Eagles repeating in NFC East doesn't have history to back it up
July 17, 2018 3:01 AM
by Bob Christ
For the first time in six years, when the NY Giants were coming off their most recent Super season, the NFC East boasts having the defending Super Bowl champions – the Philadelphia Eagles.
They finished 13-3 last season, were the top seed in the conference and then swept through the postseason as an underdog in each game with backup quarterback Nick Foles leading the way in place of injured star Carson Wentz (knee).
With Wentz returning, as well as Foles, the Eagles enter as the odds-on choice to repeat in the East. But don’t consider them slam dunks.
In this loop, which usually has a lot of upheaval from year to year, history indicates the team that finished last the previous season is more likely to win the division than the team that was first. Five of the past six East winners ended the previous year in the basement.
On the other hand, there hasn’t been a repeat division champion since the Eagles in 2004. All this could bode well for the Giants, who finished 2017 in the cellar at 3-13.
Overall, the East played .500 ball last season after going a cumulative +15 in 2016. And since East teams will be matched against the potent AFC South and NFC South this year, there’s a good chance this division won’t return to its 2016 dominance and thus not have a wild-card entry for the eighth time in nine years.
Now for a look at this year’s predicted order of finish. The odds are provided by the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook:
1. Philadelphia Eagles (2-3 to win division, 10-1 Super Bowl title): Last season the Eagles cashed in at 50-1 in winning their first NFL title since LB/C Chuck Bednarik and QB Norm Van Brocklin willed them to the 1960 crown. This year they are co-NFC favorites with Minnesota to win it all.
This is also the first time in this division since 2011 the favorite is listed at better than even money. That team, also the Eagles, went 8-8 and missed the playoffs.
In the offseason, the Eagles have been widely praised for enhancing their status, including the acquisitions of speedy WR Mike Wallace and ex-Seahawks pass-rusher Michael Bennett, to go with the return from injury of star OLT Jason Peters and the electric Darren Sproles, who’s a threat out of the backfield and on kick returns.
Note: Philadelphia gave four teams their most lopsided loss last season, tied for most in the NFL, including a 38-7 rout of Minnesota in the NFC title game.
2. New York Giants (6-1 division, 40-1 Super): The Giants opened as 80-1 choices to win the Super Bowl before plunging to 40-1. Much of that money cascaded in after they picked former Penn State RB Saquon Barkley with the second pick of the draft, giving NYG a good chance at getting its first 1,000-yard rusher since 2012.
Last season the Giants were coming off a strong wild-card finish and were trendy picks to a make a Super Bowl run. But their playoff hopes cratered after a bunch of injuries to the wide receiver core, including Odell Beckham Jr., which contributed to QB Eli Manning being briefly demoted before the head coach got the heave-ho instead.
The addition of ex-Patriots OLT Nate Solder and two new guards should make the offense potent again.
Note: The real villain last year was the defense. A year after yielding a league-low 25 TDs to enemy offenses, NYG gave up 42 in 2016, tied for third most. The acquisition of ex-Rams LB Alec Ogletree should help.
3. Dallas Cowboys (11-4 division, 30-1 Super): Last season the Cowboys were 8-1 Super Bowl picks, but their season was torpedoed by the six-game suspension of RB Ezekiel Elliott, who still averaged a league-best 98.3 yards a game in the 10 outings he wasn’t in NFL prison. Dallas went 3-3 without him, including a win over Philly's JV in Week 17.
QB Dak Prescott suffered without Elliott’s presence, pitching seven interceptions in the six games he missed, but only six in the other 10 to go with 17 scoring passes. This year Prescott will be operating without the benefit of two veteran receivers – TE Jason Witten (retired) and WR Dez Bryant (please go away).
Defensively, a key will be to keep LB Sean Lee healthy (9-2 with him last year, 0-5 without) and keep DeMarcus Lawrence (14.5 sacks) happy. He reportedly will play under the franchise tag this season.
Note: The Cowboys face a scheduling injustice in one of their most important games of the year on Nov. 11 when they have to travel to Philadelphia on short rest after a home MNF game. The Eagles will be coming off a bye.
4. Washington Redskins (8-1 division, 100-1 Super): The Redskins are the longest shots on the Super Bowl board after opening at 80-1. So the wagering public apparently isn’t impressed with the team’s acquisition of ex-Chiefs QB Alex Smith.
But only three seasons ago, Washington also was a 100-1 shot and went on to win the East at 15-1 odds. Three years before that, the Redskins won the group at 12-1.
To show improvement, the Redskins will need to shore up a defense that gave up 4.5 yards a rush the past two years. No other team was that bad in both seasons.
Note: LB Ryan Kerrigan had 13 sacks in 2017, the second most for a pass rusher on a losing team.
Next week: The AFC East