The NFC East has the potential to be as thrilling as it was last season, when three teams from the same division made the divisional round of the postseason for the first time since 1997. Of course, the division hasn't had a repeat champion since 2004 either (when the Philadelphia Eagles won four consecutive division titles).
The Eagles are coming off a Super Bowl appearance and have a franchise quarterback in Jalen Hurts with one of the best rosters in the NFL. Philadelphia appears primed to repeat as division champions, but the task won't be easy with Dallas also having a talented roster at its disposal (the Cowboys are coming off a 12-win season and divisional round playoff appearance).
Even with the Eagles and Cowboys as the top two teams in the conference, the New York Giants are coming off a surprising divisional round playoff exit. Having Daniel Jones signed to a long-term deal and another season with Brian Daboll at the helm, New York looks to prove it belongs with the best in the division.
Washington was the lone NFC East team to miss the postseason last year, yet the Commanders have a new offensive system in place with Eric Bieniemy to go with a top-10 defense. The Commanders are looking to advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2020, when they won the division with a losing record.
With training camp underway around the NFL, these are the three questions each team in the division must answer before the start of the year. The answers to these questions could lead towards which team takes home the NFC East title in 2023.
Will Howie Roseman add a linebacker or safety before the start of the season?
The Eagles are set at a lot of key positions heading into camp, but questions remain at linebacker and safety thanks to a few free agents departing this offseason. Nakobe Dean is in line for one of the starting linebacker spots, yet who starts the season next to him is up in the air. Nicholas Morrow and Christian Elliss are the front runners for that other off-ball linebacker spot.
At safety, the Eagles lost both their starters in free agency (C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps). Free agent signing Terrell Edmunds and Reed Blankenship are in line to start at the position to open training camp, with rookie Sydney Brown waiting in the wings.
Roseman will let these battles play out in camp, yet this is a general manager that has made 17 trades during training camp since reassuming the position back in 2016. If Roseman feels a position upgrade is needed, he's going to make it.
Don't be surprised if a starting linebacker or safety comes from outside the organization.
Who will step up and play right guard come Week 1?
The right guard battle is between second-year lineman Cam Jurgens and rookie Tyler Steen. Jurgens is the heir apparent to Jason Kelce at center, but Kelce is back for another season. Jurgens will get the first crack at winning the right guard job.
Steen is a third-round rookie that played left tackle at Alabama, but the Eagles view him as a guard. How quickly Steen picks up the offense and develops under Jeff Stoutland will play a factor in who wins the right guard job. The Eagles could be grooming Steen to be the right guard when Jurgens eventually goes to center.
The Eagles want Jurgens to win the job before he takes over at center, yet Steen is worthy of a starting spot.
Who will seize the third wide receiver job?
Watkins was the No. 3 wideout last year and had his struggles, yet provides speed in the slot. Zaccheaus had a career high in catches and receiving yards in 2022 having better yards per route run and target separation than Watkins -- in an offense more limited than the Eagles.
The Eagles are deep at wide receiver, and both Watkins and Zaccheaus will be on the roster. This is a battle for who gets more snaps in a loaded offense.
The Cowboys didn't reach a long-term deal with Pollard prior to the franchise tag deadline, meaning he'll play on the $10.091 franchise tag this year (assuming he shows up to camp). Pollard is the clear No. 1 back in Dallas, but who is going to be the change-of-pace back and fill the No. 2 slot?
Malik Davis and rookie Deuce Vaughn are the top candidates for that spot, both of which are significantly cheaper options than an Elliott reunion. Elliott was arguably the worst starting running back in the league last season, finishing last in the NFL in yards per carry (3.8), tackles avoided (32), and percentage of runs that went for 10-plus yards (7.4%).
This time Elliott wouldn't be a featured back, but a short-yardage back and goal line option for Pollard. The Cowboys could certainly use that in an already impressive offense, yet would the price be worth it?
Davis and Vaughn will provide that answer in the preseason.
What is the "Plan B" for the offensive line?
Dallas has a very good starting offensive line on paper: Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zack Martin, and Terrance Steele in that order. If the Cowboys can get 3/4 of the season with that starting offensive line group intact, that's a major win.
Here's the problem. Smith has played just 15 of the 34 eligible games over the last two seasons while Steele is coming off a torn ACL that required surgery. Will Steele be ready for the start of the regular season? The Cowboys could be down both their starting tackles if Smith can't get through camp.
Smith would have to be moved from left guard if any of the tackles are out, leading to some major reshuffling on the interior. One of Matt Farniok, Matt Waletzko, or Chumba Edoga will have to step up in camp.
Who will step up as Dalton Schultz's replacement?: Losing Schultz in free agency was a blow for the Cowboys, which was softened by strengthening the wide receiver position with the acquisition of Brandin Cooks. Even in a new offensive system, who is going to be the No. 1 tight end?
Jake Ferguson will get the first shot at the job, yet rookie second-round pick Luke Schoonmaker could seize the opportunity. Schoonmaker has more athletic than Ferguson and he had the benefit of playing in an offense suited for the NFL game under Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. The Cowboys may just turn to Schoonmaker if he has a good camp, hoping he can become a good fourth option in the passing game.
