As the 2021 NFL season is set to begin in just a couple of days, many experts and analysts around the league believe the NFC East division will come down to a pair of clubs: Washington and Dallas. Yet, neither team appears to be the significant favorite entering the year.
Peter King is among those who do think the division will come down to Washington and Dallas. But, the longtime NFL writer is picking the Cowboys to be the NFC East winner for two main reasons.
"WFT could have a top-five defense, and that alone might be good enough to win an NFC East stuck in mediocrity," King wrote in his weekly Football Morning in America column.
"Dallas, though, will have a top-five offense, and I think Micah Parsons the playmaker and Dan Quinn the playcaller move the D from horrendous (29.6 points per game allowed last year) to tolerable (maybe 24 ppg)."
Parsons, Dallas' first-round pick in April's draft, is the betting favorite to win Defensive Rookie of the Year. The former Penn State star has flashed throughout training camp -- HBO's Hard Knocks has made sure of showcasing this -- and figures to play a significant role in, as King mentioned, turning around one of the NFL's worst defenses from 2020.
Dallas also returns star quarterback Dak Prescott, who is healthy and ready to go for Week 1 after suffering a shoulder injury in August that sidelined him for much of training camp. Prescott also is fully recovered from an ankle injury that he suffered in Week 5 last season, one that ended his season and required offseason surgery.
As King mentioned a few paragraphs later, though, Washington did get better this offseason, too. Scott Turner's offensive unit got several upgrades this offseason, highlighted by the free agent additions of veteran quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick and speedy wideout Curtis Samuel.
Fitzpatrick is the definition of an NFL journeyman. Washington is his ninth NFL team. While he's been playing some of his best football the past two seasons, Fitzpatrick has never been to the playoffs before, something he is well aware of. He's also a significant upgrade, at the very least, to the four passers Washington rotated last season.
Entering the offseason with plenty of QB uncertainty, King believes Washington made the right choice by signing Fitzpatrick over other options, such as Nick Foles, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton.
"I looked at the players, logically, he was competing with to be Washington’s starter, the pool that Washington could have chosen from once last season ended. And I like Washington’s choice," King wrote.
Going back to his choice of the Cowboys over Washington, though, King mentioned the odd end of the Burgundy and Gold's schedule. Ron Rivera's club concludes the campaign with five straight NFC East games, including two against both Dallas and Philadelphia.
"The NFL did its best to make the NFC East the division of mystery, however," King wrote. "Washington plays one division game before Dec. 10, and finishes this way: Cowboys, at Eagles, at Cowboys, Eagles, at Giants. The height of weirdness: WFT plays Dallas and Philadelphia four times in a 22-day span."
The NFC East winner has been decided by just one game in each of the last three seasons. If Washington wants to repeat as NFC East winners -- something that hasn't happened for any team in the division since 2004 -- it will have to take care of its divisional foes down the stretch.