The Washington Football Team is the defending champion, taking home the NFC East crown with a record of 7-9 in 2020. If recent history serves true, the other three teams will be battling it out this season as a repeat champion is unlikely to occur.
There hasn’t been a repeat champion since the Philadelphia Eagles won the division from 2001-2004. Since then, the New York Giants have won it three times, the Dallas Cowboys five, the Eagles five and the Washington Football Team three.
In 2021, the division looks wide open again. There isn’t a dominant, three-faceted team in the bunch. While all four do have some strengths, they also have a weakness that is almost as big. Which team can mitigate and overcome those weaknesses will likely win the division.
What are the biggest question marks facing the teams of the NFC East? We break it down here, sharing one massive question each team will have to answer in 2021.
Washington Football Team: How Much Fitzmagic Is Left?
Washington overcame the odds in 2020 to become the division champions. Alex Smith, who made a triumphant return from a heinous leg injury that threatened his life, led the team to a 5-1 record in games he started. While he was unable to play in the playoffs, his return is what helped turn things around.
This season, it is the quarterback position once again that is the biggest question facing the team. Dwayne Haskins didn’t pan out, which is why Smith was thrust into the starting role last season. With Smith retired, the team will now be relying on veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick to lead the team.
The Harvard grad has carved out a solid NFL career for himself, but he has finished a season with a winning record only twice; 2015 with the New York Jets and last season with the Miami Dolphins.
Washington has a deep group of skill position players to throw the ball to, a good running game and solid offensive line. But, it is fair to question if the gun-slinging Fitzpatrick can keep them atop the division.
Dallas Cowboys: Can The Defense Stop Anyone?
The Dallas Cowboys’ 2020 season was derailed because of injuries. Team health could have been the one massive question facing the team in 2021, but injuries are not something they can control. What they can control is the team’s defense, and it was abysmal in 2020.
The Cowboys’ defensive unit couldn’t stop a cold in 2020, as opponents racked up yardage and points against them weekly. Dallas surrendered the most points in franchise history and second-most yards.
Mike Nolan is out as defensive coordinator and he was replaced by former Atlanta Falcons head coach, Dan Quinn. There is optimism for a turnaround from the unit this season, as Quinn’s energy and scheme change has caused a brighter outlook.
The Cowboys’ offense is going to put up points. As long as this unit is average or slightly below average, an improvement on last season’s league-worst, this team will win games, and could even end up winning the NFC East division.
Philadelphia Eagles: Is Jalen Hurts The Future At Quarterback?
The Philadelphia Eagles have a ton of question marks on their roster. The secondary leaves a lot to be desired outside of Darius Slay and the offensive line has deteriorated in recent seasons. Other than reigning Heisman Trophy winner DeVonta Smith, the pass-catching group is also underwhelming.
However, the biggest question mark facing the team is whether Jalen Hurts is the future of the franchise at quarterback. The team moved on from Carson Wentz this offseason, so Hurts will have his chance to showcase his talent.
Hurts can get it done with his legs, but he needs to improve his passing. He completed only 52 percent of his passes last season, throwing six touchdowns and four interceptions.
While his targets aren’t the most talented group in the NFL, good quarterbacks can elevate the level of player for the people around them. Will Hurts be able to do that with the Eagles, or will they be on the lookout for another quarterback next offseason?
New York Giants: Will Daniel Jones Take The Next Step?
The 2021 season is make or break for Daniel Jones. The Giants have done everything in their power to set him up to succeed and now it is time for him to make the most of it.
New York has given him one of the deepest pass-catching groups in the NFL. Kenny Golladay and John Ross were signed in free agency and Kadarius Toney was selected in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft. They are joining Darius Slayton, Sterling Shepard and Dante Pettis at wide receiver. Pro Bowl tight end Evan Engram will be joined by veteran free agent signing Kyle Rudolph.
The Giants will also be getting all-world running back Saquon Barkley back in the lineup, as he lasted only six quarters in 2020 before blowing out his knee. The offensive line, while still a bit of a work in progress, has improved, as well.
The roster around Jones has improved, but he must make strides himself as well. He must cut down on his turnovers, improve his pocket awareness and decision-making. He has been given the pieces to succeed, now he just has to put it together and compete in the NFC East or the Giants will be in the market for a new quarterback.