As free agency and the draft approach, every team has some level of excitement. Some teams are looking to contend in 2021. Others only want to move in the right direction. However, the NFL is unique in that every team has a chance to win the Super Bowl each season.
With as volatile as football can be, the smallest of breaks could launch a Super Bowl run. Even the 1-15 Jacksonville Jaguars could position themselves to be a contender. Unlikely? Sure, but football is unpredictable for a reason. There is a path for all 32 teams to win Super Bowl LVI.
Let’s continue with the NFC East.
Washington Football Team
Washington can replicate its defense success while having a much-improved offense. Ryan Fitzpatrick may not be the ideal quarterback, but he is undoubtedly superior to Alex Smith at this point. Antonio Gibson should be one of the best running backs in the NFL in 2021, and the duo of Terry McLaurin and Curtis Samuel will help a shaky quarterback situation. Washington could add a wide receiver or a tackle with the No.19 pick in the draft, continuing to boost the offensive upside.
However, the Super Bowl hopes of Washington rest on the defense. The front seven, led by Chase Young, is one of the best in the NFL. Jonathan Allen, Montez Sweat, and Matthew Ioannidis are stellar players who will live in opposing backfields. Washington could strengthen the linebacker corps with the No.19 pick (see Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah), but even if they wait until later in the draft, Washington has a solid group with Cole Holcomb leading the way. The secondary, bolstered by new signing William Jackson, is a solid unit. Altogether, Washington has the upside to have the No.1 defense in the NFL.
With a solid defense, Washington could ride a league-leading defense to the franchise’s first Super Bowl since Super Bowl XXVI.
New York Giants
Much of the Washington blurb applies here, but the New York Giants have a higher offensive ceiling. Daniel Jones is far from a perfect quarterback (or even a good quarterback at times), but he has some potential. Saquon Barkley is coming back, and he should be a top-five running back. Kenny Golladay has the upside of a top-10 wide receiver. Jones has one of the most effective deep balls in the NFL, and Golladay is one of the best contested-catch receivers in the league: a match made in heaven. If Jones shows any improvement, the Giants could win the division and be a dangerous team in January. Kyle Rudolph will also help the passing attack.
The defense overachieved slightly in 2020, but they have added pieces entering 2021. Adoree’ Jackson has first-round pedigree, and he should be a good No.2 cornerback behind James Bradberry. Leonard Williams is back in the fold after an impressive 2020 season. The Giants may lean offense in the draft to help Jones, but they are an ideal landing spot for an EDGE at No.11 or a blue-chip prospect such as Micah Parsons.
The Giants had the No.31 offense (by scoring and yardage) compared to a top-12 defense. If the offense improves, they could make the playoffs assuming the defense remains competent. Jones may not strike fear in the hearts of his opponents, but New York’s array of weapons might.
Stop if you’ve heard this before: the Dallas Cowboys have a talented roster. In a flipped script from Washington and New York, the Cowboys have a potentially elite offense and a problematic defense. With Dak Prescott returning in 2021, the offense should once again be one of the best units in the league. Ezekiel Elliott may have lost a step, but Tony Pollard is more than capable enough to compensate for Elliott slipping. The receiver corps is as good as it gets. Amari Cooper is a premier route runner. CeeDee Lamb is dynamic with the ball in his hands. Michael Gallup might be the best-kept secret in the NFL as he will be the No.3 receiver for the Cowboys, but he could be a No.1 for a decent chunk of the league. The offensive line should be healthier than 2020.
The Cowboys had a generally decent passing defense in 2020, but the rushing defense was a catastrophe. They were gashed for at least 200 rushing yards four different times including 304 against the Cleveland Browns and 297 against the Baltimore Ravens. Dallas is one of just 28 teams since 2000 to be gashed for 200 yards on the ground four times in a season.
If Dallas has a remotely competent run defense in 2021, they’ll be a much better defensive team, and they should win the NFC East. Much of run defense is effort and a healthier front seven with help. Dallas is likely to target a cornerback with the No.10 pick in the draft, joining 2020 draft pick Trevon Diggs and the 2020 Atlanta Falcons safety duo of Keanu Neal and Damontae Kazee.
With an elite offense and competent defense, Dallas could compete for the Super Bowl.
While the Philadelphia Eagles appear to be trending down, there is plenty of upside in the current offense. At a minimum, Jalen Hurts is a dynamic runner and a headache to deal with. Miles Sanders is a talented back. The Eagles are also positioned to grab one of the top-four pass-catchers in the 2021 draft (Ja’Marr Chase, DeVonta Smith, Jaylen Waddle, or Kyle Pitts) assuming there is an early run on quarterbacks that pushes the weapons down the draft board. With a relatively healthy 2021, the Eagles could return to their perch in the NFC East. In college, Hurts showed dramatic improvement between his Alabama and Oklahoma days, so another improvement is not out of the question for the 2019 Heisman runner-up.
Defensively, the raw numbers did not look great but remember the Eagles had 29 turnovers, so the defense was often put in a bad position. As long as Hurts does not turn the ball over as often as 2020 Carson Wentz did, the Eagles defense will be perfectly fine. The per-drive stats look great as Philly could be as good as a top-10 defense in 2021.
Offensively, the Eagles will zig while most of the rest of the league zags, so they could capitalize on a unique system and win games. With neutral turnover luck, the Eagles have a solid chance at the division, and Philadelphia is no stranger to a little bit of luck in the playoffs.