Plenty to like about the Eagles upgrades on offense, but if they’ve given Fletcher Cox a formidable partner with Malik Jackson, they could have one of the best defensive lines in the conference.
Enjoy the next four months of football, which are sure to be filled with fantastic finishes, comical controversies and plenty of prayers every time Carson Wentz drops back in the pocket.
Here is a look at the NFC with teams listed in projected order of finish.
— Philadelphia Eagles
Last season: 9-7, won a playoff game, nearly made it back to the conference final.
Over/under wins: 9.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 11 vs. New England. Carson Wentz will be the sixth Eagles quarterback to start opposite Tom Brady. Or will it be Josh McCown? The Birds’ others: Donovan McNabb (2003, 2005; lost both), A.J. Feeley (2007, lost), Vince Young (2011, lost), Sam Bradford (2015, won), Nick Foles (2018, you might remember that one).
If Brandon Graham reaches his goal of 10 sacks in his 10th season, he’ll get to 52.5 for his career and move into the top five in team history. Reggie White (124), Trent Cole (85.5), Clyde Simmons (76), Hugh Douglas (54.5) and Greg Brown (50.5) are the top five.If Malik Jackson rediscovers his 2015-16 form, he and Fletcher Cox will make a scary tandem at defensive tackle.It won’t take much for rookie Miles Sanders to become the best Penn State running back in Eagles history. Eric McCoo (54 career rushing yards) holds the top spot, followed by Tony Hunt (25 yards). Kenny Jackson, a wide receiver who played for the Eagles in the 1980s, is probably the best Nittany Lion/Eagles player. Either him or Vyto Kab.Key number: 30. Eagles’ defensive ranking last season in passing yards allowed. Probably would have been dead last if the Redskins weren’t forced to play Josh Johnson in the season finale. The Birds gave up just 22 touchdown passes, however, which was tied for eighth in the league.
— Dallas Cowboys
Last season: 10-6, won the division and won a playoff game.
Over/under wins: 9.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 15 vs. L.A. Rams. The Dallas defense spent a good part of the offseason washing off the tire marks after giving up 273 yards rushing to the Rams in last year’s playoffs.
Rookie Tony Pollard took advantage of Ezekiel Elliott’s holdout enough to earn playing time. He’s listed as a running back but played wide receiver at Memphis.Pollard was 6 years old when Jason Witten came into the NFL. Witten, 37, has resumed his Hall of Fame career after taking a year off.Randall Cobb steps into the slot receiver role formerly held by Cole Beasley, who is now with Buffalo. If Cobb’s healthy, it’s an upgrade. He missed seven games last season because of hamstring and concussion issues.Key number: 23. Seasons since America’s Team last won the Super Bowl.
— N.Y. Giants
Last season: 5-11, but man, Saquon was a monster.
Over/under wins: 6.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 10 at N.Y. Jets. Big Blue has a pretty friendly overall schedule including this road game at their home stadium. They just have to sit on the other sideline. The Giants are 8-5 in this series, though the Jets won in overtime in 2015.
Eli Manning is in the final year of his contract. This will be rookie Daniel Jones’ team at some point. It sure won’t be Odell Beckham’s.Strong safety Jabrill Peppers, acquired from Cleveland for Beckham, is part of reworked secondary. Free agent Antoine Bethea is the free safety and rookie first-rounder Deandre Baker joins Janoris Jenkins at cornerback.The Giants were 4-0 in the preseason for the first time since 2014. They went 6-10 that year.Key number: 382. Number of rushing attempts (261) and passing targets (121) Saquon Barkley had last season. Whew.
— Washington Redskins
Last season: 7-9, and they needed four quarterbacks just to get through it.
Over/under wins: 6.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 8 vs. Minnesota. Think the Redskins miss playing franchise tag with Kirk Cousins? He came up small for the Vikes in Week 17 last year, but he’d still be better than what Washington has now.
Jay Gruden is 35-44-1 in his five seasons as head coach, but if the selection of rookie quarterback Dwayne Haskins turns out to be a good one, he might be able to weather another mediocre season.Case Keenum, 6-10 last year in Denver, is the opening-day QB.Tight end Jordan Reed suffered his seventh reported concussion during the preseason. He’s a beast out there, but that’s worrisome.Key number: 6.5. Yards per carry Derrius Guice had at LSU. He missed all of 2018 after tearing an ACL in the first preseason game.
— Green Bay Packers
Last season: 6-9-1, led to significant changes.
Over/under wins: 9.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 4 vs. Eagles. Carson Wentz vs. Aaron Rodgers in prime time on a Thursday night? Yeah, that’s cool.
The Packers have a new head coach (Matt LaFleur), offensive coordinator (Nathaniel Hackett) and quarterbacks coach (Luke Getsy). Even changed up the offensive line coach. Aaron Rodgers, for what it’s worth, turns 36 on Dec. 2.Signed linebacker Za’Darius Smith away from Baltimore to help the pass rush. Smith had 8.5 sacks last season after registering 10 in the three previous seasons. Should be an upgrade over Clay Matthews, who is now with the Rams.Fantasy sleeper? Second-year slot receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who earned high praise from Rodgers this summer.Key number: 25. Touchdown passes Rodgers had last season, fewest for him ever in a full season.
