There was a time not too long ago when the NFC East was considered one of the most competitive divisions in football. Over the past decade, the division has had two Super Bowl winners (Eagles, Giants), exciting Washington teams and the Dallas Cowboys. But the days of parity in the NFC East are over.
For the past four years, the Cowboys and Eagles have alternated division crowns. Last season, the two teams were jockeying for a playoff spot until the Eagles all but cemented a postseason berth after beating the Cowboys in Week 16. They are still the prohibitive favorites to win the division. But there’s reason to believe that this year’s title will be decided when Dallas and Philly meet again in Week 16.
Let’s take a trip up and down the Northeast Corridor (and northeast Texas).
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Covid Response: “HIPAA ??” That’s what Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliotttweeted when his name publicly appeared as a Cowboy who’d contracted the virus. Elliott seems fine now, but he obviously doesn’t want his teammates to get COVID-19. “We are all here to play football. We’re not going to do anything dumb to jeopardize that,” he recently told reporters. Since camp began, the Cowboys have recorded one positive test. Elliot and the rest of the team want that number to stay right there.
Outside The Lines:Jerry Jones has an opinion on everything. He is the most outspoken owner in professional sports. But it was his silence this summer that made headlines. “Where is Jerry Jones?” Was a trending conversation on the bird after the owner did not comment on the police killing of George Floyed and the national protests that ensued.
Oh, he’s here now?: After 13 years in Green Bay, Mike McCarthy replaced Jason Garrett as head coach in Dallas. Veteran quarterback Andy Dalton is also heading to Dallas. On the Cowboys, he’ll be able to flourish in a role he was made for... backup. Rookie CeeDee Lamb has looked impressive in camp.
Where’d he go?: The Cowboys offensive line has been one of the best in the NFL. But All-Pro center Travis Frederick retired this offseason at 29, and will leave a hole up front. Dallas also lost two starters on defense, Robert Quinn and Byron Jones.
Fans in the stands: Of course there will be fans — it’s Jerry’s World. How many? We have yet to find out, and likely won’t know until the home opener on September 20. But Jones says he expects “a great crowd” when the Falcons come to town.
What to expect:This year is always the year, according to Cowboys fans. The annual hype train is running on schedule. But if history is any indication, this team finds a way to squander a promising first-half record and miss the playoffs by the end of the regular season or lose in early January. With all that said, expect the Boys to compete for a division crown and playoff spot. Lamb is an exciting prospect who could give starting QB Dak Prescott another weapon on offense. The Cowboys definitely have a shot to avenge their late-season debacle from last year.
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Covid Response: When Doug Pederson arrived at Eagles Camp, he told reporters that he felt “extremely safe” with the team’s coronavirus protocols. A few days later, the head coach tested positive for COVID-19. Pederson, 52, is back on the field now after quarantining (where he coached from home). Pederson is one of three NFL coaches (Sean Peyton and Anthony Lynn the others) to contract the virus. Newly acquired wide receiver Marquise Goodwin has decided to opt out of the 2020 season. Goodwin and his wife lost a son born prematurely in 2017 and two unborn twins in 2018. This year, Goodwin is opting to spend more time with his family and new baby girl.
Outside The Lines: The Eagles were in the headlines for all the wrong reasons with regard to social justice. Over the summer, DeSean Jackson shared a string of anti-semitic Instagram posts, including a highlighted passage falsely attributing a quote to Adolf Hitler. Eagles team owner Jeffrey Lurie, who is Jewish, called the posts “disgusting.” After Jackson publicly apologized, Lurie commended the receiver for his willingness to change. “I’ve known DeSean for a long time,” Lurie recently told reporters. “He has, I think, really understood the ramifications of that appalling post. So far, everything that we’ve asked him to do to both educate himself and to learn and take action, he’s done completely.”
Oh, he’s here now?: After spending seven years in Detroit, stud corner Darius Slay will upgrade the Eagles defense. The All-Pro CB wanted out of Detroit after losing “all respect” for Lions head coach Matt Patricia. Heisman finalist QB Jalen Hurts was also drafted by the Eagles in the second round. With an injury-prone Carson Wentz, don’t be surprised if Philly turns to their rookie QB this year.
Where‘d he go?: Three-time Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins is now on the New Orleans Saints — where his relationship with his new QB got off to a rocky start. And wide receiver Nelson Agholor will now drop passes for Washington.
