Philadelphia Eagles primed to defend crown while New York Giants bet on bounce-back in NFC East preview

Jay Asser 3/09/2018
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Maybe it’s East Coast bias, but the NFC East is seemingly always one of the most interesting divisions in football, and now that the defending Super Bowl champions reside in it, that feels even more true.

The Philadelphia Eagles won’t catch anyone by surprise this time around, but they’re still the team to beat until proven otherwise.

Chasing them are the Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants and Washington, who all have flaws to overcome and questions to answer.

Learn more about the NFC East with our team guides below.

DALLAS COWBOYS

Head coach: Jason Garrett

Star player: Tyron Smith

Last season: 9-7

Key ins: Allen Hurns (Jacksonville), Tavon Austin (LA Rams), Leighton Vander Esch (rookie), Connor Williams (rookie), Michael Gallup (rookie)

Key outs: Dez Bryant (free agent), Jason Witten (retired), Anthony Hitchens (Kansas City), Orlando Scandrick (Washington), Alfred Morris (Washington)

Strengths: They may not be the most dominant offensive line anymore and are without Travis Frederick to start, but the unit still provides the identity of the team.

Weaknesses: Dak Prescott’s receivers are young and unproven.

Verdict: They’re closer to the rest of the field in the division than they are to the Eagles.

<> at AT&T Stadium on August 26, 2018 in Arlington, Texas.

NEW YORK GIANTS

Head coach: Pat Shurmur

Star player: Odell Beckham Jr

Last season: 3-13

Key ins: Nate Solder (New England), Patrick Omameh (Jacksonville), Alec Ogletree (LA Rams), Connor Barwin (LA Rams), Jonathan Stewart (Carolina), Saquon Barkley (rookie), Will Hernandez (rookie)

Key outs: Jason Pierre-Paul (Tampa Bay), Brandon Marshall (Seattle), Jonathan Casillas (free agent), Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Oakland), Justin Pugh (Arizona), D.J. Fluker (Seattle)

Strengths: Loaded with skill players for Eli Manning to work with.

Weaknesses: Secondary was a mess last year as they allowed second-most pass yards (252.4).

Verdict: Manning may be done, but if he’s not they could reach playoffs. Beckham

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

Head coach: Doug Pederson

Star player: Fletcher Cox

Last season: 13-3, won Super Bowl

Key ins: Michael Bennett (Seattle), Wallace (Baltimore), Haloti Ngata (Detroit), Dallas Goedert (rookie), Avonte Maddox (rookie)

Key outs: Trey Burton (Chicago), Najee Goode (Indianapolis), Torrey Smith (Carolina), LeGarrette Blount (Detroit), Patrick Robinson (New Orleans)

Strengths: Additions of Bennett and Ngata improve a defensive line that already gave opposing quarterbacks fits.

Weaknesses: Banged up heading into the season with several key players still recovering.

Verdict: Roster remains deep and full of talent, which should translate to another playoff run.

Wentz

WASHINGTON

Head coach: Jay Gruden

Star player: Trent Williams

Last season: 7-9

Key ins: Alex Smith (Kansas City), Adrian Peterson (Arizona), Paul Richardson (Seattle), Pernell McPhee (Chicago), Da’Ron Payne (rookie)

Key outs: Derrius Guice (injury), Kirk Cousins (Minnesota), Su’a Cravens (Denver), Kendall Fuller (Kansas City, Ryan Grant (Indianapolis), Terrelle Pryor (NY Jets), Will Compton (Tennessee), Orlando Scandrick (Kansas City), Spencer Long (NY Jets)

Strengths: Offensive line continuity.

Weaknesses: Were gashed for a league-worst 134.1 yards per game on the ground last year.

Verdict: The switch from Cousins to Smith may be good enough to reach the playoffs, but little more.

Smith

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New England Patriots still reign while New York Jets have reason to believe in AFC East preview

Jay Asser 3/09/2018
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The AFC East has had an interesting dichotomy this century – it’s been one of the weakest divisions in the league year over year, while fielding a dynasty that has been the class of the entire NFL.

It’s unlikely anything changes this season, with the New England Patriots still expected to rule with an iron fist above an underwhelming trio of teams.

There’s some intrigue around the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills because of their rookie quarterbacks, while the Miami Dolphins are almost starting from scratch from last year.

Learn more on all four teams in our AFC East team guides.

BUFFALO BILLS

Head coach: Sean McDermott

Star player: LeSean McCoy

Last season: 9-7, lost in Wild Card round

Key ins: Star Lotulelei (Carolina), Russell Bodine (Cincinnati), Chris Ivory (Jacksonville), Vontae Davis (Indianapolis), Josh Allen (rookie), Tremaine Edmunds (rookie)

Key outs: Tyrod Taylor (Cleveland), Cordy Glenn (Cincinnati), E.J. Gaines (Cleveland), Preston Brown (Cincinnati)

Strengths: Talented in the secondary with several playmakers.

