I wanted to do quick-hitting postmortem reports on every team since I spent so much time this summer breaking down all 32 franchises from a betting perspective for the 2021 season. It’s a good way for me to put a bow on the season that just finished while also getting a leg up on my early research for the 2022 season with free agency and the NFL Draft just around the corner.
NFC East Reviews
1. Dallas Cowboys
Record (ATS): 12-6 (13-5)
Season Win Total: 9 (over)
One-score Record: 5-3 (0-1 postseason)
Division Odds: +135
Playoff Odds: -125
Over/Under record: 8-10
PPG: 31.2 (1st)
PPG Allowed: 21.1 (7th)
Point Differential: +172 (2nd)
The Cowboys started the season as the NFL’s featured team on HBO’s Hard Knocks, and they ended it in an all too familiar spot with a disappointing loss in their opening game in the playoffs. Dallas notched its first winning season, its first playoff berth, and its first NFC East title since 2018 with a six-win improvement from 2020. They also swept their divisional opponents for the first time since 1998 back when the Arizona Cardinals were still in the NFC East. The Cowboys paced the league with 31.2 points per game and they finished behind only the Bills with a +172 point differential. Dak Prescott led Dallas’ offense to 11 of its wins last season on his way to posting new career-highs in touchdown passes (37), TD rate (6.2%), and completion percentage (68.8%). He played a bit more unevenly than his final numbers would indicate, but he still finished behind only Joe Burrow for the Comeback Player of the Year Award after suffering a catastrophic leg injury five games into the 2020 season.
Rookie Micah Parsons may have been most responsible for the Cowboys’ making a significant jump in 2021. Parson fell to the Cowboys at 12th overall and he replaced another Penn State linebacker in Dallas’ defense in Sean Lee, who retired at the end of the 2020 season after 12 years. Parsons wreaked havoc all over the defensive formation as a rookie, finishing eighth in the NFL in sacks (13) while forcing three fumbles. He entered the season as the favorite to win the Defensive Rookie of the Year Award (+600) and he never relinquished that title. The Cowboys had a knack for creating turnovers on defense, leading the NFL in interceptions (26) and in turnover differential (+14). Trevon Diggs easily paced the league with 11 INTs and he tied Rasul Douglas with two pick-sixes. DC Dan Quinn also took home Assistant Coach of the Year Award for his work turning around Dallas’ defense. Dallas’ prolific season on both sides of the ball resulted in the NFC’s third seed, but their season ended in a painful fashion with a 23-17 loss to the 49ers in the Wild Card Round. The Cowboys still own just three postseason victories over the last 25 years, since they won Super Bowl XXX at the conclusion of the 1995-96 season.
What to look for this off-season
The Cowboys had an excellent season to build off of by any metric despite yet another disappointing postseason finish for the franchise. Mike McCarthy will enter next season on a bit of a hot seat with expectations raised after 2021, and his game management issues will be under a microscope even more after the QB draw sequence that ended their season against the 49ers in the Wild Card Round. Dallas will once again have one of the NFL’s strongest rosters, but their offensive line has gone from being their biggest strength and one of the NFL’s best units to a potential weakness in the future. Tyron Smith missed six games and his availability issues are mounting since he hasn't played more than 13 games since 2015. Dallas has a couple of big decisions to make when it comes to free agents with Dalton Schultz and Randy Gregory hitting the open market. The Cowboys also have a tricky situation with Michael Gallup, who tore his ACL at the end of the season before he becomes a free agent in March. Dallas could look to bring him back on a short-term deal or they could give Cedrick Wilson — also a free agent — a longer look after he played better than CeeDee Lamb in the final games of the season.
2. Philadelphia Eagles
- Record (ATS): 9-9 (8-9-1)
- Season Win Total: 6.5 (over)
- One-score Record: 2-4
- Playoff Odds: +275
- Over/Under record: 10-8
- PPG: 26.1 (12th)
- PPG Allowed:22.6 (18th)
- Point Differential: +59 (13th)
The Eagles turned the page to a new era in 2021 with the franchise moving on from Super Bowl-winning HC Doug Pederson and the face of the team Carson Wentz. The pair came in together in 2016 but the Eagles unexpectedly bottomed in 2020 after winning the Super Bowl just three short seasons before. The Eagles decided to go in a completely different direction by hiring 39-year-old Nick Sirianni as head coach and by handing the offensive reins to 2019 Heisman runner-up Jalen Hurts. Philadelphia took its lumps early in the season with a 3-6 start against a tough opening schedule, but they closed the regular season with a 6-1 finish in their last seven meaningful contests against a much easier slate of opponents. The Eagles ended the season with a five-win improvement from 2020 and they returned to the playoffs for the fourth time in the last five years.
