Shawn’s Staturday: Why the NFC East matchups might not be such a cakewalk this season

After one of the worst collective seasons ever by an entire division in NFL history, the NFC East is looking for retribution during the ’21-’22 season, and after this past offseason they may just shock the world…and maybe even the Chiefs.

Last season’s mishaps and lunacy in the NFC East was somewhat of a surprise after plenty of preseason hype predicting the Cowboys and the Eagles would be shoe-ins for the playoffs after such mediocre seasons the year before. Fast-forward to Week 17 and the division was the laughing stock of the league and had put up one of the worst cumulative records by a division in the history of the league.

Last season’s collective 23 wins by the four franchises, 11 of which came from outside the division, was by far the worst in the league with the next lowest division win total coming from the AFC South (27 wins) which had the 1-15 Jaguars and the 4-12 Texans ostensibly tanking by the end of the season.

Not only was the NFC East the worst division in the COVID-plagued 2020 season but they were also the worst division in football during the 2019 season as well, accumulating only 24 total wins between Dallas, Philadelphia, New York, and Washington.

But this season could very well be different for the four franchises, two of which will be starting new QBs from Week 1 (Jalen Hurts – Philadelphia, Heineke / Fitzpatrick – Washington), why? Because historically, NFL divisions do not stay in last place for more than two years in a row.

In fact, the only division since 2002 to finish three straight seasons in last place (based on win totals) is the NFC West, which did so from 2008-2010 when the entire division only won 35 total games over the three seasons.

Not only does the NFC East have analytical statistics on their side, but all four teams have performed massive facelifts during this past offseason and look much better than they did last season.

For starters, there is the Dallas Cowboys, who finished third last season with a 6-10 record in their first year under new head coach Mike McCarthy. Obviously losing star QB Dak Prescott during their Week 5 matchup against the Giants was a major step backward for their franchise, and it showed with their sub-par competitiveness throughout the rest of the season.

But some might say otherwise considering the Cowboys were only 1-3 with Dak to start the season, with that singular win coming on a last-second 46-yard field goal to cap off a 19-point comeback in Week 2, and they were only 8-8 with him fully healthy the season prior.

This season he has a comfortable new contract to lay back on while also having one of the most explosive offenses outside of Kansas City at his disposal, but how do they match up against the Chiefs in their Week 11 meeting?

Assuming everyone on both teams are healthy and starting this could be a similar shootout to the matchup between them back in 2017 when the Chiefs lost 28-17 even though Alex Smith threw for more yards than Prescott and had two touchdowns, including a crazy play (below) at the end of the first half by Tyreek Hill.

This 57-yard TD catch-and-run was, sadly, not enough to win the game for the Chiefs but it was certainly one of the most amazing highlights that Kansas City, or Tyreek Hill, has ever put up.

So the Cowboys game could go either way, especially if Dallas’ defensive studs that they drafted (i.e. LB Micah Parsons, CB Kelvin Joseph) and attained through free agency (i.e. S Keanu Neal, EDGE Tarell Basham) are healthy and flow well with new Defensive Coordinator Dan Quinn’s system.

The New York Giants are another story entirely, their defense was not their biggest issue last season, and they’ve even added to it with players like CB Adoree Jackson and rookie LB Azeez Ojulari. No, the Giants needed reliable offensive weapons and they definitely succeeded in gaining those.

On top of the always-deadly RB Saquon Barkley, who has had trouble staying healthy since he entered the league, the Giants have the dependable hands of newly-acquired WR Kenny Golladay who had 11 TDs in the 2019 season (1st in the NFL) and the best receiving skills in the draft–outside of TE Kyle Pitts–in WR Kadarius Toney from Florida.

If Barkley can stay healthy and Daniel Jones can show that he is the Giants quarterback of the future (more than he has in the past two seasons at least) then the Monday Night Football matchup between the Chiefs and New York might actually be closer than people might think.

Not to mention the Giants were only a quarter away from reaching the playoffs last season–which would have been the first time since 2016–but, due to the Eagles’ decision to bench their QB during their final matchup of the season, Washington made it to the playoffs instead with a 7-9 record.

