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NFC East Preview: Dallas’ Turn to Lead the Meek?

The 2020 NFC East was one of the worst divisions in football history. Had the Philadelphia Eagles beaten the Washington Football Team in Week 17, the winner of the NFC East would have had just six wins in the regular season. As it was, the Washington Football Team captured the division with a 7-9 record. Washington actually caught fire late in the season, beating the Steelers and 49ers on the road, something no one was expecting.

Nevertheless, the division was awful, helped by the fact that Dak Prescott of the Dallas Cowboys suffered an injury midway through the season, plus the fact that New York Giants star running back Saquon Barkley was injured in September. Let’s see if the quality in this division rises in 2020 and if star players can stay healthy.

Kamren Curl gets the picks NFC East Preview
Mitchell Leff/Getty Images/AFP

Dallas Cowboys

2020 ATS Record: 5-11

2020 O-U Record: 9-7

Bettors feasted on the Cowboys when Prescott was injured. This team was a sitting duck under Andy Dalton. Even in the few games, the Cowboys played, their defense was atrocious, leading to a few more ATS losses.

Best Offseason Move: Firing defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and hiring Dan Quinn. The Cowboys hemorrhaged on defense in 2020. Teams with quality passing attacks were able to relentlessly bombard the Cowboys’ secondary. This is why Dallas chose four straight defensive players to start its 2021 NFL draft.

The personnel was lacking, to be sure, but it’s also clear that the Cowboys and Mike Nolan didn’t use their players properly or put them in a position to succeed. When head coach Mike McCarthy came aboard last season, he could have opted for continuity on the staff and chosen someone who would maintain the system put in place by previous defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Instead, he brought in Nolan, who changed things up. It was a predictable disaster.

Now, the Cowboys have hit the reset button with Quinn, the former head coach of the Atlanta Falcons who was a successful defensive coordinator with the Seattle Seahawks.

Worst Offseason Move: Not getting an offensive lineman with any of the team’s top-100 picks. The Cowboys drafted a lot on defense, but they could have tried to get an offensive lineman earlier than the fourth round. Tyron Smith was injured last year, and Zack Martin has had some injury problems. The Cowboys can use some reinforcements up front, and they should have used their more valuable draft picks to gain them.

Instant Impact: Micah Parsons. The linebacker taken with a top-15 pick in the draft is physically fresh after opting out of the 2020 college football season at Penn State. Parsons has not taken a lot of hits. He, therefore, has a longer shelf life than other linebackers who played last season. He should be an animal in run stuffing and pass coverage, adding a lot of athleticism to the Dallas defense.

Strength Of Schedule

The Cowboys play in the NFC East, which is a benefit unto itself. Outside the division, the Cowboys face the AFC West in non-conference games. The Chiefs are tough, but the other three teams are beatable. The Cowboys and other NFC East teams face the NFC South for non-division conference games. That’s a mixed bag, but other than the Bucs, the Cowboys have a shot at beating up on the South. If the Saints don’t have a good answer at quarterback after Drew Brees’ retirement, Dallas can beat them. In the 17th game on the schedule, the Cowboys visit the Patriots, a game they need to win.

For Better Or For Worse

The Cowboys were 6-10 last year. With Prescott healthy, they will easily be better than that record this year. The question is how much. A 10-7 record is likely. An 11-6 record is possible.

Predicted Finish: 1st In NFC East

Washington Football Team

2020 ATS Record: 9-7

2020 O-U Record: 5-11

Bettors were not faring well against the spread when betting on the Washington Football Team midway through last season. However, after this team started 2-7 straight up, it began to play great defense. Washington reeled off four straight wins, allowing 9, 16, 17, and 15 points. In only one of Washington’s last seven games of the regular season did the total go over 40 points. If this team’s defense plays the whole 2021 season the way it ended the 2020 season, this group will have a chance at the division title.

Best Offseason Move: Bringing in Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback. Fitzpatrick is not a great quarterback, but he isn’t a bad one, either. He is competent. He sometimes makes a game-defining mistake, but only after rallying a team from a deficit or keeping it close with great plays. Fitzpatrick can push the ball down the field. He is well-traveled and knows how to fit within virtually any offensive system. He is a quality locker-room guy. He will add value to Washington, which had a physically limited Alex Smith last year and an underachieving Dwayne Haskins. This is a clear upgrade at football’s most important position.

