NFC East Divisional Preview

by Eric Eager|August 14, 2023

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The NFL offseason is a long and arduous one. While hope is on the horizon with the first game of the season coming soon in early September, there is still plenty of time to prepare for your fantasy team and your futures betting. Enter SumerSports.

In this series we will do a weekly preview of each division using our simulation, which iterates through the 272-game NFL schedule 10,000 times to produce each team’s estimated number of wins, likelihood of winning the division, conference, Super Bowl, and earn the number one overall pick. The team ratings that power the simulation are derived from a combination of market odds, previous results, roster changes, and other factors. Such power ratings will be available through SumerSports.com over the next few months.

Individual games are also handicapped using rest differential, travel, and familiarity. Team strengths are updated sequentially based on simulated game outcomes. That way, in simulations where a weaker team exceeds expectations or a solid one fails to meet theirs, they carry a commensurate form with them to their late-season games.

After writing about the AFC East a week ago, we are spending this one talking about the NFC East.

The 2022 NFC East was a great example of having to handicap schedule strength before predicting how a season will go. The division was the recipient of the easiest collection of opponents a season ago and rewarded their fans by creating standings void of a below .500 club. The Giants, who by all measures were a below-average club, were able to not only make the playoffs with a 9-7-1 record but advance after defeating the 13-4 Vikings on the road.

The division failed to have a repeat winner once again with the Cowboys gaining a wild card berth while repeating as a 12-5 team. The Eagles finished with the conference’s one seed at 14-3, a franchise record for wins in a season. Washington started 1-4 before finishing 8-8-1 and just out of the playoffs.

This year is a little different for the NFC East as only the Dolphins and the Patriots have a harder schedule than the Giants. Washington, Dallas, and Philadelphia boast the fifth, seventh, and 14th toughest schedule in the league, respectively. They still have the third-most projected wins in the NFL, and the most in the NFC, but the road appears more daunting this year.

Coaching changes are seen throughout this division leading up to the start of the season. The Eagles lost both coordinators to head coaching jobs but have the league’s best coach a season ago in terms of in-game decision making. Dallas is preparing for their first season without Kellen Moore in half of a decade.

Washington is breaking in new ownership, and a new OC/QB combination in Eric Bieniemy and Sam Howell. The Giants are transitioning from the Saquon Barkley era to the Daniel Jones one under NFL Coach of the Year Brian Daboll. It is generally sharp to bet on the unexpected for this group.

All odds are sourced from FanDuel and are subject to change, as are the results of our simulation.

Philadelphia Eagles

2022 Record: 14-3

Just two short years removed from having a season win total of 6.5 wins and many people (including myself) taking wagers that they would be the worst team in the NFL, the Eagles stand as the class of the NFC with a conference-best +317 odds to win the conference (per Pinnacle Sports).

The Eagles have the advantage of an ownership group that allows their front office, headed by Howie Roseman, to be aggressive in player acquisition and salary cap creativity. They have a roster full of blue-chip players on blue-chip, bonus-heavy deals, as illustrated by this figure from OverTheCap:

Notice that every player in this list is a veteran with league-minimum paragraph 5 base salaries, with bonuses prorated into the future. This strategy has fat tail elements to it in both directions, with the right tail being realized by the Eagles en route to the Super Bowl in 2022.

Jalen Hurt’s ascension to the MVP conversation in 2022 was swift. In his prior two seasons in the NFL, the former Alabama and Oklahoma star never eclipsed more than 6.35 adjusted net yards per pass attempt in the NFL and had an interception percentage of over two percent each season.

Hurts blew both of those away in 2022 with a 7.31 ANY/A and just a 1.3 percent interception rate, both fifth in the NFL. He continued to add value with his legs, generating over 750 rushing yards and 10 rushing touchdowns for the second-straight year.

The acquisition of A.J. Brown, which followed the selection of DeVonta Smith by one year, is lauded as the catalyst, but the offensive line of the Eagles has been a constant strength of this team behind the tutelage of Jeff Stoutland, likely the best offensive line coach going. With Shane Steichen, who helped guide not only Hurts to stardom but Justin Herbert too, gone to Indianapolis, it remains to be seen how they can continue to improve, especially now that Hurts has entered the veteran contract phase of his career.

