Here’s a fun fact: The NFC East has not had a team repeat as division champion since 2004. The division always seems to have something weird up its sleeve, as the Commanders, Cowboys, Eagles, and Giants pass around the title of the NFC East’s best and play six ultra-tense games against one another every year.
Heading into the 2022 NFL season, Dallas has aspirations of breaking that streak and heading into the postseason with the distinction of being division champs. While New York probably won’t have anything to say about that (although you never know!), both Philly and Washington will shoot to knock the Cowboys off of their perch. With the NFL season starting in about a month, we took a look at the biggest question facing each team in the division.
New York Giants: Can Brian Daboll save their wretched offense?
The Giants were just awful on offense last year. Some numbers: 32nd in offensive DVOA, 31st in yards per game, 31st in passing yards per game, 31st in points per game. There will be times when numbers and the eye test do not line up. This is absolutely not one of those cases, as New York looked hapless on that side of the ball. Head coach Joe Judge was fired and replaced with Brian Daboll, the former offensive coordinator for the Alabama Crimson Tide and, more recently, Buffalo Bills who has played a major role in both offenses being among the best in their respective leagues. He’s taking over right as starting quarterback Daniel Jones and starting running back Saquon Barkley, both of whom were taken high in back-to-back NFL Drafts, are one year away from hitting free agency. Barkley staying healthy and the team’s offensive line going from “very bad” to “passable” would help, but getting an answer on whether or not Jones is capable of being the team’s starting quarterback going forward is going to set the tone for Daboll’s entire tenure in New York.
Philadelphia Eagles: Can Jalen Hurts take another step forward as a passer?
The group of pass catchers in Philadelphia is quite good. A.J. Brown is now in the City of Brotherly Love after a trade with the Tennessee Titans, DeVonta Smith had a solid rookie season, Quez Watkins was a nice under-the-radar story last season after going in the sixth round of the 2020 Draft, and tight end Dallas Goedert signed a 4-year extension during the season last year. Now, it’s Jalen Hurts’ job to take another step forward as a passer. He was markedly better during his second year in the league than he was as a rookie, completing 61.3 percent of his passes for 3,144 yards with 16 touchdowns and nine interceptions.
Those are generally okay numbers, and his ability to run the ball (139 carries, 784 yards, 10 touchdowns) gives him an added dimension that other signal callers don’t have, but there is plenty of room for him to grow — his QBR of 48.5 was 19th in the league among qualifying players and the second-lowest among QBs on playoff teams last year (only Ben Roethlisberger, who retired, was lower). The same is true of his passing touchdown percentage, which was 24th in the league and the lowest of all non-Roethlisberger playoff quarterbacks. With the added bonus of being in his second year with head coach Nick Sirianni and offensive coordinator Shane Steichen, things are setting up quite nicely for Hurts this season.
Dallas Cowboys: Can they finally get over the hump in the playoffs?
On Jan. 7, 1996, the Cowboys beat the Eagles in the NFC Divisional Round to earn a spot in the conference championship game. They’d go on to win the Super Bowl that year. In the two and a half decades since then, the Cowboys have won exactly zero Divisional Round games, competed for zero NFC Championships, and of course, lifted zero Lombardi Trophies. Last year’s squad crashed and burned in the Wild Card round, losing 23-17 to the San Francisco 49ers. Their vaunted offense generated 307 total yards and had one of the worst end of game sequences I’ve seen in my entire life. Having said that, Dallas should still be very good on that side of the ball this year, even with Amari Cooper getting traded to Cleveland, while the team was excellent on defense last season, coming in second in defensive DVOA.
There is so much talent on this roster — guys like Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, CeeDee Lamb, Zack Martin, Micah Parsons, and Trevon Diggs are considered some of the best at their respective positions — and they should win a ton of games in the regular season, but will that matter if they get to the postseason and lose before the NFC Championship Game? If not, Mike McCarthy might be out of a job.
Washington Commanders: How long until Chase Young is 100 percent?
At his best, Chase Young has already established himself as one of the league’s most fearsome defensive linemen. His 7.5 sacks as a rookie were the second most on a very good Washington defensive line, and while he entered his sophomore campaign with a ton of excitement, something just seemed off for much of the year. And then, during the second quarter of their Week 9 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Young tore his ACL. As of this writing, he is on the PUP list and has already been ruled out for Week 1 this year while he works his way back from surgery — head coach Ron Rivera has already said he expects Young to miss some time this year. Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, and Daron Payne are a fearsome group up front, and if Young can return and get up to speed quickly, this is going to be a very tough defensive line for opposing teams to play against. If he can’t, this might be a long year in the nation’s capital, especially if Carson Wentz is unable to give them the kind of QB play they’ve lacked since Kirk Cousins was in town.