NFL Odds, Picks: NFC East Preview, Picks for Eagles, Cowboys, Commanders
Pictured: Jalen Hurts. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)
Reasons for optimism: General manager Howie Roseman has assembled the best roster in the NFL.
The Eagles have studs at each of the premium positions (Jalen Hurts at quarterback, A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith at wide receiver, Jordan Mailata at left tackle, Josh Sweat, Haason Reddick and Brandon Graham at edge rusher, and Darius Slay and James Bradberry at cornerback). In addition, they have players who rank among the league’s best at tight end (Dallas Goedert) and nickel back (Avonte Maddox), two positions that have arguably been trending toward premium status in recent years as offenses become more spread out and pass-happy.
Philadelphia also boasts the NFL’s consensus top-ranked offensive line, which features two First-Team All-Pros (center Jason Kelce, right tackle Lane Johnson) and a left side of Mailata (Pro Football Focus' No. 9 tackle of 81 qualifiers) and Landon Dickerson (PFF’s No. 15 guard of 77 qualifiers).
The defensive line also has a case for best in the league with Sweat, Reddick and Graham joined by six-time Pro Bowler Fletcher Cox and a boatload of first-round talents, including Jordan Davis, Jalen Carter, Nolan Smith and Derek Barnett.
At running back, D’Andre Swift, Rashaad Penny, Kenneth Gainwell and Boston Scott make up one of the league’s most talented groups, despite each carrying a cap hit south of $2 million.
Causes for concern: The Eagles lost both coordinators. They hired from within on offense by promoting quarterbacks coach Brian Johnson, but continuity on defense could be somewhat of a concern. That side of the ball features a coordinator hired from outside the organization (Sean Desai) and has to replace five starters from last season (defensive tackle Javon Hargrave, linebackers T.J. Edwards and Kyzir White and safeties C.J. Gardner-Johnson and Marcus Epps).
Injury luck doesn’t project to be as kind to the Eagles in 2023 as it was in 2022, when their total of 42.4 adjusted games lost was third-fewest.
Outlook: To meet their lofty expectations, the Eagles will not only have to fend off formidable foes like the 49ers and Cowboys but also buck the historical trends working against them. Of the 56 previous Super Bowl losers, only eight (14.3%) made it back to the Super Bowl the next year, and only three (5.4%) won. Since the NFL expanded to 32 teams in 2002, the Super Bowl loser has gone just 6-13-2 (31.6%) toward the over on the win total in the subsequent season.
Another potential reason for regression: According to DVOA, the Eagles faced the easiest schedule in the league last season. Their 2023 strength of schedule using 2022 DVOA numbers – an imperfect measure – ranks as the sixth hardest and has a brutal five-game stretch from Weeks 9-14 that goes Dallas, bye, at Kansas City, Buffalo, San Francisco and at Dallas.
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Hurts finished second in MVP voting last season and his numbers were similar to a couple of stylistically similar quarterbacks who have won in the past eight years.
- Cam Newton, 2015: 3,837 pass yards, 35 pass TD, 636 rush yards, 10 rush TD (4,473 total yards, 45 total TD)
- Lamar Jackson, 2019: 3,127 pass yards, 36 pass TD, 1,206 rush yards, 7 rush TD (4,333 total yards, 43 total TD)
- Jalen Hurts, 2022: 3,701 pass yards, 22 pass TD, 760 rush yards, 13 rush TD (4,461 total yards, 35 total TD)
The one area Hurts needs to grow is passing touchdowns, which is not out of the question given that the Eagles were second in offensive touchdowns (57), but he saw a whopping 32 (56.1%) come via the ground game, which is well above the 39.4% league average. Hurts has improved his passing efficiency every year as a pro, and that should continue as his pass-catching corps will once again be improved. Also, with the Eagles expected to face a much tougher schedule and the defense likely to take a step back, Hurts’ passing volume should increase.
Even if the Eagles total rushing production comes down to accommodate more passing production, Hurts will still be able to get his on the ground. More passing means an uptick in scrambles, which he does at 7.8 yards per clip in his career. Hurts should still be able to net 6-8 rushing scores, as six of his rushing scores were of the 1-yard variety (with another coming from 2 yards out).
I'd bet this future down to +900.
Reasons for optimism: A Micah Parsons-led defense that finished second in DVOA in each of the past two seasons got even better with the addition of cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who graded out as the ninth-best of 118 qualified corners at PFF last season.
Offensively, Dak Prescott gets a major upgrade at wide receiver with Brandin Cooks replacing Noah Brown, while Michael Gallup is another year removed from his torn ACL. Meanwhile, Ezekiel Elliott is no longer there to block Tony Pollard, and the offensive line projects as a top-six unit after falling to the middle of the pack last season due to injury.
Causes for concern: The jury is out on Mike McCarthy replacing offensive coordinator Kellen Moore with Brian Schottenheimer and taking over play-calling duties. The Cowboys offense certainly had blemishes under Moore, but it still averaged at least 27 points per game in Prescott’s starts in each of Moore’s four seasons, including 30-plus in each of the past three.
