By James Collier (@jamesc294)
The NFC East is, without doubt, the most inconsistent division in the NFL, a point which is proven by the fact that no team has won the division in back-to-back seasons since the Eagles won it four years in a row from 2001-2004. The bookies seem to think this years Cowboys are the team to buck this trend as they have them as slight favourites to win the division again.
The Eagles are also the last team from the division to put together back-to-back playoff appearances when they made it to the post-season three years in a row following their Super Bowl win in the 2017 season, but in true NFC East fashion they followed this run with a four-win season in 2020. Both the Cowboys and Eagles made the playoffs last year and regardless of who you think will win the division you’d have to imagine they will both be in the playoff picture again this year.
If you consider forecasted win totals, all four of these teams are in the top half for easiest schedules for the upcoming season and in fact, if you look at last year’s records they make up the easiest four schedules in the entire league. These easy schedules will contribute to this being another unpredictable division with the winner probably being the team that does the best within the division itself.
On paper, the Cowboys enter the season with one of the NFL’s best rosters but they just never deliver the goods at the business end of the season and injuries are already threatening to derail this year too. After trading away Amari Cooper to the Browns, they entered the pre-season knowing that CeeDee Lamb was their only recognised receiver until Michael Gallup returns from his torn ACL and have more recently learnt that star tackle Tyron Smith will be out until at least December. Let’s face it, none of us have heard of an “avulsion fracture of the knee” before but I think we can all agree that it doesn’t sound good.
Despite these injuries, they do have the best quarterback in the division in Dak Prescott and because of that they will always have a chance at staying competitive until at least some of their key players are able to return. The Cowboys swept the division last year, putting up 240 points in the six games against their divisional rivals, on the way to being the top scoring team in the league. It’s unlikely that they will be able to retain this title given some of the other high-powered offences out there but it is hard to write off a team with this much scoring potential. They are probably going to need to ignore Jerry Jones’ insistence to force-feed the ball to Zeke and will surely need to get Tony Pollard more involved, both on the ground and in the air, as Pollard was PFF’s 2nd rank runner of the ball last season.
This being said and given recent history in the NFC East, it is hard to see the Cowboys returning to the top of the division this year, especially given the short price (7/5 @ Bet365 seems to be the best). But they should be a fairly safe bet to make it back to the playoffs but it’s hardly worth anyone betting on this at only 5/11.
On an individual player level, we are probably only 100% clear on the roles of both Dak and Lamb on the offensive side. Given the lack of options, Lamb is going to need to step up his game this season but still seems a bit of a long shot to lead the league in receptions or receiving yards (20/1 and 14/1 @ Bet365) as he was 66 receptions and 800 yards off Kupp’s marks last season. He should however exceed the 1,102 yards and 79 receptions he hit last year, simply out of necessity. Bet365 seem to be offering the lowest yards total at 1,150.5 which you can get for 4/5. But if you fancy him to fall short of this mark then you can get an under of 1,175.5 for 4/5 at Sky Bet.
The Eagles finished last season on nine wins which was enough for them to creep into the playoffs but they did have to win six of their last eight games to get there. They definitely carried this momentum into the off-season though, coming away from the draft with what many considered a top-five collection of prospects and also pulling off the trade for AJ Brown. Brown is, without doubt, one of the most talented players at his position and alongside Devonta Smith he represents the best duo of receivers the Eagles have had for some time.
Once the Eagles realised their strengths last season they led the league in rushing yards, so combining this with the Brown/Smith receiving duo should put quarterback Jalen Hurts in an ideal position to make a Josh Allen-style leap in his third season in the league. I don’t think anyone would argue that Hurts has the arm that Allen does but he did finish last season top six in both air yards per attempt and air yards per completion so the potential is there. If he can make the leap then the Eagles really should be a lock to make the playoffs and win the division as they boast a top ten roster on both sides of the ball.
The Eagles are certainly my pick to win this division and a price of 6/4 from Bet365 is probably as good as the odds are going to get. If you fancy them to go the distance you can get them at 12/1 to win the Conference or 22/1 to win the Super Bowl, but again these odds have only been going in one direction since the off-season started.
On an individual level we may want to look at AJ Brown to hit the over on receiving TDs, you can get this at 6.5 most places and close to evens for him to beat it. He averages eight per season through three years and as long as he can stay on the field it seems unlikely that he doesn’t get at least seven this season. Smith’s yard total is as low as 850.5 with Bet365 (odds are 20/21 to beat this), in part because he only hit 916 last season. But if we project that this is a team on the up, again it seems unlikely that he won’t top this number again in his second year.
New York Giants
It says a lot about the unpredictability of this division and the ease of the schedule that the Giants are just 8/1 to win it when they have failed to reach seven wins in any of the last five seasons. They haven’t topped the division since 2011 (when they went on to win the Super Bowl) and haven’t made it to the playoffs since 2016. Their main issues last season revolved around their receiving corps (and how non-existent it was), their offensive line falling part and some pretty atrocious coaching. I don’t think anyone should forget Joe Judge having them run a QB sneak on back-to-back downs from their own goal line anytime soon!
While the lineup of receivers hasn’t changed too much they will hope that they can at least get some of them fit and on the field for the start of the season, plus their O-Line should be improved and surely can’t be a bottom three unit in the league again. They also appear to have fixed the coaching issue by appointing former Bills OC Brian Daboll, the hope will be that he can bring at least 10% of the Bills explosiveness with him to get the team somewhere close to their first winning record since 2016.
In all honesty, I don’t think there are any bets we should be looking to make on the Giants this year. Their Vegas win total of 7 does seem a little high but as we have touched on, with one of the easiest schedules in the league it wouldn’t take much to make you sweat on this and, given the odds, probably isn’t worth it. If I knew he was going to play every game I would be tempted by Kadarius Toney’s receiving yards total of only 895.5 but at this early stage in his career, I don’t think I could name a body part he hasn’t injured yet.
The biggest headline (at least on the field) for Washington this off-season was the acquisition of Carson Wentz who somehow finds himself as the starting QB for a third different team in the last three seasons. And while his stats for last season look fairly good on paper (over 3,500 yards alongside 27 TDs and just 7 INTs), his performances on the field were underwhelming – none more so than in the Colts’ week 18 loss to the Jaguars. That being said, Wentz has to be considered an upgrade over Taylor Heinicke who inherited the job last season after Fitzmagic’s injury.
The team lost star guard Brandon Sherff to the Jags but retained Terry McLaurin on a new deal and may have finally found someone else to garner attention from opposing defences in first-rounder Jahan Dotson. Last season’s seven wins sounds about right for a team that doesn’t really have any major difference makers on either side of the ball. But this is a defence who were tipped for big things last year and majorly disappointed even before Chase Young went down injured. Young will start the season on the PUP list and it’s unclear when he will return but even before he does, it’s hard to imagine that there is not some form of improvement from a team that were rock bottom of the league in third-down defence.
5/1 for the Commanders to win the division is still far too short for anyone to be backing it with any significant stake but Sky Bet are offering 7/4 for them to finish 3rd in the division which looks interesting.
Jahan Dotson is 9/1 with Bet365 to lead rookies in receiving yards and looks to have a secure role following a decent training camp so might be worth a shout at the price and given the schedule.
What should we be betting on?
With the Cowboys and Eagles looking fairly evenly matched there isn’t a lot of value in betting on either to win the division. But if like me, you think the Eagles win it and therefore the Cowboys finish in second, then Redzone offer that forecast at 11/4. Sky Bet also offer an Eagles, Cowboys, Commanders, Giants exact lineup at 17/2.
If you like the chances of either the Cowboys or Eagles upsetting the NFC West and taking the Conference title you can get the East at 15/4 to be the winning Division with Redzone. This is the highest odds of any division aside from the pretty awful AFC South that only has one realistic contender for a deep playoff run in the Colts.