— Chicago Bears
Last season: 12-4, but (doink) hardly anyone remembers (doink) that they improved by seven wins over the previous season.
Over/under wins: 9.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 16 vs. Kansas City. The Bears defense gave up the fewest points last year while the Chiefs offense scored the most. Currently scheduled to be the Sunday night game.
Wide receiver Allen Robinson gave 25 Chicago-area teachers $200 each to spend on items for themselves. “When people think about going back to school, they automatically think about the students,” Robinson told the Chicago Sun Times, “Which, don’t get me wrong, it’s a tremendous part about it. (But) I think the teachers are as well. You want teachers to want to go to school each and every day excited to interact with their students and educate their students.” Pretty cool.Fourth-round rookie David Montgomery will take Jordan Howard’s place in the Bears’ backfield.The Bears’ search for a kicker this offseason to replace Cody Parkey has been borderline comical. During a tryout camp, they used something called “Augusta Silence” to test the kickers’ nerves. They settled on Eddy Pineiro, who has never kicked in a regular-season game.Key number: .666. Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky’s completion percentage in his first season with coach Matt Nagy’s offense. It was .594 in 2017 when he was a rookie.
— Minnesota Vikings
Last season: 8-7-1, missed the playoffs when they lost the season finale to Chicago.
Over/under wins: 9.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 6 vs. Eagles. Remember the video gag Minneapolis mayor Jacob Frey pulled, trashing Eagles fans before Super Bowl 52? Got to hand it to him. It was pretty good.
Kevin Stefanski (St. Joe’s Prep, Penn) will have some help in his first season as offensive coordinator. Former NFL quarterback and Super Bowl-winning coach Gary Kubiak was brought on as an offensive adviser.Rookie Garrett Bradbury will be the center for Kirk Cousins, who understandably took a lot of grief for last year’s mediocrity.”The reason we were 8-7-1 instead of 13-3 was situational football,” tight end Kyle Rudolph told the St. Paul Pioneer Press. “We didn’t execute in critical situations in the fourth quarter of four or five games. So we’ve gone back and learned from that.”Key number: $64 million. Total of the four-year extension signed by wide receiver Adam Thielen, whose salary in 2018 was $3.85 million.
— Detroit Lions
Last season: 6-10, lost five of six midseason after a 3-3 start.
Over/under wins: 6.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 2 vs. L.A. Chargers. One thing current Lions head coach Matt Patricia could do when he was an assistant at New England for all those years was beat Philip Rivers.
DE Trey Flowers reunited with his former coordinator Patricia when he was signed away from New England. Flowers had shoulder surgery after the Super Bowl and didn’t do much during training camp.As huge as the Eagles tight ends are, Detroit’s are even bigger. Jesse James (6-foot-7, 261) is listed as the starter. Rookie T.J. Hockenson (6-5, 250) backs him up.Jan. 5 will be the 28th anniversary of the last time the Lions won a playoff game.Key number: 5.4. Yards per carry last season for running back Kerryon Johnson before injuring a knee in Week 11.
— New Orleans Saints
Last season: 13-3, won seven of eight on the road.
Over/under wins: 11.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 2 at L.A. Rams. Bet the officials are thrilled this isn’t in New Orleans after last year’s blown pass interference non-call in the NFC championship game.
Michael Thomas’ 321 receptions are the most ever for a player’s first three seasons. The Saints made him the highest-paid receiver with a five-year, $100 million extension that includes $61 million guaranteed.Traded up to take Texas A&M’s Erik McCoy in the second round following the sudden retirement of Pro Bowl center Max Unger.Not easy being a Saints fan. Last two playoff losses have been the Minneapolis Miracle and the NOLA No-Call.Key number: 74.4. Drew Brees’ completion percentage last season, a new single-season record for the second consecutive year. Brees will turn 41 on Jan. 15.
— Carolina Panthers
Last season: 7-9. Started 6-2, but lost seven in a row as Cam Newton tried futilely to play through a shoulder injury.
Over/under wins: 7.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 15 vs. Seattle. They’ve played the Seahawks eight times in the last seven years. Seattle has won six, including at the buzzer last season.
Newton threw a scare into fantasy owners when he injured his foot in a preseason game against New England, but he’s fine for Week 1.Imhotep product D.J. Moore is expected to be Newton’s No. 1 receiver with Devin Funchess off to Indianapolis. Moore had 55 catches on 82 targets as a rookie last year.Added DT Gerald McCoy, DE Bruce Irvin and drafted OLB Brian Burns as defense switches to a 3-4. DE Julius Peppers retired.Key number: 107. Receptions for running back Christian McCaffrey, who was on the field for 91.3% of the offensive snaps last season.
— Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Last season: 5-11, fired their coach. Again.
Over/under wins: 6.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 10 vs. Arizona. Bucs coach Bruce Arians shows off his snazzy glasses and hopefully high-powered offense to the Cardinals, where he was head coach from 2013-17.
