Here at CaptainPicks, we’re getting prepared for the 2022 NFL season by bringing you a full series of NFL team previews. We’ll go division-by-division with breakdowns and roster analysis for every team in the NFL. Today, we’re breaking down the NFC East! Who’s ready to bet on football and win in 2022?
The Cowboys’ cap issues (see Zeke Elliot) led to some high-profile departures this offseason and there’s no question this is a less talented team than the one they took to camp in 2021.
Last year, with Amari Cooper, Cedee Lamb, Michael Gallup, and Cedrick Wilson, Dallas was loaded at wide receiver.
But they were forced to unload Amari Cooper for a late-round pick, they lost Cedrick Wilson Jr. to Miami, and Michael Gallup could miss as much as a month of the season coming off last year’s MCL tear. They signed James Washington to one year deal, but he fractured his foot in camp and will miss extended time. As for rookie receiver Jalen Tolbert, we’ll just have to wait and see. Once an embarrassment of riches at a premiere position, just Lamb is left in the fold.
So where are the big plays coming from? Expect the Cowboys to rely more on Pollard, Zeke, and the running game this season.
On top of their problems at wide receiver, the offensive line could be an issue for the first time in years. Solid veteran right tackle La’el Collins was cut for cap reasons, though Terrence Steele proved he can be an adequate replacement in 2021. More than anything, they’ll miss Collins’ swing tackle capabilities for when left tackle Tyron Smith inevitably misses time. Tyler Smith, their first-round tackle out of Tulsa, who’s considered raw, is expected to kick inside to start at left guard immediately.
Though it’s unlikely the defense will match last year’s performance, when they were second in DVOA, it should again be a strength in 2022.. Dallas, however, is certain to have turnover regression from their whopping 34 takeaways last year.
Edge Randy Gregory backed out of a deal to return to Dallas to sign with the Denver Broncos, but DeMarcus Lawrence and all-purpose threat Micah Parsons are still as good as any pass rush pair in the league – and they have edge depth too. Dallas still has Dorance Armstrong, they added Dante Fowler from Atlanta, and rookie second-rounder Sam Williams is viewed as a first-round talent who dropped because of character concerns.
The interior of the defensive line has been a weakness for Dallas for several years and the Cowboys were quite vulnerable to up-the-middle runs a year ago. Young linemen Neville Gallimore (entering his third year) and Osa Odighizuwa (entering his second) have both flashed promise and they will be crucial to the defense’s success this season.
Dan Quinn rarely plays a base defense, with either five or six defensive backs on the field at all times.
Trevon Diggs’ playmaking prowess somewhat overshadows the number of big plays he actually allowed in 2021, but overall the Cowboys’ secondary is decent and versatile. Second-year corner Kelvin Joseph is considered a breakout candidate after seeing limited snaps a year ago. As we mentioned though, Diggs and this Cowboys defense are highly unlikely to be as prolific taking the ball away as they were a year ago.
Dak is usually an elite processor and decision maker, so it was odd to see him make poor decisions and his play tail off as it did in the second half of last season. The calf issue he developed or, just as likely, the major ankle injury from the season prior, may have hindered him.
With the erosion of talent on offense this offseason, more than ever the success of this team will fall on Dak’s shoulders. He is undoubtedly a top ten quarterback in the league, but with a diminished supporting cast, can he elevate his play, or will the environment pull his level down? With the Eagles improved, Dallas will have their work cut out to win the division, but this should still be a playoff team.
One thing is for sure, they can less afford to be as sloppy and penalty prone as they were a year ago, and we’re not confident that McCarthy will clean that up.
The NFC East will play an out-of-conference schedule against the AFC South.
Dallas will start the season with two challenging home games against the Bucs and Bengals. They have a few tough out-of-division games @Rams in Week 5, @Packers in Week 10, and @Vikings in Week 11. They should have a chance to close the year strong, with three divisional matchups, and all four of their games against the AFC South after Week 12.
New York Giants
For the first time in a half-decade, there’s cause for optimism with the Giants. New GM Joe Schoen and new head coach Brian Daboll both come over from the Bills – probably the NFL exemplar of roster-building success over the same half-decade of Giants incompetence.
Schoen’s predecessor left him cap-strapped this offseason, but he did manage to make upgrades to their disastrous offensive line.
New York will have at least three new starts on the offensive line, with massive tackle Evan Neal, the seventh pick out of Alabama, stepping in as a day one starter at right tackle. Neal and third-year left tackle Andrew Thomas give the Giants a foundation of two young bookend tackles with pro bowl potential. Guard Mark Glowinski and center Jon Feliciano are unspectacular, but they’re definitive upgrades.
