Could this be the best division in football?
The NFC East is working its way back to being the fiercest division in the NFL. Things changed though when the NFL suspended Ezekiel Elliott six games. We'll see how many of those he actually will serve. Because of that, things opened up for the Eagles and Giants who are getting more love from the public. The Redskins are even in the mix with an improved defense.
We'll see how the South Point Casino feels about each team’s win total potential and I’ll share my opinion.
Over 9.5 wins +115...Under 9.5 wins -135
2/1 to win the division
Offense: The recent announcement of the six-game suspension Ezekiel Elliott is facing obviously changes the outlook for this offense. I am fairly confident that he will not end up missing six games after his appeal is heard, but more of the burden will fall to second-year quarterback Dak Prescott in Elliott's absence. This is a run-heavy team that had some small alterations made to the offensive line. Doug Free and Ron Leary are gone and have been replaced by Byron Bell and Jonathan Cooper. The WR corps is solid as usual with Dez Bryant, Cole Beasley, Terrance Williams and Brice Butler. The only huge change here is Tony Romo is no longer on the roster.
Defense: This is where things get dicey. First off, the secondary pretty much all left and the new faces on the back end include veteran cornerback Nolan Carroll as well as holdovers Anthony Brown and Orlando Scandrick. Early camp reviews have been positive for rookie Chidobe Awuzie, who may work his way into the rotation. Up front, David Irving and Damontre Moore are going to be suspended for the start of the season. Sean Lee is back to anchor the middle and 2016 second-round pick Jaylon Smith should make his much-anticipated debut. This group has the potential to be solid, but the growing pains could be obvious and the unit may not come together.
Selection: This play depends upon the length of Elliott's suspension. There's no running back on this roster as good as him and his absence will make a difference. It's rare in this division to have a repeat champion. Dallas took a huge step forward last season after managing just four wins in 2015. The Cowboys are being talked about as a Super Bowl contender, but I just don't see it. There's no value in taking them to win the division so I'm definitely not going there. Dallas has three straight home games in November before finishing up with three of the last four on the road. The schedule figures to be tougher based on last year’s success. I think the under is the play here as there's a real shot for this Cowboys team to finish at or just above .500.
Over 8.5 wins -140...Under 8.5 +120
7/5 to win the division
Offense: Eli Manning has to be salivating over the acquisition of Brandon Marshall. The veteran wide receiver takes the pressure off Odell Beckham Jr. The early injury to Sterling Shepard bears watching as he was solid out of the slot as a rookie. The offense also adds Evan Engram, who was a very efficient tight end at Ole Miss. The problems come up front with an offensive line that had issues blocking anyone last season. Ereck Flowers was pretty bad at left tackle. Paul Perkins takes over at running back as Rashad Jennings was not brought back.
Defense: Rarely has free agency been as successful as it was for this side of the ball. The Giants’ $200 million investment on defense resulted in a top-10 finish in all four major statistical categories. The hope is that second-round pick Dalvin Tomlinson can replace Johnathan Hankins in the middle of the defensive line. If you wanted to nitpick, the linebackers are just alright, but the front and back ends are solid. Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple are a good cornerback duo to take on the talented receivers in this division.
Selection: The Giants went 11-5 last season and made the playoffs for the first time since 2011, also the last time they won the Super Bowl. Ben McAdoo has gotten off to a great start, but the pressure is on to repeat that success this fall. Four of the first six games are on the road, including trips to Dallas, Philadelphia and Denver. New York finishes with three of four at home. The over is the right side here, but the price has made it not worth it. I think New York wins the division and finishes with double-digit victories for the second straight year.
Over 8 wins -135...Under 8 +115
3/1 to win the division
Offense: The Eagles no longer have the worst receiver group in the league. They added Alshon Jeffery and Torrey Smith. Early reports out of camp show that Nelson Agholor is doing well and should be a factor after a drop-filled 2016. The offensive line was considered the best by Pro Football Focus and should be able to open up holes for LeGarrette Blount, Wendell Smallwood and Darren Sproles. When right tackle Lane Johnson returned from his 10-game suspension, the offensive line was at its best. Carson Wentz threw 607 passes last year as a rookie and that number needs to come down if the offense hopes to move the ball consistently.
Defense: Defensively, this unit got an instant upgrade with the acquisition of Ronald Darby. Darby comes over from Buffalo and instantly takes over the #1 spot at corner. The rest of that group still isn't great but now there's a little bit less pressure. Speaking of pressure, the front seven will provide a lot of it with Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan clogging up the middle. Jordan Hicks has been fantastic at linebacker and he needs to stay on the field to be effective. Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod are a very good safety pairing.
Selection: There are still a lot of questions with Doug Pederson in year two. Depending on who you talk to, he may be on the hot seat in Philly. This team is probably still a year away from the playoffs, but they can get very close in 2017. The Eagles have three straight at home leading into their Week 10 bye, but have three in a row on the road to start December. I think you can make a case for either side. If the front seven doesn't get to the quarterback, then a porous secondary comes into play. There's a case for anywhere from 7-9 wins so I'll pass on this one.
Over 7.5 wins -110...Under 7.5 wins -110
7/1 to win the division
Offense: DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon are both gone, but the signing of free agent Terrelle Pryor should improve the offense’s effectiveness in the red zone. Of course, this unit will go as tight end Jordan Reed goes and he’s already dealing with an injury at the start of training camp. His health is vital if Kirk Cousins wants to build off another productive season. Cousins’ contract situation makes this somewhat an audition for him. The offensive line is very good at pass blocking and gave up the fourth-fewest sacks in 2016.
Defense: An infusion of youth up front will help supplement a good linebacking group and solid corners. Jonathan Allen's availability so late in the first round was a surprise to most and Washington snatched him up. Linebacker Zach Brown was a solid free agent acquisition and he will join Mason Foster and Ryan Kerrigan in the middle. The loss of Trent Murphy is big so Preston Smith has to have a better season. The Redskins also have embraced the use of actual safeties instead of converting cornerbacks. D.J. Swearinger signed in free agency after two seasons in Arizona and he will team with Su’a Cravens to from a physical duo on the back end.
Selection: Vegas is down on Washington and I'm not quite sure why. Yes, the losses of Jackson and Garcon are tough, but Pryor will be good and the defense should be better. Last year's schedule featured a ton of odd situations and short weeks, so eight wins was a good number. This year the Redskins alternate home and road contests until Weeks 13-14. This team is the picture of 8-8 or 9-7 so I think the over is a solid play. This is assuming Reed makes it all 16 games and the defense improves. They have an outside shot at a playoff spot as well.
— Written by Matt Josephs, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. Josephs prefers non-Power 5 college football and may be the only one wagering on the Sun Belt. Follow him on Twitter @MidMajorMatt.