There isn't a division quite like the NFC East. No matter how poor the division has performed in recent years, the NFC East always manages to steal headlines around the league. Just look at the final week of the 2020 regular season: The New York Giants accused the Philadelphia Eagles of tanking for a better draft pick and giving the Washington Football Team the division title because the Eagles benched starting quarterback Jalen Hurts in the second half against Washington in the final game of the regular season. If only the Giants weren't trying to win a division with a 6-10 record, which would have been the worst record for a division champion in NFL history.
The bad blood continued between the Eagles and Giants this offseason, as the Eagles leapfrogged the Giants in the NFL Draft to select DeVonta Smith at No. 10 overall -- one pick before New York was set to pick Smith. New York added even more fuel to the fire over the weekend by wanting to face Philadelphia in Week 1 of the 2021 season (the schedule release is Wednesday).
Despite how embarrassing the NFC East was in 2020 -- all four teams finished with a losing record -- the division is on its way up in 2021. The Dallas Cowboys got Dak Prescott back for 2021 and beyond by making him the second-highest-paid player in NFL history and hired Dan Quinn to restore a historically bad defense. Dallas hasn't won the division in three years and is seeking to recapture the throne with the division's best quarterback back. Washington has an elite pass rush that is only getting better and added Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback to anchor an offense to complement a strong defense. The Giants spent the most money in free agency to make a run at the division crown, led by the most improved defense in football last year. Philadelphia is in the midst of a rebuild, but the Eagles can never be counted out. The last three times the Eagles finished in the basement in the NFC East, they won the division the following season.
Now that the NFC East doesn't have such a brutal out-of-division schedule and the rosters have significantly improved, better times are on the horizon for the division -- which hopes to have a 10-win team for the first time since 2018. This is the most unpredictable division in football, one that hasn't had a repeat champion since the Eagles won four straight crowns from 2001 to 2004.
History could surely repeat itself in 2021. So who is the favorite to win the NFC East? That's anyone's guess at this stage in the game.
Team Grade: B (Pete Prisco)
Best pick: No. 12: Micah Parsons, LB, Penn State (Jared Dubin)
Most questionable pick: No. 99: Nahshon Wright, CB, Oregon State (Josh Edwards)
2022 mock draft pick: No. 20: Treylon Burks, WR, Arkansas (Ryan Wilson)
William Hill season win total: 9.5 (-130 under, +110 over)
William Hill odds to win division: +105
William Hill odds to win Super Bowl: +2800
How crazy is the NFC East? The Cowboys actually traded with the Eagles, moving two spots down in the first round and acquiring an extra third-round pick from Philadelphia -- selecting Micah Parsons (arguably the best defensive player in the draft). Dallas would rather face DeVonta Smith twice a year on the Eagles than with the Giants, but will take their chances of stopping Philadelphia (or any NFC east team) with Parsons anchoring the defense.
Parsons will be an immediate contributor in a revamped defense under Quinn, one that allowed the fourth-most points and second-most rushing yards in the league the year prior. The Cowboys are in the midst of a changing of the guard at linebacker, declining Leighton Vander Esch's fifth-year option and moving forward with Parsons and 2021 fourth-round pick Jabril Cox. The Cowboys also brought in longtime Atlanta Falcons defenders Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee as free agent additions to the defense. Neal will play linebacker instead of safety while Kazee is a much-needed addition at safety. Dallas still has a questionable pass rush outside of DeMarcus Lawrence, relying on Randy Gregory and third-round pick Chauncey Golston to generate pressure on the opposite side. There are a few holes in Dallas' defense, but Rome wasn't built in a day, either.
The Cowboys are going to be explosive on offense with Prescott back to 100% and a new contract in tow, throwing to the electric trio of receivers in Amari Cooper, CeeDee Lamb, and Michael Gallup. If Ezekiel Elliott can rebound from a horrible 2020 season, Dallas is the clear favorite in the NFC East -- no matter how the defense plays. The Cowboys are regretting that megadeal right now, but that could change if Elliott becomes a top five back in the league again.
Washington Football Team
Team Grade: B+ (Pete Prisco)
Best pick: No. 51: Samuel Cosmi, OL, Texas (Jordan Dajani)
Most questionable pick: No. 124: John Bates, TE, Boise State (Josh Edwards)
2022 mock draft pick: No. 8: Spencer Rattler, QB, Oklahoma (Ryan Wilson)
William Hill season win total: 8 (-135 over, +115 under)
William Hill odds to win division: +275
William Hill odds to win Super Bowl: +5000
Washington is the worst division champion the NFC East ever had at 7-9, yet the Football Team is doing whatever it can to become the first repeat champion of the division in 17 years. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a one-year solution for Washington, but he can play well enough for a multigame stretch to carry the Football Team to a division crown. Antonio Gibson is one of the league's young stars at running back, a player Washington will need to rely on in case Fitzpatrick goes on one of his cold streaks. Terry McLaurin is one of the best receivers in the division and the additions of Curtis Samuel in free agency and Dyami Brown in the draft to the passing game give Washington much-needed speed to create big plays. Washington has a strong right side of the offensive line, but the left side remains a question mark.
