Last updated August 27th, 2021
It seems hard to believe but the shortened NFL preseason is at an end, meaning we are closing in on the 2021-22 season. This will be a first of its kind as the NFL is embarking on a 17-game slate for the first time in the league’s history. That means no more .500 teams unless of course in the case of ties. Either way, this should be an exciting season full of no shortage of epic moments.
USA Betting will be with you all season but before it all begins, we’re kicking off our divisional preview series and what better place to start than with one of the NFL youngest groups, the NFC East.
Also the league’s worst division last year and one that has been referred to as a “dumpster fire,” the NFC East isn’t exactly being pegged for greatness in 2021. The league features four teams, all with coaches in just their first or second year.
With the exception of the Dallas Cowboys, who get their franchise quarterback back in Dak Prescott, the other three teams are all likely starting question marks at the position. The Philadelphia Eagles, New York Giants and Washington Football Team all have quarterbacks also in their first few years of the league, all unproven NFL commodities.
On paper, and simply as a virtue of their experience, many are predicting the Cowboys will run away with this. But many pegged Dallas to win the division last year too and, without Prescott, they absolutely crumbled. If any team has shown just how important having a solid quarterback is, the Cowboys demonstrated that last year. Prescott is back healthy though and as a result, Dallas jumps to the top of a pile that isn’t all that appealing. While the Cowboys are favored, this division is still very winnable by any of the teams, even the expected last place Eagles.
Escaping the NFC Least
While many have argued the merits of this, especially after last year, each division gets to send a team to the playoffs and with it, receives a top four seed, ahead of wildcard teams, no matter their records. Such was the case last year when the 7-9 division-winning Washington Football Team hosted the 11-5 eventual Super Bowl winners, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Needless to say, Washington did not win.
Whether you agree with the NFL’s rule or not, 2021 will see an NFC East team crowned as a top-4 seed. An NFC East team will host a playoff game. The only question is, will that game be in Dallas, New York/New Jersey, Philadelphia, or Washington DC?
USA Sportsbooks’ Odds to win NFC East
Courtesy of Bovada, this is how the betting lines look to win the NFC East:
- Dallas Cowboys: +120
- Washington Football Team: +230
- New York Giants: +400
- Philadelphia Eagles: +500
The Dallas Cowboys
As noted in this NFC East preview, the Cowboys are favored to win the division by both the bookies and the pundits’ predictions and should all go well, could even finish with a 9-8 record or above in 2021. There are still a lot of question marks though, namely as it relates to head coach Mike McCarthy. In fairness to McCarthy, it is tough to judge his performance last year.
While the new coach made some questionable calls and seemed not to have the support of his players or the locker room at times, McCarthy and the Cowboys faced the blow of losing Prescott and their season along with it. With Prescott back at the helm ready to throw to a group of elite caliber receivers in CeeDee Lamb, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, the Cowboys have to like the look of their offense. We didn’t really get to see too much of Prescott working with these guys last year so 2021 should be a treat.
That all said, even with Prescott, the Cowboys were just 1-3 as their defense was absolutely atrocious. Not to mention Prescott’s protection was weak as an aging offensive line continues to affect Dallas’ ability to protect their franchise star. The Cowboys didn’t do much in the draft to inspire confidence that the line or the defense will be that much improved this year.
The Washington Football Team
Last year, the playoff run of the Washington Football Team was inspiring. They rose out of mediocrity thanks to the return of Alex Smith, who was football’s top story. Smith nearly lost his leg so the idea of him walking again let alone playing football was always in doubt. After some 40+ surgeries, Smith was able to get cleared, return to the field and lead a Washington team on its third QB option, into the postseason. In many ways, it didn’t matter that Washington lost to the Bucs. They were playing with house money anyway. The real victory was Smith coming back for one last, awe-inspiring run.
