It’s time for Regular Season Predictions! For this article I’ll be predicting the 2018 NFC East teams, predicting the worst record they could have (Floor) and the best (Ceiling). Let’s not waste any time dealing with a division that hasn’t been one by a sole team in consecutive seasons since 2004.
1. Philadelphia Eagles
The defending champions have talent nearly everywhere on both offense and defense, and it resulted in the Eagles winning their first Super Bowl in franchise history with a backup quarterback.
Carson Wentz started most of the 2017 season and it looked like he was going to win MVP. Wentz had a bad rookie season where his accuracy was extremely erratic, he kept staring down at covered receivers, and had a hitch in his motion that affected his throws. He took a dramatic step up in 2017, improving his decision-making and poise while offering much more consistent play. If he works on polishing his accuracy, he’ll take another step as a quarterback.
But while Wentz was putting up monster stats, I always thought head coach Doug Pederson was what truly made that Eagles offense monstrous. He was constantly offering Wentz loads of open receivers on option plays, mesh concepts, shot plays, screens, etc. As a result, Philadelphia was a sensational offense on third downs. When Nick Foles came in to relieve Wentz, Pederson did an amazing job scheming around Foles’ strengths and allowing him to play in a comfortable environment.
That Pederson was able to allow the Eagles offense to thrive at a high level without Wentz and a few other key players is a testament to his greatness as a coach.
Along with Doug Pederson, the other massive key for Wentz is the offensive line, which is the best in the league. Jason Peters is returning from injury at left tackle, Steven Wisniewski is a quality left guard, Jason Kelce is debatably the best center in football, Brandon Brooks is a stud at right guard, and Lane Johnson is currently the best right tackle in the game. With all five guys starting, Pederson has little trouble using their athleticism to bring up massive gaps in the run and pass games.
Alshon Jeffery, like Wentz, is currently recovering from injuries he played with in the Eagles’ Super Bowl run. At full strength, he’s a high quality WR1 with terrific ability at the catch point and the athleticism to get open in Pederson’s offense. The move to switch Nelson Agholor to slot receiver paid off, as he turned his career around for the better in 2017. Mike Wallace at this stage isn’t particularly impressive, but he’s an upgrade over Torrey Smith.
At tight end, Zach Ertz finally put together a consistently great season and is one of the best tight ends in the league. The team let Trey Burton walk to Chicago, but drafted Dallas Goedert in the second round. Goedert is a fantastic possession receiver with outrageous ball skills at the TE position. The weak link to the offense is the backfield, but even then it’s not bad at all; Jay Ajayi is a powerful runner, and Corey Clement flashed in the Super Bowl victory.
The defensive front is one of the best in the league. Loaded with talented pass rushers including Derek Barnett, Tim Jernigan, the phenomenal Fletcher Cox, Brandon Graham, the new Michael Bennett, and Chris Long, there’s loads of depth to intimidate offenses. Jordan Hicks and Nigel Bradham keep Philadelphia set at linebacker as well. The downside is that Ronald Darby and Jalen Mills are not good cornerbacks, but at safety, Malcolm Jenkins is great and Rodney McLeod is also starting caliber.
Outside of cornerback, the Eagles are set literally everywhere. Wentz’s recovery timetable remains big, but he has the best supporting cast on offense (including coaching), so he should be in a great environment to get his groove back. And with the Eagles standing out in areas such as the offensive line, tight end, and defensive line, there’s no reason why they can’t be the first team to win the NFC East division in consecutive years since they last did in 2003 and 2004.
2. Dallas Cowboys
America’s (most hated) Team is coming off a 2017 campaign that featured many ups and downs. The suspension to Ezekiel Elliot, Tyron Smith’s health, and Dak Prescott’s second half inconsistency all played a part in regressing from a 13-3 record in 2016 to 9-7 in 2017.
Prescott has been ripped apart this offseason for a multitude of reasons, including views on anthem protests, watching film of Carson Wentz, and overall not living up to people’s expectations for his sophomore season. I never thought he was great in his rookie season, just good.