Hurts predictably had his issues as a passer, averaging just 209.6 passing yards per game in 15 contests, which was exactly what Wentz averaged in 17 games with the Colts. Hurts’ dual ability as a runner propelled the offense as he led all quarterbacks in rushing yards (784) and rushing TDs (10). Overall, the Eagles finished first in rushing yards (1834) and rushing TDs (18) while finishing second in attempts (458) and fourth in YPC (4.9). Starting RB Miles Sanders still managed to be a major fantasy disappointment despite playing in Philadelphia’s prolific rushing attack. He failed to score a single touchdown despite touching the rock 163 times and averaging 5.5 YPC. Philly’s lack of a consistent passing attack was exposed in its 31-15 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion Buccaneers in the Wild Card Round. The Eagles fell behind by 31 points before they had any kind of offensive success after the Buccaneers turned down their defensive intensity.
What to look for this off-season
Eagles GM Howie Roseman said after the season that Hurts earned the starting job for next season, but the Eagles are still candidates to test the waters in the quarterback market. They’ve accumulated three first-round picks (No. 15, No. 16, and No. 19) to either select one in this weak quarterback class or they could package some of their picks to trade for an available QB. Hurts was limited late in the season after he suffered an ankle injury in Week 12, and he had surgery for the injury in early February. The Eagles could look to evaluate Hurts for another season to see if he can improve as a passer while also trading one or more of their first-round picks for future draft capital when the quarterback classes will be improved.
The Eagles will also look to give their 2022 quarterback more help at WR behind DeVonta Smith, who had a better rookie season than his numbers (64/916/5 receiving) would indicate playing in a run-centric offense. Jalen Reagor, a 2020 first-round pick, is quickly going down as a major bust after two seasons, and the Eagles need a third weapon in the passing game after Smith and recently extended TE Dallas Goedert. Philadelphia also needs to get younger along its offensive line with RG Brandon Brooks retiring this off-season and C Jason Kelce likely to follow him in the near future (this year or next). The Eagles could use an influx of young defensive talent with their early picks this off-season. Safeties Rodney McLeod and Anthony Harris are in their 30s and entering free agency while defensive tackles Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham will follow them to free agency in 2023 in their mid-30s.
3. Washington Commanders
- Record (ATS): 7-10 (7-9-1)
- Season Win Total: 8.5 (under)
- One-score Record: 5-4
- Missed Playoff Odds: -175
- Over/Under record: 7-10
- PPG: 19.7 (t23rd)
- PPG Allowed: 25.5 (25th)
- Point Differential: -99 (25th)
Washington played its second and final season under the Football Team moniker with the franchise rebranding themselves as the Commanders following the 2021 season. Washington became the first team in NFL history to have a minority head coach (Ron Rivera), general manager (Martin Mayhew), and president (Jason Wright) at the same time. The Football Team otherwise had a season to forget after sneaking into the playoffs with a losing record (7-9) as the NFC East champions in 2020. Washington missed the playoffs for the fifth time in the last six seasons and they finished with a losing record for a fifth consecutive season. The season got off on the wrong foot when they lost their new quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick for the season to a dislocated hip just 16 snaps into the campaign. Washington’s injury issues continued throughout the season with big free-agent signee Curtis Samuel catching just six passes for 27 yards in five games while dealing with a groin injury through the summer and into the season. Antonio Gibson stagnated from his first to his second season thanks in large part to a stress fracture in his shin, which to his credit he battled through. Logan Thomas, a 2020 breakout TE, played in just six games before his season was ended by a torn ACL in Week 13.
