Over the past five years the Dallas Cowboys have won the division twice, the Philadelphia Eagles have won it twice, and even the Washington Redskins have stood atop the division. So, where do things stand ahead of 2018? Well by our breakdown it looks like this…
1.) Philadelphia Eagles
2.) New York Giants
3.) Dallas Cowboys
4.) Washington Redskins
Of course, the reigning Super Bowl champion Eagles are atop the division, but there are some question marks surrounding them. None greater than the health of franchise quarterback Carson Wentz.
Wentz lead the Eagles to prominence in 2017, but after a knee injury in December sidelined the star it was backup Nick Foles that lead them on their improbable playoff run. And it will be Foles who starts the 2018 season as Wentz is still not fully recovered from the surgery to repair the ACL and LCL in his left knee.
Can Foles continue to be as efficient as he was in the post-season? Time will tell, but regardless the Eagles will want Wentz back sooner than later. Especially with the re-emergence of the G-Men and a budding defense in Dallas.
One Giant Step
The Giants won 11 games in 2016 and made the playoffs. The following year all hell broke loose. Eli Manning was benched, head coach Ben McAdoo was fired, as was GM Jerry Reese. In the months following the season, the G-Men hired Pat Shurmur as head coach and rehired Dave Gettleman to be their new GM.
From there, the duo began a major overhaul. First in free agency which saw the departure of long time veterans Jason Pierre-Paul, Justin Pugh, and Weston Richburg and the arrive of Nate Solder, Alec Ogletree, and Jonathan Stewart. Pro Bowl receiver Odell Beckham Jr received his record breaking contract extension that came in at five years and $95 million, with $65 million guaranteed. Plus there was their loaded draft class that welcomed in Saquon Barkley, Will Hernandez, and Lorenzo Carter among others.
But for all the new additions two big questions remain. Can new defensive coordinator James Bettcher successfully transform the Giants long time 4-3 front to a 3-4? And can Shurmur successfully raise Manning’s completion percentage away from his pedestrian career mark of 59.8%?
Defense Key in Dallas
The Cowboys offense ranked second overall in rushing and 26th overall in passing. Those numbers should tell you everything you need to know about the Dallas Cowboys offense heading into 2018. They hoot and holler about Dak Prescott taking more control over the offense this year, but it’s Ezekiel Elliott who takes the pressure off of Prescott and sets the table for his success.
If Elliot delivered Prescott the second best running attack in the league last year when Prescott still had Dez Bryant and Jason Witten as targets, how much of a step up will he really take with Cole Beasley and Allen Hurns as his starting receiving duo?
An unforeseen issue lies with All-Pro center Travis Frederick, who was diagnosed with Guillian-Bare Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes nerve pain and severe weakness. It seems to have been caught early, thankfully, yet in terms of football there is no timetable for Frederick to resume playing.
With so many question marks on offense, it will need to be a big year for the Cowboys defense. Loaded with young stars like DeMarcus Lawrence, Jaylon Smith, Jourdan Lewis, and Chidobe Awuzie the Cowboys defense as a whole will have to make that jump to the next level. Part of that includes veteran linebacker Sean Lee remaining healthy and fellow linebacker, rookie Leighton Vander Esch proving his first-round evaluation correct. They will also need a successful year from former safety-turned-cornerback Byron Jones. His versatility will be distinctly counted on.
DC Needs a Doctor
The long suffering Kirk Cousins is off to greener pastures. Now it’s Alex Smith’s turn. The veteran quarterback is now tabbed with the responsibility of bringing the Redskins back to the playoffs for the first time in three years. However, he doesn’t have a lot of weapons to work with.
The team is till hoping former first-round pick Josh Doctson will emerge. The other starting receivers are newly acquired Paul Richardson and Jamison Crowder. Richardson had his best season last year with 44 receptions for 703 yards and touchdowns. Crowder led the team in receptions last year despite starting only six games. Behind them, the cupboard is pretty bare.
And if Alex Smith looks to the running game for help, he should keep looking. The promise of a resurgent ground game ended when rookie Derrius Guice was lost for the season because of a knee injury suffered during their preseason bout with the New England Patriots. Behind Guice is Samaje Perine who quickly picked up an injury and is on the mend, Chris Thompson who missed six games with injury last year, Rob Kelley who only played in seven games last year due to injury, and newly acquired Adrian Peterson who also missed six games last year with a neck injury.
But that’s okay, because if the Redskins stay healthy they’ll be protected by a quality offensive line started with Pro Bowl left tackle Trent Williams…who missed six games last year with injury. Are you seeing a trend yet?
Potential Breakout Stars
Dallas Cowboys: Jaylon Smith, LB
Smith, was set to be a Top 5 draft pick when he had a severe knee injury in his final collegiate game threaten his career. The Cowboys took a second round gamble on him and it paid off sooner than later. Smith, tallied 81 tackles in limited time last year. This season will be his first as a full time starter.
New York Giants: Saquon Barkley, RB
I know. Barkley, isn’t a surprise pick, but he’s simply too good to not be recognized. Barkley, will have all eyes on him this year. It will be interesting to see how the Giants offense will lean on Barkley.
Philadelphia Eagles: Sidney Jones, CB
Jones, like Smith, had first-round talent, but fell to the second-round after an Achilles injury during a pre-draft workout. Now back to 100%, Jones has the potential to be something special as he can line up outside the numbers and in the slot.
Washington Redskins: Fabian Moreau, CB
Another in the Smith and Jones camp, Moreau suffered an injury during his pro day before the draft and fell to the third-round. Starting behind the eight ball, Moreau only appeared in seven games as a rookie. Now healthy, he could become a terror against slot receivers.