2017 NFL preview: Eagles could surprise Cowboys in tight NFC East race

Updated: August 20, 2017

After returning a staggering profit of almost 100 units in 2016, our NFL expert James Potter is back for 2017. ‘Big Jim’ has just about completed his pre-season and kicks-off his look at all 32 teams with the NFC East, comprising the New York Giants, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and the Washington Redskins.


Dallas Cowboys

What to make of the Cowboys’ stunning resurgence last year? If you are a Dallas fan you can be forgiven for thinking that it was the start of something special. For the rest of us there are still a plenty of questions left to be answered. Yes, they had an amazing regular season and it was only the brilliance of Aaron Rodgers that meant they miss out on the NFC Championship game.

Dak Prescott (pictured below) enjoyed a superb debut season but the safety blanket of having the guiding presence of Tony Romo waiting on the bench is gone. Being the number one man for the Cowboys is one of the toughest gigs in sport. The Dallas offensive line is awesome but it’s ageing while Jason Witten is headed to the Hall of Fame but he is 35.

Ezekiel Elliott (suspended for the start of the season) is a beast and might be the best running back in the NFL but he has the same sort of expectations to uphold as Prescott. The defence is solid. If their offence stands up again then the ‘D’ is probably good enough to see them through to the play-offs. If their offence runs into problems then this isn’t the kind of defence that is going to win games on their own.

Schedule: The Cowboys have an early bye in week 6. We will know if this team is the real deal by then. They have a tough game against the Pack in GB and host the Rams, which they should win. The other three are coin flips to me so the Cowboys would want to be 3-2 if they are serious.

To win the Super Bowl ($11.00): Second favourites for the Bowl? No way, that’s terrible value.

To win the division ($2.40): This is a pretty sexy price. I don’t really rate the Giants and the Redskins need miracles so if you take the Cowboys and the Eagles you should be on a winner.

Total games won: (9.5 at $1.88): I was shocked to see this total come up. How can the second favourite to win the Super Bowl need only 10 games to cover the total games won? No bet for me here. I was expecting 10.5 as a minimum or even a flat 11 and wanted to take the ‘under’ so to me, it looks like Vegas has hit the nail on the head.

Overall assessment: I think the Cowboys are a good lay across the board. If you believe the hype, then back them to win the division and then parlay that up come play-off time. You will make a hell of a lot more than backing them to win the Super Bowl at $11.00.


Philadelphia Eagles

This might be a team to get excited about as they have great scope for improvement. There are a host of reasons why every other NFC East team will go backwards. The Eagles appear to have found their quarterback in Carson Wentz and, thanks to their deal with the Vikings regarding Sam Bradford, snared him at a bargain basement price.

Some smart recruitment at free agency and at the draft has things looking rosy in Philly. Wentz wasn’t beaten up too badly last year and it was a rookie year that ticked all the boxes expected from a number 2 draft pick. He will continue to improve and if he’s better protected the young man appears to could lead this team to a winning record.

The Eagles don’t need a powerhouse offence. Leave that to the Falcons and the Packers. Moving the chains and not turning the ball over might be enough in the NFC East in 2017. Their defence is again primed to improve. At times, they really showed some starch but need to discover some consistency. If they’re consistent and above-average, the Eagles can surprise this year across the board.

Schedule: They have four on the road in their first six and play the Giants and Cards at home. If they can go 3-3 they can mount a charge with three winnable home games after that. After the bye, it’s going to be tough but if they are at 6-3 then they can seriously challenge in this relatively weak division.

To win the Super Bowl ($41.00): Right on the money. Would love them if I could get 66/1 or even 50/1. Having said that, I will take a bit of the 40/1 on offer.

To win the division ($6.00): I really like this price. The Eagles are on the up and there are questions marks over the other three.

Total games won: (8.5 at $2.00): Again, I thought we would be getting a 7.5 or a flat 8 at worst to line-up for the ‘over’. The total wins in this division seem to have landed where I thought they would. I would rather gamble on them to win the division at $6.00 but if pushed I would take the OVER even at 8.5.

Overall assessment: I think the Eagles are a smoky to win the division. They are in a four-car race and even though they might be the slowest, they have an engine that is less likely to blow up or break down. Not sure if they are Super Bowl ready just yet but an interesting proposition in the near future.


