With the NFL season kicking off this Thursday with the Philadelphia Eagles opening up the defense of their Super Bowl LII title against the Atlanta Falcons, what better time to preview the season, especially now that rosters are mostly set after a mostly ignored preseason.
These previews are going to feature a quick look back at last season, any major personnel moves that may affect the upcoming season, and a prediction for how we think each division is going to play out. At the end of the week, we’ll post a separate post that combines them all and predicts the playoff participants, as well as who we think will be hoisting the Lombardi Trophy after Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta on February 3, 2019.
We’re going to start with the divisions of the two teams that kick off the season, and fill out the rest throughout the end of the week. Up first, the home of the champion Philadelphia Eagles, the NFC East.
The Philadelphia Eagles won the division, and were the only team from the division to make the playoffs, finishing as the overall number one seed in the NFC with a 13-3 record. They were led by Carson Wentz, who unfortunately was lost for the season after a knee injury in their Week 14 game. Backup quarterback Nick Foles led the team to the Super Bowl, where he led the team to an upset victory over the favored New England Patriots, earning MVP honors for his stellar play.
The Dallas Cowboys finished in second place in the division, with a 9-7 record. They were mathematically eliminated from playoff contention after a Week 16 loss to Seattle, but finished with a winning record nonetheless, winning a meaningless Week 17 game against an Eagles team that was resting most of its players in order to prepare for the playoffs. A 3-3 stretch during Ezekiel Elliot’s 6-game suspension late in the season probably doomed the team to missing the playoffs.
Washington* finished with an inverse of the Cowboys schedule, ending the season at 7-9, having been eliminated from playoff contention officially after a Week 14 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers. They lost seven of their last 12 games, missing the playoffs for the second consecutive season after winning the division in 2015. They failed to find consistency all season long, mostly due to one of the more difficult schedules in the NFL.
*Note: The NFL team in Washington will only be referred to by there location identifier due to my beliefs that their nickname is inappropriate and should be changed.
Finally, the New York Giants needs a win against Washington in Week 17 to get to three victories on the year. They started the season 0-5, and were 2-8 after 10 games, dooming themselves to miss the playoffs even if they went on a miraculous winning streak to close out the season. 13 losses is the most in franchise history, and the season saw both the end of Eli Manning’s 210 consecutive games started streak, as well as the end of the Ben McAdoo era as Giants head coach.
Major Personnel Moves
The biggest move involving division teams was the departure of quarterback Kirk Cousins from Washington, who signed with the Minnesota Vikings on a fully guaranteed three-year contract worth $84 million, the first fully guaranteed contract in NFL history. This was after two seasons of playing under the franchise tag in Washington, where he was one of the highest paid players in football the past two seasons.
The New York Giants also lost two offensive linemen, with Justin Pugh signing with Arizona and Weston Richburg signing with San Francisco. They softened the blow by bringing in former All-Pro tackle Nate Solder from New England, though his best days may be behind him. They also named Pat Shurmur as their head coach, replacing Ben McAdoo. Their biggest acquisition may have occurred in the draft, when they selected Penn State running back Saquon Barkley 2nd overall. He’s expected to help take some pressure off the aging Eli Manning, though the offensive line remains suspect until proven otherwise.
The Eagles made some minor moves to their team, shoring up the defensive line by signing former All-Pro DT Haloti Ngata, and resigning some of their own free agents. The Cowboys, biggest off-season move was probably the signing of a couple of wide receivers to replace Dez Bryant, with Allen Hurns and Tavon Austin joining the club.
I don’t see much reason to think that things will be much different this season, at least at the top of the division. The Eagles are clearly better than the other three teams, and should repeat as champions of the division. Regardless of how long Carson Wentz remains out following his injury, they team will be in the capable hands of Super Bowl MVP Nick Foles in the meantime. The only problem I see happening is that they will be playing a first place schedule, which could impact their overall performance.
1. Philadelphia Eagles – 11-5 (5-1 division)
2. Dallas Cowboys – 8-8 (3-3 division)
3. Washington – 7-9 (3-3 division)
4. New York Giants – 4-12 (1-5 division)