There are plenty of subplots to look forward to in the NFC East as the Philadelphia Eagles look to defend their Super Bowl crown, and the other three teams aim to bounce back from forgettable 2017 campaigns.
Projected standings: 1) Eagles, 2) New York Giants, 3) Dallas Cowboys, 4) Washington Redskins
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The biggest question facing Philadelphia as Week 1 nears is whether quarterback Carson Wentz will be healthy enough to start the season. The Eagles are also sweating on backup Nick Foles, a hero of their Super Bowl triumph, who picked up a shoulder injury in this week’s preseason game against the New England Patriots.
Aside from the quarterback concerns, Philadelphia are bringing back much of last season’s core, with the addition of Michael Bennett from the Seattle Seahawks bolstering an already excellent defense. It may take time to adjust to new offensive coordinator Mike Groh, but this team has so many big play threats. Assuming Wentz has no injury setbacks and Jay Ajayi excels in a larger role in the running game, the Eagles are well placed to challenge again.
New York Giants
With Odell Beckham Jr. and Saquon Barkley spearheading the offense, the Giants will be “must watch” viewing this season. Still, much depends on whether Eli Manning can roll back the years and execute consistently. He has all the tools at his disposal, with Sterling Shepherd and tight end Evan Engram as additional pass catchers.
Replacing Ben McAdoo with Pat Shurmur should be a coaching upgrade too. Make no mistake, if the Giants are going to emerge as a fringe playoff contender, the offense will have to paper over some of the holes defensively. While there are playmakers within the defense, New York ranked among the league’s worst against the pass in 2017.
A full season of Ezekiel Elliott will give the Cowboys an outside shot at the playoffs, but quarterback Dak Prescott will be under intense scrutiny. Prescott struggled at times in 2017, especially when Elliott was banned, and now finds himself surrounded by a group of receivers which, on paper, look below average. How quickly will he adjust to the departure of Dez Bryant and the retirement of Jason Witten?
The Dallas defense had its moments last season and they have some valuable pass rushers, but a drop-off could be coming. The hope will be that long, Elliott-centric drives from the offense will keep the defense fresh.
The Redskins were already long shots in the NFC East but preseason injuries have hit this roster hard. Most notably, exciting rookie running back Derrius Guice will miss the entire season after an ACL tear. Alex Smith replaces Kirk Cousins at quarterback and should be a steady hand. He has some talented, if unproven, receivers to work with as well as pass-catching back Chris Thompson. If tight end Jordan Reed can stay healthy, that would be a major boost for Washington.
Josh Norman is the most recognizable face on a gritty Redskins defense, and starting the season against the Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts should give them a chance to find their feet. Still, bottom place in the NFC East is the likeliest outcome for Washington.