You could make a strong case from head to toe, the NFC East is the best division in the NFL. Some may argue the NFC South, but in these parts, we are locked in on the division the Eagles call home. So let’s dive deep into the No. 1 issue for each team entering the 2017 season.
Eagles: Pass rush
We begin, naturally, with the Eagles. As has been Howie Roseman’s style since his return from exile, it was an extremely busy offseason for his club. Alshon Jeffery, Torrey Smith and Ronald Darby were added to the team that went 7-9 last season. All are major upgrades from what inhabited those positions last year.
So while I fully expect Carson Wentz and the Birds' offense to be much improved, the key to the season lies with the men up front on defense. Pass rush is the name of the game if the Eagles want to reach their first postseason since 2013. Jim Schwartz's unit was tied for 16th in the NFL in sacks – and middle of the pack isn't going to cut it again this year. A strong pass rush cures a lot of ills, specifically a secondary that, despite the addition of Darby, has major questions at cornerback.
The NFC East is loaded with talent at receiver, not to mention the Eagles' out-of-division foes. Fletcher Cox and Timmy Jernigan will be a force inside, but the Eagles' defensive ends need to get to the QB. If that group, including rookie Derek Barnett – the best natural pass rusher of the lot – delivers, the Eagles are a playoff team.
Cowboys: Elliott's suspension
The Cowboys have a lot of talent on offense, but Ezekiel Elliott is the straw that stirs Jerry Jones' Johnny Walker Blue. A judge blocked Elliott's six-game suspension Friday that will set the stage for the battle to play out in court. If Elliott ends up on the wrong end of a final verdict and has to miss games, what is the trickle-down effect on the rest of that offense? Dak Prescott was great in his rookie year, but he attempted only 459 passes. Compare that to Wentz's 607, and you see the impact the NFL’s leading rusher had on the entire unit. Prescott had a 23/4 touchdown-to-interception ratio last year. An ineffective run game could cause him to throw more and increase the odds of a turnover.
Giants: Running game
Much like the Cowboys, the Giants' return to the postseason could hinge on their running game. New York spent lavishly and wisely on defense heading into last season and it paid off in a big way. But the Giants ranked 29th in rushing. Can Paul Perkins or rookie Wayne Gallman become a consistent force? And perhaps the bigger issue is can their offensive line open up the holes? Eli Manning is now 36, and despite excellent weapons to throw to, a balance will be the key for Old Man Eli.
Redskins: New-look wideouts
To the Birds' opponent Sunday, the Redskins. They lost two productive receivers in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon. No one in the NovaCare Complex is shedding any tears over their departures (see story). Now in their place for the Redskins is a much bigger and stronger pairing in Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson. The question is can Pryor, the converted quarterback who burst onto the scene last year in Cleveland and signed a surprisingly low one-year deal, deliver in his new surroundings? And what kind of leap can Doctson, who played in just two games his rookie year because of an Achilles injury, make now that he’s a starter?
Week 1 prediction: The Eagles beat the Redskins, 24-22, in a game that will come down to the final possession.