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NFC East Preview: Philly and Dallas fight for the top spot, Giants and Washington aim to rebuild

Here’s what to expect from teams around the division heading into the 2020 season

NFL: Washington Redskins at Dallas Cowboys Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It was no secret last season that the NFC East was the worst division in football. There (should be) nowhere to go up but up in the 2020 season.

Philadelphia clinched the division last year with just nine wins - the lowest of any division winner in football. Dallas, which entered the season as the presumed powerhouse, could not win when it mattered and instead strung together victories against teams with mostly losing records. Carson Wentz performed just well enough to lift Philly to a division title last season, but the Eagles’ success was short-lived as they would go on to lose in the wild card round. The Washington Football Team won three games in a season that eventually culminated in the Chase Young sweepstakes as the losing team clinched the No. 2 overall spot in the 2020 NFL Draft.

This upcoming season, albeit different due to the challenges presented by the coronavirus pandemic, promises to be better for all of the teams involved. Wentz managed to carry an Eagles team that was defined by injuries to the receiving corps to playoff contention last year. This offseason, Philly invested in the receiver position, drafting the speedy Jalen Reagor in the first round followed by John Hightower in the fifth. A healthy DeSean Jackson will only further strengthen the Eagles’ offense.

Meanwhile, Dallas improved its wide receiving corps to arguably the best in the league. It drafted CeeDee Lamb with its first round pick in the 2020 Draft, adding the rookie to a receiving room that already included Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup. Drama surrounding Dak Prescott’s contract not withstanding, the Cowboys have their franchise QB locked in for at least another year, which only strengthen’s their 2020 prospects.

Even the divisions’ bottom dwellers have reason to be hopeful as both the Giants and the Washington Football Team have new head coaches in Joe Judge and Ron Rivera. Their franchise QB’s are no longer rookies and healthy rosters should at least give both teams the potential for improvement next season.

You already know what to expect from the Giants but let’s dive into the strengths and weaknesses of their division rivals heading into the 2020 campaign.

Dallas Cowboys

Projected Record: 11-5

Notable free agency/NFL Draft additions: DE Everson Griffen, DT Dontari Poe, S Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix, DT Maliek Collins, LT Cameron Erving, WR CeeDee Lamb, CB Trevon Diggs, CB Reggie Robinson II, QB Andy Dalton

What to expect: When the Cowboys open their 2020 season against the Los Angeles Rams, they expect to hit the ground running. After being edged out of the playoffs last season by Philadelphia and facing criticism for being unable to defeat teams with winning records in 2019, Dallas has both a chip on its shoulder and a lot to prove.

The addition of Mike McCarthy at the head coaching position only further drives home the sense of urgency that Jerry Jones feels for his team to start winning and start winning now.

Dak Prescott will be back and playing on a $31.409 million franchise tag and he has plenty of weapons to throw to. First-round draft pick CeeDee Lamb joins 1,000-yard receivers Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup in what is shaping up to be one of the best wide receiving groups in football. With Prescott coming off of his best statistical year as a passer with 4,902 yards and 30 touchdowns to interceptions, the Cowboys offense is poised for a playoff run.

Dallas faces more questions on the defensive side of the ball, which will aim to improve upon their 11th-ranked rushing and 10th-ranked pass defense from last season.

The Cowboys lost Robert Quinn and Maliek Collins on the defensive line, but they also added Everson Griffen, Aldon Smith and Dontari Poe. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch is back and healthy. The Cowboys’ secondary remains unproven, but look for rookie Trevon Diggs to try to make an impact.

Dallas clearly invested in its offense this offseason and that investment means that they expect the offense to carry this team though mediocre defensive performances.

Philadelphia Eagles

Projected Record: 10-6

Notable free agency/NFL Draft additions: CB Darius Slay, WR Marquise Goodwin, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, DT Javon Hargrave, WR Jalen Reagor, QB Jalen Hurts, S K’Von Wallace

What to expect: The Eagles might be the defending NFC East champions but they still have plenty of room for improvement in the 2020 season. They look very different from the team that won the Super Bowl in 2017 with a 13-3 record. After finishing 9-7 the past two seasons, this Eagles team feels less like a recent Super Bowl champion and more like a mediocre long shot.

But Philly did make moves this past offseason that should help elevate the team a step above mediocre. Unlike every other team in the division, Eagles head coach Doug Pederson is entering his fifth year with the team. Meanwhile, the Cowboys have a new head coach in Mike McCarthy, the Washington Football Team brought in Ron Rivera from Carolina and the Giants have a brand new head coach in Joe Judge. While these teams will be adjusting to a new coaching style amidst what will already be a strange season given the pandemic, Philly already has a coaching foundation set.

Carson Wentz enters his fifth season with the team and he is riding the momentum of his four-game winning streak to close out the Eagles’ season last year. During that span, the 27-year-old threw seven touchdowns without an interception.

The wide receiver position was one of need entering the offseason for Philly. While drafting Jalen Hurts in the second round seemed to only hurt their chances at selecting a talented WR, the Eagles did rebuild their receiving corps this offseason. They added first-round pick Jalen Reagor and then John Hightower and Quez Watkins. DeSean Jackson also returns from injury to add more depth. Veteran tight end Zach Ertz and Dallas Goedert will also lead the offense

On the defensive side of the ball, DT Javon Hargrave will join Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson. Philly’s linebacker group is mostly young, but Darius Slay will help make up for that by bringing experience and athleticism to to the cornerback position - something Philly has lacked in recent years.

The Washington Football Team

Projected Record: 4-12

Notable free agency/NFL Draft additions: CB Ronald Darby, QB Kyle Allen, OLB Thomas Davis, S Sean Davis, TE Logan Thomas, TE Richard Rogers, WR J.D. McKissic, ILB Donald Payne, CB Ryan Lewis, DE Chase Young, RB Antonio Gibson, WR Antonio Gandy-Golden

What to expect: Washington might not be winning on the field, having not posted a winning record since 2016, but it takes the prize for most attention this offseason.

The off-the-field drama is notable because it has to impact on-field performance. In this offseason alone, the organization dropped its 87-year old nickname, “Redskins” after facing years of pressure. The statue of former owner George Preston Marshall, the last owner to integrate an NFL team, was removed from outside RFK Stadium. The Washington Post published two exposes detailing the sexual assault and harassment allegations of first 15 former female employees and two female reporters and then 25 more new women. Any ground that owner Dan Snyder might have gained by hiring Julie Donaldson and Jason Wright has been long erased as it appears more obvious than ever before that he needs to go.

And in the midst of this cultural reckoning, head coach Ron Rivera revealed recently that he has lymph node cancer, though he does plan to continue coaching.

Given all of this off-the-field drama, the team’s on-field performance has become secondary. Drama aside though, can we expect Washington to be better than its 3-13 mark from last season?

The answer is perhaps marginally better. Rivera brings a new culture to the franchise and quarterback Dwayne Haskins Jr. is not a rookie anymore. Wide receiver Terry McLaurin had a breakout rookie campaign and appears poised for many successful future seasons. New defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio brings a wealth of experience to that side of the ball that will only help to transform Washington’s culture. And the addition of Chase Young doesn’t hurt.