In 2021, there is no such story going on in DC. While Washington has brought in veteran journeyman Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter, their options beyond him aren’t promising. He has produced some Fitzmagic throughout his lengthy career but overall he’s just a slightly below average quarterback. Fitzmagic has been best seen in small doses and at this stage of his career, it’s hard to imagine Fitzpatrick able to sustain his periods of success over a 17-game season. Fitzpatrick has also played for 8 teams and has yet to lead any of them to the postseason. It is the job of the QB to be the leader and it seems unlikely Fitzpatrick will be able to lead Washington to the promised land.
It is also worth keeping in mind that Washington was just 7-9 last year despite playing the NFL’s second easiest schedule. This year, they will tackle the league’s second hardest. Washington’s offense isn’t all that exciting, though there are some playmakers sprinkled on the defense.
Winning the NFC East last year may have been an anomaly or maybe it really was a team just taking advantage of the high of Smith’s return against Dallas’ absence of Prescott. Either way, it’s hard to imagine Washington will catch lightning in a bottle again, especially since no NFC East team has won back-to-back titles in over 15 seasons.
New York Giants
For the last few years, there hasn’t been much to celebrate with the New York Giants. From a playoff contender to basement dweller, the Giants have really struggled of late, especially last year when the loss of top running back Saquon Barkley, left an already subpar offense without its best asset.
Daniel Jones is very much a project at quarterback. While he has shown flashes of a guy who could be a franchise QB, he more often than not, has struggled and been inconsistent. The Giants are the youngest team in the East, with a trio of first and second year players at top skill positions as well as a second year coach.
Where the Giants could find most of their success is on the defensive side of the ball. New York is the most talented team in the East when it comes to their secondary and that’s something that comes into play when you are talking about neutralizing an Amari Cooper or a Devonta Smith, guys New York will face twice each. If the defense can combat the rising youth of the NFC East’s wide receivers, New York has as good a shot as any to go from one of the worst in the East to one of the best.
Miracles do happen right? In a whirlwind of less than five years, the Philadelphia Eagles went from Super Bowl champions to scratching their heads wondering where it all went wrong.
They are completely in rebuild mode now as last season saw tension lead to parting ways with their head coach and franchise quarterback. Now Carson Wentz is in Indianapolis and Nick Sirianni has traded in Colts blue for Eagles green. Philly has a first year head coach and presumably will start a first year starting quarterback, short of Joe Flacco winning the job in the final preseason game.
Either way, Philly has a lot of growing to do and while Jalen Hurts has gotten decent reviews in practice, we’ve yet to see him take the field when it counts. Hurts was a mixed bag when he took over for Wentz this year and the Eagles are certainly hoping their choice to take a flyer on this guy with a second round draft pick, pays off. There is also a first year wide receiver, second year wide receiver and third year right end and running back who will be relied on heavily as well.
Defensively, the Eagles are working with a new coordinator and new scheme as well. While their unit isn’t lauded the way the Giants is, defense may be Philly’s best asset this year. The talent is there and the team did take measures to improve its secondary this offseason.
Still the best thing going for the Eagles is their schedule. They play one of the NFL’s easiest this year, making it possible for them to win a few more games they otherwise shouldn’t. The Eagles finished bottom last year and they are certainly in the phases of rebuilding almost an entire team. It’s hard to imagine everything comes together that fast, even if both Sirianni and Hurts have a strong first year together.
NFC East Betting Predictions, Conclusion and Final Pick for this Preview
While picking the Cowboys is always risky given Dallas’ tendency to underperform, the division is so soft that they really should take this one running away. Even an underperforming Cowboys team is better than the other three teams will likely bring to the table. However, if ever there was a division to take a risk on and maximize your opportunity to make some money, it would be the NFC East. So a flyer on either the Giants or Washington might prove a nice value pick, but in the end I’ll play safer with my predictions for this NFC East preview:
- Take the Cowboys at best odds of +165 with BetOnline. It is +120 with Bovada, +115 with Intertops and +110 with MyBookie.
Marilee writes on NFL, MLB, NBA & tennis for USA Betting. Another area of her sporting journalistic expertise is pro wrestling. A native of Philadelphia and a big Eagles fan, she has been a sports writer for many major websites including Bleacher Report and Rant Sports. She started her journalistic career early, as sports editor for her college newspaper.