Over the past 17 weeks the NFC East has seen injuries, trades, collapses and one case of history repeating itself. From NFC “Beast” to NFC “Least” there is always something to talk about with regards to the tinderbox that holds New York, Dallas, Philadelphia and Washington.
I don’t think anyone could have predicted how the NFC East would finish going into the regular season.
Personally before Week 1 I believed that the Cowboys would come last and the Giants would win it, given their supposedly revamped offensive line having added Patriots’ tackle Nate Solder and drafting mauler guard Will Hernandez as well as my predicted ROY candidate Saquon Barkley. Well, at least I was right about that, but the Giants went 5-11 which was good enough for last place.
My logic behind the Cowboys choice was that they had lost a true number one wide receiver in the offseason and their defense looked suspect. But after the emergence of rookie linebacker Leighton Vander Esch (who notably was booed by the Cowboys’ fans after hearing his name called in the first round of last year’s draft) and re-emergence of PFF’s Breakout Player of the Year Jaylon Smith, as well as an improved secondary and mid season trade for Amari Cooper, Dallas finished atop the division at 10-6 and secured a trip to the playoffs.
Defending Super Bowl Champions Philadelphia was another playoff entry from the division after claiming a wildcard spot, having overcome a rocky start to the season to finish at 9-7. Another late season injury to Carson Wentz thrust Nick Foles back into the spotlight going into the playoffs, giving hope to the Eagles fanbase of a repeat Super Bowl MVP performance.
Last and also, least we have the Redskins. Washington started the year strong and sat atop the division for most of the season, but after a rash of injuries, poor performances and the typical Redskins front office dysfunction, Washington finished the season 3rd with a 7-9 record.
Here’s a look back at some of the positives and negatives from each NFC East team this season.
New York Giants
Positive: Saquon Barkley. When David Gettleman chose to pass on taking a quarterback in last year’s draft many were, possibly rightly, disappointed. But they can’t be disappointed in how the season went for their rookie running back.
Saquon Barkley was for the Giants what Ezekiel Elliott was for the Cowboys in 2016. An injection of excitement and skill at a position that has long been lacking in New York. Barkley finished the regular season with over 2,000 yards from scrimmage and was rated as PFF’s top running back in the NFL.
Negative: Eli Manning. This was the last chance saloon for ‘the younger brother’. The choice to give Manning Barkley in the Draft as opposed to taking his heir apparent was misguided if looked at from the quarterback position. However please see the ‘positives’ section for another viewpoint.
But regardless of the sliding doors, Manning’s play this season was not good enough to avoid searching for his replacement. Yes, the offensive line managed to allow him to be sacked 31 times in the first 8 games, but he only threw 21 touchdowns this season and often looked hesitant to throw the ball deep.
Eli truthers will point to the fact that statistically Manning had one of his best seasons for the Giants, finishing with a 92.4 passer rating. However I still think that New York will look for his successor in this year’s draft.
Positive: Leighton Vander Esch and trading for Amari Cooper. The call Vander Esch “The Wolf Hunter” due to his Idaho roots and now trademark howl after tackles.
Lots of tackles. Vander Esch led the team his rookie season with 140, 18 more than the next closest player. Despite questions asked of his selection in last year’s draft, the rookie from Boise State stepped into the shoes of injured Sean Lee and performed exceptionally in his stead.
On the other side of the ball, questions were again asked of Jerry Jones’ decision making when he gave up a first round pick for Raiders’ wide receiver Amari Cooper. Once again, Jerry was right. Cooper exploded into the Dallas offense, racking up 6 scores and over 700 yards in just 9 games filling the hole left vacant since the departure of Dez Bryant.
Negative: Offensive Line injuries. This unit finished last season as the best in the league and there were high hopes for it coming into the year. Sadly a rash of injuries to right tackle La’el Collins, All-Pro right guard Zack Martin, and Guillain-Barré syndrome for All-Pro center Travis Frederick left more a concern for the Cowboys than a strength.
Positive: Zach Ertz. Ertz was a notable exception from the All-Pro team despite breaking Jason Witten’s record for regular season receptions with 116, gaining deserved recognition from the former Cowboy.
He has garnered 1,163 yards and 8 touchdowns this year so far, and often proved the most dangerous part of Philly’s offense.
Negative: Carson Wentz injury. You have to feel for Carson Wentz. Last year he tore his ACL late in the season and was sidelined to watch Nick Foles carry the Eagles to a Super Bowl Championship.
This year, after a season in which PFF graded him 13th overall at his position, lo and behold, Wentz was injured once again. This time in Week 14, this time with a fracture in his back.
Positive: There is very little for the Redskins to be positive about. After an early run, Washington crumbled late in the season after another stunning run of injuries.
Those that thought 2017 was bad, were left slack-jawed after this regular season. It seems the Redskins were looking to free agency after every game. With the exception of the defensive front 5 there was not one unit that was unaffected by the injury bug for Washington, most notably at the quarterback position. Alex Smith’s horrific leg break, followed by Colt McCoy’s less severe but equally as damaging fracture put an exclamation point on a season Washington would rather forget.
Negative: Front Office. Once again they dysfunctional front office of Washington didn’t fail to disappoint fans hoping for a drama free season. After being the only team to make a claim for maligned ex-Niners linebacker Reuben Foster, Dan Snyder and Bruce Allen threw Redskins legend Doug Williams under the bus in the ensuing presser, as well as ignominiously releasing safety DJ Swearinger on Christmas Eve.
Currently #FireBruceAllen is still trending on Redskins twitter.
Photo Credit: Jim Cowsert (TNS)
Our NFC East reporter is Chris Milner who covers Redskins, Eagles, Cowboys, and Giants. Chris is a Washington Redskins fan who has followed the game since 2011. He is one of our fantasy football correspondents and also co-hosts the ‘Same Level Fantasy Football’ podcast. Follow him on Twitter @chrismilner