AROUND THE NFL

2019 NFL Preview: NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles

Can the Philadelphia Eagles dethrone the Dallas Cowboys and win the NFC East once again?

(Photo courtesy: AP)

Similar to last season, expectations are fairly low for the NFC East as a whole with just two teams expected to compete for a playoff appearance: the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys. On the other side, the Washington Redskins and New York Giants are just hoping that their first-round quarterbacks will be their new franchise stars.

Philadelphia Eagles 11-5 (4-2 Division)

Key Additions: Malik Jackson, Zach Brown, DeSean Jackson, Vinny Curry, Jordan Howard, Andrew Sendejo, Andre Dillard

Key Losses: Nick Foles, Jordan Hicks, Jordan Matthews, Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata

All four NFC East teams went through fairly drastic roster shakeups, but perhaps none as big as the Eagles’. The team made it clear they were looking to improve the defensive unit that was fairly average in 2018. Philadelphia added Malik Jackson, Zach Brown, and Vinny Curry to the front-seven which will certainly help put some pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Eagles need that pretty badly, as they allowed the third-most passing yards in the NFL last season. Getting a healthy Ronald Darby back in the secondary will also be important in that regard.

As for the offense, it’s all on Carson Wentz’s shoulders now. In 11 games last season, he totaled a 21:7 TD:INT and averaged just a hair under 280 yards per game on a 69.6 percent completion rate. Those numbers are fine, but the question is still whether or not he can stay healthy all season, and now he doesn’t have Nick Foles behind him. The additions of DeSean Jackson and Jordan Howard should help his numbers, but this team’s success totally relies on his health.

Dallas Cowboys 10-6 (4-2 Division)

Leighton Vander Esch Dallas Cowboys
Will Leighton Vander Esch lead Dallas’ defense to another NFC title? (AP Photo/Ron Jenkins)

Key Additions: Robert Quinn, Jason Witten, Randall Cobb, George Iloka

Key Losses: Cole Beasley, Damien Wilson

After falling on his face as a Monday Night Football announcer, Jason Witten has un-retired, giving Dak Prescott one of his favorite targets back. The 37-year-old tight end combined for 1,233 yards and 132 receptions on 182 targets during Prescott’s first two seasons as the Cowboys’ shot-caller. Toss in the addition of Randall Cobb and Dallas actually has a solid set of weapons. Of course, there’s still Ezekiel Elliott and a strong offensive line to rely on as well, but Prescott needs to take the next step in his career and prove that he deserves a contract extension next offseason.

Last year’s defense finished top-10 in both total yards and total points allowed. They got even better by adding former All-Pro Robert Quinn, though he’s not quite the player he was six years ago. Rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch has already become one of the defense’s leaders after a pro-bowl 2018 season. The secondary will be something to keep an eye on in Dallas, though. With safeties George Iloka, Jeff Heath, and Xavier Woods, the secondary is a clear weak spot on this Cowboys roster. It will be up to Quinn and Demarcus Lawrence to pressure quarterbacks enough to force mistakes.

Washington Redskins 4-12 (2-4 Division)

Adrian Peterson Washington Redskins
Adrian Peterson will look to fend off several young running backs to hold down the lead-back duties in Washington (AP Photo/Mark Tenally)

Key Additions: Landon Collins, Dwayne Haskins, Montez Sweat, Case Keenum, Ereck Flowers, Jon Bostic

Key Losses: Zach Brown, Jamison Crowder, D.J. Swearinger, Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, Preston Smith

All eyes will be on Washington’s training camp this offseason as the team has a big decision to make under center. The Redskins sent a sixth-round pick to the Denver Broncos in exchange for Case Keenum just about a month before drafting Dwayne Haskins in the first round.

There’s also a very enticing battle for the lead running back duties between Semaje Perine, Derrius Guice, and former NFL MVP Adrian Peterson. Washington is flush with talent in the backfield but there aren’t many options for Haskins or Keenum to throw to, as Paul Richardson and Josh Doctson are the top two receivers. If tight end Jordan Reed can stay healthy for a full season it would do wonders for this offense.

The defense got purged this offseason, losing Zach Brown (Washington’s second-leading tackler in 2018) and both D.J Swearinger and Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the secondary. Landon Collins will be a fine replacement for Clinton-Dix, but there will be an obvious difference in the safeties this season. As for Brown, the Redskins landed Jon Bostic who’s racked up 170 tackles and 11 tackles for loss over the last two seasons. The defensive front-seven will rely even more heavily on Mason Brown after he led the 2018 unit with a career-high 131 tackles.

New York Giants 4-12 (2-4 Division)

Saquon Barkley New York Giants
Saquon Barkley may be one of the NFL’s top running backs, but will he be able to carry the Giants’ offense? (Adam Hunger/AP Photo)

Key Additions: Golden Tate, Kevin Zeitler, Jabrill Peppers, Antoine Bethea, Daniel Jones, Dexter Lawrence, Deandre Baker

Key Losses: Odell Beckham Jr., Landon Collins, Olivier Vernon, Curtis Riley, B.W. Webb, Josh Mauro

The Giants direction heading into 2019 is confusing at best. They traded Odell Beckham Jr., who is still under contract through 2023, then went out and signed an older and simply less talented Golden Tate. The team then used the sixth overall pick in the 2019 NFL Draft to take Daniel Jones, who is expected to sit behind Eli Manning this season. The addition of Kevin Zeitler should dramatically improve a weak offensive line and in turn help Manning and Saquon Barkley. Still, a fairly middle-of-the-pack offense will look much less impressive in 2019.

The Giants tied for the second-fewest sacks last season and traded their team leader in that category, Olivier Vernon. They also lost their 2018 team tackles leader and best member of the secondary in Landon Collins. Needless to say, the defense won’t be too fun to watch in 2019. After finishing in the bottom-10 in both yards and points allowed in 2018, expect it to get a little worse this season. One positive is that rookies like Dexter Lawrence and Deandre Baker should get decent playing time to start developing right out of the gate.

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