In the run up to the 2018 NFL season, we’re previewing each division. Have a read of our other previews here. Next up: NFC East
A crowded backfield means it will once again be running back by commitee in Philadelphia. It’s likely Jay Ajayi will spearhead the attack, with Corey Clement and (once fit) Darren Sproles fighting for carries. Superbowl MVP Nick Foles will start Week 1, with Carson Wentz still recovering from his torn ACL. Foles has looked shaky in the preseason, so the Eagles will want to get Wentz back as soon as possible. Outside of a Superbowl MVP backup QB, the Eagles have an elite offensive line and playmaking wide receivers in Alshon Jeffrey and Nelson Agholor. Tight end Zach Ertz, possibly the Eagles’ best receiver, is joined by second-round pick Dallas Goedert. This is a powerhouse offense.
The Eagles’ defense will operate much as it did in 2017, with multiple pass rushers disrupting opponents’ backfields. A rotation of Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett, Brandon Graham, Chris Long, Haloti Ngata and Fletcher Cox gives Jim Schwartz plenty of options. Jordan Hicks’ availability will be his biggest asset in 2018, especially with Mychal Kendricks moving on. Safeties Rodney McLeod and Malcolm are one of the top pairings in the NFL and are vital to keeping this defense performing at a high level in 2o18.
Second-round pick Derrius Guice was selected to ignite this post-Kirk Cousins offense, but a preseason ACL injury means he won’t see the field in 2018. Step forth Adrian Peterson. After showing flashes of his elusive capabilites in 2017, Peterson will look to rekindle his old self alongside Rob Kelley and 3rd down back Chris Thompson. Often overlooked is the Redskins offensive line, especially being in a division with the Cowboys and Eagles. Left tackle Trent Williams and guard Brandon Scherff are both top 10 in their position. There’ll be challenges a plenty for second year center Chase Roullier, particularly with the interior pressure the NFC East teams can generate.
Trent Williams will be key on Washington’s O-Line (Brad Mills/ USA TODAY Sports)
It’s Kirk Cousins out and Alex Smith in at quarterback. Smith has weapons in free agent signing Paul Richardson, Jordan Reed, and Josh Doctson’s potential. Jamison Crowder will be a slot sensation with Alex Smith under center.
While the Redskins attempt to run the ball better in 2018, they will also need to stop it. Washington averaged 134 yards per game in 2017, which was way below par. So, the Redskins drafted Alabama’s Da’Ron Payne to, apologies, bring the pain (This is a terrible pun even by my standards – Ed). On the outside, Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith have enough about them to bring pressure. Inside, Zach Brown has outstanding sideline-to-sideline speed, and was a tackling machine in 2017, recording a cool 127. Josh Norman continues to be consistent since his departure from Carolina. Second year man Montae Nicholson gets the start at strong safety alongside the talented DJ Swearinger.
Running backs will be the big talking point of the NFC East in 2018, but the Dallas Cowboys have the surest situation back there in Ezekiel Elliott. The offensive line still heralds as one of the leagues best, and Jason Garrett will run Elliott behind them all year long. If they can stay healthy, that is. With the exodus of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten, the question is who Dak Prescott will be throwing to in 2018. New addition Allen Hurns showed promise in Jacksonville, but outside of Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley, the Cowboys lack serious playmakers at the positon. Rookie Michael Gallup will have to contribute. Can Tavon Austin play as he has been hyped since arriving in the league? Who knows?
This is a very good Cowboys defense, led by 2017 breakout player DeMarcus Lawrence, who leads the line with Tyrone Crawford and second year end Taco Charlton. First round pick Leighton Vander Esch joins the already talented linebacker corp, where veteran Sean Lee continues to be one of the best at his position. After his 2016 abscence, Jaylon Smith enjoyed a productive 2017. Expect his play to elevate even further in his third year. The biggest question marks facing this Cowboys defense is the experience in the secondary. Starting cornerbacks Chidobe Awuzie and Byron Jones are both under the age of 25, as are backups Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis. Safety Jeff Heath is considered the veteran of the group, although he’s only 27 himself.
New York Giants
The Giants went all-in on Eli Manning by drafting running back Saquon Barkley second overall. Bypassing Sam Darnold and Josh Rosen is a clear sign that Gettleman and Shurmur believe Eli’s Superbowl window still sits ajar. Not much needs to be said about Barkley’s talents – he’s good. Nor is there a question about Manning’s weapons. Newly-minted Odell Beckham heads an explosive group with Sterling Shepard and sophmore tight end Evan Engram. There is however, still, a question about this Giants offensive line. The left side seems locked up with former blindside Patriot Nate Solder and rookie mauler Will Hernandez. With his switch to right tackle, Ereck Flowers looks to bounce back from a poor 2017, woeful 2016 and disastrous 2015. A lot of Barkley’s, and ultimately the Giants’, success will depend on this new look offensive line.
James Bettcher and his 3-4 defense arrived in New York this offseason, along with many new faces. The Giants defense boats an elite player at every level, but lack serious depth. A concern that will follow the Giants through the 2018 season. Damon Harrison remains the best run-stopping nose tackle in football. A move to outside lineabacker in the 3-4 scheme should give Olivier Vernon a new lease of life. He’s still more than capable of being a disruptive figure. At the cornerback position, Janoris Jenkins is the star man. Eli Apple still has much to prove after a troubling 2017. Defensive captain Landon Collins will be more than comfortable in new DC James Bettcher’s defense. Expect to see him up at the line of scrimmage even more in 2018.