Quarter Pole Prediction: Cowboys Riding Toward Division Title
Through the first quarter (four weeks) of the 2019-20 NFL season, the Dallas Cowboys seem to have the inside track to a division title.
Updated: Oct. 3, 2019 • 7:16 PM ET
The Dallas Cowboys have the best record in the NFC East.
Prediction: The Dallas Cowboys are markedly better than the rest of the NFC East and will be the first team since 2004 to win the division in back-to-back seasons.
The Cowboys are firing on all cylinders. They’re 3-1 to start the 2019 NFL campaign and already 2-0 in the division with Week 1 and Week 2 victories over the New York Giants (35-17) and Washington Redskins (31-21), respectively. Dallas has talent everywhere, is mostly healthy and doesn’t have many daunting foes remaining on its schedule.
Below is a breakdown of the division by position to support the opening prediction.
1. Dak Prescott (Cowboys)
2. Carson Wentz (Eagles)
3. Daniel Jones (Giants)
4. Case Keenum (Redskins)
Prescott is an improved version of the player we saw during his first three seasons. In new offensive coordinator Kellen Moore’s offense, Prescott has completed 92-of-127 passes, good for an incredible 72.4 completion percentage. He has thrown for 1,143 yards (9.0 per attempt) with nine touchdowns and three interceptions, while also leading the NFL in total QBR with an 86.6 rating.
Coming off an injury for the second-straight season, Wentz has 88 completions on 145 attempts (60.7 completion percentage) this year. He has thrown for 963 yards (6.6 yards per attempt) with nine touchdowns and two interceptions. The Eagles quarterback is sixth in total QBR with a 68.0 rating.
Jones is 49-for-71 (69.0 completion percentage) with 578 passing yards (8.1 per attempt), three touchdowns and two interceptions. In a small sample size of almost three games, as Eli Manning started the first two games of the season, Jones is ranked third in total QBR with an 80.2 rating and looks like a promising player for the Giants.
Entering Week 3 against the Chicago Bears, Keenum had played very well for Washington. He had thrown five touchdowns and zero interceptions with a 110.5 quarterback rating. Two weeks later, however, Keenum may no longer be Washington’s starter after exiting the team’s Week 4 blowout loss to the Giants. This season, Keenum is 92-for-135 (68.1 completion percentage) with 970 passing yards (7.2 per attempt), seven touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s 18th in total QBR with a 46.3 rating.
1. Ezekiel Elliott (Cowboys)
2. Saquon Barkley (Giants)
3. Miles Sanders/Jordan Howard (Eagles)
4. Adrian Peterson (Redskins)
Elliott is not only the best running back in the division, he’s the cream of the crop in the NFL. He has won the rushing title two of the last three seasons, while also being utilized in the passing game. After holding out for a new contract in training camp, Elliott has 73 rushes for 324 yards (4.4 yards per attempt) and three touchdowns this season.
Barkley is the best young back in the league and one of the best overall. Dealing with a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 3 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Barkley has rushed 37 times for 237 yards and one touchdown. Without their starting three-down running back and best weapon on the Giants’ offense in Week 4 (Barkley has returned to practice, but could miss Week 5), New York turned to Wayne Gallman.
The Eagles were able to see their rookie running back, Sanders, play in their own state at Penn State. He has carried the rock 45 times for 178 yards (4 yards per attempt) and 0 touchdowns this season. In their 34-27 victory over the Green Bay Packers in Week 4, the Eagles’ other back, Howard, carried the ball more times than Sanders and has tallied 40 rushes for 186 yards (4.7 per carry) and three touchdowns this season.
At 34 years old, Peterson has kept himself in immaculate shape. After fellow back Derrius Guice’s injury, the former Oklahoma standout has taken the reins for the Redskins, rushing 33 times for 90 yards (2.7 yards per attempt) and one touchdown this season.
Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup give the Cowboys two wide receivers with at least 200 yards receiving this season, a claim no other team in the NFC East can make (excluding Giants tight end Evan Engram and Redskins running back Chris Thompson). Furthermore, Gallup hasn’t played since Week 2 due to injury, making his numbers that much more impressive. Cooper’s four touchdowns are more than any other receiver in the division, while Randall Cobb (157 yards) and Devin Smith (113 yards) have the most receiving yards among third and fourth options in the division.
Philly’s one-two punch of Nelson Agholor and speedster DeSean Jackson is formidable. Agholor is second on the Eagles, behind tight end Zach Ertz, with 168 receiving yards. Jackson’s 19.3 yards per reception and two, 50-plus-yard touchdowns against Washington are tremendous, and he hasn’t lost a step in his 30s. Alshon Jeffery is a possession receiver, who is targeted often in the Eagles’ offense, when healthy; and Mack Hollins is a good slot receiver, who brings more speed to the Eagles.
The Redskins are led by rookie phenom “Scary” Terry McLaurin, who has 16 receptions for 257 yards and three touchdowns this season. Paul Richardson is third on the team (behind Thompson) with 149 receiving yards and two touchdowns, while Trey Quinn is a good third option with 109 receiving yards and one touchdown this season.
Sterling Shepard had a stellar Week 3 (7 catches, 100 yards, 1 touchdown) with Jones at the helm, and their connection is something for Giants fans to look forward to in the future. His 218 receiving yards are second only to Engram on the team. Cody Latimer (104 yards) and Benny Fowler (99 yards) are next on a team that needs more receiving weapons.
1. Zach Ertz (Eagles)
2. Evan Engram (Giants)
3. Jason Witten (Cowboys)
4. Vernon Davis (Redskins)
Ertz is not only the best tight end in the division, but one of the top three players at his position in the NFL (with Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce and San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle). Ertz has 24 receptions for 255 yards this season on a team that has more receiving talent than the Giants.
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Engram is one of the league’s five best, leading the division with 27 receptions for 331 yards and two touchdowns. Engram and Shepard are the top targets on this team, and Jones should use Engram as a safety blanket over the next several years.
If this were a legacy competition or comparison, Witten would be at the top of this list. He’ll surely be a Hall-of-Famer after his career ends and at 37 years old, Witten is still a good blocker who can help Prescott move the chains. He’s not as fast as he once was, but he has still accumulated 14 receptions for 144 yards and two touchdowns this year. Witten is the consummate professional (2012 Walter Payton NFL Man of the Year award winner) and always hands the ball back to the official post touchdown.
Davis has done a nice job of extending his career in the nation’s capital. He’s the most consistent tight end in Washington, due to Jordan Reed’s injury, and can still hurdle defenders while carrying others into the end zone at 35 years old. Davis has 10 catches for 123 yards and one touchdown this season.
The Cowboys have the best offensive line in football with left tackle Tyron Smith, center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin being the best players at their position. The line has guided Elliott to two rushing titles in the past three seasons, while Prescott has had time to find receivers and move through progressions. Prescott has been sacked only two times this year, the lowest in the NFC East.
The Eagles have built a stout offensive line, as left tackle Jason Peters, center Jason Kelce and right tackle Lane Johnson are three of the best around. Wentz has been sacked seven times this season, but often extends plays with his legs, leading to increased sack totals.
Washington has had offensive line struggles for more than a decade. Left tackle Trent Williams was the gleaming gem of this group, but he hasn’t reported to the team due to a contract dispute and dissatisfaction with how the Redskins medical staff handled a growth on his head. Washington did a nice job in acquiring left tackle Donald Penn to replace him, and Brandon Scherff is a solid player at right guard. The, Redskins, however, have a turnstile at left guard in Ereck Flowers, and right tackle Morgan Moses has not played as well as the team would like.
Prior to last season, the Giants brought in new general manager Dave Gettleman and head coach Pat Shurmur. Both believe in building the offensive and defensive lines, evidenced by left guard Will Hernandez being a high draft pick last season. The G-Men acquired former New England Patriots left tackle Nate Solder before last season and traded for right guard Kevin Zeitler earlier this year, but this is a pretty good line (on paper) that has underperformed. Manning was sacked twice this season and Jones has been sacked five times. Losing Barkley doesn’t help this unit, either, as they can no longer push opposing defensive lines back.
