NFL 2018 Season Team Previews by Division: NFC East
Since 1970, the NFC East has been the toughest and the most successful NFL division with 21 NFC Championship wins and 13 Super Bowl victories.
The 13-3 Philadelphia Eagles won their first ever Super Bowl in 2017, and that’s despite losing their starting quarterback in Week 14. With most of their players returning, including a healthy QB, the Eagles offseason was spent deepening their D.
The Dallas Cowboys went 9-7 in 2017, which was disappointing for a team hoping to return to the playoffs. Running back Ezekiel Elliott’s eventual six-game suspension combined with Dak Prescott’s excessive interceptions (13) and 18.3 point drop in passer rating might have had something to do with it. They’ve released their problem child and made defensive offseason moves to try and make things better so Prescott can return to rookie form.
Hoping to continue forward from their 8-7-1 record in 2016, the 2017 Washington Redskins ended up with a record of 7-9, mostly due to key injuries and a tough schedule. They used the 2018 draft to try to plug their leaky run defense and boost their ground attack.
In 2017, the New York Giants were coming off an 11-5 season and had playoff hopes. But for the second time in five seasons, they started out 0-5 and by Week 10 were a lousy 1-8. Key injuries and quarterback doubts left these Giants with an embarrassing record of 3-13. They’ve added hope to their ineffective ground game by drafting a once-in-a-generation running back.
The Philadelphia Eagles
In just his second season as an NFL head coach, Doug Pederson took his Philadelphia Eagles from an NFC East last place record of 7-9 in 2016 to an NFC East title win record of 13-3 in 2017. Then Pederson’s Eagles soared even higher as the No. 1 seed in the NFC playoffs.
Past the Atlanta Falcons 15-10, way past the Minnesota Vikings 38-7 and then for the first time in franchise history, the Eagles won a Super Bowl (LII), taking down the New England Patriots by a score of 41-33. The city of brotherly love went absolutely and understandably wild.
But can they repeat?
Some Eagles flew the coop, but most did not
In 2018, the Eagles will field 19 of their 22 starters. There were 13 Eagles that were only signed through the 2017 season, and many of them aren’t coming back for the 2018 season.
- Running back LeGarrette Blount signed with the Detroit Lions
- Wide Receiver Torrey Smith signed with the Carolina Panthers
- Defensive tackle Beau Allen signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
- Outside linebacker Najee Goode signed with the Indianapolis Colts
- Cornerback Patrick Robinson signed with the New Orleans Saints
And the biggest hit of all: Pederson’s sounding board and trusted confidant offensive coordinator Frank Reich left to become head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, which opened the door for receivers’ coach Mike Groh to step into that role.
Restocking the nest
Executive vice president of football operations and general manager Howie Roseman did his best to stay busy during the Eagles’ offseason bringing in some respectable names and re-signing some others. Here are a few:
Defensive End Michael Bennett – the 32-year-old with a “disruptive skill set” comes over from Seattle where he had 8.5 sacks last season. He joins a monster defensive front line that includes Second-Team All Pro tackle Fletcher Cox (5.5 sacks last season) and defensive end Brandon Graham, the stud who stripped the ball from Tom Brady and forced a fumble with two minutes left in the Super Bowl.
Outside linebacker Nigel Bradham – defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz was happy the Eagles re-signed their “Pro-Bowl-caliber imposer” to a five-year, $40 million deal, a steal for guy who had 88 combined tackles last season for their 4th ranked defense.
Linebacker Corey Nelson – with the salary-cap based release of linebacker Mychal Kendricks (who has signed a one-year deal with the Cleveland Browns) a big need opened up across from Bradham. Nelson (formerly of the Denver Broncos) brings his skills as an inside linebacker and key special-teams contributor after recovering from the October surgery on his torn biceps.
Wide Receiver Mike Wallace – with the departure of Smith, Wallace, the 31-year-old from the Baltimore Ravens, is still considered a deep threat speedster who’ll line up along with Nelson Agholor, who had 62 receptions for 768 yards and 8 TDs last season, and Alshon Jeffery, who is questionable for Week 1 after having rotator cuff surgery in the offseason. Despite his injured shoulder, Jeffery caught 57 balls for 789 yards and 9 touchdowns in 2017, including 3 catches for 73 yards and the first touchdown in Super Bowl LII.