Rolling the dice one more time with Jameis Winston, who is not signed beyond this season. Tampa Bay is banking on Arians to get Winston, 25, to cut down mistakes and realize his potential.Disruptive DT Ndamukong Suh is with his third team in three years after signing a one-year deal for $9 million. He played last season with the Rams at $14 million.There are 29 assistant coaches on Arians’ staff, and the Bucs are the only team with three African American coordinators. Todd Bowles runs the defense, Byron Leftwich is the OC, Keith Armstrong is in charge of special teams.Key number: 29.0. Average number of points the Buccaneers gave up last season. If they want to ease the pressure on Winston, lowering this number will help.
— Atlanta Falcons
Last season: 7-9; three-game winning streak to end the season makes the record a bit deceptive.
Over/under wins: 8.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 7 vs. L.A. Rams. The Falcons surprised the Rams in the playoffs two years ago, when Julio Jones put up 9-94-1.
Signed veteran free agents James Carpenter and Jamon Brown and used both first-round picks (Chris Lindstrom, Caleb McGarry) on offensive linemen.The Falcons still have a lethal passing game, but they slipped to 27th in rushing.You bet your AstroTurf Julio Jones saw that deal the Saints gave Michael Thomas. Jones, who led the NFL with 1,677 receiving yards last season, is signed through 2020.Key number: 90. Career carries for Ito Smith. He’ll be the backup running back after Devonta Coleman, who just can’t seem to stay healthy.
— L.A. Rams
Last season: 13-3, won NFC title, but scored just three points in their Super Bowl loss.
Over/under wins: 10.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 7 at Atlanta. Last time they played in Atlanta was February’s Super Bowl when Sean McVay’s offense became Bill Belichick’s latest victim.
Tied the 1971 Dolphins for the dubious record of fewest points scored in a Super Bowl. The next season, Miami went undefeated and won the title.Slot receiver Cooper Kupp, who averages about seven targets per game, is healthy again after tearing his ACL in November.Free agent Eric Weddle (33) joins offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (37) as the two Rams players older than the head coach.Key number: 45. Total rushing yards for Todd Gurley in the NFC championship game (10) and Super Bowl (35). His backups are rookie Darrell Henderson and veteran Malcolm Brown. C.J. Anderson signed with Detroit.
— Seattle Seahawks
Last season: 10-6, lost in wild-card round at Dallas.
Over/under wins: 8.5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 3 vs. New Orleans. Best part of whenever the Saints visit Seattle is dialing up the replays of Marshawn Lynch’s devastating touchdown from the 2011 wild-card game. The fans were in such a frenzy they registered on a local seismograph. One of the wildest plays of this generation.
Gave Russell Wilson a four-year extension for $140 million ($107M guaranteed) and avoided a messy game of franchise tagging with the franchise QB.Acquired Jadeveon Clowney for two linebackers to help the pass rush, which was hurt by the trade of DE Frank Clark to Kansas City and the suspension of DT Jarran Reed. Reed is out for the first six games for violating the conduct policy after a domestic violence incident.Remember this name. The Seahawks took linebacker Cody Barton with the 88th pick that originally belonged to the Eagles. That was the pick the Eagles sent to Detroit for the Golden Tate rental. It was traded several times after that.Key number: 57. Number of receptions last year for Tyler Lockett, who takes over as the No. 1 receiver after Doug Baldwin retired and with rookie DK Metcalf dealing with a knee injury.
— San Francisco 49ers
Last season: 4-12, season went in tank when Jimmy Garoppolo got hurt; showed a little life when Nick Mullens won three games.
Over/under wins: 8.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 5 vs. Cleveland. At home on a Monday night coming after their bye — and before they have to play at the Rams. Early litmus test for two aspiring teams.
Jerick McKinnon (knee) is out for the year. Matt Breida and Tevin Coleman will share the running back work.The defense had just seven takeaways last season. Yikes. DE Nick Bosa, the second overall pick in April, missed much of training camp with a high ankle sprain.Wide receiver Dante Pettis, who showed flashes with five touchdown catches in 12 games as a rookie last year, was criticized by the coaching staff for an inconsistent work ethic.Key number: 125. Hits taken by quarterbacks last season. Only Houston (126) gave up more.
— Arizona Cardinals
Last season: 3-13, tied the dubious franchise record for losses.
Over/under wins: 5.
Most interesting non-divisional game: Week 2 at Baltimore. Kyler Murray’s first NFL road game is a challenging one.
Not a lot of franchises can take quarterbacks with top-10 picks in consecutive years, but the Cardinals are one of them. Decided Josh Rosen wasn’t the answer and sent him to Miami for a second-round pick this year and a fifth-rounder next year.Took Kyler Murray with the No. 1 overall pick and hired 39-year-old Kliff Kingsbury as head coach.Getting running back David Johnson back into the league’s elite would be a good start to turning around an offense that was last in yards and points.Key number: -200. Last year’s point differential. The Cardinals scored 225 and gave up 425. Whew.
Odds are via FanDuel on Aug. 31.
©2019 The Philadelphia Inquirer
Visit The Philadelphia Inquirer at www.inquirer.com
Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.