Speaking of the Eagles, the Chiefs are due to play them in Philadelphia early in the season and unless the Week 4 matchup ends in a tie there will be a new leader between the two as the record between them at the moment is 4-4 with the Chiefs winning the previous two in 2017 and 2013.

The Eagles could easily be a coin flip this season, especially with new leadership on the sideline and new leadership under center with Jalen Hurts. Hurts was not viewed in the 2020 draft as a surefire starter, and even when rumors started to circulate around ex-Eagle Carson Wentz’s inevitable departure there were questions surrounding Hurts’ ability to lead and his ability to win in the NFL.

In his four starts he only won one game, mind you they very easily could have beaten Washington in Week 17 before ex-Head Coach Doug Pederson pulled Hurts and seemingly lost the game on purpose as a final dig at the team and the Giants, so basing his future on his current record would not be the best forecast of the upcoming season.

But let’s look outside the QB position, the Eagles have been the worst at evaluating draft stock throughout the past half-decade (at least) and it shows with their lack of skill players on their current roster. That has changed with the addition of Heisman winner Devonta Smith out of Alabama, and although there are still concerns about his size and weight he could still be the spark that the Eagles need to help them get back to the promise land.

Philadelphia’s defense needed some fine-tuning all over, they ranked 29th in interceptions and 25th in rushing TDs allowed, so their additions in free agency like Buccaneers’ S Andrew Adams and DE Ryan Kerrigan make their future look much brighter than last season.

Hopefully, the Eagles are still getting their bearings straight during the Chiefs’ matchup, but on the rare chance that they start off hot and show glimpses of the Eagles team that won the Super Bowl a few years ago, then this Philly team could be much more of a problem than they were to the league last season.

And finally, the Washington Football Team, who will keep their name for the time being and remain the only team in the four major professional sports without a real team name or mascot.

Without Alex Smith, this Washington team could go either way. On one hand, Smith’s fragility made the team holster their offense in ways, so this season they could easily look more dangerous than they did last season, especially if Taylor Heinicke is consistently as good as he was in their Wild Card game against Tampa Bay where he threw for over 300 yards and TD as well as rushing in a TD.

The other side of the coin though is the inexperience that Heinicke has, which is why they brought in the seasoned journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick, who helped the Chiefs achieve home-field advantage two seasons ago.

Although Fitzpatrick has never even been to the playoffs as a starter there is still obvious hope within the organization that he will bring the leadership and experience that Smith was supposed to but without the fear of a gruesome leg injury on every play.

Not to mention the rising star statuses of WR Terry McLaurin and RB Antonio Gibson, who will definitely be the future faces of the franchise, are still on the team and will be huge, reliable weapons for whoever is under center during the season.

Gibson’s 11 rushing TDs was not only the 7th-most in the league last season but it also ranks among the top 15 rookie RBs of all time, right behind Adrian Peterson’s 2007 rookie season where he scored 12.

The good news? The Chiefs have an excellent track record against Washington, facing them 10 times over the past 50 years, with Kansas City hoisting a 9-1 record against them during that time.

So what does this all add up to?

The Cowboys got their QB his Mahomes-like deal and their weapons like Amari Cooper, Zeke Elliot, and last year’s rookie star CeeDee Lamb are all still on the field this season, which makes them able to put up the points necessary to beat Kansas City, the only question will be their defense

Washington still has a top-10, if not top-5, defense that has only gotten stronger and their offense could be extremely versatile if their QB situation is consistent, unlike last season when they started Alex Smith, Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen, and Taylor Heinicke.

The Giants have just as dangerous of an offense as Dallas does but with less experience and newer relationships forming between most of the skill players. Not only that, their overall defense is up in the air but has enough solid players to make a dent in the Chiefs’ air-raid plans.

And the Eagles could shock the world, and the Chiefs, this season if they can simply find the ebb and flow that they had perfected under Pederson during the 2017 season, and if Jalen Hurts can get loose and do what he did at Oklahoma and Alabama then Philadelphia could look like a lower-grade Baltimore Ravens’ offense…meaning Kansas City’s defense will have to prepare for a dual-threat QB two out of the first four weeks of the season.

All in all the NFC East has upgraded almost every respective position that needed to be upgraded and even though their past two seasons have been nothing short of pathetic that doesn’t mean that Chiefs fans, or players, should underestimate any one of them.