Wentz and Foles, Foles and Wentz
When quarterback Carson Wentz tore his ACL in Week 14, he’d already thrown for 3,296 yards, 33 touchdowns and only 7 interceptions. Backup Nick Foles took over and never looked back all the way to the Championship. Foles threw 57 completions for 537 yards and 5 touchdowns with only two picks in the regular season, and 77 completions for 971 yards and 6 touchdowns with only one pick to win the Super Bowl.
Wentz says he’s “very confident” about playing in Week 1 next season, and it’s been made clear that Foles will continue as backup. The front office also made it clear to Foles that he’s incredibly valuable to the team by re-working his contract to include a $2 million raise for the 2018 season and the potential to earn up to $23 million via incentives.
Bottom Line: The Eagles’ 2018 schedule is a tough one – five of their first eight games are against teams that made the playoffs last season. But if Wentz can return to form and his All Pro filled front line (with a healed-up Jason Peters at tackle) can protect him, there’s no doubt they’ll make a run at the NFC East once again.
ESPN predicts the Eagles will go 11-5 in 2018.
Bleacher Report predicts the Eagles will go 10-6 in 2018.
CBSSports.com Vegas Expert has the Eagles 2018 over/under win total at 10.5
The Dallas Cowboys
2018 will be the Dallas Cowboys’ eighth season with head coach Jason Garrett. With an overall record of 67-53 but only 1-2 in the playoffs, it’s safe to say that without at least ten wins and a playoff spot, Garrett’s job might be in jeopardy.
Last season was an adjustment for the 9-7 Cowboys since they had to play six games without star running back Ezekiel Elliott who finally served his long-delayed suspension. In the ten games he did play, he ran 242 times for 983 yards and 7 touchdowns.
Also, for the first time since 2002, a quarterback other than Tony Romo was the opening day starter. The new Dallas franchise starter, Dak Prescott, who broke records his rookie season saw his second year passing numbers drop while his interceptions (13) more than tripled.
And in 2018, Prescott will have to succeed without one of his main offensive weapons.
No more Dez, no more problems
Wide receiver Dez Bryant was released from the Cowboys in April, some say because of money, others say because of his age (30) and the resulting injuries and slip of production.
Regardless, his distracting presence was deemed not good for the young Prescott and eventually his emotional outbursts became tiring. What the Cowboys will absolutely miss are Bryant’s ball grabbing skills that gave him a Dallas franchise record of 73 touchdown catches over 8 seasons.
The offense has left the building
During 2017, the Cowboys ranked 26th in the league in passing yards (3,141) despite seven of their players having at least 100 receiving yards. Prescott was a big part of their offensive production, averaging 196.2 passing yards per game for 22 touchdowns while also rushing for 357 yards and 6 touchdowns. He fumbled four times but didn’t lose any of them.
Now with tight end Jason Witton retiring and Brice Butler leaving for the Arizona Cardinals, the only non-running backs of that group returning are wide receivers Terrance Williams (53 catches for 569 yards) and Cole Beasley, whose 36 catches for 314 yards and 4 TDs in 2017 were less than half of his career high numbers from the season before.
Offensive coordinator Scot Linehan’s effective O-line should stay strong as Dallas picked up the fifth-year option on right guard Zack Martin’s rookie contract, named to his fourth straight Pro Bowl along with tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick. They only allowed 32 sacks last season, which was tied for 6th best in the NFL.
To attempt to address the blind side weakness that lineman Chaz Green and Byron Bell couldn’t fix last season, the Cowboys drafted hard working guard Connor Williams (U of Texas) in the 2nd round.
Defensive offseason moves were made
The Cowboys defense was ranked 8th overall last season under defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Second-team All Pro pass rusher Demarcus “Tank” Lawrence (58 combined tackles and 14.5 sacks last season) was given the franchise tag and the tender, worth $17.14 million, was signed.
The team lost middle linebacker Anthony Hitchens to free agency, but drafted Boise State linebacker Leighton Vander Esch in the first round to replace him. His Junior (and final) year, Vander Esch was named the Mountain West Defensive Player of the Year after making 141 tackles, 4 sacks, 2 interceptions and 4 forced fumbles (led the team).
Bottom line: The Cowboys always have a tough schedule, but next season they play seven games against teams who made the playoffs last season, two of those being the Super Bowl champion Eagles. If Prescott can return to his rookie form and Elliott can stay on the field, the Cowboys might be able to get Garrett the ten wins he needs. Whether that’s enough to win this tough division is the big question.
ESPN predicts the Cowboys will go 10-6 in 2018.
Bleacher Report predicts the Cowboys will go 8-8 in 2018.
CBSSports.com Vegas Expert has the Cowboys 2018 over/under win total at 8.5
The Washington Redskins
Head coach Jay Gruden’s Washington Redskins started out the 2017 season ready to build on their 8-7-1 record from 2016, but instead of taking one of the league’s toughest schedules head on, key injuries throughout the entire season knocked the wind out of their sails and they sputtered to an NFC East third place record of 7-9.
Another 2017 season distraction occurred that March when hard drinking general manager Scot McCloughan was fired and former Super Bowl Champion quarterback Doug Williams became Senior Vice President of Player Personnel.
In 2018, Williams, the former MVP passer, made some impressive offseason moves.
Cousins out, Smith in
In 2017, for the third consecutive season, Kirk Cousins (aged 29) threw for over 4,000 yards, connected for 27 TDs with 13 picks for a passer rating of 93.9 while also running for 179 yards and 4 more touchdowns.But when the front office traded with Kansas City for Alex Smith, the decision to become a free agent was made for him.
Ranked 94th on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2018, Cousins signed a deal with the Minnesota Vikings that’s the first ever fully guaranteed and highest paying NFL contract for $84 million over three-years.
Last season was Smith’s best. The 34-year-old Chief threw 4,042 passing yards for 26 touchdowns and only 5 picks for a stellar passer rating of 104.7. He also ran 355 yards and a touchdown. The Redskins rewarded Smith with a four-year contract extension that will pay him an average of roughly $23 million per season, with $70 million guaranteed over the life of the contract. Not Cousins money, but not bad for an old man.
Defense weak on run but strong on pass
For years the Redskins have needed to improve their run defense. 2017 was defensive coordinator Gerg Manusky’s second season and his squad was last in the league in that category allowing 134.1 yards per game. They’ve slowly addressed this by drafting first round defensive linemen from Alabama two years in a row: this year it was Sugar Bowl and National Champion Game Co-MVP nose tackle Da’Ron ‘The Beast’ Payne and the year before it was right defensive end Jonathan Allen, who’s now successfully re-habbing from his Lisfranc (foot) surgery.
Left end Matthew Ioannidis was drafted in 2016 (5th round) and had 27 combined tackles and 4.5 sacks in 2017.
Washington’s pass defense was ranked ninth in the league last season. They’ve kept all their linebackers including Ryan Kerrigan (13 sacks) and Zach Brown (127 combined tackles) and all their backfield including free safety D.J. Swearinger (79 combined tackles and 4 picks) and cornerback Josh Norman (64 combined tackles and 9 passes defended) who played together in high school.
Boosting the offensive attack
With a run game ranked 28th last season, the Redskins decided to improve by drafting “high maintenance” LSU running back Derrius Guice, who rushed for 1,251 yardsand 11 touchdowns and caught 18 balls for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns his Junior year. Guice fell in the draft due to his reputation of immaturity, but with some babysitting, he’s expected to give running backs Chris Thompson, Rob Kelley and second year man Samaje Perine competition for carries.
Offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh lost his top two wide receivers — Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson — to other teams. He’ll count on Josh Doctson (35 catches for 502 yards and 6 TDs) and Jamison Crowder (66 catches for 789 yards and 3 TDs) to step up along with free agent Paul Richardson, who caught 44 balls for 703 yards and 6 touchdowns in Seattle last year.
Hamstring injuries to tight end Jordon Reed kept him in only six games last season, but he still caught 27 receptions for 211 yards and 2 touchdowns. Reed is expected to return healthy and get back to his pre-injury numbers
Bottom line: Once again facing a tough schedule, the Washington Redskins have no easy path to the top of the NFC East in 2018. If they can stay healthy (a big if given how far injuries took them down last season) and if Smith can put up Cousins-like numbers, which is likely, then expect the Redskins to at least gain a win or two over last season.
ESPN predicts the Redskins will go 8-8 in 2018.
Bleacher Report predicts the Redskins will go 7-9 in 2018.
CBSSports.com Vegas Expert has the Redskins 2018 over/under win total at 5.5
The New York Giants
In 2017, the New York Giants were coming off an 11-5 prior season and head coach Ben McAdoo and his team had high playoff hopes. But the Giants ended up with a 3-13 record and both McAdoo and general manager Jerry Reese were fired.
