2020 NFC East Preview
Philadelphia Eagles (9-7, lost to Seattle in Wild Card round)
What happened last year
The kryptonite of the Philadelphia Eagles over the last couple of years has been injuries. That was the case when they were on top of the football world back at Super Bowl LII, and it remained the same two seasons later in 2019. The Eagles soared atop the NFC East despite only being one game over .500 until QB Carson Wentz went down in the Wild Card round and with that, their season did as well. Looking into 2020, the Eagles are the only team in the division bringing back their head coach from the 2019 season, and with another year of Carson Wentz under center, the Eagles look to return to their Super Bowl form come 2020.
Wentz was impressive in 16 starts in 2019; the former North Dakota Bison threw for a career-high 4,039 passing yards, with 27 touchdowns with only 7 interceptions. As long as Wentz can remain on the field in 2020, look for the Eagles to be battling atop the NFC East.
Key Additions: CB Darius Slay, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, S Will Parks, WR Jalen Reagor, QB Jalen Hurts, DT Javon Hargrave
Key Departures: S Malcolm Jenkins, WR Nelson Agholor, RB Jordan Howard, CB Ronald Darby, QB Josh McCown, DT Timmy Jernigan, OL Halapoulivaati Vaitai
Week 12 vs. Seattle Seahawks: Week 12 of Monday Night Football brings on a Wild Card rematch from the 2019 season as the Eagles and Seahawks matchup. This is a game that the Birds want to get back, and no better time to do that with the world watching on Monday night.
Week 13 @ Green Bay Packers: The following week, the Eagles have another tough test as they head to Lambeau Field to face Green Bay. Fans or not, Green Bay is always known for being a dominant team at home, and with the Packers being one game away from the Super Bowl last year, it will be a pivotal game against two playoff teams from a year ago.
Week 14 vs. New Orleans: The 2020 Philadelphia Eagles schedule isn't an easy one for the reigning NFC East champions as they face three 2019 playoff teams in as many weeks. This time, Drew Brees and the Saints come marching into Philly looking to win a key game late in the season. This stretch of three games can easily make or break the season for the Eagles, and a battle between hybrid QBs Hurts and Hill could be an exciting storyline going into Week 14 depending on how the Eagles use Jalen Hurts throughout the year.
X-Factor – Jalen Hurts
With Carson Wentz’s injury past becoming a dark cloud on his career, plus trying to win a Super Bowl amidst a global pandemic, rookie second round pick Jalen Hurts is going to be an Eagle worth looking out for. Many were shocked when the Eagles took the former National Champion in the second round, but look for the Eagles to work him into the playbook. You saw it in New Orleans with WR/QB Taysom Hill, and many are expecting Hurts to fill a similar role in his first year in Philly.
With both Washington and New York at least a year away from contention, the Eagles have the luxury of finishing no less than second in the NFC East. The Eagles did a great job of acquiring talent this off-season, especially on the back end of the secondary. With some big holes filled in the off-season, look for the Eagles to potentially make a run similar to what they did back when they were Super Bowl Champs.
Dallas Cowboys (8-8, missed playoffs)
What happened last year
Former Super Bowl winning coach Mike McCarthy is the new man at the helm in Big D after a disappointing 2019, which saw America’s team lose four out of their last six to miss the postseason, and as a result, dismissed Jason Garrett.
With the Cowboys on the doorstep of the postseason last season, this year’s Cowboys team is looking to find themselves in the playoff hunt in 2020. With quarterback Dak Prescott in search of a big contract and some key additions around this team, the Cowboys are looking to take advantage of a weak division to make some noise in 2020.
