The Gridiron Grind: NFC East

By Ron Johnson

For years, we have called this division the NFC Least and for good reason. However, despite the ignorance of some owners in this division, this was one of the most competitive divisions in the league once again. After getting three teams in the postseason last year (Eagles, Cowboys and Giants), all three teams managed to advance to the divisional round at least with Philly losing in the Super Bowl to Kansas City. With so many twists and turns in this division, one has to wonder if Philly’s dominance is ending or if it’s just getting started.

Let’s discuss the most volatile division in the NFL then: The NFC East

Washington Commanders

With a new name, the Commanders took to the field and managed to do at least one thing right: They were the first team since 2008 to finish last in their division without a losing record as they finished 8-8-1, and they were the first to also finish at .500 in a 17 game season in which at least one tie game is required. 

But Ron Rivera is known for finding diamonds in the rough as he proved in Carolina for many years. When it came Draft Day, the Commanders focused mainly on their defense as they utilized their picks to select Emmanuel Forbes out of Mississippi State, Jartavius Martin out of Illinois, KJ Henry out of Clemson and Andre Jones out of Louisiana. But their offense saw some picks as well as they snagged Ricky Stromberg out of Arkansas, Braeden Daniels out of Utah and Chris Rodriguez, Jr. out of Kentucky . We have to wait until at least August to see how these picks play out, but I expect good things out of a team that managed to be in the basement but not out of contention for the postseason.

The Commanders start their march by hosting the Cardinals, traveling to Denver to face the Broncos and returning home for an old school rivalry matchup with the Bills. After heading to ‘The Link’ to face the Eagles, they return home to battle the Bears before a pair of road games in Atlanta and Jersey to face the Giants. The November week begins with a pre-Halloween showdown with the Eagles followed by a pair of road games to officially start the month (@Patriots & @Seahawks) and hosting the Giants. They spend Thanksgiving at Dallas against the Cowboys before returning home to face the Dolphins, hitting the road to LA to face the Rams and spending Christmas Eve in Jersey once more, this time against the Jets. They polish off the season with a pair of home games with playoff implications (possibly for both sides) as they host Brock Purdy and the Niners before welcoming Dak Prescott and the Cowboys.

2023 Season Outlook: 9-8

New York Giants

The Giants behind Daniel Jones surpassed everyone’s expectations last season by not only finishing at 9-7-1 but also stomping a mudhole in Minnesota and walking it dry on their home turf. Despite all this though, their postseason came up short with a lost to eventual NFC Champion Philadelphia in the divisional round. The Giants finally played like a complete team, and Brian Daboll looked like a man possessed with winning as the Giants looked more intimidating. The bad news for them? Saquon Barkley may be taking his talents elsewhere at the end of the season due to the pair being unable to reach an agreement on a long-term deal.

Now while the Giants may lose Barkley, they obviously prepared for this worst-case scenario in the draft. The G-Men were all over as they bolstered their offense (John Michael Schmitz/Minnesota, Jalin Hyatt/Tennessee, Eric Gray/Oklahoma) and their defense (Deonte Banks/Maryland, Trey Hawkins/Old Dominion, Jordan Riley/Oregon, Gervarrius Owens/Houston). As proven in the past, Daboll is a defensive-minded guru and will be looking to put the fear Lawrence Taylor in their division foes.

Right out of the gate, they Giants wasted no time as their season opens hosting the Cowboys before heading west to face the Cardinals and 49ers. They open and close October with home games as they welcome Seattle and Washington, while in the middle, they got a pair of road games as they travel to South Beach for the Dolphins then to Buffalo to face the Bills. After entertaining Aaron Rodgers and the Jets in the Annual Battle of the Meadowlands, they make it rain in Vegas against the Raiders, try to last eight seconds in Big D against the Cowboys and talk turkey with Commanders. After waking up from their turkey coma, they welcome Mac Jones and the Patriots in a Super Bowl rematch as well as the Packers before heading to the Big Easy to face the Saints and ‘The Link’ to face the Eagles on Christmas. They spend New Year’s Eve showing the Rams a good time and finish it off with a home/season finale with the Eagles.

2023 Season Outlook: 9-8

Dallas Cowboys

On paper, the Cowboys 2022 campaign was a success. If you take away the BS of Jerry Jones’ antics and the inaccuracy of Mike McCarthy, it was indeed a success. But all good things come to an end as after finishing the season 12-5, beating Tom Brady and sending him to his retirement (officially), they could not muster enough offense to get the job done against Brock Purdy and the Niners as they fell 19-12 in the postseason. 

