By Steve Kelly
The Bears and Packers kick off the NFL’s 100th season tonight in Chicago, and the Redskins face their NFC East rival Eagles this Sunday in Philly.
So, let’s look at how the NFC East will shape up:
Coach: Doug Pederson
2018 record: 9-7
O/U wins: 10
Key additions: T Andre Dillard, RB Miles Sanders, DE Shareef Miller, WR J.J. Arcega-Whiteside, DL Malik Jackson, WR DeSean Jackson, S Andrew Sendejo
Key losses: WR Golden Tate, QB Nick Foles, LB Jordan Hicks, RB Jay Ajayi
QB Carson Wentz is 23-17 as a starter, but Eagles fans are expecting the guy they were calling Wentzylvania in his sophomore season before he wrecked his knee. U.S. Women’s World Cup champion Julie Ertz will be expecting more big things from hubby TE Zach Ertz. WR DeSean Jackson (finger) is the missing deep threat who makes life easier on WRs Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor. TE Dallas Goedert is a red-zone menace. Rookie RB Miles Sanders is the real deal. Look for lots of 12 personnel. The O-line features Pro Bowlers C Jason Kelce and RT Lane Johnson. First-round LT Andre Dillard is quality depth. Only Aaron Donald is better than DT Fletcher Cox. The defensive line is loaded again with DT Malik Jackson joining DEs Brandon Graham and Derek Barnett. Safety Malcolm Jenkins anchors a secondary that was ravaged by injury last season. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is excellent.
LT Jason Peters is 37 and RG Brandon Brooks is eight months removed from an Achilles tear. Kamu Grugier-Hill (knee) has emerged as the best of the linebackers, but he’ll miss the first several weeks. PK Jake Elliott is clutch, but graded 21st by Pro Football Focus.
Look for 10-6. Wentz ($128 million extension) needs to stay healthy now that Nick Foles is in Jacksonville.
2. Dallas Cowboys
Coach: Jason Garrett
2018 record: 10-6
O/U wins: 9
Key additions: WR Randall Cobb, TE Jason Witten, DE Robert Quinn, RB Tony Po
Key losses: WR Cole Beasley, TE Geoff Swaim, DT David Irving
Dak Prescott will be paid like he’s an elite QB even if he isn’t, but he’s the leader of the band — 32-16 in three seasons as a starter. RB Ezekiel Elliott is The Straw That Stirs The Drink. An elite O-line returns C Travis Frederick following a season on the sidelines to join LT Tyron Smith and G Zach Martin. WR Amari Cooper is the Go-To Guy. TE Jason Witten is still better playing than broadcasting. Jaylon Smith and Leighton Vander Esch are arguably the best linebacker tandem in the game. CB Byron Jones is a Pro Bowler, even though he didn’t have any INTs. Jerry Jones showed the money to DE Demarcus Lawrence, who is salivating over the thought of sacking Eli Manning again. PK Brett Maher was an upgrade over Dan Bailey.
Garrett is a steady, classy presence, but he’ll be on the hot seat in the last year of his contract. Kellen Moore is expected to make the offense less predictable, but he’s the youngest (30) play-caller in the NFL. Second-year WR Michael Gallup has promise, but is not a slam-dunk weapon. It’s time for former first-rounder Taco Charlton to step up with DEs Randy Gregory and Robert Quinn opening the season on suspension. Rookie RB Tony Pollard opened eyes this summer and hopes to upgrade the return game.
Look for 10-6. This has the makings of a young Doomsday defense.
3. New York Giants
Coach: Pat Shurmur
2018 record: 5-11
O/U wins: 6
Key additions: WR Golden Tate, EDGE Markus Golden, G Kevin Zeitler, S Antoine Bethea, S Jabrill Peppers, RT Mike Remmers, QB Daniel Jones, DL Dexter Lawrence, CB DeAndre BakerKey losses: WR Odell Beckham Jr., SS Landon Collins, EDGE Olivier Vernon, G Jamon Brown
Saquon Barkley, Saquon Barkley and more Saquon Barkley. A healthy Evan Engram needs to break out. RG Kevin Zeitler helps give Eli Manning his best O-line since the glory days. $41 million man Sterling Shepard catches everything. PK Aldrick Rosas made 32-of-33 FGs last season. Zak DeOssie could long-snap in his sleep (perhaps he does). OLB Lorenzo Carter and DE B.J. Hill are keepers. Nothing worse than a 2-2 start is acceptable given the schedule. It’s Manning’s second year in the offense. No Lil Wayne drama.
The QB dilemma: When? Where? How? The pass rush. Where? The cornerbacks not named Jackrabbit are young and inexperienced. WR Golden Tate serves a four-game suspension. Can Cody Latimer help Manning? Can Jabrill Peppers prove Dave Gettleman right? Can Dexter Lawrence be Gettleman’s dream Hog Mollie? The return game won’t scare anyone. No electrifying touchdown catches.
Look for 7-9. David Cutcliffe won’t give an Over/Under on when Daniel Jones takes over for Manning.
Coach: Jay Gruden
2018 record: 7-9
O/U wins: 6
Key additions: SS Landon Collins, QB Case Keenum (above), OL Ereck Flowers, QB Dwayne Haskins, DE Montez Sweat, WR Terry McLaurin, G Wes Martin, WR Kelvin Harmon
Key losses: EDGE Preston Smith, WR Jamison Crowder, S Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, ILB Zach Brown, OT Ty Nsekhe
OLB Ryan Kerrigan has started every game over his eight-year career and has recorded 84.5 sacks. DTs Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne will be waiting for Saquon Barkley and Ezekiel Elliott. RB Derrius Guice is back from a torn ACL that cost him his rookie season. Third-down back Chris Thompson has caught 164 passes in 49 games over last four seasons. RG Brandon Scherff is back from a torn pec and RT Morgan Moses has played all 16 games for four consecutive seasons, and his agent would prefer that we don’t mention his 14 accepted penalties, most for an offensive lineman. Don’t invite S Landon Collins and Giants GM Dave Gettleman to the same party. Or CB Josh Norman, who isn’t a Pro Bowl player anymore but is still a good player. QB Dwayne Haskins is the future. So is WR Terry McLaurin. The kicking game has continuity with P Tress Way and PK Dustin Hopkins.
Donald Penn is the LT with elite Trent Williams hoping to be traded. Ereck Flowers — repeat, Ereck Flowers — could be the starting LG. Case Keenum is a bridge quarterback. Adrian Peterson is a freak, but he’s a 34-year-old freak. Injury-prone TE Jordan Reed has never played a 16-game season. Former first-round WR Josh Doctson was cut. Left guard could be manned by rookie Wes Martin. Reuben Foster’s torn ACL is a blow at ILB. Gruden needs to find a punt returner. There has been too much dysfunction in the front office.
Look for 6-10.