Key Additions: HC Mike McCarthy, WR CeeDee Lamb, DT Dontari Poe, QB Andy Dalton, DE Aldon Smith, K Greg Zuerlein, DE Everson Griffen, CB Trevon Diggs
Key Departures: WR Randall Cobb, WR Tavon Austin, TE Jason Whitten, DE Robert Quinn, DE Michael Bennett, CB Byron Jones, DT Christian Covington
Week 3 @ Seattle: After facing the Rams and Falcons to kick off the season, the Cowboys get their first big test Week 3 as they head up to CenturyLink Field to play the Seahawks. When Prescott and Russell Wilson face-off, it has the potential to be one of the premier games of the season. If Dallas wants to make some noise in 2020 and return to prominence, they will turn heads if they can beat Seattle on their home field.
Week 9 vs. Pittsburgh: The Dallas Cowboys have a huge task ahead of them before their Week 10 bye as the Steelers come to Jerry World. It will be intriguing to see how the Dallas offense performs against Pittsburgh’s top ten defense. It is another true test to see if the Cowboys will be amongst the NFL’s elite, or just the average team they were in 2019.
Week 16 vs. Philadelphia: This game on paper will probably be the biggest game of the season for both Dallas and Philadelphia in 2020. With these teams being the only two looking to contend in the NFC East, this game will most likely have huge playoff implications and if Dallas can get it done, then they will most likely win the division.
X-Factor – Dak Prescott
You can argue that Dak Prescott is among NFL’s elite quarterbacks, however, he has not been paid as such just yet. After turning down multiple contract extensions, Prescott has gone all-in on himself in 2020, and with Ezekiel Elliott in the backfield and new additions such as rookie wideout CeeDee Lamb, it will be intriguing to see if Prescott can show his worth, and also open up the run game for Ezekiel Elliott to flourish in year five as a Cowboy.
With veteran coach Mike McCarthy now the new head coach in Dallas, they look to finally break through and make some noise in the postseason. Look for Dallas to take advantage of playing both Washington and New York a total of four times this upcoming season. Dallas could easily win the division this upcoming year as it appears that the race for the NFC East will come down to Dallas and Philadelphia, but with a tough schedule ahead, there’s a chance their best effort might not result in a playoff appearance.
Washington Football Team (3-13, missed playoffs)
The Washington Football Team was another team in the NFC East going through tough times in 2019. After an 0-5 start, they kicked Jay Gruden to the curb and went with interim coach Bill Callahan. Rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins appeared in nine games for the team, throwing seven touchdowns and seven interceptions. With him recently being named the starter for 2020, look for Ron Rivera to implement certain play calls for Haskins which he used in Carolina when Rivera coached the Panthers to a Super Bowl behind Cam Newton.
With Washington’s struggles in 2019, paired with their dumpster fire of an offseason, Coach Rivera used their third overall pick on edge rusher Chase Young to try and improve upon a defense that gave up over 27 points per game. They are in similar standing to division rival New York, but it will be interesting to see how their turbulent offseason will affect them in 2020.
Key Additions: DE Chase Young, CB Kendall Fuller, LB Thomas Davis, RG Brandon Scherff, CB Ronald Darby, RB Peyton Barber, WR Cody Latimer, QB Kyle Allen
Key Departures: RB Adrian Peterson, QB Case Keenum, OG Ereck Flowers, DB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, RB Chris Thompson, CB Quinton Dunbar
Week 2 @ Arizona: After opening up Week 1 against Philly at home, the Washington Football Team hits the road to go to the desert to play Arizona Week 2. Former first-round quarterbacks Haskins and Kyler Murray are both duel threat quarterbacks looking to take a big step forward in year two. It will also be a big test for the Washington defense, especially Chase Young to make sure Murray does not have his way against the Washington defense.
Week 9 vs. New York: Week 9 allows Washington to win right after their Week 8 bye. Second-year quarterbacks Haskins and Daniel Jones will duel it out in the nation’s capital in another battle of 2019 first-round QBs. With both teams ending up in the top five of last year’s draft, it will be a test to see who is inching closer to contending in a weak NFC East.
Week 10 @ Detroit: Week 10 has Washington going to the Motor City to face the Lions, one of the three teams they were able to beat last year. Look for Washington to try and grind that game out and expect a low scoring game similar to their 2019 match up which Washington won 19-16.