Defensively, the Eagles gifted Jonathan Gannon, who analytically was one of the more vanilla coordinators in 2021, the talent to run the defense. James Bradberry was a quintessential buy low play at cornerback, and he rewarded them with 17 pass breakups, three interceptions, and a touchdown, earning second-team All Pro honors. Haasan Reddick came home in 2022 and registered his third-straight 10 sack season with 16.0 while also earning second-team All Pro honors.

The rich got richer during the April draft where the Eagles were able to land Georgia Bulldogs Jalen Carter and Nolan Smith to complement an already stout front.

The market, while bullish on the ceiling for the Eagles, is relatively modest about their median, putting them at 11.5 wins, with the over (+104) being an underdog per FanDuel. While the combination of Roseman, Sirianni, and Hurts are a trio to buy into long-term with the Eagles, the perturbations this offseason would give me pause if I were thinking to invest in an Eagles team for which you are paying the Super Bowl premium.

Dallas Cowboys

2022 Record: 12-5

The Dallas Cowboys won 12 games in consecutive seasons for the first time since their Super Bowl days of the early-to-mid 90s, going 12-5 and securing a wild card berth in the NFC. For the second-straight year, they curbed a Dak Prescott injury, winning five of the six games that backup Cooper Rush started. Prescott returned to the lineup after the injury, and while the offense was sixth in the NFL in EPA per play after Dak returned to the lineup in Week 7, the Cowboys struggled to take care of the football, leading the league in interceptions.

One big reason the Cowboys’ offense was very good but not elite was the lack of a deep threat to complement CeeDee Lamb. Lamb earned career highs in catches (107), yards (1359), and touchdowns (9), while putting up healthy efficiency numbers in terms of yards per target (8.7) and yards per route run (2.38).

Brandin Cooks came over in a trade to help open things up even more for Lamb, in addition to bringing some receiving production in himself. Cooks has 1,000-yard seasons for four different franchises and has averaged 1.81 yards per route run during his career. He, Lamb, and the franchise tagged Tony Pollard look to lead the way.

Pollard generated 1,000-yard seasons the past two years despite starting four total games. He is both efficient as a runner (5.1 yards per carry, 3.8 after contact) and a pass receiver (8.3 yards per catch, 1.45 yards per route run), with the only question being how well he will do with an increase in volume.

The Cowboys defense, which struggled to stop anyone during Mike McCarthy’s inaugural season with Dallas, has been a revelation under former Falcons head coach Dan Quinn. Deploying a cadre of players who are multiple, the ‘Boys are first in the NFL in EPA allowed per play (-0.088) the last two regular seasons.

It starts with Micah Parsons, who was drafted out of Penn State to be an off-ball linebacker only to emerge as one of the premier edge players in all of football, generating 157 pressures while being involved in 27 sacks and 90 stops during his first two years.

He pairs with the underrated DeMarcus Lawrence, who can be counted on for 50-plus pressures when healthy. They are joined by first-rounder Mazi Smith, who promises to provide push from the interior in year one.

The market is roughly 2/1 on the Cowboys taking back the NFC East, which is probably a good place to look if you, like many, believe this is a two-team division. Losing Kellen Moore, who has overseen some very good offenses in Dallas, is a blow, but Mike McCarthy has himself engineered good offenses in the past and has some very solid weapons surrounding what may be the best quarterback in the NFC.

The seat is relatively hot for a coach who has had as much success as McCarthy, which means that if you are looking at betting markets this fall, it might be good to look at alternatives along both tails.

New York Giants

2022 Record: 9-7-1

Going into 2022, the Giants’ schedule was about a point per game easier than the average team’s schedule on a neutral field. That party is over in 2023 as the Giants have the league’s fourth-hardest schedule of opponents while playing seven of their first 12 on the road before their late Week 13 bye. Brian Daboll, last year’s NFL Coach Of the Year, has his work cut out for him in year two.

After injuries thwarted part of their rookie contracts, Daniel Jones and Saquon Barkley both succeeded in 2022, helping an offense void of great receiving talent produce above expectations. The Giants, looking at league-wide trends at the position, declined to extend Barkley in favor of Jones.

Jones took care of the football, throwing an interception on just 1.1 percent of his passes in 2022 (best in football), and added a lot of value on the ground with 708 rushing yards and seven touchdowns, both career highs by a wide margin.

