NFL 2016: Romo's down, NFC East up for grabs
Tony Romo is hurt again, the defending champs get no respect and the rookie quarterback who wasn't drafted No. 2 overall got a starting job first.
No division is more up for grabs than the NFC East.
The Dallas Cowboys are Dak Prescott's team while Romo is out with a back injury. The fourth-round pick out of Mississippi State has been impressive in the preseason, climbing from No. 3 on the depth chart following injuries to Kellen Moore and Romo.
After winning the division in 2014, the Cowboys fell to 4-12 last season and were 1-11 without Romo when he was twice sidelined by a broken left collarbone.
The offense could survive without him if Prescott is the real deal, Dez Bryant stays healthy and No. 4 pick Ezekiel Elliott lives up to the hype.
While Prescott has a chance to play, Carson Wentz will sit behind Chase Daniel despite projected starter Sam Bradford being traded to the Vikings on Saturday for a pair of draft picks, including a first-rounder in 2017. The Eagles traded a slew of picks to select Wentz at No. 2 in the draft, but he was slated to be the No. 3 quarterback long before injuring his ribs in the preseason opener.
The Eagles should be rebuilding under new coach Doug Pederson, but every team is a contender in this weak division. Before being dealt, Bradford had looked sharp in Pederson's offense and the defense is vastly improved under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz.
Kirk Cousins had a breakout year to lead the Redskins to a division title in 2015. But no team has repeated in the East since the Eagles won four straight from 2001-04.
The Giants won't have Tom Coughlin on the sideline for the first time since 2003. Offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo replaced him, so Eli Manning, Odell Beckham Jr. and Co. will have continuity. A revamped defense could help New York end its four-year playoff drought.
Here's some things to know about the NFC East:
GIGANTIC GIANT: Defensive end Olivier Vernon, a major free-agent addition, was dominant in the preseason. The Giants spent $40 million, for this season, to re-sign Jason Pierre-Paul and sign Vernon, defensive tackle Damon Harrison, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and linebacker Kennan Robinson. They drafted cornerback Eli Apple in the first round to upgrade the secondary. The offense will score points. If defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo gets the most out of his group, New York should rise to the top.
KIRK'S CREW: Cousins earned himself a one-year contract worth $19.95 million on the franchise tag after throwing for 4,166 yards and 29 touchdowns. Robert Griffin III is gone, so there's no quarterback controversy in DC. But Cousins still has to prove himself after the team didn't give him a long-term contract. The Redskins gave All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman a $75 million, five-year deal to bolster the secondary. Norman better walk his talk after criticizing Beckham, Bradford and others.
GANG GREEN: There hasn't been this much excitement surrounding the Eagles' defense since Jim Johnson was calling the shots. Schwartz is the most accomplished defensive coordinator in Philadelphia since Johnson passed away. His defense was outstanding in the preseason, wreaking havoc and forcing turnovers. It won't be easy to maintain that success when the games count, but they're on the right track. Defensive end Fletcher Cox got paid to be an elite player and should thrive in Schwartz's system. Linebacker Jordan Hicks returns after an injury shortened his promising rookie season. Safety Malcolm Jenkins has developed into one of the best at his position.
DOOM IN BIG D: Romo's latest injury is a big setback for the Cowboys, who were hoping to go from first-to-worst-to-first. But Prescott seems like an upgrade from Brandon Weeden and Matt Cassel. He also has a better supporting cast. The real problem for Dallas will be stopping other teams. Starters DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory are suspended for the first four games and Rolando McClain will miss the first 10 games of the regular season.
PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH: Giants, Redskins, Eagles, Cowboys.
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