With the Washington Football Team’s 31-23 playoff loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers last Saturday night, the 2020 season is now over for the NFC East. It was a dismal year for the once-proud division. All four teams finished with a losing record for the first time in it’s history. Some bad injury luck, shaky quarterback play, and poor coaching conspired to make the 2020 NFC East a laughing stock. If positive regression ensues, many of those factors should break better next season, putting the division is line for at least a moderately respectable showing.
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The question is, which teams within the NFC East are bound to improve the most next year? Who presented an unsustainably lousy version of themselves in 2020, and who presented their true selves? Of course, free agency and the draft have yet to take place, and these teams could dramatically alter their outlook depending on their decisions this offseason. Nevertheless, let’s rank the four NFC East teams based on how good they project to be next season.
Favorite: Dallas Cowboys
Of all the bad teams in the NFC East this season, Dallas is the one that can most justifiably excuse themselves due to injury. Star quarterback Dak Prescott suffered a season-ending ankle injury in Week 5. Nearly their entire offensive line was comprised of backups halfway through the year. A returning Prescott with a hopefully healthier and revamped line, to go along with their electric group of playmakers, should make this Cowboys offense one of the league’s best.
Their bottom-third defense can’t be given the same injury excuse. Dallas was a sieve against the run and not much better against the pass all year. Save for some drastic offseason maneuvering, the Cowboys don’t figure to get much better defensively next year. All-in-all, though, they can still lay claim to the most overall talent in the division.
Contender: Washington Football Team
Washington might have the closest thing to a complete roster in this division. They have a true number-one receiver in Terry McLaurin, a young and improving offensive line, and a burgeoning defense led by pass rushers Chase Young and Montez Sweat.
The big question in D.C., however, is what the quarterback position will look like. They’ve already released their 2019 first-round pick Dwayne Haskins. Alex Smith made a miraculous recovery from a devastating leg injury to even play this season, but he couldn’t stay healthy long enough to start in the playoffs. Former XFL quarterback Taylor Heinicke actually performed quite well against Tampa Bay on Saturday, but relying on an undrafted 27-year-old journeyman is ill-advised. Washington will be picking too low to draft a quarterback. They’ll have to enter the trade and free-agency markets to acquire a serviceable veteran.
Dark Horse: New York Giants
The Giants are certainly closer to being a competitive team than at this time last year. A strong 2020 offseason from general manager Dave Gettleman has seemingly put this team on an upward trajectory, even if it’s not a rapid one. New York’s top-10 defense has a nucleus of young, quality players they’ll be able to build around.
Offense, on the other hand, was a major problem for Big Blue this season. How that unit develops depends on the continued progress of quarterback Daniel Jones and if Gettleman can acquire some high-level playmakers. Getting star running back Saquon Barkley back will definitely help in that regard, but the receiving corp needs a complete overhaul. If the Giants offense can improve next year as their defense did this year, this team could make a leap into the postseason.
Also Ran: Philadelphia Eagles
There may be no team in the NFL in worse shape than the Eagles. They have an aging, injury-prone roster with little to no young foundational talent. Highly-paid ostensible franchise quarterback Carson Wentz regressed as badly as any player in recent memory. They just fired their head coach only three years removed from a Super Bowl, and are lacking any organizational plan. Nothing promising is happening in Philadelphia right now, and a full-scale tear-down and rebuild feels inevitable.