Weaknesses: Offence has a chance to be the worst in the league.

Verdict: Unless their quarterbacks perform much better than expected – particularly Allen – they’ll be in contention for the top overall pick in next year’s draft.

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MIAMI DOLPHINS

Head coach: Adam Gase

Last season: 6-10

Star player: Cameron Wake

Key ins: Ryan Tannehill (injury), Josh Sitton (Chicago), Danny Amendola (New England), Robert Quinn (LA Rams), Frank Gore (Indianapolis), Albert Wilson (Kansas City), Minkah Fitzpatrick (rookie), Mike Gesicki (rookie)

Key outs: Ndamukong Suh (LA Rams), Jarvis Landry (Cleveland), Mike Pouncey (LA Chargers), Jermon Bushrod (New Orleans)

Strengths: The defensive end group has depth and experience.

Weaknesses: Top-end talent is lacking on both sides of the ball.

Verdict: Gase may have something up his sleeve, but it’s hard to imagine them fighting for a playoff spot considering the foundational pieces they lost, even in a weak division.

Dolphins

NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS

Head coach: Bill Belichick

Star player: Tom Brady

Last season: 13-3, lost in Super Bowl

Key ins: Cordarrelle Patterson (Oakland), Trent Brown (San Francisco), Adrian Clayborn (Atlanta), Danny Shelton (Cleveland), Jeremy Hill (Cincinnati) Sony Michel (rookie), Ju’Whaun Bentley (rookie)

Key outs: Dion Lewis (Tennessee), Malcolm Butler (Tennessee), Brandin Cooks (LA Rams), Danny Amendola (Miami), Nate Solder (NY Giants)

Strengths: Continued stability with Belichick and Brady leading the way.

Weaknesses: Wide receiver corps is thin with Julian Edelman suspended.

Verdict: The defence should be better and as long as Father Time doesn’t catch up to Brady, they’ll be in the mix come January.

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NEW YORK JETS

Head coach: Todd Bowles

Star player: Leonard Williams

Last season: 5-11

Key ins: Trumaine Johnson (LA Rams), Spencer Long (Washington), Avery Williamson (Tennessee), Henry Anderson (Indianapolis), Isaiah Crowell (Cleveland), Terrelle Pryor (Washington), Sam Darnold (rooke), Nathan Shepherd (rookie)

Key outs: Matt Forte (retired), Muhammad Wilkerson (Green Bay), Demario Davis (New Orleans), Austin Seferian-Jenkins (Jacksonville)

Strengths: Secondary features some of their best players.

Weaknesses: Pass rushing again appears to be lacking.

Verdict: With Darnold, they have hope for the future, but this will be a developmental year.

Darnold

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Khalil Mack trade is an aggressive win-win for both Raiders and Bears

Jay Asser 1/09/2018
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The Oakland Raiders weren’t bluffing.

Clearly, there was fire behind the smoke as shortly after reports claimed the Raiders were considering moving Khalil Mack, they pulled the trigger by sending him to the Chicago Bears in a package worth at least two first-round picks on Saturday.

It’s a bold move for both teams and one that could fit the bill as a rare win-win.

Oakland initially look foolish for moving on from a generational talent, who is a year removed from being named Defensive Player of the Year and still just 27.

Mack had yet to report to Oakland as he held out all summer in the hopes of negotiating a monster long-term deal. By trading him rather than getting a contract ironed out, the Raiders are receiving criticism for botching the situation.

However, if the report by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport is true that Chicago will hand a contract to Mack that will eclipse the one just signed by the Los Angeles Rams’ Aaron Donald, Oakland may have avoided a deal that was too rich for their blood while getting valuable assets in return.

It’s not that Mack isn’t worth the money, but if the alternative involves acquiring two first rounders and change, the Raiders can justify moving on from a player that couldn’t help lift the defence into the top half of the league during his time with the franchise.

The optics definitely look bad though, as Oakland spent $100 million on hiring head coach Jon Gruden this offseason but chose to be frugal with their best player.

Chicago, meanwhile, paid a steep price just to secure Mack, before any contract extension.

Their defence will instantly receive a boost as Mack, who has 40.5 sacks in four years, joins a nucleus consisting of Roquan Smith, Akiem Hicks, Leonard Floyd, Kyle Fuller and others.

It’s an aggressive move by the Bears to get better as soon as possible and will instantly raise expectations around the team for the coming season, although they still appear to sit behind Minnesota and Green Bay in the NFC North.

Mack’s talent is capable of accelerating Chicago’s rebuild, but the move also seems like one more fitting for a team that is a star away from being a Super Bowl contender – a place the Bears have yet to reach.

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