Then there’s the kicking game, which has the potential to devolve into a disaster. The team understandably moved on from Brett Maher after he morphed into Brett Nah-er in the playoffs and missed 5-of-6 extra points, but Maher’s production will still be tough to replicate. He managed to post a 91.1% field-goal percentage across 34 regular and postseason attempts and tied for second with nine makes (on 11 attempts) from 50-plus yards during the regular season. The only kicker on the roster is Brandon Aubrey, a 28-year-old former soccer player who started playing American football just last year.
Outlook: The gap between the Eagles and Cowboys last season was smaller than you might think. Flip Dallas’ two overtime losses to wins and both teams would have posted identical 14-3 records. With the additions of Cook and Gilmore and better projected injury luck, that gap could get even smaller and leave the Cowboys in prime position to overtake the Eagles.
Cowboys division/conference/Super Bowl futures are intriguing, but I don’t recommend investing until we’re able to gain more confidence that both the change in offensive philosophy and the kicking game won’t offset the gains made in other areas, which won’t happen until they have a few regular-season games under their belt. Barring a major injury, I doubt Dallas’ odds relative to Philadelphia and San Francisco would shift drastically, even if the Cowboys get off to a hot start. I think it’s worth holding off until we get a little more information.
Prescott posted a ghastly 3.8% interception rate last season, tossing a league-leading 15 picks on just 394 pass attempts. That information would be more relevant if his body of work didn't also include six other seasons where he was intercepted on just 1.7% of 2,889 attempts. Studies have found that a quarterback's interception rate can take anywhere from roughly 1,000 to over 2,000 pass attempts to stabilize, so it should come as no surprise that one season's worth of data, on its own, is not very predictive.
Prescott's career interception rate is 2.0%, which would equate to 650 attempts to reach 13 interceptions. Prescott's career-high in total attempts is 596 and his career-high in attempts per game is 37.3, so reaching 650 attempts is unlikely even if he stays healthy for a full season — which is no sure thing, as he's missed 17 games over the past three seasons.
Looking at it from another angle, Prescott has thrown 65 interceptions in 97 career starts, or 0.67 per game. At that rate, he would need to play 19.4 games to reach 13 interceptions and 17.9 games to reach 12 interceptions.
Bet to: 11.5
Reasons for optimism: It all starts with Brian Daboll and the coaching staff. Daboll and company consistently showed the ability to exceed expectations by scheming up the team’s strengths and minimizing its weaknesses. Perhaps nothing was more illustrative of that than going 10-2 against the spread and 6-5-1 straight-up as an underdog.
Daboll took an offense that featured a quarterback squarely in bust territory (Daniel Jones), one good skill player (Saquon Barkley) and one good lineman (Andrew Thomas), and led it to finish top 10 in DVOA.
From purely a talent perspective, the Giants offense is still nowhere near what you’d consider “good,” but the talent level has been upgraded after trading for tight end Darren Waller and drafting wide receiver Jalin Hyatt in the third round. And coming off the best season of his career, Jones should be even more comfortable in his second year in Daboll’s system.
Defensively, Wink Martindale took a unit that ranked 29th in DVOA — an accurate estimation of its true talent — and coaxed it into situational excellence. The Giants finished top five in conversion rate allowed on third down (35.1%) and in the red zone (49.2%).
This year, the defense should benefit from better projected injury luck. The defensive line is anchored by three studs in Dexter Lawrence, Leonard Williams and Kayvon Thibodeaux, but Williams and Thibodeaux missed a combined six games (excluding the meaningless Week 18 matchup with Philadelphia). In perhaps Daboll’s worst coaching move, top cornerback Adoree' Jackson was injured on a punt return and missed six games (also excluding Week 18).
The big addition on defense is former Colts linebacker Bobby Okereke, who ranked 22nd of 81 qualifiers at PFF and should improve a run defense that ranked 32nd in DVOA and a coverage unit that ranked 23rd on short passes and 31st versus tight ends.
If safety Xavier McKinney bounces back to his pre-injury form and first-round corner Deonte Banks hits the ground running, the defense has some upside and could even become the strength of this team.
Causes for concern: While it’s clear the Daboll hire had an effect, it’s unclear to what degree. How much of New York success was coaching? How much was luck? Eight of the team’s nine wins came by one score, and it went 8-4-1 in one-score games. The team’s estimated wins according to DVOA was 7.2, so a modest improvement in talent could still result in fewer wins than last season.
It’s also fair to wonder how much of the team’s 2-5-1 finish after a 7-2 start was indicative of Daboll losing some of the edge he had earlier in the season before the league got more familiar with his schemes and strategies.
The Giants should be in for better injury luck after ranking 26th in adjusted games lost in 2022, but that doesn’t change the fact that this team is extremely fragile, particularly on offense. Barkley missed just one game last season, but is a 26-year-old running back who has missed 22-of-82 (26.8%) career games and is coming off 377 touches.