Another major source of optimism for New York is they will actually field a modern NFL offense this season. Daboll, along with offensive coordinator Mike Kafka, who comes over for the Chiefs, bring a monumental upgrade in the scheme, play design, and creativity from the 1990s time warp they’d been stuck in with Jason Garrett.
If a quarterback can only be as successful as his environment allows, then this will be the first time since his rookie year that Daniel Jones will have had a chance to succeed.
It’s a make-or-break year for Jones and he’ll be under pressure to perform. He has the tools and intangibles; he’s tough, athletic, accurate, and can run. When he has time in the pocket, he can make any throw and he’s improved his turnover propensity from early in his career. The issue with Jones is whether he has the field vision to be more than an average quarterback. Also, he’s really got to stay healthy.
Jones isn’t the only one who has to stay healthy. On paper, there’s talent on this offense – but they have to play.
His top three wide receivers all warrant the label, injury prone. Kenny Golladay, Kadarious Toney, and Sterling Shephard all missed significant time last year, and Shephard is still recovering from a torn achilles. Saquon Barkley has looked explosive in camp so far but we know his career has been plagued by injuries. Toney has a chance to be special, but with injury and character concerns, it’s just as likely he never gets there. Expect diminutive rookie second-rounder, Wan’Dale Robinson, to see a ton of immediately.
Toney is already nursing an injury in camp. The health of this pass-catching group may tell the tale of this Giants’ season.
Expect a lot of spread, horizontal passing, and the ball to be out of Jones’ hands quickly, with an emphasis on getting Barkley, Toney, and Robinson in space for easy completions.
The offense may have potential, but it’s the defense that will likely sink their chances to compete. The secondary is dangerously thin. New York’s cap woes forced them to cut their top corner, James Bradberry, they moved on from Logan Ryan, and Jabrill Peppers is now in New England. Injury-prone Adoree Jackson is now their top corner, and his health will be essential. Fourth-round rookie safety Dane Belton broke his collarbone in camp, and he was expected to play immediately.
Wink Martindale comes over from the Ravens, bringing his aggressive blitzing style. Wink is well-respected, but when the Ravens’ secondary was completely depleted by injury last year, they were diced up by quality opponents. His blitz and man coverage philosophy are falling out of favor league-wide.
Xavier McKinney can be a pro bowl safety this year, but the Giants don’t have the bodies to hold up in coverage to support Martindale’s style. He’ll have learned from last year, but we’ll see how adjusts his approach.
The front seven does offer some talent for Martindale to get after the quarterback with. Second-year OLB Azeez Ozulari and Kayvon Thibodeaux, the fifth overall pick this year, form a promising young pass rush pair. Giants will also need a lot out of veteran defensive linemen Leonard Williams and Dexter Lawrence.
New York’s roster is one of the thinnest in the league, and so as much as any team, their hopes of remaining competitive rest on the health of a handful of players. It’s unlikely that this is better than a third-place team in the East.
The good news for New York is they’ll face one of the easiest schedules in the league. Outside of a Londan game with the Packers in Week 5, and a visit from the Ravens in Week 6, the Giants will face few non-divisional games against opponents that had a winning record a year ago.
Frank Reich pushed the Colts to acquire Carson Wentz a year ago; a year later the Colts urgently pushed Wentz out the door and Reich reportedly apologized to owner Jim Irsay. The Colts felt compelled to on from Wentz, with no ready-made solution to replace him. Yet, none of this stopped the Commanders from aggressively overpaying to acquire him this offseason. Considering the opportunity costs of taking on Wentz’s contract, it was a perplexing move, to say the least.
The ongoing congressional inquiry into the team’s unethical practices and toxic workplace under owner Dan Snyder provides a circus-like backdrop to all of this.
Rough days to be a Washington football fan.
Wentz’s profile is clear. He’s just a poor decision maker, especially under pressure; we’ve all seen his propensity to make mind-numbing mistakes. Still, his arm talent and ability to throw the deep ball are an upgrade for Washington.
Wentz will have a solid group of skill position players to work with, a better group than he had a year ago in Indianapolis.
Star receiver Terry Mclaurin got a much-deserved contract extension this offseason, and Washington added sure-handed Penn State receiver Jahan Dotson in the first round this year. Wentz’s ability to push the ball down the field—something Heineke was unable to do—will benefit Mclaurin significantly. Curtis Samuel has to stay healthy after an injury-plagued year, while 2021 third-round pick Dyami Brown enters year two after a disappointing rookie season.
Despite losing standout guard Brandon Scherff in free agency, the offensive line should still hold up around league-average.
Coordinator Scott Turner’s offense ranked second in the league in play-action rate in 2021, a good fit for Wentz’s strengths. With that in mind, Antonio Gibson staying healthy and elevating his game would raise the ceiling of this offense.