Quarterback Eli Manning was definitely struggling (for him, mind you), throwing for less yards and touchdowns in 2017 (3,468 and 19) than he did the prior year (4,027 and 26) but less interceptions (13 and 16). His passing rating of 80.4 was almost six points lower than the previous season of 86.0.
Manning’s declining performance in 2017 caused McAdoo to do the unthinkable.
Ending an era to make a point
On November 28, McAdoo named quarterback Geno Smith the starter, which snapped Eli Manning’s 210 consecutive games-started streak, the longest in the NFL. This move caused a distracting uproar on and off the team.
But did it work?
After passing for 212 yards for a touchdown and two first-half fumbles within the Raiders’ 30 yard line, Smith and his Giants fell to Oakland that week 24-17. Afterwards, Manning was named starter again, but McAdoo and Reese both lost their jobs and in January Pat Shurmur was named head coach.
The pick that changes everything, right?
The Giants could have easily replaced Manning in the quarterback heavy 2018 draft. Instead, new general manager Dave Gettleman opted to turbo-charge their ineffective ground game by drafting Penn State running back Saquon Barkley. He got a four-year deal worth a total of $31.2 million, which is the second-highest contract in NFL history for a running back in terms of guaranteed money.
In three college years, Barkley ran for 3,843 yards and 43 touchdowns, caught for 1,195 yards and 8 touchdowns and even returned two of his 19 kickoff returns for 2 TDs. Doubters worry about drafting a running back so high, but Barkley fans believe he’s a once in a generation player that will turn the Giants’26th ranked running offense around.
He’ll get help from one of the league’s most productive receivers who’s finally healed.
The loud soft-handed man is back
Whether you like outspoken 3xPro Bowler, 2x second-team All Pro wide receiver . or he grates on your old-school football nerves, after sitting out most of 2017 it looks like his ankle is healed and the record setter is looking to put up some big numbers once again.
If Beckham Jr. wants to be the highest paid NFL player (and he does), he better get back to putting up the eye-popping numbers of his first three seasons, when he averaged 90+ receptions for 1,300+ yards and 10+ touchdowns.
New coordinator Mike Shula’s passing offense will also get help from receivers Sterling Shepard, free agents Cody Latimer (DEN) and Russell Shephard (CAR), running back Jonathan Stewart (CAR) and tight end All Rookie Evan Engram. The O-line is helped by free agent left tackle Nate Solder (NE) and 2nd round draft pick guard Will Hernandez (Texas-El Paso).
The Offseason was good for the Giants’ defense
Giants defense sacked opponents 38 times last season, tied for ninth best in the league. New York traded top pass-rusher defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul to the Bucs and signed Kareem Martin (ARI) for $15 million who has just 3.5 sacks over his first four NFL seasons.
Their D-line is the same including All Rookie end Dalvin Tomlinson. To help their 27th ranked run defense, they’ve bolstered the linebacker room by trading with Rams for inside linebacker Alec Ogletree who will start and also free agents Kareem Martin (ARZ), Thurston Armbrister (DET) and third round draft pick Lorenzo Carter (Georgia).
Despite being 31st in passing yards allowed per game (252.4) the entire backfield is returning with safeties Landon Collins (102 combined tackles and 2 picks) and Darian Thompson (75 and 1) and cornerbacks Eli Apple and Janoris Jenkins. Together they had 14 interceptions last season.
Bottom Line: If the New York Giants actually did make their defense better and the Manning/Barkley/Bekham Jr. led offense starts to put up the kind of numbers that win close games instead of losing them (like last season), look forward to seeing the Giants at least compete for a wildcard spot in 2018. Otherwise, it’s probably another dip into AFC East mediocrity.
ESPN predicts the Giants will go 8-8 in 2018.
Bleacher Report predicts the Giants will go 6-10 in 2018.
CBSSports.com Vegas Expert has the Giants 2018 over/under win total at 7.5
Despite their tough schedule, it’d be foolish to bet against the Carson Wentz led Philadelphia Eagles winning the NFC East in 2018. That said, if the other three quarterbacks (Prescott, Smith and Manning) measure up, this normally competitive division will finally get back to toughness and produce at least two playoff (and one Super Bowl) contenders, the Eagles being one of them.