Heading into the 2016 campaign, Around The NFL is taking a closer look at each division over the course of this week. Which storylines -- and players -- will define the coming months within each of the league's eight sectors? Check out the NFC East entry below.
Most significant changes from 2015
The NFC East was, at one time, one of the best-quarterbacked divisions in the NFL; perpetually known as one of the toughest schedules to traverse thanks to long-established rivalries and skilled owners who drafted well or splurged on the open market. Now? It is ripe for the taking, which is why you've seen the Cowboys (2015) and now Giants (2016) go all-in during the offseason. The Giants are now viewed as the team to beat, though spending $200 million during the offseason (for the second time in three years) is rarely a sign of good things to come. Still, against the Jets, their shiny new defensive line looked dominant at times and could end up being the most feared position group in the division this season.
One player to watch from each team
Dallas Cowboys: Dak Prescott, quarterback. Prescott's starlit preseason will now spill into the regular season as Tony Romo recovers from a back injury. Prescott's age, mobility and body type will allow Dallas' offense to explore a different section of the playbook, especially with rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott searching for more ways to get some separation. But let's not pigeonhole the rookie from Mississippi State just yet. Prescott wowed us with his touch, arm strength and accuracy during the preseason and deserves the chance to show it all off during the regular season.
Philadelphia Eagles: Jordan Matthews, wide receiver. He has been good about touting the rest of his wide receivers this offseason -- despite mounting criticism -- but probably understands the reality of the situation. Matthews is going to have to do so much of this on his own, especially with Dorial Green-Beckham adjusting to a new system and a new quarterback. The division is wide open, and the Eagles have the personnel on defense to be able to compete. But if they want to make a legitimate run at the playoffs under first-year head coach Doug Pederson, Matthews is going to have to be downright exceptional. His best season to date was last year under Chip Kelly, when he caught 85 balls for 997 yards and eight touchdowns.
New York Giants: Damon Harrison, defensive tackle. This was the smartest acquisition of the offseason. The team will gamble big on trying to turn him into more of a traditional 4-3 player, but the instinct and ability to cause a four-car pileup in the backfield never really goes away. Harrison will be instrumental in freeing up Olivier Vernon and Jason Pierre-Paul. Teaming him with former second-round pick Johnathan Hankins makes sense and creates an immediate mismatch against the bodies inside.
Washington Redskins: Kirk Cousins, quarterback. Sort of obvious here, but when a team opts to franchise tag its quarterback and create a ridiculously high floor for his next long-term contract, it makes us wonder how much internal confidence there is in the captain. Cousins played well down the stretch last year, finally making a star-loaded offense hum at optimal speed. Detractors will point out that it was against a soft-serve schedule and that Cousins benefited from the complete and total chaos within the division. It won't be hard to figure out who is right this year.
What we'll be talking about at season's end
The Giants potentially wasting the closing arc of Eli Manning's prime. The push to spend the war chest in free agency this offseason was less about general manager Jerry Reese trying to save his job and more about getting the right players around Manning to make a return to the playoffs -- something the Giants have not done since their Super Bowl season in 2011. A quarterback like Manning comes around once every 20 years for a franchise if it's lucky (or if it's the Colts or Packers), and it will be difficult to stomach another season without a trip to the playoffs in 2016 with this roster currently intact. Manning is having a late-career renaissance in this Mike McCarthy-style offense, but there are so many components to a successful team that need to work in harmony. Last year, it was one of the worst defenses in football bringing him down.