On defense, Washington’s biggest weakness is the secondary. Outside number one corner Kendall Fuller, this just isn’t a very deep or talented group. Last year, cornerback William Jackson, struggled to adapt to a more zone-based scheme, after coming over in free agency. Jackson’s play did improve down the stretch and should be better in year two.
Washington’s hopes on defense rest on the strength of their talented young defensive line.
Daron Payne, Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, and Chase Young, all former first-rounders, collectively failed to live up to the hype last year, but they still hold similar promise a year later. Allen was the standout from the group in 2021, while Sweat and Young were lost to injuries. Young, coming off a torn ACL, will miss at least the season opener.
In Young and Sweat’s absence, the defensive line performed admirably, but the depth that made that possible was thinned out this offseason. Interior linemen Tim Settle left in free agency and Matt Ioannidis was released to make room for Wentz. At linebacker, inexperience and a lack of depth could also be exposed.
Washington’s defense dropped from 3rd in DVOA in 2020, to 27th a year ago; they were plagued by miscommunication, coverage busts, poor tackling, and dreadful third-down defense. The defensive personnel is not any better and depth-wise may even be worse, but some regression back towards the middle of the pack is likely.
Like the Giants, the Commanders will face one of the easiest schedules in the league. Visits from the Packers and Vikings, and road games against the Colts and Niners are likely to be their most challenging games of the season.
Philly is getting a lot of buzz this offseason, and for good reason, as they have one the most complete rosters in the league.
We rank this as the top offensive line in the league, and when you have that, it’s hard not to be at least a decent team.
Nick Sirianni and his staff showed an impressive ability to make adjustments in their first season, essentially scrapping the entire offense midway through the season and implementing what would become a dominant and diverse running attack.
The drastic changes launched the team from a 2-5 start into a wildcard playoff berth. The Eagles finished third in the league in rushing DVOA, even though the offensive switch didn’t flip until their week eight matchup with the Lions.
As a runner at the quarterback position, Hurts is naturally gifted. Playing the Eagles (and the Ravens) presents a basic math problem for defenses. You have to honor the quarterback as an extra threat who can take the ball down the field himself. Instead of five players who can move the ball, there are six, and defenses have to respect it. When you couple that with an elite offensive line, this team becomes very tough to deal with.
Now, they’ve added AJ Brown, whose speed and physical profile make him a perfect true number one receiver to complement the slight-framed Devonta Smith.
Facing more number two corners, Smith’s task becomes easier, and his elite route running will allow him to win matchups even more consistently in his second season. Dallas Goedert emerged as one of the best tight ends a year ago, and Quez Watkins becomes even better as the third receiver and fourth option on the outside. Philadelphia also quietly added Zach Paschal who helps with blocking in the run game.
In the playoffs, Tampa crowded the box, dialed up the blitz, and forced Hurts to make quick decisions – he couldn’t do it. If he can become more accurate and decisive in the passing game, this offense can jump into the upper echelon of the league.
He has all the intangibles to do it, but the Eagles’ ceiling still hinges on Hurts’ development as a passer.
Adding Bradberry at the corner opposite Darius Slay gives them one of the top cornerback duos in the league. With Avonte Maddox in the slot, a cornerback group that had been a weakness in recent years looks like it should be a real strength.
The Eagles added speed rusher, Haason Reddick, from the Panthers, who compliments the other talent they have along the defensive line. With the addition of massive defensive tackle Jordan Davis in the first round, the Eagles go seven or eight deep along the defensive front. Javon Hargrave had a great 2021 season creating pressure from the interior, and second-year defensive tackle Milton Williams is expected to play a big role this year as well. Davis and the emergence of Williams should bolster the Eagles’ shaky run defense from a year ago. If they enable them to play the run with fewer bodies it will help improve the pass defense.
Nakobe Dean’s health will bear close watching, as the Eagles remain weak at linebacker. If healthy, the Georgia Bulldog standout has a chance to be the steal of the draft playing behind this defensive front.
Second-year defensive coordinator Jonathon Gannon plays a zone-heavy scheme, with minimal blitzing.
The better quarterbacks they faced last year methodically picked apart these zones, especially in the middle of the field, and the middle of the field may continue to be an issue. But adding Bradberry should allow Gannon to blitz and play man coverage much more. especially on third downs. With much-improved personnel, this defense should be much more multiple in year two under Gannon and take a significant step up.
The Eagles will also face one of the easiest schedules, if you’re sensing a theme. They’ll miss Deandre Hopkins in their visit to Arizona in Week 5, and a visit to the Colts, and home games versus the Packers (Week 12) and Saints (Week 17). A home game versus the Vikings in Week 2 should be a good early litmus test for both teams.
DVOA statistics & strategic tendencies sourced from Football Outsiders