New York Giants
Will the franchise resolve their contract situation with Saquon Barkley?
This question is going to linger as long asat the team facilities. The Giants and Barkley couldn't reach a long-term deal by the franchise tag deadline, reportedly $2 million apart on annual salary with guarantees totaling $22-23 million.
Barley would play under the $10.091 million if he signs the tag, which is unlikely to happen at the start of camp. Hopes of a long-term deal are dead for 2023, and Barkley may have to go through this process again next year (the Giants can franchise tag him again).
A holdout affects Barkley, but significantly impacts the Giants. Barkley was fifth in the NFL in percentage of his team's total offense last season at 27.7% -- and Daniel Jones is a significantly better quarterback when Barkley is on the field compared to when he isn't.
The Giants can make the playoffs with Barkley around for all 17 games. If Barkley decides to hold out past Week 1, New York may finish last in the NFC East. That's the significance of Barkley being on this roster.
Who replaces Barkley if he doesn't show up for Week 1?
The Giants internal options at running back are Matt Breida, Eric Gray, and Gary Brightwell -- neither of which are exactly players that are difference makers like Barkley. Breida has experience as a No. 1 running back, but has just 139 carries over the last three seasons.
The Giants may be better off looking at an external option if this Barkley holdout lasts. Dalvin Cook, Kareem Hunt, Ezekiel Elliott, Leonard Fournette, and James Robinson are the top running backs available in free agency. This may be the contingency plan if none of those running backs pan out in camp.
None of these players have the impact Barkley provides, but the Giants will at least be trying to return to the postseason.
Is the offensive line good enough?
The Giants do have some questions on the offensive line amongst players not named Andrew Thomas, who is one of the best tackles in football. Ben Bredeson is the projected starter at left guard after Nick Gates departed, while Mark Glowinski is at right guard and Evan Neal at right tackle. The right side of the offensive line wasn't going to change after the Giants signed Glowinski in free agency last year and drafted Neal in the top 10 in the same offseason.
New York lost Jon Feliciano at center in free agency, but drafted John Michael Schmitz in the second round. Schmitz is set to start at center, but will he be enough to improve the entire offensive interior? The Giants are banking on Schmitz to contribute immediately and for Neal to take the Andrew Thomas-like leap in year two. That's a lot to rely on two players.
The pressure percentage allowed per dropback on the Giants offensive line of 43.4% was worst in the NFL. Without Barkley around, the Giants offensive line is even under more pressure to protect Daniel Jones. Again, this is asking a lot from an offensive line that wasn't good last season -- with Barkley carrying the offense.
Will Eric Bieniemy produce the results the offense needs to contend?
Bieniemy may be the hire of the offseason in the NFL, finally getting the opportunity to call plays and run an offense outside of Kansas City. Washington averaged 18.8 points per game last season under Scott Turner (24th in NFL) and 330.3 yards per game (20th in NFL). The Commanders have started 12 different quarterbacks since 2018, the most in the NFL. Bieniemy was needed to get the offense on the right track.
While Bieniemy has offensive playmakers and an improved offensive line, the success of the offense comes down to San Howell's development. All of Bieniemy's concepts and game plans mean little if Howell doesn't provide competent play at quarterback.
Bieniemy had success in Kansas City, but he also had Patrick Mahomes at quarterback and Andy Reid's offensive philosophy. He'll look to replicate the same philosophy in Washington, with significantly different personnel.
If the Commanders significantly turn the offense around, Bieniemy is looking at a head coaching job as soon as 2024. If not, the answers toward his success will be in Kansas City. The evolution of his offense in Washington may take longer than training camp to figure out.
Is Chase Young back to his dominant form of his rookie year?
Young was supposed to be the next great pass rusher, yet his last two seasons have been a result of injury and poor play on the field. Young has just 1.5 sacks over the past two seasons, playing only 12 games in that stretch thanks to numerous injuries hindering his performance.
This training camp will determine if Young is back to being the player that terrorized defenses in 2020. He has an excellent cast of starters on the defensive line with Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen, and Da'Ron Payne -- setting himself up for a monster year rushing the passer if he's healthy.
The Commanders were a top-seven defense with Young's struggles. If Young returns to his form from his rookie year, Washington evolves into one of the best defenses in football.
How will the new look secondary shape up come Week 1?
The Commanders appear set at secondary with Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest at safety and at cornerback with first-round pick Emmanuel Forbes pairing up with Kendall Fuller at cornerback. They also drafted Quan Martin in the second round and have Benjamin St. Juste at cornerback, so there's depth at the position.
The pass defense allowed the fourth fewest yards allowed per game, yet were 26th in takeaways (29th in percentage of drives ending in an offensive turnover). This has to change in 2023 if Washington wants to make the postseason, which is why the Commanders spent a first-round pick on a ballhawk at cornerback.
If Forbes makes an instant impact in the secondary, this group emerges into one of the top-10 units in the NFL. The nine interceptions from 2022 have to improve come September.