Waller is a 31-year-old who has missed at least six games in each of the past two seasons. Thomas has missed only four games in three years, but an offensive line that enters the year ranked 29th, despite Thomas grading out as a top-three tackle last year, could be catastrophically bad if he were to go down.
Outlook: The Giants should be a better, more balanced team in 2023, but that won’t necessarily translate into a better season than they had in 2022.
Reasons for optimism: The defense was ninth in DVOA, proving it can play just fine without 2020 first-round edge rusher Chase Young, who suited up only three times last season and is rumored to be on the trading block. Montez Sweat, Jonathan Allen and Daron Payne comprise one of the NFL’s best defensive lines.
The secondary features one of the league’s better safety duos in Kamren Curl and Darrick Forrest, as well as one of the league’s top corners in Kendall Fuller, but the other cornerback spots have been holes. The team drafted Mississippi State corner Emmanuel Forbes 16th overall, which gives the secondary some upside to go from solid to one of the best in the league.
Offensively, Eric Bieniemy replaces Scott Turner at offensive coordinator. Turner’s offenses finished 32nd, 21st and 28th in DVOA in his three seasons, and while some of that is on the personnel, two bottom-five finishes in three years make it difficult to not view any change as a good one.
Speaking of changes, Jahan Dotson averaged 4.2 catches, 68.8 yards and 0.6 touchdowns over the final five games of his rookie campaign and appears poised to give Washington its first legitimate WR2 threat opposite Terry McLaurin. Left tackle Charles Leno isn't elite, but is one of the better pass-blocking left tackles in the league. We know quarterback isn’t likely to be a strength of this team, but fielding plus talents at two wide receiver spots and at left tackle could go a long way toward minimizing the downside, especially if the defense continues to play at a top-10 level.
Causes for concern: Sam Howell has some upside, but ultimately the odds are against him as a former fifth-round pick with below-average height and pocket awareness. Jacoby Brissett played well for the Browns last season, but that came behind one of the best offensive lines in the league and Washington’s unit is 27th in PFF’s rankings. According to PFF, Brissett posted a 70.6% completion rate with 10 TDs and one INT from a clean pocket last season, but a 46.0% completion rate with two touchdowns and five interceptions when pressured.
Even if Bieniemy proves to be an upgrade over Turner at OC, continuity could be an issue early with the entire offense learning a new scheme, Sam Cosmi switching from right tackle to right guard and the offensive line expected to have three new starters.
All of this may be moot if the defenses on Washington’s schedule live up to expectations. As it stands, Washington could face as many as 10 elite defenses: Philadelphia twice, Dallas twice, Denver, Buffalo, New England, Miami, New York (Jets) and San Francisco.
Outlook: Save for a Week 1 date with the Cardinals, the schedule does the Commanders no favors. If they face a healthy slate of quarterbacks, they would be lucky to have a quarterback advantage in more than three or four matchups all season. And despite returning the key pieces of what was a top-10 defense a year ago, I'm projecting them to be the better defensive team in under half of their matchups.
Given that they're implementing a new offensive scheme and lack depth on both sides of the ball, the Week 14 bye also does them no favors. Ultimately, I'm viewing the Commanders as a low-floor, low-ceiling team. If things break right, they'll be competitive and jump the Giants for third place with 7-8 wins. If luck goes against them, though, we could be looking at 3-14.
With Bieniemy taking over for Turner, Robinson Jr.'s workload isn't safe. This offseason quote from The Athletic's Ben Standig perfectly illustrates Robinson Jr.'s tenuous grip on the starting job.
"Bieniemy influenced the selection of running back Chris Rodriguez in the sixth round. He will also have plenty of say in Antonio Gibson’s role next season. Rivera said he’d like more touches for the fourth-year running back and is intrigued by how the versatile Gibson fits into 'what Eric Bieniemy wants to do with the offense.'"
If Gibson were Robinson's lone competition it would be one thing, but Rodriguez is a threat to (a) turn the backfield into a three-way committee, or (b) usurp Robinson completely. Rodriguez flashed in Week 1 of the preseason with five carries for 39 yards, increasing the likelihood he becomes part of the rotation sooner than later. Bieniemy has precedent for making this kind of move: Last season with the Chiefs, he oversaw the midseason benching of former first-round pick Clyde Edwards-Helaire in favor of rookie seventh-rounder Isiah Pacheco.
A Bieniemy offense has never ranked higher than 20th in rush attempts, and even if you chalk that up to the Mahomes factor, it's unlikely Bieniemy suddenly oversees a high-volume rushing attack on a team with one of the lowest win totals, worst run-blocking lines and most difficult schedules.
Robinson isn't an explosive back, so a dip in projected volume hurts him more than most backs when it comes to a prop like this because he is unlikely to rip off big runs. Per PFF, he ranked 50th of 60 qualified running backs with a 13.9% breakaway percentage (the percentage of yardage gained on runs of 15-plus yards). His 3.9 yards per carry ranked 48th and his 2.60 yards after contact per carry ranked 50th. The low efficiency numbers can't be chalked up to returning from injury, either, as his college yard per carry average ranks in the 29th percentile, according to Player Profiler.
Bet to: 700.5