The NFC East is one of the most closely contested divisions in the NFL. Who will come out on top when all is said and done?
After only three weeks of the regular season, the NFC East is chock-full of storylines. From the Giants’ surprising inability to score to Zeke Elliott’s looming suspension, the division is grabbing headlines left and right. More importantly, a team has yet to lay claim to the title of “Best Team in the Division.” Here’s my attempt at dissecting each team’s performance through three weeks and finding the best team in the NFC East.
Dallas Cowboys (2-1)
The impact of the defense has been a pleasant surprise for the Cowboys thus far. Excluding the poor showing against the Denver Broncos, the Cowboys have limited their opponents to only 10 points per game. Specifically, the play of the defensive line has been surprisingly impressive for the team.
Looked upon as one of the weaker areas of the roster prior to the season, DeMarcus Lawrence and company have combined for 11 sacks through three games, second only to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Lawrence currently leads the league with 6.5 sacks of his own. The defense has had its bright spots, but cannot continue to allow average teams to post big offensive numbers. If the defense wants to be seen as elite, it has to be able to handle the likes of Trevor Siemian.
Following a poor offensive performance in a Week 1 win against the Giants and an abysmal showing against the Broncos in Week 2, the Cowboys looked like a new team on Monday night. Elliott and the offensive line were able to establish the run much more effectively than in previous weeks. Elliott carried the ball 22 times for 90 yards and a score against a sound Cardinals defense. Dak Prescott was able to manage the game as he has come to be known for, going 13 of 18 with 183 yards and two touchdowns, while rushing for another score.
The offense was clicking as it did last year, showing a glimpse of the potential of this Cowboys offense, yet there hasn’t been enough consistency. Week 2 saw the Broncos completely stifle the Cowboys’ offense, holding Elliott to eight yards on the ground and forcing two interceptions from Prescott. The Cowboys have a chance to do damage in the East, depending on which units show up week in and week out.
New York Giants (0-3)
Strictly looking at the standings, the Giants are not only the worst team in New York, but the worst team in the entire league. Both sides of the ball have yet to figure things out, resulting in a winless start.
Through three games, the team has scored a total of 37 points, good for 30th in the league. Even the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who did not play in Week 1, have scored more points (46). Luckily, it looked like the team figured something out offensively late last week against the Eagles. Before scoring 24 points in the fourth quarter of that game, the Giants had produced a mere 13 points through the first 11 quarters of the season. This, by any standard, is not the offensive production anyone expected from the Giants.
To further complicate matters, the defense that earned the title of “elite” last season has been average at best up to this point. Through three games, the defense ranks 16th and 23rd in yards per game (334.3) and points per game (23.3), respectively. Granted, the offense needs to score to win games, but the defense hasn’t lived up to the hype it garnered last season and this offseason. The Giants need this defense to be elite if the team wants any chance to make a run for the NFC East title.
Philadelphia Eagles (2-1)
Through three games this season, the Eagles have been relatively impressive. In Week 1, the team was able to travel to Washington and defeat the Redskins, who had won the previous five meetings. The defense was able to pressure Kirk Cousins, recording four sacks, and limit the offense to 17 points (six of which were scored on a pick-six by LB Ryan Kerrigan).
After losing a close game in Kansas City, arguably the best team in the AFC, the Eagles were able to dominate the Giants for three quarters before blowing the lead and being bailed out by rookie kicker Jake Elliott. The 61-yard field goal improved the team’s record to 2-1, tied for tops in the division.
With this being said, the Eagles are not without their issues. Before Week 3, the run game was non-existent for the team. The running backs managed only 104 yards in the first two games of the season before exploding for 171 yards in Week 3. To be a threat, the team will need to run the ball as effectively and consistently as it did in Week 3. Further, Carson Wentz‘s accuracy has been inconsistent, causing him to miss open receivers down the field for easy scores. His inaccuracy could cause problems as the season progresses.
Most importantly, the Eagles have sustained a number of injuries to this point. Ronald Darby, their best cornerback, suffered an ankle injury against the Redskins that will keep him out for another two to four weeks. Stars Fletcher Cox and Jordan Hicks left the Giants game early and did not return, while safeties Rodney McLeod, Corey Graham, and Jaylen Watkins missed the Week 3 game due to injuries. To make matters worse, Darren Sproles tore his ACL and broke his arm on the same play, forcing him to miss the rest of the season.
The team, specifically the defense, is looking thin heading into Week 4 against the Los Angeles Chargers. If the Eagles have plans to win the division, these problems need to disappear quickly.
Washington Redskins (2-1)
After a poor offensive showing in the first two games of the season, Kirk Cousins found his rhythm in a surprising Week 3 win over the Raiders, throwing for 365 yards and three touchdowns. For the Redskins to be successful this season, Cousins needs to play well.
Week 1 saw the team lose to the Eagles at home, in which the running game was a non-factor. Since then, the backs have improved, rushing for an average of 168 yards per game. If the offense can produce like it has in both Weeks 2 and 3, this team has a chance to contend for an NFC East title.
Statistically, the defense has also played well, allowing only 272 yards per game and 20 points per game, good for fifth and 10th, respectively. The problem arises in their inconsistency as a football team. One week, the team will look as though they are one of the top teams in the league, but then resemble a bottom-five team the next week. For the Redskins to challenge the Eagles and Cowboys for the division title, the team will need to consistently put points on the board, and Cousins needs to perform like the franchise quarterback he is believed to be.
When all is said and done, I believe the Eagles will win the NFC East. The defense has been most impressive in the division and, barring injuries, that fact should not change. Wentz should be able to figure out his inaccuracy issues and the team should be fully healthy as it hits the tough patch of its season. The Cowboys’ and Redskins’ inconsistent play, coupled with the dumpster fire that has been the New York Giants, clears a path for the Eagles to lay claim to the division title. Although I see the Eagles winning the division, this division produces some drama every year, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these teams take home the NFC East title (yes, that includes the Giants).
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