The NFC East standings speak for themselves when it comes to midseason grades.
It’s Week 10 of the 2021-22 NFL season and the Dallas Cowboys have a clear upper-hand with a division-leading 6-2 record. The Philadelphia Eagles and New York Giants are tied for second place at 3-6 and the Washington Football Team is at the bottom of the division with a 2-6 record.
At the beginning of the 2021--22 campaign, I predicted where I thought each of the the Giants’ NFC East counterparts would stand in the division at the season’s end and I asked one question of each team.
Washington Football Team: 10-7
Will they get Fitzmagic or Fitztragic?
Dallas Cowboys: 9-8
Can their on-paper talent translate to on-field success?
Philadelphia Eagles: 6-11
Will Jalen Hurts become the franchise QB the Eagles need?
Naturally, halfway through the season, I have different questions and different predictions. Let’s dive into each team and adjust expectations for the second half.
Washington Football Team
Updated record prediction: 5-12
Updated question: Who is the quarterback of the future in Washington?
My prediction for Washington was the most off-base. The defending division-champion, albeit with a 7-9 record last season, has underperformed in Ron Rivera’s second campaign.
The defense, which was ranked in the top in the league last season has underperformed this year. The unit is ranked third-worst in yards allowed per game with 389.4 and fifth-worst in total yards allowed with 227.
Upon closer inspection of the 2020 season, there was cause for concern in the Football Team’s defense. While Washington led the league last season in major defensive categories, it was also 13th in rushing yards allowed. The Football Team faced a cluster of backup quarterbacks and played only five games against teams that ended the 2020 season with a winning record.
Then, because Washington won the division last year, it has faced and will continue to face a tougher slate of opponents this season because division-winners are matched up against each other when determining certain games on the schedule. So far this season, Washington has played the Los Angeles Chargers, Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs and Green Bay Packers only to play the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this Sunday.
A weak defense was never in Washington’s plan as the unit was supposed to support a developing offense. Of course, the question of whether Washington will get Fitzmagic or Fitztragic is meaningless now because Ryan Fitzpatrick was injured in Week 1 and has not played since. Backup QB Taylor Heinicke has shown flashes of promise but he still looks primarily like a strong backup as opposed to starter-material.
The Football Team should be able to squeeze out 3-4 more wins this season against the Carolina Panthers, perhaps the shaky Las Vegas Raiders and in one of the team’s final division matchups to close out the season. But the bigger question now surrounds the quarterback position as the strategy to add relevant offensive pieces instead of focusing on the signal caller does not appear to be working. After a rotating cats of QB’s, this team needs leadership and stability under center.
Updated record prediction: 13-4
Updated question: Is this the season the Cowboys win it all?
While Washington’s performance this season has surprised many, the Cowboys have been a shock in a different way. This was a team that recorded just six wins last season - the least amount of victories since 2014 - under first-year head coach Mike McCarthy. Now at the halfway point of the 2021-22 season, Dallas already has six victories. The surprise is not so much that Dallas turned things around but that they have joined Super Bowl conversations.
Defense was the overwhelming question mark for Dallas entering this season. The Cowboys’ defensive unit was ranked in the bottom 10 in the league in yards allowed per game last season and the bottom five in the league in total points allowed. With the return of Dak Prescott and star receivers like CeeDee Lamb and Amari Cooper, there was no doubt the offense would be strong. But whether or not the defense could keep the team competitive remained a question.
Through nine weeks of play, the Cowboys defense under first-year defensive coordinator Dan Quinn has vaulted to 18th in the league in passing yards allowed and sixth in rushing yards allowed. Over the first five weeks of the season, the defense allowed only 79.4 rushing yards per game and allowed only one team to total 100 yards. Opponents converted 21 first downs running the ball during that time frame, which averaged out to about four per game.
The play of first-round pick Micah Parsons and cornerback Trevon Diggs has certainly helped. Parsons has been targeted 26 times and allowed 19 completions, per PFF. But opposing QB’s have only an 87.8 passer rating against him. The rookie has recorded five sacks and 14 quarterback hits. He has firmly entered the Defensive Rookie of the Year conversation and is poised to continue to be a difference-maker in Dallas.
Meanwhile, Diggs leads the league with seven interceptions. His 12 passes defensed are tied for the most in the league and with 46 targets, Diggs is getting his fair share of looks.
Together, young players like Parsons and Diggs have led to an explosive defensive unit that only further elevates the Cowboys into Super Bowl talks.
Updated record prediction: 6-11
Updated (but same) question: Will Jalen Hurts become the franchise QB the Eagles need?
Entering this year under first-year head coach Nick Sirianni, it was accepted that this season would be one of adjustment and transition. After just four wins last season, there have been steps of improvement in the wake of Doug Pederson and Carson Wentz’s departure. The defense is ranked in the top half of the league in yards allowed per game and 12th in passing yards allowed. The offense is also in the middle of the pack and is seventh in the league in rushing yards per game. With one of the easiest remaining schedules in the league, those number should only improve.
But the same question posed at the season’s start remains the top concern in Philly: Is Jalen Hurts the long-term QB for the Eagles? The answer is that we probably still do not know.
The 23-year-old QB entered the week ranked fifth in red zone passer rating (116.8) and with the seventh-most total yards (3,289) by a quarterback through his first 12 career games in NFL history. But on the other hand, he has also been held below 200 passing yards in five of nine starts this season, tied with Justin Field for the most such starts this year, per ESPN Stats & Info. His accuracy is still questionable and it remains to be see if Hurts can develop that part of his game.
This is where the Eagles’ impressive draft capital enters the conversation. The Eagles have 10 picks in the 2022 NFL Draft and, at this rate, could have three picks in the top 15 and four in the top 40. The quarterback depth in this year’s draft is weak which could work in Hurts’ favor but those picks could be traded to acquire a QB from another team in the offseason. The Eagles are by no means stuck with Hurts but it remains unclear if they are going to stick with him for the long haul.