Throughout the Super Bowl era, the NFC East has been the NFL’s most successful division.
The four teams in the NFC East, the Dallas Cowboys, the New York Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins, have won a combined 12 Super Bowls and have appeared in a combined 20 Super Bowls, both of which are records amongst NFL divisions.
However, in recent years, the “NFC BEast” has turned into the “NFC LEast.” The last time a team from the NFC East won the division in back to back seasons was when the Eagles did so in 2004.
Take a second to think about that. The day the Eagles clinched the 2004 division title, the Detroit Piston were the reigning NBA Champions, Daunte Culpepper was the NFL’s passing yards leader, Albert Pujols had yet to win a regular season MLB MVP award, and LeBron James had yet to be named an NBA All-Star.
In the last five seasons, all four teams in the NFC East have won the Division at least once. During that span, the Redskins are the only team to win the division twice — in 2013 and 2015 — which is astonishing given the fact that the Redskins 31-49 regular season record since the beginning of the 2011 season is the worst in the NFC East. The Cowboys have the best regular season record since the start of 2011, but that isn’t saying much when you consider they’ve gone 40-40 in that stretch.
Given recent history and the current roster situations for the four teams within it, predicting who will win the NFC East in 2016 is a daunting task, so I would like to take this opportunity to say, as Barney Stinson does so well, “Challenge accepted.”
Over the next few weeks, I will break down the schedules of all four teams in the NFC East and offer my “way too early” predictions for how the season will play out. This week, I’ll focus on the first five weeks of the season.
Before analyzing each team’s schedule, let’s take a look at each team’s strengths and weakness.
On paper, the Dallas Cowboys are a force to be reckoned with. They have the best offensive line in football, a top 10 quarterback, a playmaker at receiver, and a rookie running back who can be an instant difference maker. In a Madden franchise mode where you can turn off injuries and suspensions, the Cowboys, based solely on talent, would be the clear favorites to win the division in 2016. However, injuries and suspensions are a reality the Cowboys will have to face this season. America’s team should be specifically concerned about the health of quarterback Tony Romo. With Romo another year older, 36, and coming off of a season in which he fractured his clavicle not once, but twice, his health is a legitimate concern.
The Washington Redskins, who will enter the 2016 season as the NFC East’s defending champion, made several key moves in the offseason to improve their roster. They added pro-bowl corner Josh Norman through free agency to anchor their defense. They drafted Josh Doctson, a six-foot-three-inch wide receiver with play making potential to add a new dimension to their offense. Nevertheless, questions remain about whether or not Kirk Cousins can repeat his performance from last season, a year in which he led the NFL in completion percentage.
The New York Giants had one of the league’s most explosive offenses last season. Eli Manning looks to be rejuvenated by Ben McAdoo’s implementation of the west coast offense. Concerns for the Giants are on the defensive side of the football. Last season, the Giants’ defense gave up the fourth most yards in NFL history. This offseason, New York spent over $200 million on free agents Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Janoris Jenkins, Jasper Brinkley and Keenan Robinson in the hopes of improving their talent on defense. The Giants will also be faced with having to adjust to a new head coach, a challenge they haven’t had since Tom Coughlin went to New York 2004. While Ben McAdoo has been on the Giants staff for the past two season, there is no way of telling how his leadership will affect the team until we see them on the field.
The Philadelphia Eagles strengths are on defense. Philadelphia locked up Fletcher Cox this offseason, and their front seven, which includes Cox, Connor Barwin, Bennie Logan and Vinny Curry can be one of the most formidable pass rushes in the league. The question marks for the defense are with the secondary. It will be interesting to see how Sam Bradford performs with the new offense. It is also a fair question to ask whether or not Bradford will be the starter by the end of the season. With Carson Wentz in the waiting, and Bradford being injury-prone, it’s plausible that Wentz will be playing quarterback halfway through the season. Is the rookie ready to handle being Philadelphia’s signal caller?
With each teams pros and cons noted, it’s time for the predictions.
The Philadelphia Eagles will open the 2016 season 1 p.m. Sept. 11 at home against the Cleveland Browns. Based solely on the fact that they’re playing the Browns, Philadelphia will win their home opener and begin the Doug Pederson era on a high note.
The New York Giants will travel to Dallas Sept. 11 and open their season against the Cowboys for the third time in four years. Historically, the Giants are 0-7 against the Cowboys in season openers, and 2016 does not look like the year they will break into the win column. Due to suspensions of various key defensive players for Dallas, Eli Manning and the Giants will put on an offensive display at Jerry World. However, with Tony Romo and Dez Bryant at full health, the Cowboys will outscore the G-men 31-28 and claim yet another opening day victory against New York.
The Washington Redskins will play at home in the first Monday Night Football game of the season Sept. 12, with their opponent being the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cousins and his offense will produce three touchdowns, but Pittsburgh’s high-powered offense will be too much for Washington’s defense to handle. Washington will begin 2016 with a 35-24 loss to Pittsburgh.
(DAL 1-0, PHI 1-0, NY 0-1, WAS 0-1)
The Giants will play their home opener Sept. 18 against the New Orleans Saints. It will be a rematch of New York’s 52-49 loss in a historic offensive shootout with the New Orleans last season. The money that New York spent to improve their defense will be more than worth it. Manning and his offense will find success again against the Saints en route a 38-24 victory.
Dallas will travel to Washington riding high off the momentum of a fourth quarter comeback against the Giants in Week 1. The Redskins were the 26th ranked defense against the run in 2015, so they are likely to struggle against the Dallas offensive line. Ezekiel Elliot will eclipse the 100 yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. Controlling the game with their ground attack, Dallas will cruise to a 27-14 victory over the Redskins.
Philadelphia will go on the road to Soldier Field for a Monday Night Football matchup with the Chicago Bears Sept. 19. The Eagles and Bears will battle back and forth for most of the game, but a fourth quarter interception by Sam Bradford will doom the Eagles to a 26-17 loss.
(DAL 2-0, NY 1-1, PHI 1-1, WAS 0-2)
When Washington takes on the Giants at Metlife Stadium Sept. 25, it will be the first time in the 2016 season that the rivalry between Odell Beckham Jr. and Josh Norman is revisited. While Norman was able to get into his head last season, Beckham still had four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown. Beckham will win the one-on-one battle with Norman this time around. Eli Manning is also on a hot streak in home games against the Redskins. Manning has a combine 95.4 passer rating and has led the Giants to victories in each of his last four home games against Washington. He will do so again in Week 3, with the final score being 31-21 in favor of the G-Men.
The Eagles will host the Pittsburgh Steelers Sept. 25. Philadelphia’s pass rush will disrupt Ben Roethlisberger early on, but the Steelers offense will come to life in the second half. Pittsburgh will beat the Eagles 28-24.
Dallas will play host to the Bears for the Sunday Night game. Against a defense that gave up the fourth most passing touchdowns in 2015, Romo will throw three scores and lead the Cowboys to a 33-24 victory.
(DAL 3-0, NY 2-1, PHI 1-2, WAS 0-3)
After going through a stretch of three tough opponents to open their season, the Redskins will finally catch a break Oct. 2 when they take on the Cleveland Browns. Kirk Cousins will come to life and throw for nearly 400 yards while leading Washington to a 33-17 win against the Browns.
Dallas will go on the road to play the San Francisco 49ers. Dallas will choose to ground-and-pound against a run defense that was amongst the worst in the NFL in 2015. Colin Kaepernick will find some success against Dallas’ secondary, but it won’t be enough to overcome the Cowboys three-headed monster of Romo, Bryant and Elliot. Dallas wins 26-17.
The Giants will travel to Minneapolis for a Monday Night Football matchup against the Minnesota Vikings. Last season, with Odell Beckham Jr. suspended, the Giants were completely shut-down by the Viking’s defense and lost in a 49-17 blowout. Manning struggled without Beckham and threw a season high three interceptions in that game. However, even with Beckham active, the Giants will be no match for Minnesota’s defense. The Vikings will beat the Giants 30-14.
Philadelphia is on their bye this week.
(DAL 4-0, NY 2-2, PHI 1-2, WAS 1-3)
Calvin Johnson’s decision to retire will be a big help to the Eagles in their Week 5 road game against the Detroit Lions. Without having to worry about Johnson, who scored three touchdowns against Philadelphia in last years’ Thanksgiving game, the Eagles will be able to keep Detroit’s offense in check. Ryan Matthews will lead Philadelphia’s offense with two rushing touchdowns. The Eagles will beat the Lions 24-20.
On the road against the Baltimore Ravens, the Redskins will get their second win of the season. Kirk Cousins and Joe Flacco will battle for the first three quarters of the game. However, Josh Norman’s pick-six in the fourth quarter will seal the deal in Washington’s 27-17 victory.
Dallas will play the Cincinnati Bengals at home, and the Cowboys will take control early on in the game. However, Romo will leave the game with back spasms, giving Cincinnati an opportunity to come from behind in the second half. After a game tying drive in the final minute of the fourth quarter, Andy Dalton will lead a game winning touchdown drive in overtime, and the Bengals will beat the Cowboys 27-20 to give the Cowboy’s their first loss of the season.
When New York travels to Wisconsin for a Sunday Night Football matchup with the Green Bay Packers, the Giants will have the odds stacked against them. Aaron Rodgers will have his receiving corp at full health. However, in typical Giants fashion, New York will steal a road game they have no business winning. Manning has a history of playing well in big games at Lambeau field, and that will continue in 2016. New York’s defense will also show their full potential for the first time, sacking Rodgers three times en route to a 30-21 victory over the Packers.
(DAL 4-1, NY 3-2, PHI 2-2, WAS 2-3)
Through Week 5, the Cowboys will be a dominant force in the NFC.