about the team and the direction it is headed, especially considering how last season ended with a botched snap/time expiring in that heartbreaking loss to the 49ers in Jerryworld.

Verdict: The offseason so far does not scream repeat winners of the East and their horrid record in the post-season will get one loss worse, if they even get there.


Philadelphia Eagles

Best odds: 5/2

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The Philadelphia Eagles have made moves that signal a more positive intent in the City of Brotherly Love.

The Birds pulled off one of the best transactions of the offseason during the draft when they traded their 1st round pick to the Titans for wide receiver AJ Brown before handing him a huge contract extension.

The Eagles’ draft class was small, but there are a few players to be excited about. Jordan Davis, the defensive lineman from Georgia nabbed in the 1st round, and potential steal Nakobe Dean, a projected 1st rounder who was selected in the 3rd, will provide some fresh blood into that defence.

Through free agency, they added Kyzir White, a tackling machine who led the Chargers last year with 144, before bringing back some of their own long-standing furniture in Jason Kelce, Fletcher Cox and Derek Barnett.

Philly’s coaching staff and front office opted against going for one of this year’s higher-profile quarterbacks and have put it all on Jalen Hurts. Hurts has no excuses this year and has to put it altogether, otherwise they will be looking for a QB in next year’s draft, especially considering the draft capital they have and the QBs who will likely be available. To be fair to the Eagles franchise, they are giving Hurts every opportunity to succeed.

Verdict: If Jalen Hurts continues to make progress, he now has all the weapons at his disposal to succeed. They are in prime position to take advantage of any Cowboys fragility in 2022 and make it another year where the previous year’s division winners do not repeat the feat. The odds for them to do so are attractive.


Washington Commanders

Best odds: 5/1

Patrick Semansky | AP

New name, new quarterback, new outlook?

As Washington embark on their inaugural NFL season as the Commanders, they will try and shrug off recent struggles that have left them without a winning season since 2016 (even though they won the division in 2020).

The Commanders set their stall out early by acquiring Carson Wentz from the Colts. He is already familiar with the NFC East with his time with the Eagles and he’ll look to inflict some pain on his former team in the two matchups they’ll have in 2022. He does have a 16-9 record against NFC East teams in his career, which isn’t the worst. He does have a leadership cloud hanging over him and more than just murmurs that he isn’t exactly carrying all the attributes required to carry a team like the Commanders and is a shell of his former 2017 MVP-in-waiting self.

The Commanders wheeled and dealed in the NFL draft, using negotiations with the Saints to accumulate picks and create depth at a variety of positions, including the interesting 5th round selection of QB Sam Howell. Terry McLaurin could have been given a decent WR partner in Jahan Dotson who seems to be able to catch everything thrown at him. He’ll have to fair better than recent WR recruits from the draft to help the Commanders obtain that winning record though.

In free agency, there was a “will he/won’t he stay” debate with JD McKissic who ended up doing an Antonio Brown-type U-turn when arriving at Buffalo’s front door to re-sign with the Commanders. By adding Brian Robinson during this year’s draft, Antonio Gibson could be on a short leash after fumbling issues as well as health troubles over the last season.

Verdict: Despite a lot of talent on the defence and some decent playmakers on offence, Ron Rivera has not quite been able to get the different variations of Washington firing on all cylinders in his fairly short tenure. It’s probably asking a lot of Carson Wentz to be the piece that makes it all click.


New York Giants

Best odds: 8/1

Joseph Maiorana | USA TODAY Sports

Blue is very much the colour for Giants’ fans at the moment, as they have been belittled ever since Eli Manning hung up his cleats.

From Dave Gettleman’s strange draft approaches, the failed appointments of Ben McAdoo, Pat Shurmur and Jason Garrett (as OC) to a consistent string of injured players to their skill positions, combined with Daniel Jones’ inability to grab the bull by the horns and drive this team to victory, the Giants – like the Washington what’s-their-names – have not had a winning season since 2016.

They have wiped the slate clean on a few occasions but the same issues remain. Now it’s Brian Daboll’s turn to try and fix the mess in the Big Apple after coming over from a Buffalo Bills team with a history of getting the most out of the players at it’s disposal. Pretty much all of the coaching staff have been replaced and the majority of the players that hit free agency were not retained or brought back on another deal.

There’s no one inspiring coming in through the door either but the 2022 rookie class could provide a bit of life with Evan Neal and Kayvon Thibodeaux at 5th and 7th overall respectively heading this year’s newbies.

Verdict: In a theme consistent with the NFC East for 2022 (post-season Dallas included), it will fall on how each team’s quarterbacks fare to determine the success each team has.

New York could have the widest range of outcomes heading in to 2022 but most would be betting on them picking in the top half, if not the top 10, of next year’s NFL Draft, something they are oh-so-familiar with. Brian Daboll seems to be the right type of person for the job in hand in Big Blue but you have to feel that they need to be rid of Daniel Jones to finally be able to move onwards and upwards.

Verdict

On paper, the betting should be a little bit closer between the Cowboys and the Eagles, especially as it seems each of those franchises are projecting in different directions. The Cowboys are a very fragile favourite in a division that does not like repeat winners. It will come down to quarterback play for each of these teams (what a surprise!) but whoever wins the division, they will still have a seemingly insurmountable task in doing damage deep in the post-season, even if the NFC as a whole lacks strength in depth at that particular position compared to the AFC.


Header Image Credit – Insidethestar.com

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