The team felt that they needed a change, but not at quarterback, as Ezekiel Elliott was released and the Cowboys utilized the draft to revamp their wounded team. The team flipped between defense and offense in almost every round with grabbing DT Mazi Smith (Michigan), his college teammate TE Luke Schoonmaker (Michigan), LB DeMarvion Overshown (Texas), DE Junior Fehoko (San Jose State), OT Asim Richards (North Carolina), DB Eric Scott (Southern Mississippi), RB, and son of Cowboys Scout Chris Vaughn, Deuce Vaughn (Kansas State) and WR Jalen Brooks (South Carolina). These additions should be beneficial for a team that saw Dak come up short in big game situations, an o-line that was undisciplined and a defense that had a tendency to cost them games they needed.

The Cowboys have high hopes for this upcoming season and will be tested early and often as they open the season on the road against the Giants, return home to welcome Aaron Rodgers and the Jets then hit the road again, this time to the desert, to face the Cardinals. After giving Mac Jones and the Patriots some of that Texas barbecue, they visit the 49ers in a divisional round rematch then the Chargers in LA. They return home for The Johnson Bowl (which is what it is called in my household) against the Rams before visiting the Eagles at ‘The Link’ and hosting the Giants in Arlington. After spending some time in Carolina shopping for the perfect Butterball Turkey, they celebrate Thanksgiving with the Commanders before welcoming a pair of Birds (Seahawks & Eagles) to Cowboys Stadium. After a 90s Super Bowl Reboot at the Bills, they take their talents to South Beach against the Dolphins on Christmas Eve before finishing the season off hosting Detroit and in DC against the Commanders.

 2023 Season Outlook: 11-6

Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles were the hottest team in the NFL last season. They ran roughshod over everyone they crossed (minus a few collisions) en route to a 14-3 record and a pair of dominating performances against the Giants and Niners in the playoffs. However, it was one controversial and bonehead play in the Super Bowl that cost the Eagles the championship as they lost to KC 38-35. To say this team is angry is an understatement, but they have found a solution to that anger: Rip Everyone. 

If Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs cross paths with these Eagles again (which they will in November), it may not be ‘Free Real Estate’ for KC as they Eagles dug deep and beefed up their defense in the draft. It started with Jalen Carter out of Georgia and continued with Carter’s teammate Nolan Smith. The SEC got represented a third straight time with the NFC Champs as Alabama’s Tyler Steen was selected followed by Sydney Brown out of Illinois. The defending National Champions got more representation as Kelee Ringo was selected in the fourth, Stanford’s Tanner McKee got the nod in the sixth and finally Moro Ojomo out of Texas was the Eagles final pick. Hopefully these guys are going to come out hungry, because this is the division you do not want to take a nap on.

The Eagles will be seeing a lot of throwback foes in the new season as they head to Foxboro to open the season against the team that gave them their first SB loss, the Patriots. After a brief stop at home to face the Vikings, they hit the road again to face the Buccaneers and return home to face the Commanders. They have a pair of nasty road trips against top notch teams (@Rams, @NY Jets) before a brief stop at home to face the Dolphins. They then have a road stop against the Commanders before two of their biggest games on the schedule come calling: A home game with division foe Dallas AND a rematch of the Super Bowl in Arrowhead against the Chiefs following their bye week.

If that was not insane enough, this could the toughest part of the Eagles’ schedule because after having a shootout with the Cowboys and locking up with the Chiefs, they host the Bills and 49ers (NFC Championship rematch), lock up with Cowboys in Big D, face Geno and the Seahawks, spend Christmas exchanging gifts with the Giants at home, host Kyler and the Cardinals for New Year’s and finish off with the Giants in a potential division title battle.

2023 Season Outlook: 13-4

As I’ve stated over and over again, this has been the most competitive division in football. Yes, the SB Champs may have come from other divisions, but this division has rarely had its division champ crowned before Week 12 or 13. This season will be no different.

I see the Giants and Commanders improving on last season with the Giants focusing more on getting back to the playoffs than Barkley’s contract issues. I see this being a division title battle between the Cowboys and Eagles. Biggest question I am going to have heading into the season is how the Cowboys will respond after having almost EVERY Cowboys fan (my wife excluded) ordering new televisions after decimating theirs watching another playoff exit without a Super Bowl appearance let alone a win.

Despite losing their defensive coordinator, this is still the Eagles’ division to lose. If Jalen Hurts stays healthy, expect the Eagles to repeat as NFC East Champs. If Dak and Co. stay healthy and disciplined, expect the Cowboys to capitalize on any mistakes the Eagles make. I see Micah Parsons leaving no doubt in his DPOY status, but the question for me is going to be how much does Tony Pollard trust that Achilles, and can Dallas resurrect their ground game with the dismissal of Zeke. Sure, McCarthy is a great coach…but he is no Jimmy Johnson or Barry Switzer (no matter how much he is hated). For the Cowboys, it is indeed Super Bowl or bust for McCarthy. It may not be in the eyes of Jones, but even his fanbase has found its voice and is not afraid to let the ‘Boo Birds’ fly, even in Cowboys Stadium.

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