The Football Team lost the face of their franchise, Chase Young, to a torn ACL in Week 10, which ended his disappointing sophomore season with just 1.5 sacks through nine games. Young’s struggles reflected the overall issues Washington had maintaining its defensive performance from 2020 when they allowed the fourth-fewest points per game (20.6), the second-fewest passing yards (3068), and the second-fewest passing TDs (21). Washington plummeted down the rankings last season, allowing the eighth-most points per game (25.5), the fourth-most passing yards (4333), and the most passing touchdowns (34). Washington still won the same number of games from 2020 but they couldn’t stay at the top of the division with the Cowboys and Eagles improving from the year before.
What to look for this off-season
Washington got its name change out of the way on Feb. 2 and now the Commanders will once again start their search for a solution at quarterback, which they’ve been doing since they let Kirk Cousins walk in free agency after the 2017 season. Rivera and OC Scott Turner have taken this team as far as they can go with sub-par quarterback play, but they need a more permanent fix than the likes of Taylor Heinicke, Fitzpatrick, Alex Smith, and Case Keenum from the last four years. Washington will likely have to make a big splash in the trade market to get it done or they’ll have to reach for a prospect with the 11th overall pick in the draft.
Brandon Scherff is set to actually hit free agency this off-season after Washington used franchise tags on their right guard in each of the last two seasons. Washington is still looking to beef up its middle linebacker spot after first-round pick Jamin Davis flopped as a rookie, and he could be moved outside linebacker this off-season. They also still need to figure out their #2 WR spot after Samuel’s disappointing first season in D.C., and they need to add some help in the secondary.
4. New York Giants
- Record (ATS): 4-13 (6-11)
- Season Win Total: 7 (under)
- One-score Record: 3-3
- Missed Playoff Odds: -275
- Over/Under record: 5-11-1
- PPG: 15.2 (31st)
- PPG Allowed: 24.5 (23rd)
- Point Differential: -158 (29th)
What a complete s***show! New York locked up its fifth straight season with double-digit losses and its seventh such campaign in the last eight years. They’ve finished with losing seasons in eight of their last nine seasons with the lone exception coming in 2016 when they reached the playoffs as a Wild Card team with an 11-5 record. They may have been the laughingstock of the league if it weren’t for Shad Khan’s Urban Meyer fiasco in Jacksonville. Dave Gettleman was forced to retire at the end of the season after a disastrous four-year run as the general manager. New GM Joe Schoen has a lot of work in front of him with Gettleman leaving the cupboard pretty bare despite the franchise constantly picking in the top half of the draft during his tenure. Gettleman handed Kenny Golladay arguably the worst contract from last off-season. He finished with just 37/521 receiving in 14 games and he didn’t have a single touchdown catch despite landing a four-year, $72 million contract with $40 million guaranteed. He also moved back in the first round of the draft to reach for Kadarius Toney. The rookie WR is loaded with talent but he was a major headache off the field and he could barely stay on the field because of numerous injuries.
Dexter Lawrence’s offside penalty on a game-winning missed field goal by Washington in Week 2 served as a harbinger of bad things to come for the Giants in 2021. HC Joe Judge worked his way out of a job in the final two months of the season with one terrible performance after another, and he compounded matters by constantly sticking his foot in his mouth in press conferences. The Giants ended the season with six straight losses by double-digit margins, which coincided with QB Daniel Jones leaving the lineup for good with a neck injury in Week 12. Saquon Barkley had a miserable return to action after missing the final 14 games of the 2020 season with a torn ACL. He averaged a miserable 4.2 yards per touch and he scored just four times in 13 games playing behind New York’s poor offensive line. The Giants finished with two fewer wins than in 2020 and they scored a league-low 23 offensive touchdowns.
What to look for this off-season
The Buffalo duo of Schoen and new HC Brian Daboll have their work cut out for them trying to get the Giants back to respectability, and their work will be scrutinized even more after the franchise was spotlighted in Brian Flores’ discrimination lawsuit against the NFL. Daboll will try to work his magic to get Jones heading in the right direction as he did for Josh Allen in recent seasons. Before the franchise even sees if Jones has improved in his fourth season, the Giants have to decide if they want to exercise Jones’ fifth-year option on his rookie contract this off-season. The Giants have massive holes to fill along their offensive line and their defensive front seven, but they have little wiggle room to do it in free agency thanks to Gettleman’s work the last few years. On the bright side, Gettleman did leave them with the seventh overall pick from last year’s draft-day trade with the Bears. Schoen needs to hit a home run with the fifth and seventh overall picks to get this franchise moving back in the right direction.