The NFC East has already begun regular-season play but let’s take one final closer look on what to expect from each team this season:
2020 record: 4-11-1
Projected 2021 record: 6-11
Biggest question: Will Jalen Hurts become the franchise QB the Eagles need?
Key additions: WR Devonta Smith, QB Joe Flacco, LB Eric Wilson, S Anthony Harris.
Key subtractions: QB Carson Wentz, S Jalen Mills, OT Jason Peters, LB Duke Riley, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, DE Vinny Curry, LB Nathan Gerry
Doug Pederson, who brought this team to the Super Bowl in 2017, is gone and the QB that led them there, Carson Wentz, is also out of town. Second-year QB Jalen Hurts was named the starter and this year will serve as a season-long tryout to determine whether he can be the team’s next franchise quarterback.
Hurts will certainly have his fair share of help as the Eagles drafted Heisman trophy winner Devonta Smith with the No. 10 overall pick and they have receivers like Quez Watkins and Jalen Reagor who should allow Philly to be more explosive on the deep ball. Hurts completed just 52 percent of his passes in his rookie campaign but receivers like these should only improve that statistic.
Philly’s offensive line is also well-positioned to support Hurts. The return of Brandon Brooks next to Lane Johnson on the right side, all-pro Jason Kelce at center, and Isaac Samuelo alongside left tackle Jordan Mailata, should give the sophomore QB ample time to find receivers.
This year will also be a litmus test for first-year head coach Nick Sirianni. The Eagles’ have Have a relatively easy start to the season with their first four games against the Atlanta Falcons, Cowboys, Carolina Panthers and San Francisco 49ers. These games will provide good insight into just how competitive Philly can be this season.
2020 record: 6-10
Projected 2021 record: 9-8
Biggest question: Can their on-paper talent translate to on-field success?
Key additions: LB Micah Parsons, CB Kelvin Joseph, LB Keanu Neal, DE Tarell Basham, DE Carlios Watkins.
Key subtractions: LB Sean Lee, QB Andy Dalton, DE Tyrone Crawford, C Joe Looney, DE Aldon Smith, S Xavier Woods, long snapper J.P. Ladouceur.
The Cowboys, of course, kicked off their 2021-22 season when they played the defending Super Bowl champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Thursday night in Tampa. The game, in which the Cowboys lost in the final seconds by a score of 31-29, possibly exceeded expectations. It was expected that Tampa, fresh off hanging its Super Bowl LV banner in the rafters, would cruise to a fairly easy victory on their home turf. Jerry Jones called the game “David vs. Goliath” but the Cowboys put up a convincing fight.
Despite the loss, Dallas opened this season as the favorite to win the division, which makes sense considering the return of Dak Prescott and the revamped secondary.
Before suffering his season-ending ankle injury in Week 5 of last season, Prescott was well ahead of pace to breaking the NFL’s single-season passing yardage record. He threw for 1,856 yards last season for an all-time NFL record average of 371.2 yards per game. This season also marks the first time in three years that Prescott is playing with contract security after signing a four-year deal this offseason.
On the defensive side of the ball, former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn is the team’s new defensive coordinator. His influence became apparent this offseason when, in the 2021 NFL Draft, the Cowboys drafted linebacker Micah Parsons out of Penn State at No. 10 overall. Selecting CB Kelvin Joseph in the second round and signing safety Keanu Neal in free agency were the other major defensive signings of the offseason. After just one game, it looks like these changes have led to improvement.
Questions remain with this team though as their only backup QB is Cooper Rush, they are thin at running back with just Ezekiel Elliott and Tony Pollard, and the defense has a ways to go from its historically bad performance last season.
2020 record: 7-9
Projected 2021 record: 10-7
Biggest question: Will they get Fitzmagic or Fitztragic?
Key additions: QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, OG Ereck Flowers, OT Samuel Cosmi, LB Jamin Davis, CB William Jakcson III, WR Curtis Samuel.
Key subtractions: QB Dwayne Haskins; QB Alex Smith, CB Ronald Darby, LB Kevin Pierre-Louis, TE Jeremy Sprinkle.
Last season was about moving on from the past, erasing it, improving upon it. This season, the focus can shift back to the football field where Washington is fielding what is maybe the best defense in the league and should be an improved-enough offense
Washington’s defense has the potential to be amongst the top-three in the league once again this season. The team has four first-round draft picks on its defensive line. Daron Payne and Jonathan Allen will anchor the middle while 2020 Defensive Rookie of the Year Chase Young and Montez Sweat will continue to bring pressure on the edge. Last season, Young recorded 7.5 sacks and he is poised to record more this season.
The uncertainty therefore lies with the offense, which finished third-to-last in yards per game last season with 317.3 and in the bottom 10 in the league in points with 335. Washington got off to a 2-7 start last season before Alex Smith came in and led them to a strong finish. If Fitzpatrick can bring this team some consistency under center, they have the potential to be very competitive.
It’s rare for an NFC East team to repeat as back-to-back division champs but Washington is trending upwards. If the Football Team can pull together 10 wins, they might just make it back to the playoffs.