X-Factor – QB Growth/Health
Many were shocked when it was Washington who drafted Dwayne Haskins III back in 2019. He has a lot of pressure going into 2020 after a very inconsistent 2019 in sporadic playing time. With matching up twice a year with fellow 2019 rookie Daniel Jones, it will be a race to see who can develop quicker and propel their team out of the basement of the NFC East. If Ron Rivera looks elsewhere for his signal-caller, QB Alex Smith will be waiting in the wings after suffering a horrific leg injury back in late 2018.
The inaugural off-season for the Washington Football Team was something to forget if you are a fan of the franchise. Between accusations, the reluctancy of the name change, and then the bland name they ended up choosing must’ve been very taxing for any fan of the franchise to endure. Despite the turbulence at the top, Washington now has a former Coach of the Year on staff, a young quarterback hungry to prove his worth, and a potential generational talent in their front seven. Look for Washington to make some strides this year but similar to New York, they just simply don’t have enough pieces to be a force just yet.
New York Giants (4-12, missed playoffs)
What happened last year
The 2019 New York Giants were in the midst of a widespread rebuild during the season. In the first year after trading All-Pro receiver Odell Beckham Jr., the Giants struggled early in the season dropping their first two games before benching longtime starter Eli Manning in favor of rookie Daniel Jones. The then-led Pat Shurmur G-Men had a rough year at the office and there which included a rock bottom nine game losing streak. To add insult to injury, for the first time since 1995, no Giants made the Pro Bowl or All-Pro teams.
Despite being thrown into the fire Week 3, the 22-year-old Jones held his own during his first season under center. Jones threw for 3027 passing yards in his 12 starts, including leading one comeback, and two game-winning drives in his four wins. With a roster overhaul coming into 2020, the Giants brass look to put Jones in a position to succeed and avoid the dreaded sophomore slump.
Key Additions: HC Joe Judge, OT Andrew Thomas, S Xavier McKinney, OT Cameron Fleming, DB Logan Ryan, DB James Bradberry, RB Dion Lewis, LB Blake Martinez, TE Levine Toilolo
Key Departures: HC Pat Shurmur, QB Eli Manning, LB Deonte Buchannon, WR Cody Latimer
Week 1 vs. Pittsburgh: The first game of the Joe Judge era is coming against one of the topflight defenses in the NFL. Judge and company will have a big test in front of him and it will be interesting to see if the Giants can surprise teams within a wide-open NFC East.
Week 6 vs. Washington: With Washington and New York both having abysmal seasons, both teams look to improve off of their lackluster 2019 seasons. With New York playing Dallas in Week 5, they are going to look to take advantage of playing lesser competition. For Daniel Jones, he is going to want to prove to the NFL faithful that he is improving faster than fellow 2019 draft alum Dwayne Haskins Jr.
Week 11 @ Cincinnati: New York’s Week 11 matchup against Joe Burrow and Cincinnati should be circled as a must-win if the G-Men look to try and sneak into the playoff picture in 2020. The schedule gets exponentially harder from there on out as they face Seattle, Arizona, Cleveland, Baltimore, and Dallas to round out the season.
X-Factor – Offensive Line
Joe Judge made it clear in his introductory presser that he wants the Giants to return to smash-mouth, running between the tackles football. With lead back Saquon Barkley on the brink of superstardom they look to do just that. With the Giants using their 2020 first-round pick on OT Andrew Thomas, New York looks to put their young playmakers Jones and Barkley in positions to succeed a huge part of that is depending on the men upfront.
With the Giants losing nine-straight in 2019, one can believe it is only up from here. Judge is the newest branch of the Bill Belichick coaching tree and looks to replicate that same success in the Big Apple. The Giants can take a big step forward in the first year of the Judge era, however, due to their tough 2020 schedule, I still believe they are a year or two away from contending.
(Cover Photo: design by Ryan Waldis, photos via Eagles, USA Today Sports, Associated Press, Getty Images)