By Lucas Kochevar
The NFC East was the best division in football last season. They managed to have three teams in the playoffs with all three teams making it to the divisional round. The Commanders were the lone exception, but even then, they were competitive in most of their games. The theme of last weeks LK League Notes was the expectations, those expectations don't get any lower with this division. The Eagles will try and defeat the Super Bowl hangover allegations. The Cowboys are the Cowboys. The Giants just paid Daniel Jones handsomely. Lastly, the Commanders are about to be sold and their head coach is on the hot seat. The stakes are high for each of these teams in a different way and I'll break it all down in this weeks edition of LK League Notes.
Philadelphia Eagles (14-3 Last Season)
The Super Bowl hangover is a curse that haunts nearly every runner-up in the Super Bowl. It's such a rare occurrence for a team to lose and comeback to win it all. It's only happened twice in history with the 1970 Cowboys and 2017 New England Patriots. The Eagles look to be the third team on that list with this very talented roster. I've touched on the Eagles in previous LK League Notes as I think they have both a top five offense and defense. The talent is, undoubtedly, off the charts with this team, but can put it altogether for a second year in a row. Jalen Hurts is obviously the key cog in the machine and has to remain healthy for the Eagles to reach their full potential.
The Eagles were very fortunate with Jalen Hurts' health, until the last month of the season. Their top of the league offensive line will have to keep him upright to make sure the newly-paid quarterback doesn't get hurt. Another thing that'll be critical with Hurts is his development in the passing attack. Despite improvement in his passing game very year, Hurts still hasn't quite gotten that development on the deep ball. Although he had 12 touchdowns on the deep pass, he only connected on 36.6% of his passes. With talents like A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith on the outside, you would like to see that number raise up. He's still well above the league average. I just want to see that next level as a passer to combine with his hard running. The run game will also be a big factor for this offense with new faces in the backfield. It's a tad concerning given the injury history of the two backs they acquired, but hopefully a healthy mixture of substitutions will keep them fresh.
Moving to the defense, the Eagles defense may regress to some degree because of their unreal sack numbers last season. They'll also need a substantial production immediately from young players like Nakobe Dean and Reed Blankenship. The Eagles also lost both coordinators to head coaching jobs over the offseason. This happened to Frank Reich in Indy and ultimately killed him. It'll be interesting to see if Nick Sirianni can overcome these losses. The Eagles schedule feels fairly pedestrian and I think they'll win a ton of games in the front half. I could see them taking their foot off the gas towards the end of the year and losing a couple. I still have them winning the NFC East over the likes of the Cowboys and Giants with a record of 12-5.
Dallas Cowboys (12-5 Last Season)
The world wouldn't be right if the Cowboys had zero expectations. The Cowboys have largely been Super Bowl or bust since Jerry Jones has taken over. There have been horrendous Cowboys teams since I can remember, but they never went into a season with the goal to tank. For that reason, the clock is ticking on head coach Mike McCarthy and this year will likely be his last if they fail to meet expectations. Along with McCarthy, quarterback Dak Prescott has a ton of pressure. The end of last season was uncharacteristically sloppy and simply wasn't good enough for the Cowboys to win games. They've made improvements over the offseason, but all eyes will be on those two guys.
The Cowboys offense will be entering a new era as Ezekiel Elliott is no longer on the team. The Dak-Zeke combo has been a fixture of the Cowboys offense since 2016 and now the latter half of that duo is gone. Although he was such a big part of their offense, his legs have been slowing down and it was time for both sides to move on. The Cowboys will definitely have to shift to a more pass-heavy approach. That's been the way they've trended for the past couple season, especially with Tony Pollard's role becoming more prominent last season. Pollard, Lamb and Gallup are all back, but the big addition they have is Brandin Cooks. A player that's been on a number of teams, Cooks provides valuable experience and shifty playmaking for the Cowboys offense. Along with an offensive line that's been terrific, the offense has all the pieces to be elite. It'll be in the hands of Mike McCarthy, who's taking over the play-calling from Kellen Moore.
