In 2019, the NFC East was a neck-and-neck race right up to the end of the season. In week 16, the Eagles and Cowboys were both 7-7 as they faced off in a marquee matchup in Philly. The Eagles took the win in a 17-9 battle, with the Eagles’ weak secondary somehow shutting down Dak Prescott. As the Cowboys finished 8-8, one game behind the Eagles’ 9-7, criticism started to pour down on Dallas, wondering how such a potent roster finished at .500. Though the Eagles’ didn’t make it past the first round of the playoffs, the team was plagued by injuries, including quarterback Carson Wentz, absolving the team of criticism.
The Cowboys had a rocky offseason for their defense. The headlining offseason news for the Cowboys’ was when they lost lockdown corner, Byron Jones, to Miami in free agency. This leaves Dallas without a clear number one cornerback, and their secondary is looking vulnerable. A move of equal impact that has gone overlooked is the loss of edge rusher Robert Quinn to the Bears. Quinn led all edge rushers with a pass rush win rate of 33 percent in 2019, a whopping five percent higher than the next player. He was a large part of the Cowboys elite defensive line that was able to distract from secondary holes. To boost their defensive back group, the Cowboys brought in safety Haha Clinton-Dix. They also acquired defensive tackles Dontari Poe and Gerald McCoy to try and ease the pain of Quinn’s exit.
On offense, the Cowboys selected wide receiver CeeDee Lamb 17th overall to add to their excellent receiver group. Unfortunately, Cowboys center Travis Frederick retired, leaving a hole in the Cowboys’ offensive line that they have yet to fill. Overall, the Cowboys got worse in the offseason.
While the Cowboys lost defensive pieces, the Eagles gained many. They traded very little to acquire Lions’ elite cornerback Darius Slay, and they signed Nickell Robey-Coleman. Their secondary was heavily picked on last season, but these moves should prevent that from happening again in 2020. They also acquired defensive tackle Javon Hargrave to add to an already strong defensive line.
On the offensive side of the ball, the Eagles added to their other weak point: their receiving corps. They drafted wide receiver Jalen Reagor 21st overall and later traded down in the draft to get Marquise Goodwin from the 49ers. Overall, the Eagles significantly improved in the offseason.
Seeing as the Eagles won the division last season, and had a much better offseason than Dallas, it would seem that they are in prime position to take the NFC East crown once again. However, the Cowboys have a better chance of topping the Eagles than it seems. In 2019, despite their 8-8 record, Dallas had the third-highest offensive EPA/play and the highest yards per play, while maintaining an average defensive EPA/play. They also have a new head coach, Mike McCarthy, who is an improvement over Jason Garrett. The Eagles were very mediocre on both offense and defense and had a worse point differential than the Cowboys by a whopping 82 points. Despite the roster getting worse, the Cowboys are poised for a big comeback this year. The Eagles greatly over-performed the true level of their play last season, so it will be interesting to see if their new acquisitions can hold off their impending regression. Overall, it should be a very tight race, but the Cowboys seem to be the better bet.
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