Can NFC East Shed ‘Worst Division in Football’ Tag in 2021?

The NFC East was truly abysmal in 2020, with all four teams finishing under .500 and the 7-9 Washington Football Team winning the division. Washington, the only team to make the playoffs with a losing record, was ousted in the wildcard round by eventual Super Bowl champions the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. But a new season suggests bright things could be on the horizon for what was football’s worst division one year ago.

Dallas Cowboys (6-10 in 2020)

With Dak Prescott finally signed to a four-year, $160 million deal, the pressure is now on for the six-year veteran to pay the Cowboys back with on-field production. Coming off a 2020 season in which Prescott played just five games before suffering an ankle injury, the Cowboys project to be much better in 2021 than they were under Andy Dalton and Ben DiNucci. Dallas has one of the strongest offenses in the league with Dak under center, while in the likes of Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and CeeDee Lamb, he has a full arsenal of weapons.

Bolstering the defensive side for the first six picks of the 2020 NFL Draft, Dallas missed out on the cornerbacks they wanted when Jaycee Horn and Pat Surtain II were off the board at 8th and 9th overall. But they took a man who many analysts had picked as the best defensive player in the draft in linebacker Micah Parson at 12. How Parson fits in alongside Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith in the rotation will determine if the Cowboys can improve a defense that ranked second-worst in rushing yards allowed in 2020.

Washington Football Team (7-9)

Dragged to a division title by its elite defense last year, the Washington Football Team return to the core of that suffocating unit under defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio. 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young and Montez Sweat enter their second -and third – year seasons as the linchpins of the NFL’s second-stingiest defense in terms of yards allowed last year. The addition of rangy linebacker Jamin Davis with the 19th overall pick of the draft means the Football Team will be a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks again next campaign.

On offense, a Comeback Player of the Year win for Alex Smith was ultimately a final send-off for the veteran quarterback, who retired in the offseason. The release of former first-round Dwayne Haskins means Washington will be looking for their quarterback of the future in the draft next year, but in the meantime, they will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick. The journeyman, now on the 9th team of his NFL career, is a shooter who slings touchdowns and interceptions in equal measure, but should have enough production to keep Washington competitive.

Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1)

No quarterback in the NFL threw more interceptions in 2020 than Carson Wentz, with 15 picks to 16 touchdowns despite only playing 12 games. It represented a grand fall for the former 2nd overall pick and one-time MVP candidate, whose public falling-out with Doug Pederson pre-empted his trade to Indianapolis. In his absence, Philadelphia will see what they have in former Alabama product Jalen Hurts, who showed flashes of brilliance in 2020. Hurts can count former teammate DeVonta Smith among his weapons after the Eagles drafted the Heisman Trophy winner with the 10th overall pick.

Question marks persist around this Eagles unit in the eyes of the sportsbooks, however. Betting provider comparison sites like see Philadelphia as outsiders in the division at around +450, in part due to leading the NFL in both turnovers and sacks allowed last season. In contrast, the Cowboys are division favorites at +110, ahead of Washington at +260, while the New York Giants join the Eagles on +450. Only three years removed from winning a Super Bowl, many of these betting sites see Philadelphia as being in limbo – too bad to make a playoff run, too good to tear down and rebuild.

New York Giants (6-10)

Dave Gettleman did away with ten years of tradition in the NFL Draft, trading down for his first time ever when the Bears moved up to take Justin Fields at 11th overall. Perhaps prompted by Philadelphia taking Smith at 10, Gettleman earned another first-round pick for next year’s draft, while still finding help for the pass-catching corps in slot receiver Kadarius Toney. The Florida product joins a promising set of players for Daniel Jones to throw to in 2021, among them Kenny Golladay, Sterling Shepard and Evan Engram, as reported on Gettleman and head coach Joe Judge want Jones well-prepared as they start to evaluate him in his third year as a pro.

Jones enters what may be his make-or-break season with plenty of hands to throw to, but he may have trouble staying upright. Gettleman declined to draft on the offensive line, reiterating his faith in a unit that allowed an NFL second-worst 50 sacks in 2020. The subject of concern in New York for years now, the Giants’ offensive line could once again be the Achilles’ heel of this team. One game away from a playoff berth after the Eagles lost to Washington on the final day, Giants fans will be optimistic they can go one better this time.

Indeed, overall, the NFC East has the look of a division primed to improve in 2021. At the very least, it can’t get much worse.

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