The Eagles are the best in this category. Fletcher Cox is an absolute beast at defensive tackle, while he and Brandon Graham are very smart players who are good at stopping the run and getting to the quarterback. Malik Jackson started the season as the other defensive tackle, but suffered a Lisfranc injury in Week 1 versus the Redskins. Defensive tackle Tim Jernigan is also a good running mate for Cox, while Derek Barnett and Vinny Curry round out a loaded group.
The Redskins don’t have many units that are in the top two of the division, but their defensive line is one of them. Recently, Redskins brass has done well drafting players like defensive ends Jonathan Allen and Matt Ioannidis (5th round pick in 2016), and nose tackle Daron Payne.
Pass rush has been a problem for the Cowboys, though, led by defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Unfortunately, he doesn’t have much help. Dallas added Robert Quinn in the offseason, but Tyrone Crawford, Maliek Collins and Antwaun Woods aren’t as scary as the supporters on the Redskins’ or Eagles’ lines.
The Giants have worked to address their defensive line since 2017. All three starters, B.J. Hill, Dalvin Tomlinson and Dexter Lawrence, along with second-teamer R.J. McIntosh, were drafted during this period. It’s a work in progress, but New York hopes these players live up to their potential.
The trio of Leighton Vander Esch, Jaylon Smith and Sean Lee not only top this division, but they make up one of the more formidable groups in the NFL. All three players are very athletic and can cover in pass defense. While various injuries have slowed Lee a bit, he’s still one of the smartest linebackers in the league. All three players can fly and are excellent at stopping the run as well.
The Eagles’ linebackers take second place in the NFC East with Zack Brown and Nigel Bradham leading the way, while Kamu Grugier-Hill is also a serviceable player. This isn’t a stellar group, but being better than the Redskins and Giants linebacking core isn’t difficult.
The Redskins have one of the best linebackers in Ryan Kerrigan, who’s strong and adept at rushing the passer and stuffing the run. Montez Sweat finally got on the sack board in Week 3, and Washington hopes he can fulfill his potential. John Bostic has done a good job calling the defense.
The Giants need a lot of help at the second level of their defense. Alec Ogletree is the name everyone will recognize in this group, but Markus Golden is a tad bit better. Lorenzo Carter and Ryan Connelly fill out the unit.
The Cowboys secondary is the cream of the crop in the NFC East. The group, consisting of starting corners Byron Jones and Chidobe Awuzie and starting safeties Xavier Woods and Jeff Heath, are top 10 in every passing defense category. They’ve given up 221.8 passing yards per game (10th), three passing touchdowns (2nd) and an 86.1 opponent passer rating (11th). The only area this team ranks low in is interceptions (1), ranking in the bottom third of the league in this category.
The Giants secondary hasn’t been good, but they’ve been better than the porous secondaries in Philly and New York. New York has allowed 279.5 passing yards per game (24th), eight passing touchdowns (24th) and a 99.3 opponent passer rating (22nd). The Giants are elite in the interception category with five, tied for second in the NFL. Losing safety Landon Collins to the Redskins hurt this unit, but they have veteran safety Antoine Bethea, who is a solid player.
The Eagles have one of the worst pass defenses in the NFL, allowing 323.8 yards per game (32nd). They’ve also allowed nine passing touchdowns (27th) and a 94.7 passer rating to opponents (15th). Turning the opponent over (four interceptions) has been the silver lining for a secondary highlighted by safety Malcolm Jenkins.
The Redskins secondary is slightly worse than the Eagles. They’re giving up 251.8 passing yards per game (18th), while allowing 10 passing touchdowns (30th) and a 112.4 passer rating to opponents (28th). Three of the four teams in this division have at least 4 interceptions, including the Redskins.