By Steve Silverman
» More Columns
The NFC East was once the division that featured the best rivalries in the game.
The Giants have strong, hate-filled histories with the Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles, and Washington Redskins. The memories of angst-ridden regular-season and playoff games are rich and vital.
The 2016 season was something of a renaissance for the East with the Cowboys winning the division with the best record in the conference, and the Giants returning to the playoffs after putting together an 11-5 record under rookie head coach Ben McAdoo.
The Redskins also finished above .500, while the Eagles played respectable football with a new coach in Doug Pederson and a rookie quarterback in Carson Wentz.
The point is that the glory days appear to be coming back for the four teams, and it would not be a shock if three of them make the playoffs in 2017.
With the start of training camp just days away for all NFL teams, we look at the best- and worst-case scenarios for all four NFC East squads.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Best Case: McAdoo’s ability to handle end-of-game scenarios was a big reason why the Giants were a playoff team for the first time since 2011. Tom Coughlin had failed in that area in 2015, and that’s the main reason his tenure in New York came to an end. Still, the Giants can improve their overall play, particularly on the offensive side. They added rookie running back Wayne Gallman in the fourth round and veteran Shaun Draughn in free agency, and while that may not seem like much, improved play from the offensive line could allow the Giants to build a more respectable running game. The defense improved by leaps and bounds last year, ranking 10th in yards allowed and second in rushing yards allowed per play. If the Giants can assert themselves against their divisional opponents, a memorable season is on the horizon. Record: 12-4, first place.
Worst Case: The running game does not show any improvement and that doubles the pressure on Eli Manning. He is not the kind of quarterback who thrives when he has to carry the team, and turnovers could become an issue as they have throughout his career. The receiver combination of Odell Beckham Jr. and Brandon Marshall could dominate, and that’s what the Giants need. However, if Beckham has another inconsistent season and Marshall doesn’t adapt to his second New York team, there could be issues in the locker room. Record: 7-9, third place.
Best Case: The Cowboys were impressive and lucky last year in rolling to a 13-3 record. When Dak Prescott took over for the injured Tony Romo in the preseason, few thought he would turn into one of the league’s elite leaders. However, he took his opportunity and ran with it, and he got a huge lift from fellow rookie Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys have the depth and explosiveness on offense to put opponents away, and the defense should be able to hold its own despite some key personnel losses. Record: 13-3, first place.
Worst Case: While Prescott played sensational football as a rookie and passed every test, he did not face much adversity last year. How will he react to that scenario this year? The likelihood is that Prescott will have a bad game or two. Will he bounce back after a three-interception performance or a 125-yard passing game? Elliott may be ready for a fall as he has had several off-the-field issues. If the running game struggles, that will triple the pressure on Prescott, as well as a defense that lost cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, along with safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox. Record: 8-8, third place.
Best Case: The Eagles got off to a surprising start last year by winning their first three games and four of their first six with Wentz at quarterback, but they simply did not have enough weapons to sustain the early success. The addition of wideouts Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith gives the Philadelphia offense an explosive characteristic that did not exist in the past. The Eagles also need to establish a greater presence on the defensive side, particularly when it comes to sacks. If they can go from middle of the pack (14th) to eighth or better, a playoff season could be on the horizon. Record: 10-6, second place.
Worst Case: The Eagles are depending on a second-year quarterback who had his ups and downs as a rookie to make significant progress without any problems. That’s a difficult assignment for all but the most elite players. Smith will do everything he can to learn the system and make plays, but there are questions about Jeffery’s consistency. The defense lost defensive end Connor Barwin (Los Angeles Rams) and nose tackle Bennie Logan (Kansas City Chiefs), but veteran defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz must find a way to make this unit better. That may not be likely. Record: 6-10, fourth place.
Best Case: Kirk Cousins continues to show that he is one of the best passers in the game and the Redskins show quite a bit of explosiveness on offense. The Redskins need receiver Terrelle Pryor to step up immediately after losing Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson in free agency, and they also want to see consistent production from Jamison Crowder. Jordan Reed is one of the best tight ends in the league. New defensive coordinator Greg Manusky needs rookies Jonathan Allen and Ryan Anderson to step in and give the 28th-ranked unit an upgrade. Record: 11-5, second place.
Worst Case: Cousins will once again play without a long-term contract, and this could become an issue in the locker room if the Redskins get off to a poor start. The losses at wide receiver means that Cousins will have to build new working relationships, and that may not be simple. Can running back Rob Kelley build off of his 704-yard season of a year ago? The overall talent on defense is unimpressive and Manusky does not inspire confidence. How will head coach Jay Gruden manage all of these factors? Record: 7-9, fourth place.
Follow Steve on Twitter at @Profootballboy