Despite all the bad things said about the NFC East last season, the division produced two playoff teams while both the Dallas Cowboys and Philadelphia Eagles made the dance. All four teams also made big off-season moves, hoping to secure a division title that has been rotating houses every year since 2004. Commanders found a new QB and Dallas has re-signed multiple impact players from a division winner.
The first goal of each team is to win their division. This is the easiest way to ensure a playoff spot and a shot at a Super Bowl run. However, which team made the best selection? This series is a breakdown by position of what each organization brings into the competition. The key players in the game, the quarterback position, kicks off.
New York Giants: Daniel Jones
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Jones comes in last among quarterbacks in the division. Jones was selected sixth overall in 2019 and had a promising rookie season. It wasn’t spectacular, but as a rookie he had his career highlights in tries, yards, touchdowns and QBR. Since then, he never seemed to show any major improvements.
Jones has been so bad that the Giants refused to take up his fifth-year option and he is playing for his job in New York this season. It doesn’t help that he’s never finished a full season, his declining star hasn’t been healthy since his rookie season, and the team generally hasn’t hit their offensive additions in the draft or free agency. Neither tight end Evan Engram nor wide receivers Kadarius Toney and Kenny Golladay have had the big impact the team was hoping for.
A change of scenery could be just what the doctor ordered for Jones, who has solid dual-threat ability if he lands in the right place to put his skills to better use. In this division, Jones is the last among starting quarterbacks with this team.
Washington Commanders: Carson Wentz
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In 2017, just five seasons ago, it would be hard to convince anyone that Wentz would not become the star QB of the future for the Philadelphia Eagles. The Eagles and Cowboys fans would argue over which team had the best QB between Wentz and Dak Prescott.
In 2022, Prescott will be signed as the franchise QB of the Cowboys, while Wentz has been traded away from the Eagles and was boxed by the Indianapolis Colts after just one season. This could be his last stop as starting QB, returning to the NFC East with the Commanders.
The 2017 season for Wentz seems like an anomaly at this point, but Wentz has put in good marks as a starter in every year except the 2020 season. In those three seasons, he averaged 3,558 yards, 25 touchdowns and just 7 interceptions. Those are numbers that allow teams to win, and the commanders hope he can do just enough to win games behind a defense that needs a year of recovery, but should be very good on paper.
If the defenses return to their 2020 form and Wentz can have a solid year, the offense should be good enough to make the commanders a contender for the division. Weapons like WRs Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel, TE Logan Thomas, RB Antonio Gibson and rookie first round WR Jahan Dotson should help get the best out of Wentz, but will that be enough to compete with the Eagles and Cowboys in the NFC East?
Philadelphia Eagles: Jalen Hurts
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There are some, even among Eagles fans, who might argue that Wentz belongs for Hurts because of his limited skill in the passing game. Gardner Minshew II had two starts last season and was a better passer on average than Hurts. He had a significantly higher completion rate, much better touchdown percentage, better average from touchdown to interception, better yards per attempt average, nearly 20 points higher quarterback rating, and also a much higher QBR. So what makes Hurts the second best QB in the division? It’s simple, he was the Eagles who ran back best.
That’s not hyperbole either. Behind a top-level offensive line, Hurts had more rush attempts than Miles Sanders, more yards, and scored ten touchdowns to Sanders’ nil. This mix of competent passer and very good rush can still win games in the NFL.
In a Tim Tebow style, the Eagles can run, run the clock, keep their own defenses fresh while wearing down the opponent’s defenses. The Eagles’ victories may not be directly related to how Hurts throws the ball, but his hasty ability is a catalyst for Philadelphia’s success.
The way the Eagles win will be limited with Hurts. If an opponent gets a big lead, Philadelphia can struggle, but a combination of a total of 3,928 yards, 26 scores and nine interceptions are very good numbers for any QB.
Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott
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The opposition will tell the team which players they are afraid of by how they plan to stop them. Prescott is the best QB in the NFC East because he is the only one capable of what he has done for the first six weeks of the season. He started the year at an MVP pace, breaking New England records against the Patriots and arguably the greatest defensive mind of all time. After that game, Prescott was on a 17 game pace for 5,136 yards, 45 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. That’s 1,000 yards and eight touchdowns more than actual MVP Aaron Rodgers finished.
After the Patriots game, Dallas saw a new strategy from defensive coordinators in most games. They would take out Prescott as much as possible. Allowing looks that challenged the Cowboys to run the ball and take the big game away with shell cover over the top was the most impactful way defenses could attempt to stop the Dallas QB. While the team finished the season as the best yardage and scoring offense, for anyone watching Prescott it clearly wasn’t the same MVP caliber QB in the second half of the season.
A full year away from the devastating ankle injury sustained in 2020, the question will be how close Prescott can match the MVP level of play. If he can play that well again, it might just become a league MVP competition, rather than just the best in the NFC East. Can the team counter the defensive strategies they saw in the last half of the year and open the field for Prescott to dominate again? Only time will tell, but those game plans were put in place for a reason, due to Prescott’s ability to play as an MVP, which is why he is clearly the best QB in the NFC East.
Like most divisions, the NFC East will likely be determined by which team has the best quarterback game at the end of the season. The Giants are unlikely to be a factor in the division due to their QB situation and lack of overall talent. The Eagles will have a say due to their domination of the trenches and Jalen Hurts’ unique ability in the run game. The commanders hope that Wentz can be good enough to win games with a great defense.
The Cowboys are the favorite to repeat as the division champions. Prescott is 25-6 against the NFC East and hopes to win the division again as the Dallas Cowboys QB and move on to add playoff success to his resume.
You can find Mike Crum on Twitter @cdpiglet or on Youtube on the About the Cowboys Podcast.