Heading into the offseason, the Philadelphia Eagles stood out as the clear-cut favorites to repeat as division champions in 2014.
1. New York Giants
Why they're atop our list: The Giants haven't always been players on the open market, but their free agency haul this time around has been impressive.
New York's revamped secondary rivals Washington's ramped-up collection of receivers as the NFC East's most improved position group. The combination of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond give New York two immediate starters. The G-Men were solid stopping the run last season, and now have a secondary packed with potential.
2. Washington Redskins
That kind of open-market splash rarely works out in the NFL, but Washington has set the table for an RGIII bounce-back campaign.
Unlike Carolina's approach with Cam Newton, the Redskins raided the open market to surround their young quarterback with weapons. The DeSean signing was an inter-division coup d'état. Pairing him with Pierre Garcon, Andre Roberts and ascendant tight end Jordan Reed gives new coach Jay Gruden the top group of targets in the NFC East.
The Jason Hatcher signing gives the 'Skins a talented 3-4 end who can push the pocket. Still, there's plenty more work to do on a defense that held this team captive all season.
»Secondary help: Washington's defensive backfield missed tackles and gave up big plays from wire to wire. Opposing QBs completed a whopping 65.6 percent of their throws against the 'Skins and only St. Louis gave up more yards per attempt than Washington's 8.0. Young safeties Bacarri Rambo and Phillip Thomas need work, and Ryan Clark isn't about to save the day.
3. Philadelphia Eagles
What's changed: The departure of DJax will be felt, but the return of Jeremy Maclin and the re-signing of Riley Cooper ensure that Nick Foles will have two reliable targets to throw to. Foles won't face competition from Michael Vick, who signed with the Jets in a move that resulted in Mark Sanchez winding up as the Eagles' new backup. That's a downgrade.
Kelly's fluid and versatile offense will miss Jackson's speed, but his production can be matched with a combination of Maclin and the recently acquired Darren Sproles, one of the game's finest pair of hands out of the backfield.
The Eagles haven't been especially active in free agency, but they're still the team to beat in the East.
»Help at receiver: Look for the team to mine May's draft for a legitimate No. 3 pass-catcher. Nobody behind Maclin and Cooper has emerged as the frontrunner, but this year's crop of college prospects is thick with talent.
»Continue to groom the secondary: Adding safety Malcolm Jenkins wasn't the splash some hoped for when Philly was whispered about as a target for T.J. Ward or Jairus Byrd. NFL Media's Daniel Jeremiah expects Philly to use the No. 17 pick on a defender and specifically named safety prospects Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor.
4. Dallas Cowboys
Why they have regressed: Cap-strapped to the point of suffocation, the Cowboys have seen too much talent walk out the door this offseason.
»Add receiver help, extend Dez Bryant: Coach Jason Garrett told Around The League in March that Bryant is "certainly the type of player" Dallas wants to keep around long-term. That's a no-brainer, despite Dez's lingering back issues. We'd also like to see the Cowboys add talent at the position after parting ways with Miles Austin.
»Defensive line help: There's no replacing Ware, but Dallas better add bodies along the defensive front. Melton at tackle helps a unit that allowed a whopping 128.5 yards per game on the ground last season, but there's little depth at end after George Selvie.