In this new series, we’ll be reviewing each division in the NFL - taking a look at each team’s 2019 season, their ups and downs, as well as looking ahead to what their 2020 might look like. This week, NFC East.
The NFC East was the worst division in the NFL in 2019. The division, collectively, finished 24-40 – a winning percentage of .375. Generally, any division whose champion finishes 9-7 is going to be bad, but they also have two teams picking in the top four of the NFL draft this month.
Indeed, the Redskins and the Giants have high picks to help turn their fortunes around (as well as new head coaches), but is that enough to make them relevant in 2020? Are Dallas bound for another year of mediocrity?
Are Philadelphia a legitimate contender when everyone is fit?
Dallas will enter the 2020 season with a new head coach whose hiring caused mixed reactions. On one hand, Mike McCarthy has won a Super Bowl and been consistently strong with Green Bay, but there’s an argument that he should’ve won more with Aaron Rodgers. That’s the other hand – that Rodgers covered up for McCarthy’s mediocrity.
Is that a step up from Jason Garrett? Also known as ‘the clapper’, Garrett often under-delivered with Dallas, but made up for it by clapping on the sidelines. They have one of the more talented rosters in the league, yet they always fall short. The difference with McCarthy is that Green Bay failed to pull together a strong defense.
Dallas have had great units, but fallen short again and again.
That is a very good offense, statistically. On the defensive side of things, they ranked 11th in terms of points per game and ninth in yards per game. On paper, this team should be doing much better, so maybe McCarthy will help with that.
It should be interesting to see how McCarthy works with Prescott. Dak has shown he’s capable of being one of the best quarterbacks in the league, and while McCarthy gets some criticism for not winning enough with Rodgers, credence is due in helping him develop the former Super Bowl MVP into what he is today.
Dallas always have a shot of doing well. Their roster is stacked with talent in key places, the NFC East is rarely that good, so they should pick up easy wins from New York and Washington, and they have a hungry new head coach.
One or two losses on defense means they’ll need to have a good draft – but this is something they’ve always done well. Do it again, and the Cowboys will make a playoff push.
New York Giants
When the news dropped that the NFL Draft would be done via Microsoft teams, the Giants sprung to mind immediately. Not because they’re masters of drafting, but because their GM, Dave Gettleman, confessed that they had hired some top ‘computer folks’ not so long ago. He was ahead of his time then, anticipating this remote lifestyle, right? Definitely not.
In reality, it’s more likely that Gettleman will accidentally have some dubious tabs open and share his screen with the league.
It’s easy to make fun of the Giants right now, because they’ve been one of the worst teams in the NFL since they won the Super Bowl in 2012. They’ve made it to the playoffs once since then, when Ben McAdoo (remember him?) almost guided them to hallowed territory.
Except it wasn’t McAdoo, it was a well-paid defense built-in free agency, and Odell playing out of his mind. But they’re all gone now.
The new-look New York Giants are comprised of Joe Judge as head coach, Daniel Jones as quarterback and Gettleman is still running things in the GM’s seat. That doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, but there are positives to be found if you look hard. The Giants have a young roster, they have a running back with quite possibly the highest ceiling of any running back in the league, Jones (in spite of the pre-season pessimism) had a pretty good 2019, and they have the fourth pick in the draft.
The main issue with the Giants starts at the top. They’ve made bad decisions for years – from GM hiring, to coach hiring, and bad drafting – they haven’t gotten it right in a long time.
If Judge fails this year, Gettleman will probably be fired. A question Giants should genuinely consider is whether you’d rather another bad season if it means he gets fired, or for things to go right in 2020, knowing Gettleman will stick around.
It’s unlikely the Giants will be good in 2020. There are pieces in place, sure, but they have a lot of gaps to fill. So unless Gettleman trades back for multiple first/second0round picks (which he’s never done), then they’ll only improve so much in 2020.
Offensive line improvement (Tristan Wirfs, Jedrick Wills, Mekhi Becton are all options in the draft) is paramount, but then again, so is a pass rusher or some form of defensive leadership (Isaiah Simmons). There’s a lot to fix in a short amount of time.
A lot of people would have picked the Eagles to do well in 2019. They have a very good roster and they’re not so far removed from Super Bowl success. Howie Roseman is well revered as the GM, and Doug Peterson (of the Andy Reid coaching tree) has done well in his time as head coach, too.
The reason a lot of people’s pick for Philadelphia silverware failed is, in large part, because of injuries. They lost Alshon Jeffrey and DeShaun Jackson to IR, they lost Brooks and Johnson form their offensive line, Sproles missed the season, and that’s just the tip of it.
Indeed, it’s difficult to compete with a high volume of injuries.
They’re still stacking up talent in terms of their defensive line. Signing Javon Hargreaves from Pittsburgh means they’re very strong with Fletcher Cox and Malik Jackson already signed up in that area. Philadelphia pride themselves on a good defense – one that finished 10th in the league for yards per game in 2019.
Jalen Mills also signed to assist the defensive backs, so they’ll be hoping for a strong defense in 2020 again.
There are still question marks around Carson Wentz. He was OK in 2019, on paper at least. He posted 4,039 passing yards with a completion rate of 63.9% for 27 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. The issue is that he doesn’t seem consistent.
He will put up huge numbers in one week, then turn the ball over two or three times the next week. Wentz earned a big contract based on his performances in the Super Bowl-winning season (although he missed the playoffs), and he hasn’t been at that level since.
How far Philadelphia go 2020 relies on two of the aforementioned factors – injuries and Wentz. If their defense continues to be one of the better units in the league, then they will remain competitive.
Wentz elevating his game, as well as a healthier roster, will enable the Eagles to contend again this year. Because of the global pandemic we’re enduring, some teams will suffer more than others.
Teams with a new quarterback, a new coach, or a new system won’t have the same time to get up to speed as others. Philadelphia are running it back, and they could reap the benefits of that now more than ever.
There are murmurs that Washington could replace Dwayne Haskins already, a la Arizona in 2019. Those rumours exist because they have a new head coach in place (Ron Rivera) and the second overall pick in the draft.
Of course, rumours and rumours, and that could mean that Washington are teasing themselves for potential trade offers.
In any case, that’s the beauty of a high draft pick – they hold the cards.
How Washington got to that pick is another matter though. The 2019 Washington Redskins were one of the worst teams in recent NFL memory.
Six seasons of Jay Gruden was quite enough, as they managed just two winning seasons in that time, with the most recent three seasons ending in losing records.
The Redskins were out of contention very early on. Their new quarterback struggled immensely in year one, but that shouldn’t hide the fact that Gruden was a significant part of the problem.
There are pieces to play with going forward – Terry McLaurin was one of the best rookie receivers in the league last year, Derrius Guice will be back fresh, and Rivera will be happy to see some strong players in place already on defense with Montez Sweat and Ryan Kerrigan leading.
What they do in the draft isn’t just crucial to their own 2020 season, but to the remainder of the draft. Select Chase Young (revered by many to be the best player in the draft) and their defense suddenly looks very threatening.
Trade down, and they could fill numerous gaps to become competitive very quickly. Pick Tua, and the whole NFL will lose their collective minds. Washington will be very interesting on April 23rd.
Written by Matthew Carolan.
Check out the rest of Matthew Carolan's Off The Ball divisional series reviews here: