They say “heavy is the head that wears the crown.” It may be heaviest in football’s historically strongest division, where there hasn’t been a repeat champion for over 15 years.
The NFC East has seen the division title passed around like a bad holiday gift since the Eagles won four straight crowns, ending in 2004. All four teams have won, to varying degrees of success. However, the marquee franchises have yet to produce a dynasty to rival the Cowboys of the 90s or that Eagles run at the century’s start.
A late run secured the top spot for Philadelphia last year, their second in three seasons. The normally competitive quartet has become a two-horse race between the Birds and nemesis Dallas. After the draft, many think the Boys are a nose ahead as we approach massive uncertainty in the 2020 schedule.
NFC East, Still a 2-Team Race
From his yacht, Cowboys autocrat Jerry Jones pulled off a coup with drafting Oklahoma wideout Cee Dee Lamb, adding another weapon to an explosive offense.
He and his counterparts across the division had strong drafts. Really, the only headscratcher was Philadelphia getting the guy who threw to Lamb last year, Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts, as an insurance policy on new dad Carson Wentz.
With the momentum from the draft (which was a very enjoyable escape from the coronavirus tedium, though we could do with less of the ‘adversity overcoming’), Dallas has nudged ahead on the division champion futures markets.
With new head coach Mike McCarthy, experts are looking for Dallas to take the next step that plagued Jason Garrett’s tenure. While he never brought the Boys to the NFC title game, his boss and fan base have seen the rival Eagles win a Super Bowl in 2017-18 and become a playoff mainstay under Doug Pederson.
Former NFL defensive back Ryan Clark wasn’t liking Dallas earlier this week on ESPN’s Get Up!
— Get Up (@GetUpESPN) April 28, 2020
He noted the Dallas offense didn’t do anything to beat an Eagles team playing with unproven skill players in December. Dak Prescott struggled to hit open receivers in Week 16 and a second-half fumble stymied a drive in Philly’s 17-9 win that all but won the NFC East.
Eagles Are The Team To Beat In NFC East
While both Philly and Dallas went to Big XII receivers in the first round, the division still goes to teams who run the ball, control the clock, play strong defense.
It works in all weather, slows down great offenses, and makes games dramatic. (41-33 was freaking amazing, but you can’t tell me the Giants win in SB XXV wasn’t riveting).
One major thing happened this offseason between the two teams: the Eagles used free agency to address glaring deficiencies in the secondary.
Darius Slay will target the re-signed Amari Cooper when the teams line up in the fall.
Lamb may go across the field or in the slot. Dallas has their most success against Philly when they attack the middle.
While the Eagles got better on defense, Dallas really hasn’t changed much of their persona or scheme. Philly’s competent ground game controlled the pace of play in Week 16.
That defense didn’t get better in the offseason. Until the Cowboys can stop the run, they face a tough schedule next year, including the Ravens, Steelers, Vikings, and 49ers.
The biggest question mark entering this year is if the Boys can play to their potential. They lost to physical teams like Green Bay and Buffalo at home and struggled in cold weather at Foxboro, Chicago, and the Linc.
Dak Prescott hasn’t looked the same since his rookie year. Instead of building around the dominant Ezekiel Elliott, the guy who doesn’t run when he should and looked skittish down the stretch gets the attention and his extension talks has created a veritable hostage situation.
So what happens next?
McCarthy developed Aaron Rodgers into an elite QB and Super Bowl champ. Prescott is a different skill set and has yet to put everything together. Replacing center Travis Frederick adds another challenge to the learning curve.
If you like Dallas to win the division, buy now at these prices. If the numbers move once the schedule gets released in May, it’ll likely stretch the gap between the two teams.
Eagles backers may want to wait for the lull of June to move up from the +140 range odds Philly is getting at the second choice.
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