Since the Buccaneers took the sole lead for the NFC East title with a last second win over the Cowboys, the Cowboys are clinging to a one point lead in the division. The Eagles are a game and a half back in a tight three-way race with the Giants and the Redskins. With the Eagles’ and Cowboys’ road games against the Saints and Redskins, respectively, all of the potential 4th place contenders in the NFC East are currently tied up. The Redskins have a chance to put themselves in a good spot if they defeat the Panthers on Sunday, while the Giants have a shot at knocking the Cowboys out of first place if they can beat the Saints.
Once again, it’s that time of year when we look ahead at what the future holds for the world’s most popular sports league. Well, it’s not really a sports league yet, but it will be, so let’s get that out of the way. In this post, we’re going to look at the future of the NFC East in 2021, which will be a radically different landscape than the one we know today.
The NFC East was the laughing stock last season, with the Washington football team winning the division with a 7-9 record, but the 2021 NFL season promises change and optimism.
Washington has one of the best defenses, and perhaps veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick can provide stability at quarterback. The New York Giants (6-10) appear to be on the mend thanks to second-year coach Joe Judge and the return of running back Saquon Barkley. The Dallas Cowboys (6-10) have many players returning from injuries, including quarterback Dak Prescott. The Philadelphia Eagles (4-11-1) seem to need more than anything to get back on track, but if quarterback Jalen Hurts hits his target, they could turn things around quickly.
Now that the offseason programs and training camps are over, ESPN NFL Nation reporters Todd Archer (Cowboys), Jordan Raanan (Giants), Tim McManus (Eagles) and John Keim (Washington) predict what to expect in 2021.
Who is considered the league’s MVP?
Archer: Prescott is an easy choice. There are obviously questions about his return after a compound fracture and sprained right ankle last October, but he has already shown he has all the answers. If Prescott is back in form, the Cowboys are the favorites to win the division. Last season they were bad without him, but they only got bumped out of the playoff race in the final weeks of the season. If Prescott is back in form, the Cowboys will be the team to beat. So not only does he become the league MVP, but he can also be named league MVP and NFL player of the year.
Raanan: As a rookie last season, Chase Young had 7.5 sacks and four forced fumbles in 15 games for Washington. If healthy, his sack count will double and Washington’s defense will be one of the best in the league. That was the case last season, and there’s no reason to think it won’t be the case in 2021. Only this time, Young would rise to the occasion and put on a great performance, and Washington would win back-to-back championships.
German: Prescott seems like a safe bet, as he means a lot to the Cowboys’ offense and the franchise. Washington running back Antonio Gibson is another player to keep an eye on, but Prescott will put up big numbers when healthy. In the last 21 games, Dallas’ offense ranked first in yards and second in points scored. The Cowboys’ defense will have to play a big role to win the division, but Prescott will be the reason they win.
McManus: Attacking players get all the attention, and Prescott would obviously be the first choice, but I’m putting my money on Young, the budding superstar. (How many other players in the league fit that description?) After graduating from Ohio University, he lived up to the hype: He averaged 7.5 sacks, 4 forced fumbles and 10 interceptions for loss and was named NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2020. It’s not hard to assume he’ll score the most points this season and become the most destructive defender in the NFC East.
Marcus Spears and Domonic Foxworth reveal their expectations for the Dallas Cowboys this season.
Which NFC East recruit will stand out?
German: Pick receivers from Philadelphia’s DeVonte Smith, Washington’s Curtis Samuel and New York’s Kenny Golladay. I’ll take Holladay, who is 27 years old and still developing. He is a long outside hitter who has shown he can run routes from the slot and has developed into a threat in the field. Last season, Giants quarterback Daniel Jones ranked seventh among quarterbacks in completion percentage with 20 or more air yards; this season, he and Golladay will combine to account for many of those throws.
McManus: Smith, winner of the Heisman Trophy at Alabama, won’t have much trouble making the transition from the SEC to the pros in Philadelphia. He is already an excellent route runner with good technique and stealth, and he uses excellent body control and strong hands to catch just about anything thrown at him. His weight (166 pounds) is a major drawback, but his small stature hasn’t stopped him from beating the press and competing with some of the best cornerbacks in college football.