Fans in the stands: No. Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kennedybanned large public events until February 2021. But you can purchase a cutout of yourself to be displayed in the seats. All proceeds will go to the Eagles Autism Foundation.
What to expect: Historical trends say it’s the Cowboys’ turn to take back the divisional crown, but it’s the Eagles who should be favored to repeat as NFC East champions. If Philly can stay healthy, which is always a big if, expect their loaded roster to play in another home game in January.
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Washington Football Team
Washington Football Team
Covid Response: Two players on Washington have opted out of the 2020 season. Citing the virus, defensive lineman Caleb Brantley and linebacker Josh Harvey-Clemons chose not to play. And it’s not COVID, but new head coach Ron Rivera has been diagnosed with lymph node cancer. Rivera says the cancer is “very treatable.” He will continue coaching this fall while he undergoes treatment, which will make him vulnerable to contracting COVID-19.
Outside The Lines: Hmm. Well, let’s start with the team name. “Washington Football Team” used to be a phrase folks would say to avoid using a dictionary defined racial slur. Now, after countless decades, the “Washington Football Team” is actually the “Washington Football Team.” After the name change, 25 former female employees of the Washington Football Team told the Washington Post that they had been sexually harassed while working for the Washington Football Team. Last week, more women came forward in an ESPN report detailing the hostile work environment created under Dan Snyder.
Oh, he’s here now?: Washington selected the No. 1 prospect with the second pick in the NFL draft in Chase Young. The Ohio State DE should add a spark to a Washington defense that was, statistically, one of the worst in the league last year. Kendall Fuller and Ronald Darby are also new additions that could help strengthen the defensive backfield.
Where’d he go?: Josh Norman was never a Pro Bowler in Washington, but the 32-year-old starting cornerback signed a one-year contract with the Bills, where he’ll play under his former defensive coordinator Sean McDermott. And on Sunday, Washington RB Adrian Peterson signed a one year deal with the Lions.
Fans in the stands: Empty seats are the norm at FedEx Field. But this year, Washington will actually play in front of zero fans.
What to expect: The good news is that Washington can’t be much worse than last year’s 3-13 record. Still, this is a team in rebuilding mode. But with a veteran coach, improved defensive pieces, and a second-year quarterback in Dwayne Haskins — who still has a lot to prove — look for Washington to win a few more games this year. But don’t expect them to come close to sniffing the division title.
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New York Giants
New York Giants
Covid Response: Some of y’all made fun of Giants general manager Dave Gettleman for wearing a mask in his own house during the virtual NFL draft. What you didn’t see was there was also an IT guy in the room. And what you didn’t know was that Gettleman, 69, was taking extra safety precautions because he is a cancer survivor who was treated for lymphoma two years ago. The draft was also in April — at a time when New York and New Jersey were the epicenters of the global pandemic. Feel like an asshole yet? Good. Also, veteran left tackle Nate Solder opted out of the season, but before you say, “Good, he won’t be missed,” he opted out due to COVID-19 concerns regarding his son’s battle with cancer. Feel like an asshole again? Good.
Oh, he’s here now?: The biggest names to come to the Giants sideline are coaches Joe Judge and Jason Garrett. Judge, who has been an assistant, coordinator and coach with the Patriots for the past seven years, will get his first head coaching job in his NFL career. Garrett takes the reins as offensive coordinator after a decade as the Cowboys head coach.
Where‘d he go?: Eli Manning, the two-time Super Bowl MVP and future Hall of Famer (get over it, haters) retired at the end of last season. Daniel Jones can live up to his predecessor by giving Giants fans crippling anxiety every Sunday afternoon. Who knows what QB will show up? The interception guru or the Super Bowl MVP? You don’t know till you know.
Fans in the stands: No — not yet, at least. New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy signed an executive order over the summer that limits outdoor gatherings for the time being. Both the Giants and Jets will not play in front of fans in their home openers and will play in an empty MetLife until further notice.
What to expect: The Giants have had one winning season since 2013. And they’ll probably have to wait till 2021 for a shot at the division. Luckily, Big Blue can’t do much worse than their 4-12 record from last year. Maybe Jones will have an exceptional second season, maybe the offensive line can give Barkley some breathing room, or maybe the Giants will continue to be what they’ve been for the better part of a decade — below average.
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Check out the rest of our NFL previews for this strangest of seasons: