Earlier this week, Joe Banner made his predictions for the AFC. Today, he focused on the NFC East…
This is tough…
But I’m going with the Eagles to win the NFC East. Leaving quarterback aside for a moment, I think Philly has the best roster in the division and it might not be close. They are older, leaving them susceptible to injuries, but for now there are not many position groups in this division that I would take over the Eagles. They have the two best tight ends in the division (Dallas Goedert and Zach Ertz) and they have the best offensive line (when healthy) by a substantial margin. At running back, Ezekiel Elliott has regressed from when he first came in the league and I am unsure about Saquon Barkley coming off a major injury. If Miles Sanders can stay healthy and improve as a receiver out of the backfield, he could have a big year. At receiver, they may not have the names that Dallas has but they have a lot of young receivers (DeVonta Smith, Jalen Reagor, Quez Watkins) that have a lot of speed. I am not sure how third cornerbacks are supposed to match up with the speed of Smith and Watkins in the slot. When you answer those questions, how are teams going to match up with Sanders out of the backfield, while also dealing with Ertz and Goedert? That is why the Eagles have a lot predicated on their line staying healthy for Jalen Hurts.
Turning to defense, I think I would take the Eagles defensive line over everyone in the division, even Washington. Outside of Chase Young and Jonathan Allen, Washington lacks the depth that I think the Eagles have going into the season. At linebacker, I do not think any of them have stellar units. The Cowboys might have the most talent in their room but they have massive injury concerns with Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith. In the secondary, it is the same thing, none of them are really great. I do think the Eagles improved at all three levels from last season, by adding veteran players, who have performed at a Pro Bowl level in the past. Ryan Kerrigan is past his prime, but will be impactful in his 20-25 snaps a game. At linebacker, Eric Wilson is a meaningful signing, after he had over 120 tackles with 8 TFLs in 2020 with Minnesota. In the secondary, they added Anthony Harris at safety along with Steven Nelson at corner.
There is also a distinct advantage in the quality of coaches in Philadelphia. On offense, I think Nick Sirianni and Shane Steichen will provide fresh looks that allow Hurts to utilize his mobility. The Eagles also retained one of the best offensive line coaches in the NFL in Jeff Stoutland, who has been in Philadelphia through the development of guys like Jason Peters, Lane Johnson and Jason Kelce. He has made a difference in developing Jordan Mailata and will continue to have an impact, especially if second-round pick Landon Dickerson is forced into playing. On defense, Jonathan Gannon is inexperienced but is a rising talent as a defensive coordinator; he had interest from numerous teams.
The big question mark comes down to Hurts. It cannot be overstated. He is a massive unknown. I did not want to pick the Eagles to win the division because it makes me look like a huge “homer” if he plays poorly, which I think is a real possibility. I do think, in the worst-case scenario, they are prepared to turn him strictly into a running quarterback if that is how they have to move the ball. If he is any better than that and just plays pretty good without turning the ball over a bunch, the Eagles win the division.
I just think after really deliberating the topic, it comes down to the fact that the Eagles offensive unit is their weaker unit, and I would still prefer them over New York’s or Washington’s offense. Obviously, that is not the case with Dallas, but they will shock people with how bad their offense is if their line cannot get healthy. This is a classic mistake that we have seen over and over. You can have the best weapons and the best quarterback in the league, but with a weak line, it is going to be hard to beat good teams. Jerry Jones has been struggling to win since Jimmy Johnson left, and it is because Johnson built his teams entirely around the lines to a massive extreme. He obviously wanted upgrades at every position, but he spent most of his time obsessing about building his line. Since Johnson has left, it has been all about secondary players, running backs and receivers. That is not the philosophy to advance far into the postseason.