Archer: For the Cowboys, it could be defensive coordinator Dan Quinn. For the Eagles, it could be Smith. For Washington, could it be, eh, Fitzpatrick? For me, it’s Golladay. His impact on New York’s offense could change the makeup of the division. He should make Jones better, which will make Barkley better after he returns from a torn ACL, which will make Jason Garrett play better.
Domonic Foxworth explains why he doesn’t think Daniel Jones will have a big season this year.
Raanan: Golladay. He’s exactly what the Giants need. So they paid him $72 million to have Jones throw the ball to him and Golladay make a hard catch. The last time we saw Golladay in a full season was in 2019, when he led the league in touchdown receptions with 11. He will immediately feel his impact in the NFC East, and he will hit double digits again this season.
Which of the big names will break through in 2021?
Raanan: Gibson was good as a rookie in Washington, averaging 4.7 yards per pass and 795 yards per carry and 11 touchdowns in 10 starts. The converted wide receiver will explode in year two and become a key player in Washington’s much less limited offense. Gibson will become one of the most productive runners in the NFL and a fantasy monster. Think 2,000 yards and 15 to 20 touchdowns. This is a very good step forward.
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German: In Washington’s last seven games in 2020, Young has forced four sacks, three fumbles, recovered three fumbles and returned one for a touchdown. His play against the run was excellent, as were his instincts. Young has begun to learn more about how to tackle the passer properly in the NFL; he is constantly learning and practicing. All this will lead to an excellent second season.
McManus: Cowboys CD Lamb Wide Receiver. After Prescott’s injury in Week 5, the offense struggled, but Lamb had 74 catches, 935 yards and five touchdowns as a rookie. Imagine how high those numbers could be if Prescott and the offensive line stay healthy. One notable difference in his college statistics is that he averaged 12.6 yards per reception with the Cowboys last season, compared to 19 yards per reception at Oklahoma. This average should be near the level when the Suners had Prescott on the floor.
Archer: How can you not tell Young? Maybe for some he has already broken through and is not qualified. If the saying is true that a player makes his biggest leap from his rookie year to his sophomore year, then the rest of the NFL, not just the NFC East, needs to watch out.
It’s still early, but which place is the hottest at the start?
McManus: It hurts. But that’s not really fair to the young quarterback who has four starts under his belt and as a rookie made the best of a bad situation by helping the injured Carson Wentz. His teammates are attracted to him, and he should get playing time as the offense masters coach Nick Sirianni’s system. But the plan seems clear: The Eagles have three first-round picks for the 2022 NFL Draft and won’t hesitate to use them to acquire a quarterback – either through a trade up in the draft or a veteran QB like Russell Wilson or Deshaun Watson – if the Harts don’t live up to expectations in 2021.
Bart Scott explains why Jalen Hurts could leave the league if he fails to fully develop as a pocket passer.
Archer: Philadelphia’s external expectations seem low, and that has a lot to do with the decisions general manager Howie Roseman made after the Eagles won the Super Bowl in 2017. Wentz was signed to a big contract with the Eagles, but was sold after two seasons. Coach Doug Pederson left and Sirianni came in as the starting head coach, with Harts as the quarterback. Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie has been backing Roseman for years, but everyone is finally starting to lose patience.
Raanan: Cowboys coach Mike McCarthy is very close with Jones, the Giants’ QB. McCarthy can only survive this season if he makes the playoffs with a healthy Prescott and a talented team. Jones can move forward and become an average quarterback in a losing season and get another season. McCarthy doesn’t have that luxury. It’s now or never when the Cowboys’ coach is exposed.
German: The Giants have added receivers via NFL Free Agency (Golladay) and draft picks (Tony Kadarius) and are awaiting the return of Barkley. In two seasons, Jones has thrown 35 touchdowns against 22 interceptions, but he has also lost 14 fumbles. Will he be able to reduce the number of turnovers? If so, the Giants’ offense will be hard to stop (of course, the line is still a problem). If not, the Giants will have to make a decision on Jones.
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