But while he was less consistent in 2017, I thought Prescott developed and had greater peaks. He’s been taking more shots downfield and his accuracy there took a big step up. His pre snap ability has also been noteworthy. Besides his up and down play in the second half of 2017, Prescott was placed under a limited scheme provided by Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan that encouraged him to hold the ball and wait for limited receivers to get open on their routes. With the ineffectiveness of Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Terrance Williams and even Cole Beasley to an extent, it’s not a surprise that Prescott’s passer rating took a hit.
Fortunately for Dallas, Ezekiel Elliot is back for a full season. His excellence as a runner and receiver is much needed, and there’s a decent amount of depth behind him in Rod Smith, and Bo Scarbrough. The Cowboys also parted with Bryant and Witten, giving them a fresher cast of receivers. Terrance Williams is a liability that shouldn’t be starting, but Allen Hurns was a high quality receiver in Jacksonville that can create separation downfield and get yards after the catch. Michael Gallup is a promising rookie as well.
The acquisition of Tavon Austin from the Rams was downright bizarre. The Cowboys wish to use him in an expanded role when the problem is Austin isn’t good and is extremely limited as a player. The tight end position remains unknown, as Rico Gathers, entering his third season, has not played a down of football since middle school.
Tyron Smith’s return to left tackle is massive for the offensive line, while Travis Frederick’s health is a huge hit at center. Rookie Connor Williams has had his share of struggles in the preseason, but should still be an upgrade at left guard. Zack Martin is arguably the best right guard in the league, and La’el Collins has been a pleasant surprise as an undrafted free agent at right tackle. It’s just a shame Frederick is suffering setbacks, because this would otherwise be one of the best offensive lines in the league once again.
To be honest, I’m not sure what to think about the Cowboys’ defense. DeMarcus Lawrence is clearly a freak at defensive end, and Taco Charlton is a fan favorite, but I don’t know how I feel about the rest of the defensive line. The linebacker unit has a lot of depth though, including first round pick Leighton Vander Esch, old reliable Sean Lee, Damien Wilson, and Jaylon Smith. Xavier Woods is the key piece to the secondary, which is young and hasn’t proven a whole lot.
The offensive line should be good (though Travis Frederick’s absence is huge), and the offense should take a step up with a full season of Ezekiel Elliot, Allen Hurns and Michael Gallup at receiver, and a (hopefully) more consistent Prescott. The big questions are on defense, but there’s enough talent on this roster to be a competitive team in 2018.
3. Washington Redskins
The loss of rookie Derrius Guice is devastating, but the Redskins still have a surprising amount of talent on the roster. It’s just a shame that they play in the NFC, because they’d probably be a playoff team in the AFC.
The big acquisition of the offseason was Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, allowing Kirk Cousins to walk to the Vikings. Smith had a career year in 2017, eclipsing 4,000 yards passing for the first time in his career while finally putting together a consistent season of aggressive, efficient downfield passing. If Washington gets the 2017 version of Smith, they could be a surprising team. But that’s a big if, because Smith before that point limited his offenses with a conservative mindset that eliminated turnovers without moving the chains.
Smith is a more accurate quarterback than Cousins, though, and this should allow the receiving corps to shine. Speaking of which, there’s an impressive amount of depth in this field; Josh Doctson is a great vertical receiver with outlandish ball skills and ability to work back to the ball, Jamison Crowder is a very talented slot receiver that also has really good ball skills, Paul Richardson is another quality vertical receiver, Jordan Reed (when healthy) has been nothing short of outstanding, and Vernon Davis remains a nice backup at tight end.
The Redskins’ offensive line looks very good, with the tackle tandem of Trent Williams and Morgan Moses standing out. Moses battled many injuries in 2017, but on the field he’s a high quality right tackle, while Trent Williams is easily a top 3 left tackle. Meanwhile, Brandon Scherff is one of the best right guards in the league, and center Chase Roullier has provided nice value as a starting sixth round pick.
Derrius Guice was set for a big rookie season before his ACL tear, forcing the Redskins to sign the best available back. Instead, they signed Adrian Peterson, who is washed up at this point and is a liability in the pass game. Rob Kelley isn’t much better, lacking speed and also offering little in the pass game. Fortunately, Chris Thompson is returning, and he’s easily one of the best receiving backs in the league thanks to his athleticism in space speed, and versatility.
In terms of defense, Washington’s defense, mainly the front seven, is getting slept on. This unit has so much talent that it’s scary how little it’s being talked about. Ryan Kerrigan is a phenomenal talent and one of the most underrated pass rushers in football. Zach Brown is also an underrated component of the front seven, Preston Smith should break out in a contract year, Jonathan Allen is healthy and should flash more in his sophomore season, and rookie Da’Ron Payne is entering a great situation with the talent around him and defensive line coach Jim Tomsula calling the shots.
As for the secondary, it’s not bad, but isn’t as good as the defensive line. D.J. Swearinger is ok, but who knows how good Josh Norman will be, as he will be 31 in December. Still, Quinton Dunbar is a solid corner, and Montae Nicholson, who flashed in his rookie season, is on the path to becoming a really good safety.
Head coach Jay Gruden is a quality offensive mind that should be getting the most accurate passer he’s ever had in Alex Smith. That will be huge for the vertical passing and shot plays (if Smith remains aggressive). With a quality offensive line, receiving corps, and defensive line, the Redskins could either be a mediocre team or a surprise Wild Card. For now, I wouldn’t count on the latter because of how loaded the NFC is, but they should still be fun to watch.
4. New York Giants
The Giants have more talent on offense this season, but I still see them being the weakest team in the NFC East. Pat Shurmur, who was great as an offensive coordinator with the Vikings in 2017, should be an upgrade over Ben McAdoo unless Mike Shula has anything to say about it.
Eli Manning’s time is coming up, but the Giants believe they can breath new life into Manning’s career long enough to create a window. Manning’s declining arm strength, accuracy and play under pressure are all problems though. To be fair, the offensive line, one of the worst in the league, doesn’t help matters, but Nate Solder at left tackle is a big upgrade over Erick Flowers (somehow still on the team at right tackle).
Jonathan Stewart was an underrated back for most of his career, but he’s a shell of his former self, and it didn’t make much sense to me for the Giants to sign him. Saquon Barkley is a phenomenal talent that needs to recover from injury as soon as he possibly can, as he’s shaped to have a massive, versatile role in this offense.
Clearly, the heart of the Giants offense is in the receiving corps. Odell Beckham is one of the most complete receivers in the league, offering dominance with his shiftiness underneath, as well as route running and ball skills in the intermediate and vertical passing games. Sterling Shepard has panned out into an excellent vertical receiver, and if Evan Engram can limit the drops, he will also be phenomenal. Cody Latimer was signed in the offseason, and he looks like a good third receiver, offering nice ball skills in a limited role in Denver.
The new 3-4 defense is hit and miss. Damon “Snacks” Harrison has become quite the defensive tackle, Dalvin Tomlinson is intriguing, and Olivier Vernon is also good, but the linebacker unit is bad. Trading for Alec Ogletree made little sense because of how bad he was against the pass and run games with the Rams, and his play in the preseason has inspired little confidence. Landon Collins is a phenomenal safety, and Janoris Jenkins is a quality corner, but Eli Apple has done little to nothing up to this point.
The Giants were a massive disappointment in 2017 after expectations of making a deep playoff run. We’ll see how much control Shurmur has over the offense in comparison to Shula, but a lot needs to be done to make that offensive line look competent. With Barkley, Beckham, Shepard, Engram and Latimer, the Giants have a lot of quality skill players, but also have enough holes to prevent them from competing in the NFC East, in my opinion.