Washington Redskins

Kirk Cousins is still a Washington player but still doesn’t appear to be that happy, no matter what he claims. He’d better hope the Redskins can find someone to catch the ball after his two best receivers – DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon – left for greener pastures. Cornerback Josh Norman is a total gun on defence but is that enough? The Skins are just such a hard team to decipher – they were great at times last year and really average at others.

Their roster appears to have gone backwards. I thought they should have bitten the bullet and allow Cousins to leave or they had to go all out, try to win the division and make 2017 a statement year. It seems they haven’t committed to either course. Washington lost offensive coordinator Sean McVay when the Rams hired him to be the youngest head coach of the NFL’s modern era. Teams lose coordinators all the time, but McVay was critical in Cousins’ success the last three years.

Losing defensive end Chris Baker isn’t great for the defense, and neither was cutting defensive lineman Ricky Jean-Francois. But Washington did make some solid additions. Ultra-athletic Terrelle Pryor had a nice 2016 season in Cleveland and could become a very good receiver, and it was puzzling that all he got in free agency was a one-year, $6 million deal. Defensively, Washington grabbed linebacker Zach Brown when no market developed for him. Brown was second in the NFL in tackles last season.

Schedule: Beat the Eagles at home and follow that up with a win over the Rams in LA, then we can talk. If that happens buckle up for a massive showdown come week 3 when they host the Raiders. If the Skins can keep in front of .500 then anything can happen; start to slip and then it could be a long season.

To win the Super Bowl ($51.00): It would be a shock but it has a sniff of value.

To win the division ($6.00): It could happen but would rather gamble on the Eagles and save on the Cowboys. Reluctant, but will let this pass.

Total games won: (7.5 at $1.88): Would be all over this at a flat 7 but it has to be ‘under’ at 8.5. The bookies get it right sometimes and you just have to accept it.

Overall assessment: The Skins were one of the teams that I was excited about last year. The ability is there but I’m just not sure how it’s all going to come together in 2017. I am more on the lay side with the Redskins (and the whole division to be truthful) so consult a tarot card reader – not a handicapper like myself!


New York Giants

The Giants might be the stupidest story in this whole stupid division. Odell Beckham Jr is a freak. He’s a freak who enjoys partying it up a little too much, but a freak none the less. Beckham’s 95.9 receiving yards per game ranks second in NFL history to Julio Jones’ 96.3. Calvin Johnson is third, miles away at 86.1. The problem is, do the Giants have the structure to get the best out of him on and off the field?

Now-veteran QB Eli Manning is a problem. I am far from an Eli basher as he has two rings (which were fully deserved) but he was horrible last year. He averaged 4,423 yards and 32.5 touchdowns in 2014-15, and had 4,027 yards and 26 touchdowns last season. His interceptions went up from 14 in 2014-15 to 16 last year. The offensive line is average. The run is average. Their secondary is solid but their defensive line and pass rush are average.

Bizarrely, the Giants took off as a team even as the offense struggled. The Giants went 11-5 and made the playoffs after a 2-3 start. They swept the Dallas Cowboys. It was a good season, and an improved defense was the reason. New York ranked in the NFL’s top five in points allowed (second), first downs allowed (fifth), passing touchdowns allowed (second). There is talent, but I just think the Giants reek more of “basket case” than divisional champions.

Schedule: I can see the Giants struggling early. It’s a strange start to the season where most of their games will start close to coin flips. If they are anything worse than 3-4 before the break they are in big trouble. They have winnable games late but, like the Redskins, they need to be consistently above the +.500 mark or things could go pear-shaped

To win the Super Bowl ($26.00): If the stars aligned then they could win it. Would be happy to speculate at 50/1 but not at the price on offer.

To win the division ($2.80): This is massively under the odds. Happy to lay as they should be upwards of $4.00.

Total games won: (9 at $2.00): Finally, a bet in regards to total games in this division I am happy to take. I love the ‘under’ here and if I can find 9.5 at around $1.7, I will be dancing on the ceiling harder than Lionel Richie!

Overall assessment: Just happy to lay the G-Men across the board. If Eli proves me wrong then so be it because no matter how good your receiving corps is they need someone to get them the ball.


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