The NFC East had a combined record of 32-36 in 2021. With an almost .500 record, it was a tale of two sides. The Dallas Cowboys and the Philadelphia Eagles made it to the playoffs while the New York Giants and now Washington Commanders battled it out for draft position.
The Eagles and Cowboys have many returning players and staff from a year ago. Could the continuity of their rosters help or hinder the chances of repeating a playoff berth? Entering the 2022 season, things have changed for Washington and New York. Can it be enough to right the wrongs from a season ago?
Let's set the table for all parties involved and dive into a roundup of the NFC East heading into their Week 1 matchups.
Dallas Cowboys (0-0) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-0)
The first primetime game for the Cowboys and Bucs comes on Sunday Night Football. This will repeat a matchup that happened at the same time last season. Quarterback Tom Brady and the Bucs were coming off their 2020 Super Bowl victory and pulled out a win in the game's final seconds by a score of 31-29.
Even though the matchup may be the same, both teams look different this time. Brady had a strange offseason where he retired, decided to come back, and missed time during the crucial part of training camp. Wide receiver Antonio Brown, tight end Rob Gronkowski, and defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul are all no longer on the team.
Dallas will be missing receivers Amari Cooper and Cedrick Wilson, right tackle La'el Collins, and left guard Connor Williams from their starting lineup a year ago. However, in favor of the Cowboys is the development of Defensive Rookie of the Year Micah Parsons. He is a different player than the one that played Sunday Night Football in 2021, and Brady is well aware of that.
Both offensive lines for the franchises come in with reserves at significant positions. The Bucs will replace the meat of their line with three new starters at both guards and center. The Cowboys will be shuffling the left side of the line with presumed starters in Tyler Smith and Connor McGovern. Smith is the only player on the Dallas offensive line that is new to the position as McGovern got game action at left guard in '21.
With defense being the identity for both teams, the game should come down to who is better in the trenches. Dallas has more experience on their offensive line, which should give them the edge.
If the offense can score early and lean on defensive coordinator Dan Quinn, the Cowboys should find a way to win on opening night by a score of 21-17.
Philadelphia Eagles (0-0) at Detroit Lions (0-0)
This matchup will decide who's offseason hype was real. Outside of the Eagles, the only other team who has shared the spotlight from April to August would be the Detroit Lions. The Lions are the most recent team to appear on HBO's Hard Knocks, which aired its season finale this week, and are led by charismatic head coach Dan Campbell.
The hype for this game is so intense that tickets, outside of ones for standing room only, are sold out. That is insane for a 1:00 pm kickoff in Detroit, who went 3-13-1 a short season ago. The question is, why are the Eagles being given so much praise?
Well, general manager Howie Roseman went to work after the 2021 season was over. He traded for former Titan A.J. Brown, former Saint Chauncey Gardner-Johnson, and signed former Giant James Bradberry. Roseman also traded away former first-round pick Jalen Reagor and drafted defensive players from Georgia, Jordan Davis and Nakobe Dean.
The Eagles start the year by playing a not-so-talented Detroit Lions squad. The Lions still have former first-round quarterback Jared Geoff from the Matthew Stafford trade and drafted Michigan hero Aidan Hutchinson second overall in the draft. Outside of those two, the rest of the roster does not have many household names.
This game's true "x-factor" will be which version of Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts shows up to play. Will it be the version that threw for 264 yards, three touchdowns, and a completion percentage of over 77% in Week 1? Or can it be the version that had no answer in the playoffs who completed a little over 53% of his passes and threw for two interceptions?
Detroit's team under Campbell seems to have bought in and believes they can be a playoff contender. However, stacking up the rosters side by side, the Eagles should be the better team on Sunday. Campbell's Lions will play with a lot of heart at home, but fans should expect a lopsided game ending in the Eagles winning 24-10.
New York Giants (0-0) at Tennessee Titans (0-0)
The general manager of the New York Giants had the quote of the offseason when addressing how to handle their roster and the cap. GM Joe Schoen said, "It's the hand we were dealt, and we're gonna do the best we can with what we have."
His statement is true. Schoen and first-year head coach Brian Daboll have taken on a lot while trying to produce a winning season for the Giants. This season should evaluate the roster and see which players will carry over into the 2023 season.
The players in question are at crucial positions on the roster. Their starting quarterback Daniel Jones, running back Saquon Barkley, and No. 1 wide receiver Kenny Golladay, will be under the microscope starting Sunday. Can Barkley and Jones show enough to warrant a franchise tag or new contract next offseason? The Giants could not trade Golladay because his contract is too much of a liability for a team to take on, with a cap hit of $13 million.
Big Blue's Week 1 matchup against the Titans should be a measuring stick to where this team stands. Can they stop running back Derek Henry and veteran quarterback Ryan Tannehill? The defense has good pieces along the defensive line, like defensive tackle Leonard Williams and defensive end Azeez Ojulari, so that should help.
The Titans are not the same team that earned the No. 1 seed in the AFC in 2021 but are still an established squad led by head coach Mike Vrabel. The rushing attack for the Giants should be better with a healthy Barkley and an improved offensive line, but it will not be enough to win, and they are predicted to lose against Tennessee 24-13.
Washington Commanders (0-0) vs. Jacksonville Jaguars (0-0)
Washington Football Team no longer. The Washington Commanders are ready to take command. If the team has another stinker of a season, will Vegas put a money line on how quickly Washington will change names again?
Hopefully, the almost yearly tradition ends with the Commanders and the marketing department getting to keep their sanity. The department will have a new face at quarterback to promote in long-time Eagle and short-term Colt Carson Wentz. The former second overall draft pick will have his second opportunity to compete in the NFC East.
Wentz has some weapons to succeed this season in wide receivers Terry McLaurin and Jahan Dotson, and can rely on a serviceable running back in Antonio Gibson. Now, Gibson was heading toward being benched as RB1 before rookie Brian Robinson was unfortunately injured during a carjacking. He is expected to make a full recovery and possibly return this season.
Outside of some small pieces, they still look like an enigma on offense. Their defense, led by head coach Ron Rivera, is much more frightening. The Commanders seem to be a pipeline for Alabama players along the front seven and continue to add offseason signings to the secondary. Defensive end Chase Young will be out until at least Week 4 after he was placed on PUP, but the front still has Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, and Montez Sweat.
Just like the Eagles matchup is the battle of offseason hype, this game will be between two teams looking to shed the skin of their 2021 campaigns. Off-the-field issues dominated the headlines for the Jaguars and the Commanders. Luckily for Jacksonville, they now have stability as head coach in Doug Pederson and will look for quarterback Trevor Lawrence to take a step forward in his second year. Expectations are not high for the Jags externally, but the team can surprise fans in 2022 after spending a ton of capital on free agents.
This 1:00 pm game will come down to how dominant the Commanders' defense can be against a young opposing signal caller, and if the Commanders' offense can keep the ball in the hands of their players. Pederson has a history with Wentz, so he knows his strengths and weaknesses. There is a reason this game is not in primetime, and that is because it has the makings of an ugly game. Washington takes command at home with victory by a score of 17-10.
NFC East Week 1 record prediction:
Dallas Cowboys (1-0)
Philadelphia Eagles (1-0)
Washington Commanders (1-0)
New York Giants (0-1)