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NFC East Notebook: Predicting the outcomes of games around the division

Here’s what you need to know about the Giants’ division rivals in Week 1

NFL: Philadelphia Eagles at Washington Redskins Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports

Today is a special occasion if only because it marks the final notebook of the offseason without any football games - and we all know that this was a particularly long offseason. But with the official kickoff of the 2020 season between the defending Super Bowl Champion Kansas City Chiefs and Houston Texans Thursday night, things are beginning to feel slightly normal, or as normal as they can given the circumstances.

So with that we are going to temporarily put concerns surrounding the pandemic on hold for the remainder of this notebook and focus on football.

We know that the New York Giants take on the Pittsburgh Steelers Monday night. Here are the matchups around the rest of the NFC East this weekend:

Philadelphia Eagles @ Washington Football Team on Sunday at 1 p.m.

Dallas Cowboys @ the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday at 8:20 p.m.

We’ll break down these games and give a prediction at where things will stand in the division after Week 1 is complete.

Eagles at the Washington Football Team

The knee-jerk reaction when picking this game is to choose Philadelphia to win. And the Eagles should ultimately win but it could be a closer game than expected.

It’s easy to forget that when these two teams met last season, Washington was leading at halftime in both matchups, jumping out to a 20-7 halftime lead in game one and a 14-10 lead in game two. The Eagles had to rally both times.

Because Washington posted some of the lowest offensive numbers in the league last season, finishing second-to-last in yards per game with 274.7 and dead last in points scored with 266, it is easy to write off the whole team as bad. But Washington’s defense was also the fifth-most injured defense of the 2019 season so last year’s numbers do not reflect what that group is capable of.

Washington’s run protection was a glaring point of concern after last season, but it made significant steps this offseason to try and improve that. Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis will supplement the attack on the inside, while No. 2 draft pick Chase Young, Montez Sweat (a former first-round pick himself) and Ryan Kerrigan will rush the edges. Together, this defensive line is nothing to scoff at.

Considering the fact that the Eagles offensive line will be missing starters Andre Dillard and Brandon Brooks for the season and are dealing with a less-than-one-hundred-percent Lane Johnson who is recovering from an ankle injury, there is a notable mismatch that favors Washington.

Philly entered the offseason needing to make improvements at the wide receiver position, which it did, but different circumstances have led to an overall weakened receiving corps. Alshon Jeffrey is out with a foot injury that he suffered late last year and Jalen Reagor is dealing with a shoulder injury that will have to be monitored heading into the season opener. Running back Miles Sanders also has hamstring issues that have been plaguing him, so he will not be 100 percent come Sunday.

The Eagles’ defensive line is strong and will prove difficult to top for Washington’s offense. But Dwayne Haskins Jr. is no longer a rookie and he will now be working in Scott Turner’s new offense so anything is possible for the young quarterback who seemed to only be trending upward as last season came to a close.

Prediction:

Eagles 21, Washington Football Team 17

Cowboys at Rams

I have to be honest, one of the major appeals of this game for me is SoFi Stadium. The brand new, state-of-the-art $5 billion stadium is arguably the best in the league, right alongside Jerry Jones’ AT&T Stadium. So it seems only fitting that these teams face off against each other in the grand opening of SoFi Stadium.

For Dallas, Sunday night’s matchup is supposed to be the start of a new era under Mike McCarthy. The Cowboys have just one playoff win in the past half-decade and McCarthy is expected to turn that around fast. Before even hitting the field, the Cowboys have built an offense this offseason that has Super Bowl expectations.

Meanwhile the Rams are in an unclear spot after missing the playoffs for the first time in Sean McVay’s tenure last year. The team lacked the confidence on the field that it seemed to possess so much of just a year before. LA’s roster also took significant hits this offseason as running back Todd Gurley, wide receiver Brandin Cooks, pass rusher Dante Fowler and tackle Cory Littleton are all no longer with the team.

The Cowboys of course, focused on their offense over the offseason and added weapons for Dak Prescott. They will be sending 1,000-plus yard receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup out onto the field along with former Oklahoma Sooner standout CeeDee Lamb. This is a matchup to watch as the Rams also feature a secondary led by Jalen Ramsey, who became the highest-paid defensive back in the league this offseason.

Apart from Ramsey and safety Taylor Rapp though, the Rams secondary will look different because they lost corners Aqib Talib and Nickell Robey-Coleman (to the Eagles) this offseason.

Though the Rams lost some offensive weapons, they still have a passing attack led by Jared Goff that includes wide receivers Cooper Kupp, Robert Woods and tight end Tyler Higbee. The Rams might have had a down year last season, but McVay is still an offensive guru who knows how to pick apart defenses. When considering that the Cowboys secondary might be the weakest part of their team, it is hard to write off the Rams completely in this game.

Prediction:

Cowboys 21, Rams 7

Predicted NFC East standings at the end of Week 1:

Cowboys 1-0
Eagles 1-0
Giants 0-1
Washington Football Team 0-1