Worst Offseason Move: Taking linebacker Jamin Davis at pick No. 19 in the NFL draft. Washington needed another playmaker at receiver or an offensive lineman since Trent Williams is a San Francisco 49er. Instead, the Football Team took Davis, a linebacker out of the University of Kentucky. Davis might be a perfectly fine linebacker, but that was not a foremost area of need for Washington. If the offensive line struggles again this year, remember that the organization passed on a chance to take a lineman in the first round.

Instant Impact: Curtis Samuel. This is the electric playmaker the Washington squad needed. Washington could have gotten someone else in addition to Samuel, but at least the organization snagged this versatile and elusive receiver from the Carolina Panthers. This could become Fitzpatrick’s favorite target in 2021.

Strength Of Schedule

The Football Team faces the AFC West and NFC South, which means games against the Chiefs and Bucs, but also against beatable teams such as the Broncos and Panthers. However, since Washington did finish first in its division last year (the 7-9 record doesn’t matter – placement within the division counts), it gets first-place teams in other divisions: the Bills, the Packers, the Seahawks. It’s not really a good schedule.

For Better Or For Worse

The Football Team went 7-9 last season. Given the difficulty of this season’s schedule, the improvements the team has made to its roster might be canceled out by the harder games. Also: Dak Prescott being healthy means Washington probably won’t feast on the Cowboys this year. That might be the ultimate difference. Washington will finish second in the East at 7-10.

Predicted Finish: 2nd in NFC East

New York Giants

2020 ATS Record: 9-7

2020 O-U Record: 3-13

Betting on the Giants with Barkley injured meant that the Giants were considerable underdogs on many occasions. They managed to cover the large point spreads as underdogs. With Barkley being out, the offense rarely produced anything of note. This became a good team for betting unders. Barkley being back in the lineup, however, requires a reset and a fresh perspective for 2021.

Best Offseason Move: Signing Kenny Golladay. The Giants need a deep threat, and they got one from the Lions. This could change their offense. It at least gives them a chance to be more potent.

Worst Offseason Move: Not betting on offensive linemen in the draft. The Giants could have been more aggressive in searching for offensive linemen in the 2021 draft, but they stayed away. Most of their picks were on defense, presumably to deal with the high-powered Cowboys offense with Dak Prescott back on the field. The Giants could have established more balance with their draft picks. Their philosophy was hard to identify.

Instant Impact: Adoree Jackson. The defensive back should fortify a Giants secondary whose main task in 2021 will be to cover the Dallas Cowboys’ elite receivers. That will be one of the defining positional battles in the NFC East this year.

Strength Of Schedule

The Giants play the AFC West and NFC South, with other NFC East teams. They play the Dolphins in the NFL’s new 17th game. They play the Bears and Rams as well. That’s not a particularly easy schedule. Their Super Bowl odds are currently at 66/1.

For Better Or For Worse

The Giants were 6-10 last year without Barkley. They might have a better team, but the schedule is not favorable. New York will go 6-11 in 2021.

Predicted Finish: 3rd In NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles

2020 ATS Record: 6-10

2020 O-U Record: 7-9

The Eagles’ offense was a mess, with Carson Wentz failing to find any rhythm or consistency. Jalen Hurts relieved him late in the season. It’s not a surprise the Eagles were bad against the spread and played more unders than overs.

Best Offseason Move: Trading Carson Wentz. The Eagles needed to start fresh. This simply wasn’t working out with Wentz, who essentially got Doug Pederson fired despite the fact that Pederson has won the only Super Bowl in the history of the franchise. Philadelphia needs to trust Jalen Hurts and fully see what it has at the quarterback position.

Worst Offseason Move: Hiring Nick Sirianni as head coach. Sirianni, a Colts assistant, looked out of his depth in his introductory press conference as Eagles head coach. There were better and more prominent names available in the search. Philadelphia seemed to settle for a second-rate choice. Fans can’t feel comfortable about this offseason move.

Instant Impact: DeVonta Smith. The Eagles nailed their first pick of the draft, taking a former teammate of Jalen Hurts at Alabama. Smith should get along well with his quarterback and create big plays for an offense that was brutal in 2020.

Strength Of Schedule

The Eagles face the AFC West and NFC South. They also play the Jets in their 17th game, which is a good matchup. They play the Lions and 49ers as well. They have some winning chances here.

For Better Or For Worse

The Eagles were 4-11-1 last year under Pederson. If Sirianni is a bad coach – and the early read is that he is – Philadelphia will actually slide to a worse record in 2021, maybe 3-14 in a 17-game schedule.

Predicted Finish: 4th In NFC East

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