That said, quarterbacks of Jones’ caliber have largely been poor investments, with the team buying in simultaneously hoping that he will improve while lowering their ability to build around him. Having one of the best left tackles in football in Andrew Thomas, who earned an extension this offseason, along with a top-10 pick in Evan Neal, should help, but many are understandably short on the Giants because of their commitment to Jones.

The Giants’ defense is old school in that their best players are all up front, with 2022 top pick Kayvon Thibodeaux joining the dominant duo of Dexter Lawrence and Leonard Williams last year. Lawrence was a force, earning a career-high 63 pressures and 38 stops in 864 snaps on the way to an extension in the offseason.

The secondary, which benefitted from the poor schedule of opposing quarterbacks they faced in 2022, added to their ranks this April with first-rounder Deonte Banks out of Maryland. He and Adoree’ Jackson should be a decent pair but will need another strong season from the front to avoid exposure against the likes of Hurts and Prescott moving forward.

Bobby Okereke, a darling of my linebacker model while in Indianapolis, comes over on a contract with an APY of $10 million. Linebacker has been an issue for the Giants since their Tom Coughlin days, so there is pressure on Okereke to add some competence there.

SumerSports’ Eager and Seth Publish Paper on Linebacker Analysis | SumerSports

The market is fair on the Giants this year, lining them at 7.5 wins. This seems to imply that the Giants are expected to improve fundamentally from where they were in 2022, but it will result in fewer wins because of a difficult slate of opponents. Daboll’s performance in 2022 is probably enough to limit any negatively stemming from that result in 2023, but it makes the future, starting in 2024, one to watch in the Big Apple.

Washington Commanders

Record: 8-8-1

When it comes to seasons, the Commanders have a type. In all three of Ron Rivera’s stanzas as Washington’s head coach, they have started the season 1-5, 2-6, and 1-4, only to reach 6-7, 6-6, and 7-5 before flaming out and, except for a 2020 season where they won their division at 7-9, missing the playoffs.

Wasington has seen a slew of quarterbacks under center including Alex Smith, Taylor Heinicke, and Carson Wentz as they struggle to achieve the consistency at the position that Kirk Cousins provided.

2023 does not appear to offer any more in the way of answers at quarterback, with 2022 fifth-round pick Sam Howell running ahead of journeyman backup Jacoby Brissett under new offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy. Howell, who at one point was the favorite to be the first-overall pick in the 2022 Draft, flashed some potential in limited time in 2022, but folks who are long on him are because of what he showed during the pandemic 2020 season. There he averaged 10.2 yards per pass attempt with 30 passing touchdowns, while adding 343 yards (after taking out sacks) and five touchdowns on the ground.

He bested his rushing production during a down passing year in 2021, rushing for over 1,100 yards (after taking out sacks) and 11 touchdowns. An issue for Howell, which is one for a lot of young quarterbacks, is how he handles pressure. He turned over 30 percent of pressures to sacks in 2021, one of the higher marks in college football. This is generally something that does not get fixed in the pros and could be a problem for the Commanders in 2023.

The weapons that the Commanders have on offense are formidable, with Terry McLaurin putting up one of the more impressive stretches of play for a receiver without consistent quarterback play in some time. Jahan Dotson, their top pick in 2022, showed a lot of potential as a rookie and possess similar traits of overcoming bad quarterback play as McLaurin, averaging 2.11 yards per route run in college. If Howell has success in Washington, it will be because of this duo.

Defensively, the Commanders have great personnel, especially along the front with Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, and Montez Sweat. Chase Young, who had his fifth-year option declined this offseason, is playing in a contract year, which could be scary for opposing tackles if he is healthy.

The secondary, who like the Giants’ was passable last year in large part due to an easy schedule, reinforced personnel this spring with the selection of Emmanuel Forbes, whose question mark during the draft process was his size. He joins Kendall Fuller, who has intercepted eight passes and broken up 29 since returning to Washington from Kansas City in 2020.

From a market perspective, sharp people like Washington to go over their win total of 6.5 much more than the Giants to go over theirs of 7.5. Our models tend to agree, as Washington’s ability to support Howell is underrated among league-wide narratives.

The leak in the bull case for the Commanders, though, is whether new ownership is prioritizing 2023 or looking to maximize assets for a 2024 Draft that promises to have some quarterbacks worthy of a selection.

Next up, AFC West.

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