Home Sports NFC East preview and predictions: A lot of pressure on patchwork Cowboys

NFC East preview and predictions: A lot of pressure on patchwork Cowboys

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Ryan Dunleavy previews the NFC East as The Post gives division-by-division breakdowns ahead of the 2020 NFL season.

1. Dallas Cowboys

Coach: Mike McCarthy

2019 record: 8-8

O/U wins: 9 1/2

Key additions: QB Andy Dalton, DE Everson Griffen, DT Dontari Poe, K Greg Zuerlein, WR CeeDee Lamb, DE Aldon Smith

Key losses: TE Jason Witten, WR Randall Cobb, CB Byron Jones, DE Robert Quinn, C Travis Frederick, DT Maliek Collins

First-and-goal: The Cowboys have won the division every other year since 2014 and it’s their turn again. Even with Frederick’s retirement, this is one of the NFL’s best offensive lines. The Cowboys rode “The Triplets” to Super Bowls in the 1990s, but adding the draft-steal Lamb to Dak Prescott, Ezekiel Elliott, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup could birth “The Quintuplets.” Signing Griffen in August was a steal. Is he the only one? Smith — who hasn’t played in the NFL since 2015, but was reinstated in March — was turning heads all summer. And don’t rule out Earl Thomas landing here.

Dak Prescott Cowboys
Dak Prescott throws the ball against the Washington Football Team last season.Getty Images

Fourth-and-long: It became trendy over the last decade to blame all the Cowboys’ shortcomings on coach Jason Garrett and ignore all the other dysfunction inside headquarters. Here comes McCarthy, a sought-after Super Bowl-winning coach touted as an upgrade. Except reports are he and Aaron Rodgers butted heads over play-calling in Green Bay, and if Rodgers’ greatness wasn’t because of McCarthy, then how much can he help Prescott? The Cowboys are banking on a mixture of youth, underachieving former high draft picks, possibly burned-out veterans and a lot of big personalities. Not a great mix.

Dunleavy’s Decision: 11-5. For this season to be a success, the Cowboys need to win in the playoffs.

2. Philadelphia Eagles

Coach: Doug Pederson

2019 record: 10-6

O/U wins: 9 1/2

Key additions: CB Darius Slay, DT Javon Hargrave, CB Nickell Robey-Coleman, WR Jalen Reagor, QB Jalen Hurts

Key losses: RB Jordan Howard, WR Nelson Agholor, S Malcolm Jenkins, OL Halapoulivaati Vaitai, CB Ronald Darby, Nigel Bradham, Kamu Grugier-Hill

First-and-goal: The speed at receiver is very real as DeSean Jackson meets his match with Reagor. Just send them deep and leave the middle of the field open for the tight end combination of Zach Ertz (Hall of Fame pace to his career) and Dallas Goedert. The beef on the defensive line is very real, especially with Hargrave added to an already deep rotation. After two years of plucking cornerbacks off the street, the Eagles finally have a lockdown No. 1 with Slay. There is a clear path to a 3-0 start to build a cushion for a brutal Week 13-16 stretch.

Fourth-and-long: The heart-and-soul (Jenkins) is gone, the linebacker corps and offensive line are questionable, the receiver corps was weakened by Marquise Godwin’s opt-out and this looks like the final run for this group given the Eagles’ projected plunge to salary cap purgatory in the offseason. Carson Wentz faces as much pressure as any player in the league because he just can’t shake the injury-prone label. No matter what they say about becoming a quarterback developmental factory, the Eagles did Wentz no favors by drafting Hurts to stir the waters of controversy. The season-ending injuries to G Brandon Brooks and OT Andre Dillard are too much to be offset by the surprise re-signing of Jason Peters.

Dunleavy’s Decision: 9-7. Beating up on the bottom half of this division inflates the Cowboys and Eagles every year.

3. New York Giants

Coach: Joe Judge

2019 record: 4-12

O/U wins: 6 1/2

Key additions: OT Andrew Thomas, ILB Blake Martinez, OLB Kyler Fackrell, CB James Bradberry, S Xavier McKinney, DB Logan Ryan

Key losses: QB Eli Manning, OT Nate Solder, OT Mike Remmers, ILB Alec Ogletree

First-and-goal: Offensive fireworks are a possibility. Maybe even likely considering the Giants maintained Daniel Jones’ top five playmakers. Jones threw 24 touchdown passes in 12 starts as a rookie even though the Giants did not have Saquon Barkley, Evan Engram and Sterling Shepard on the field together for a single snap. Shepard’s injuries and Golden Tate’s suspension opened a door to rookie Darius Slayton, who burst onto the scene. The Giants spent to upgrade the defense — adding linebackers Martinez and Fackrell and cornerback Bradberry in free agency — and built a young roster of personalities apt to not stir trouble as Judge drills discipline.

Daniel Jones is seen during a recent Giants practice.
Daniel Jones is seen during a recent Giants practice.Robert Sabo

Fourth-and-long: If you can’t block and you can’t cover, you are in for a long season in the NFL. And the Giants could be held back by the offensive line and secondary yet again. There are major questions at left tackle (rookie Andrew Thomas’ readiness), center (Nick Gates is new to the position) and right tackle (Cam Fleming has never made more than seven starts in a season). The Giants only have a couple of cornerbacks with NFL game experience, and McKinney (foot) could be sidelined until November, all of which made Ryan’s late addition a must. After missing the playoffs seven of the last eight years, these are the Giants’ darkest days since the 1970s.

Dunleavy’s Decision: 4-12. Judge has the makings of a good coach, but the Giants need a magician to overcome a talent deficit.

4. Washington Football Team

Coach: Ron Rivera

2019 record: 3-13

O/U wins: 5

Key additions: QB Kyle Allen, OG Wes Schweitzer, CB Kendall Fuller, DE Chase Young, LB Thomas Davis, RB Antonio Gibson

Key losses: TE Jordan Reed, RB Derrius Guice, OT Trent Williams, OG Ereck Flowers, CB Quinton Dunbar, CB Josh Norman, RB Adrian Peterson

First-and-goal: The good news? Young is a can’t-miss prospect. His arrival is tempered some because, with Ryan Kerrigan, Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, Daron Payne and Matt Ioannidis in the fold, defensive line wasn’t among the team’s many significant needs. If Alex Smith’s miraculous recovery from an infection that nearly caused amputation of his leg ends up with him starting, the whole team improves. He’s that kind of player. Terry McLaurin is a budding star receiver, but the rest of the offense lacks game-breakers.

Fourth-and-long: Washington hasn’t had a quarterback start more than 10 games in either of the last two seasons and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see three starters again (Dwayne Haskins, Kyle Allen and Smith) as a new regime gets settled. Considering the record, it’s surprising Rivera, in his role as coach and general manager, wasn’t more aggressive overhauling the top of the roster. Of course, Rivera had plenty on his plate this offseason dealing with the team’s pending name change, sexual misconduct allegations against team staffers, Guice’s domestic violence allegations and a cancer diagnosis. The surprise cut of Peterson left rookie Gibson as the starting running back.

Dunleavy’s Decision: 2-14. So many veterans on this team. How are they going to react to a season off the rails by October?

Check out the other NFL division breakdowns from The Post for the 2020 season:

AFC East preview

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