2020 Season Preview: New Champion Atop NFC East?
This is the 10th story of a lengthy series from now until the start of training camp by Geoff Mosher and Andrew DiCecco previewing the Eagles’ 2020 season. Each weekday, Mosher and DiCecco will give their viewpoint on a specific topic.
NFC East finish
This should be an interesting year for the NFC East. Three teams are in new head coaches. Two teams are trying to nurse young, second-year quarterbacks drafted in the first round but didn’t have any spring camps to oversee that development. Two teams, specifically the Cowboys and Eagles, should be jockeying for the division title as they’ve done for the past four seasons.
Here’s how I see the NFC East unfolding in 2020:
4. New York Giants (5-11)
There’s a little to like about the Giants’ future – Saquon Barkley, Evan Ingram, Darius Slayton, Andrew Thomas, Xavier McKinney and maybe, if he can make a Year 2 jump, Daniel Jones.
But that’s at least two years down the road, and surely not this season, in which teams with new head coaches will likely struggle to implement their scheme and culture given the altered offseason and training camp.
And how about that brutal schedule that has them opening against the Steelers, followed by the Bears, 49ers, Rams and Cowboys? The reality is, it’ll be a struggle for the Giants to win six games in 2020.
Joe Judge was an intriguing hire. He’s well respected around the league and blew Giants ownership away with his interview, but also comes from the Bill Belichick coaching tree, which hasn’t exactly blossomed.
Jason Garrett’s presence as offensive play-caller should help the Giants get back to basics with the run game and allow Jones to function off play action. Jones showed plus pocket mobility last year but carelessness with the football, evidenced by an NFL-leading 18 lost fumbles.
On defense, the Giants have some nice D-linemen in the middle of their defense but very few pass rushers. They added cornerback James Bradberry to shore up the secondary, but that won’t be enough to consistently stop good offenses.
It’s going to be a while before the Giants are ready to compete for the division.
3. Washington Football Team (7-9)
There’s going to be a wider distance from the cellar to third place in this division.
While the Giants will be lucky to see .500, look for Washington to be the surprise team in the division and conference. The Washington Football team has 7-8 win potential.
That’s how good the defense can be, with an array of pass rushers and blue-chip defensive linemen. No. 2 overall pick Chase Young adds to an already impressive front seventh that features first-round picks Ryan Kerrigan, DaRon Payne, Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat. Don’t sleep on Temple product Matt Ioannidis, either. Trust me, Washington will cause problems for some quarterbacks this year.
Like the Giants, Washington also has a new head coach who’ll have to acclimate his scheme, but this isn’t Ron Rivera first rodeo. He’ll command respect immediately. Rivera is a believer in establishing the run, which will be as important for second-year quarterback Dwayne Haskins as it was in Carolina for Cam Newton’s earlier days, and Washington has a nice 1-2 combo in Adrian Peterson and Derrius Guice if both ball carriers stay healthy.
The offensive line isn’t great, but an adequate run game can help masquerade the line’s pass-blocking deficiencies. Haskins has a nice downfield threat in Terry McLaurin but the offense will otherwise be vanilla, leaning heavy on the run as the team tries to win defensive battles.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (10-6)
The NFC East hasn’t featured repeat winner since the 2003 and 2004 Eagles won the division.
So that’s 15 consecutive seasons of a different team atop the division. History alone suggests the Eagles will have a difficult time winning the division.
But the Eagles have the making of a playoff team. They’re strong in the trenches and quarterback Carson Wentz showed last December that he could snap from his own slump and play at a higher level than most quarterbacks.
The issue with the Eagles is age at critical spots, especially on the offensive line, and having enough playmakers to get the offense going. DeSean Jackson must stay healthy for the Eagles to have an experienced, consistent downfield presence. Jason Kelce, Jason Peters and Lane Johnson must stay healthy given the questionable depth on the O-line.
The defensive line should be the strength of the team, and Darius Slay’s addition should limit the big passing plays the Eagles were infamous for giving up last year, but depth at corner, safety and overall talent at linebacker leave little margin for error or decline in play from the studs.
I have the Eagles finishing second, but not losing more games than the Cowboys ….
1. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
You’ll notice I have the Eagles and Cowboys finishing with the same record, but Dallas will win based on a tiebreaker.
The best thing to happen to Dallas is retaining offensive coordinator Kellen Moore, so there won’t be a difficult transition to new head coach Mike McCarthy.
Dak Prescott has plenty of weaponry around him, including an upgraded receiving corps with first-round pick CeeDee Lamb added to the mix. The Cowboys will adjust to a new starting center, but having Prescott and other veteran offensive linemen around him will help.
