Advertisement

Eagles, Cowboys are the start of the conversation about contenders in the NFC East

The Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys have an NFC East title apiece while both clubs reached the playoffs each of the past two seasons.

Naturally, the conversation in the division starts with the teams led by MVP runner-up Jalen Hurts, coming off a trip to the Super Bowl, and Dak Prescott, seeking the same breakthrough.

Hurts has all his key contributors back, along with one of the NFL's best offensive lines, while the Cowboys traded for receiver Brandin Cooks.

Even with two-time rushing champion Ezekiel Elliott gone in a cost-cutting move and with the defending NFC champion in his division, Cowboys owner/general manager Jerry Jones harbors Super Bowl hopes.

Dallas hasn't even been to an NFC championship game since the 1995 season. The Eagles have two conference titles and a Super Bowl victory over the past six seasons.

“I’m reluctant to use comparatively, the best chance, comparatively,” Jones said. “But I will say that Philadelphia, and if you will the Giants and Washington, they need to be on their game because we are. We’re going to be on our game.”

Daniel Jones signed a $160 million, four-year contract after helping the New York Giants win their first playoff game since the last of the franchise's four Super Bowl titles to finish the 2011 season.

Washington has new ownership as it tries to move on from the chaos of the Dan Snyder era, and a new offensive coordinator. Eric Bienemy spent the past five years in that role with Kansas City, winning two Super Bowls with Patrick Mahomes.

The Commanders' seemingly constant search for a quarterback settled on 2022 fifth-round pick Sam Howell, who started the finale last season. He is set to be Washington’s seventh different season-opening starter in as many years.

“He’s basically met the challenge that we talked about, and that was seeing the growth and improvement from OTAs and minicamp,” coach Ron Rivera said. “Then talked about going into training camp and continuing to grow and show us what he’s capable of.”

After setting a franchise record with 14 victories, the Eagles added what many considered the top prospect in the draft when they traded up one spot to get Georgia defensive tackle Jalen Carter at No. 9.

Philadelphia will try to be the first repeat winner in the NFC East since taking four consecutive division titles from 2001-04. And there will be plenty of Super Bowl chatter after last season's 38-35 loss to Kansas City.

“The goal right now, right this second, is not to get back to the Super Bowl,” coach Nick Sirianni said at the start of training camp. “I know everyone is like, ‘That’s a crazy thing to say.’ Our goal is get better today. You can’t win two games unless you win one.”

TAG TEAM

New York's Saquon Barkley and Tony Pollard of Dallas were two of the three running backs to get the franchise tag this offseason along with NFL rushing champ Josh Jacobs of Las Vegas.

Pollard was the only one to sign the $10.1 million tender. Barkley signed a one-year deal worth close to that amount at the start of training camp, while Jacobs waited until the end of the preseason to agree on a one-year contract that could pay $12 million.

“I had an epiphany,” Barkley said early in camp. “Now, the reality of it is, I kind of just followed my heart.”

Pollard is the least proven of the three. He is taking over for Elliott, although his production and playmaking surpassed his former teammate last season.

Whenever Pollard handles the ball in the opener against Barkley and the Giants, it will be his first touch since breaking his lower left leg in a divisional playoff loss to San Francisco last season.

THE RUSH IS ON

Two of the top seven on the 2022 sacks list are in the division: Philadelphia's Hassan Reddick (16 sacks) and Micah Parsons of Dallas (13 1/2).

That's without mentioning one of the best defensive lines in the league in Washington. If Chase Young can regain his 2020 AP Defensive Rookie of the Year form nearly two years removed from ACL surgery, the group that includes edge rusher Montez Sweat and tackles Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne will be formidable.

While the Commanders were the only team in the division to miss the playoffs last season, they did finish third in defense.

NEW VOICES IN THE HEADSET

There are two headlining changes in play-calling in the division: Bienemy and Mike McCarthy of the Cowboys taking over that role in his fourth season as coach. It's the first time for McCarthy to call plays since he was fired midseason in 2018 in Green Bay.

While he once gave up play-calling with the Packers and said he would never do that again after retaking the role, McCarthy decided to keep Kellen Moore as the offensive coordinator when Dallas hired him.

They mutually agreed to part ways after another uneven performance from the offense in a second consecutive postseason loss to San Francisco.

REMEMBER THE GIANTS

Third-place New York was the other NFC East playoff team last season, and all three won at least one playoff game. It was the first time since the most recent realignment in 2002 that three teams from the same division played in the divisional round.

PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH

Eagles, Cowboys, Giants, Commanders

___

AP NFL: https://apnews.com/hub/nfl