The dominant defensive line -- one of the best in the NFL -- is going to carry Washington throughout the year. The Football Team added William Jackson III this offseason, improving a secondary that already allowed the second-fewest passing yards and passing touchdowns last year. This defense has the potential to be the best in the NFL, which is why Washington can repeat as division champions.
If Fitzpatrick and the offense can emerge to an average unit, Washington will become a slight favorite over Dallas for the division crown. The Cowboys have a slight edge in the neck-and-neck race -- only because they can score more points.
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New York Giants
Team Grade: B+ (Pete Prisco)
Best pick: No. 50: Azeez Ojulari, LB, Georgia (Cody Benjamin)
Most questionable pick: No. 116: Elerson Smith, EDGE, Northern Iowa (Josh Edwards)
2022 mock draft picks: No. 6: Derion Kendrick, CB, Clemson; No. 12: George Karlaftis, DE, Purdue (Ryan Wilson)
William Hill season win total: 7 (-120 under, +100 over)
William Hill odds to win division: +450
William Hill odds to win Super Bowl: +7500
The Giants finished one game from becoming a surprising division champion last season, optimism for a team that won just 12 games over the previous three seasons combined. Winning six games isn't anything to brag about, but New York actually had a pulse in Joe Judge's first year as head coach -- led by a defense that improved from 30th to ninth in points allowed. The Giants actually swept Washington last year and went 6-5 after an 0-5 start, showcasing how much the team has improved from the first half to the second half of the year.
New York's downfall was the inefficient offense, which ranked second-to-last in points scored and total yards. Of 35 qualified quarterbacks, Daniel Jones ranked 31st in completion percentage, 31st in touchdown percentage, 18th in interception percentage, 26th in yards per attempt, and 30th in passer rating. This was with an injured Saquon Barkley and a wide receiver unit that featured a struggling Golden Tate, Darius Slayton, and Sterling Shepard. The Giants immediately improved the passing game by inking Kenny Golladay to a four-year deal and selected Kadarius Toney in the first round. Let's not forget Barkley will be 100% healthy and Slayton is one of the top young receivers in the division.
The pressure is on Jones to perform in Year 3, specially with a top 10 defense that added Adoree Jackson in free agency and landed Azeez Ojulari and Aaron Robinson on Day 2. The Giants didn't help Jones up front -- and that has been part of his fumbling issues and the major factor in the struggles on offense. New York is good enough to win the division, but won't make the playoffs unless the offensive line significantly improves.
Team Grade: C+ (Pete Prisco)
Best pick: No. 10: DeVonta Smith, WR, Alabama (Jeff Kerr)
Most questionable pick: No. 123: Zech McPhearson, CB, Texas Tech (Josh Edwards)
2022 mock draft picks: No. 5: Evan Neal, OL, Alabama; No. 19: Zach Harrison, DE, Ohio State (Ryan Wilson)
William Hill season win total: 7 (-150 under, +130 over)
William Hill odds to win division: +500
William Hill odds to win Super Bowl: +7500
Philadelphia is rebuilding in 2021, a year which the Eagles want to find out what they have in Jalen Hurts. The Eagles never gave Hurts the starting job (officially), but essentially committed to him by drafting DeVonta Smith (Hurts' college teammate at Alabama) in the first round. Philadelphia had one of the worst pass-catching groups in football last year, not having a wideout eclipse more than 550 yards in each of the last two years. Zach Ertz is still with the Eagles for now -- but Philadelphia does possess the best tight end group in the division with him and Dallas Goedert on the roster. The Eagles will also get Pro Bowl guard Brandon Brooks and Pro Bowl tackle Lane Johnson back from injury, significantly improving an offensive line that already has Jason Kelce at center. They also added depth in the draft with landon Dickerson in the second round. This year is about Hurts' development and the innovative playbook Nick Sirianni draws up in his first year as head coach.
The Eagles aren't expected to compete for the division title, but did make improvements to the defense by adding former Vikings Eric Wilson at linebacker and Anthony Harris at safety. Philadelphia failed to address cornerback in free agency and the draft, only adding Zech McPhearson in the fourth round. That's a lot of pressure on McPhearson to contribute immediately, especially since the team has yet to add a starting cornerback opposite Darius Slay. The pass rush is still one of the best in football, led by Brandon Graham and Fletcher Cox -- who both are on the north side of 30. The Eagles are relying on Josh Sweat and Derek Barnett to be more consistent in getting to the quarterback.
If Hurts has a good year, the Eagles can use their two -- potentially three -- first-round picks in 2022 to patch some much-needed holes on the roster. A poor season from Hurts and Philadelphia will be in the market for a quarterback come next year's draft, with the first-round capital to get one. This year is about the progression of Hurts and whether he can be a franchise quarterback. If the Eagles compete for the division title, it's an incredible bonus.