The Cowboys have some new faces on defense, including a new defensive coordinator, but they’re well-stocked on the D-line and in the front seven. The back end is honest enough for Dallas to hold its own.
As for schedule, the Cowboys have winnable games against the Rams, Falcons, Browns, Cardinals, Giants and Washington in the first seven weeks before their first showdown against the Eagles. The back end is more difficult, with showdowns against the Steelers, Vikings, Ravens and 49ers.
I don’t see Dallas as a juggernaut, or even that much better than the Eagles, but they’ve got as much talent as anyone in the division.
In recent years, lack of parity has remained prevalent in the NFC East. For reference, the Eagles have emerged as division winners nine times over the past two decades. While each of the team’s divisional foes has taken drastic measures to flip the narrative in the near future, they aren’t yet on par with Philadelphia. Here’s how I envision the division rankings shaping up in 2020.
4. New York Giants (4-12)
The Giants finally decided to move on from head coach Pat Shurmur, but not much is known about his successor Joe Judge, who served as an assistant coach with the New England Patriots. Judge brings a winning pedigree to East Rutherford. Joining him on his staff are former Dolphins’ defensive coordinator Patrick Graham to preside over the defense and former Cowboys’ head coach Jason Garrett to reconstruct a stagnant offense. Both assistant coaches are aggressive-minded and will indubitably bring fresh ideas, but they won’t have much time to implement them.
During the offseason, Big Blue invested in sorely-needed protection up front to ensure Daniel Jones remains upright. Aside from Saquon Barkley, however, the weaponry that surrounds the second-year quarterback is somewhat redundant. While I expect their defensive front to take a step forward in 2020, the Giants’ youth-infused secondary will likely surrender its share of passing yards.
I like some of the their offseason moves, particularly among the coaching ranks, but the Giants are still multiple seasons away from competing for the NFC East crown.
3. Washington Football Team (5-11)
Like the Giants, Washington is tasked with breaking in a new coaching staff in a shortened offseason.
While much of Washington’s success will inevitably ride on Dwayne Haskins, new offensive coordinator Scott Turner will have some dynamic pieces to work with in Terry McLaurin, Derrius Guice, Antonio Gibson, Steven Sims, and Antonio Gandy-Golden.
After adding disruptive Ohio State pass rusher Chase Young in the 2020 NFL Draft, Washington effectively assembled the league’s deepest and most profound defensive line. The formidable defensive front should keep them in most games, but the porous secondary and coaching transition will keep them in the cellar for another season.
2. Dallas Cowboys (10-6)
Although they lack in certain areas, the gap between the Cowboys and the next team on my list is closer than some realize.
Super Bowl-winning head coach Mike McCarthy returns to the NFL after a year away to replace Jason Garrett, while veteran defensive mind Mike Nolan supplants defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli. Kellen Moore remained as a holdover and will reprise his role as offensive coordinator.
Dak Prescott has the luxury of playing in the same offensive-friendly system under Kellen Moore and the Cowboys restocked the cupboard with another playmaker in the opening round of the 2020 NFL Draft. CeeDee Lamb joins a receiving corps that includes Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, giving Dallas perhaps the most lethal pass-catching trio in football. The deep and diverse defensive front should thrive in Nolan’s pressure-based defense, but the inexperienced secondary likely puts them a year away from contention.
1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)
The 2020 season is poised for another promising finish for the reigning division champions.
The lackluster offense of old should looked markedly different this season. Press Taylor becomes the pass game coordinator, and former Denver Broncos offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello and former Mississippi State passing game coordinator Andrew Breiner are on-boarding as senior offensive assistant and pass game analyst, respectively.
The offensive brain trust will have some explosive pieces to work with in Miles Sanders, Boston Scott, and the prolific tight end duo, but the sudden influx of speed shouldn’t be overstated. DeSean Jackson returns from injury to provide the offense with a much-needed vertical dimension while fellow burner Marquise Goodwin was added into the fold, along with rookies John Hightower and Quez Watkins. A veteran offensive line will complement the added firepower.
Defensively, the team addressed its oft-maligned secondary by acquiring shutdown cornerback Darius Slay. Slay, a three-time Pro Bowler, is expected to shadow the opposition’s primary weapon. They also proved to be aggressive players in the free-agent market, inking 27-year-old defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to a mega-deal, giving them the league’s most feared interior trio.
However, questions remain prevalent surrounding the questionable quality at linebacker and cornerback options. Still, if the offense can put up points and bunches and the defensive line can get home with relative frequency, the backend concerns should be minimal.
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