The defense will also look different with Stephon Gilmore joining the team. You can read about the rest of their defense here, but they'll need to produce like they did last year for the Cowboys to be a contender. The Cowboys schedule is a bit of a tough one. It wouldn't shock me if the Cowboys ended up struggling at points, but I do think that they'll end up winning double digit games with a record of 10-7. I think Prescott will be better than he was last year and CeeDee Lamb will have a huge year. I can also see Micah Parsons capturing his first Defensive Player of the Year award. As always, the Cowboys will be like a reality TV show.
New York Giants (9-7-1 Last Season)
One of the more surprising stories last season was the New York Giants. With a first year coach and an unproductive quarterback, many thought they would just be the same Giants we've seen the last couple of years, but they changed. With Brian Daboll coming in as head coach, Daniel Jones made a jump in his play. He threw a career-low five interceptions and rushed for seven touchdowns. He had 15 passing touchdowns, which don't seem like a lot, but when you combine that number with the lack of turning it over, he improved a lot. The decision making process clicked for Jones and that was exactly what management needed to see from him in order to extend him. Saquon Barkley being healthy for the whole season was also instrumental in their improvement. Between Daboll, Jones and Barkley, the Giants are now a respectable team that has to be taken serious.
The Giants made their big decisions already in this current offseason by extending Jones and using the franchise tag on Barkley. The next big to-do on their list was finding a pass catcher for Jones. They addressed that issue in a trade with the Raiders by bringing in tight end Darren Waller. Despite lacking a top end receiver, Waller should patch up the passing attack for the Giants. His big catch radius and athleticism at the tight end position should make him an interesting target and matchup nightmare. Andrew Thomas cemented himself as a bookend tackle in the league and Evan Neal could do the same this year. The Giants defense should actually be improved, as well. Kayvon Thibodeux as another season under his belt and Dexter Lawrence established himself as a top tier interior guy last season. Along with Xavier McKinney, the Giants secondary features young rookie cornerback Deonte Banks. It'll be interesting to see if their defense, specifically their pass rush, will be improved.
The Giants were a pleasant surprise last season and even won a playoff game. I can't see them repeating this success. I'm still skeptical in Jones and whether or not Barkley can repeat last years success. It'll be a big year for Saquon Barkley playing under the franchise tag. I hope he does well because the league is better with him in it. I still maintain that he's the best running back I've ever seen at the college level. Despite winning nine games last year, their opponents that they won against were relatively bad teams. Their schedule gets harder this year and the inexperience in the defense might be an issue. Out of all the teams in the NFC East, I think the Giants are the most volatile team. I have them going a modest 7-10, but I do think they'll be competitive.
Washington Commanders (8-8-1 Last Season)
The Washington Commanders are in a major transition as a franchise. The wicked owner is gone and all of the D.C. area can celebrate along the yellow brick road to relevancy. Dan Snyder, who has created a toxic and terrible environment, sold the team to an ownership group and will finally leave the NFL. Although this awful guy is gone, the Commanders still have a road ahead of them in becoming a winning team. With a coach on the hottest seat and an inexperienced quarterback, the Commanders will need a miracle to be a competitive team in 2023.
The biggest question Washington has to face is: Who will be our quarterback of the future? Sam Howell, a second year kid out of North Carolina, was on the sideline all of last season until the last game of the season. Although there were flashes, Howell is largely unproven heading into this upcoming season. They have a great mentor and insurance plan behind Howell in Jacoby Brissett. Howell has a great set up with a new offensive coordinator in Eric Bienemy, great weapons and a very competent offensive line. If Howell can be competent, I think the Washington offense will be humming. Terry McLaurin is one of the most underrated receivers in the league and Jahan Dotson was pretty good until injuries nagged him. Brian Robinson Jr. was shot in an attempted robbery just weeks before the season started and now he'll be able to head into the season healthy too. The defensive side of the ball has been where Washington has made a name for themselves, but in recent years they've gone downhill.
Despite having a number of big names along their front seven, the Commanders defense played below their standards the past couple of seasons. They've even been floating some of those names around in trade talks, including hot shot defensive end Chase Young. The Commanders, similar to the Giants, have young players in the secondary with a veteran in Kendall Fuller. Head coach Ron Rivera feels like a lame duck coach with Bienemy waiting in the wings, but he's still a big time players coach and will get the most out of his guys. Sadly, I don't think it'll be enough and the Commanders will finish a brutal 4-13 record. Washington has the framework for a surprise team, but I can't imagine them becoming a winning team this season.
Next Week: The AFC South