Floors and Ceilings for the NFC North

By Lee Wakefield

Who remembers when the NFC East was a meme, a joke, and a laughingstock? Oh, the days of the NFC Least… Those were heady, banter years for the division. But also, what a distant memory you are now! 

Every team in the division appears to be strong or on an upswing.

The Eagles are coming off a Superbowl appearance and they won the draft in the eyes of many. Plus, they probably have the most talented roster in the league from top to bottom.

The Cowboys have one of the meanest-looking defenses, as well as the most under rated quarterback in the league. Especially outside of Dallas. I know Dallas fans are known for their hyperbole but they are legit right now.

The Giants made the playoffs and were above .500 for the first time since 2016 last year. However, It’s not all rosy in the Meadowlands, given the issue with Saquon Barkley. That said, Brian Daboll seems like a stud Head Coach and there are some young, defensive cornerstones to build around on defense, none more so than Dexter Lawrence.

And lastly, the Washington team has new owners, which rids the NFL and NFC East of the stain that was Dan Snyder. As well as coming off an as-good-as-you-could-have-hoped-for 8-8-1 season and maybe even another name change on the horizon. Again, it’s improving in the nation’s capital.

Will it be as positive in 2023? Let’s find out.

Philadelphia Eagles

The Eagles really are killing it at the moment. The crown jewel of they NFC East. They have arguably the best roster in the league, they are coming off a Superbowl loss where they actually played very well but were narrowly outmatched and their star QB is one of the rising stars at the position.

Add these to the fact that they continue to nail the draft each year, under the stewardship of seemingly one of the better and most creative General Managers in the league. The Eagles’ Superbowl experience last year may have been one of disappointment, but their window is still wide open.

Their roster is built through the trenches on both sides of the ball and the pass rush is phenomenal. The trade for A.J. Brown appears to have been a masterstroke and has given them an incredible one-two punch at receiver. And Jalen Hurts’ ability to be a centerpiece of the run game means Philly can hurt you in multiple ways on any given play. It really is all coming up Kelly Green at the moment.

Image Credit: Bleeding Green Nation

The Floor:

After such a gushing introduction it is fairly obvious that the floor for this team is going to be pretty high. What could backfire for a team built on such firm foundations and with such potential?

Since Shane Steichen is now the Head Coach of the Colts, could we potentially predict some unevenness in the offense? Will new Offensive Coordinator Brian Johnson have problems as a first-time play caller? Even then it feels like we are grasping at straws. Johnson has been promoted from Quarterbacks Coach, so he knows the offense, he knows Jalen Hurts and what works best. Even in the past as a college coach, he has worked with mobile passers such as D’Eriq King in Houston and Emory Jones in Florida. Johnson is going to be fine.

This feels kind of crazy but in a weak NFC is the floor 12-5 and an NFC East banner once more?

The Ceiling:

With such an insanely high floor, the ceiling has to go even higher, but how high can it go?

I personally feel like the only true challengers to Philadelphia in the NFC are the 49ers and maybe the Cowboys. But to be clear, I think the Eagles are better than both of those teams. The other tricky games appear to be against the Chiefs, Bills, and Dolphins. So of those six games, if I am equally optimistic as I was pessimistic in my floor prediction, and I drop a game for randomness, what are we saying? 14-3? Tougher to go any higher than that.

Dallas Cowboys

Apologies to the remaining Dallas fans who are still reading after I just gushed about the Eagles for around 450 words.

I think you’re pretty good too!

Dak Prescott continues to be the most disrespected QB in the Twittersphere, Micah Parsons seems to be everyone’s favourite edge rusher now, and the Jones family has been drafting sensibly, seemingly for years now.

Everything seems great, aside from Mike McCarthy calling the plays and demanding to run the ball more, despite running the ball 47.3% of the time, in the year 2022 AD.

There are positives again since they also inhabit the weaker NFC conference too, the only downside is that they have to face the aforementioned juggernaut Eagles twice a year.

The Floor:

Tough games against the Eagles and 49ers are going to be uphill battles, there are some tough tests against the likes of the Bills, Dolphins, and Chargers too. However, Dallas can win all of these games, they just probably won’t win all of them. The NFC East teams will also take a few games off each other and there are some awkward games against teams like Seattle and Detroit.

There are a number of coin-flip games on this schedule.

Dallas is +24 in turnover margin over the past two seasons, so if their opportunistic defense doesn’t thrive quite so much, again, the tight games could fall the way of their opponent.

The Cowboys were 5-2 in one-score games last season too.

The picture I am trying to build here is one that if fewer bounces go their way, the 12 wins they saw last year could dwindle away quite quickly. The floor could be as low as 9-8.

Image Credit: Athlon Sports

The Ceiling:

Despite all of that pessimistic talk, there are reasons why balls seem to bounce their way. The defense is full of playmakers and Dan Quinn has reinvented himself somewhat. He is much more than first the version of himself that we saw, playing predominantly Cover-3 straight from the Seattle playbook. There are solid reasons why this defense had such a high rate of turnovers for two straight seasons now. 

Dak is also certified good too, so don’t listen to the naysayers on social media. The wide receiver room is also stacked and Tony Pollard is still around. Plus, there’s the fact that the NFC East hasn’t been retained by a team since the 2004 Eagles! 

The window might not be as wide as Philly’s but there is a route to a 13-4 season and a deep playoff run. 

New York Giants

Are the Giants for real? This is the question I find myself asking when I consider the possibilities for this team.

The offense was a bizarre creation, something that we hadn’t really seen in the NFL before, and really epitomised the lethality of QB scrambles in the modern NFL. Brian Daboll really leaned into the athleticism of Daniel Jones, and the Giants jumped from 15.2 points per game in 2021 (31st) to 21.5 (15th). However, the method didn’t feel sustainable because they were reliant on Jones creating success with his legs, rather than his arm. Ranking 26th in EPA per attempt (-0.16) shows that. Set against the QB run game which generated +0.48 EPA per play, 62.7% success, 7.9 YPC on 51 scrambles.

The defense feels pretty legitimate, on paper, it looks young and full of playmakers. Best of all, home-grown playmakers too! 

The teams’ evolution in 2023 –  because they can’t run it back with the same methodology as last year – Will determine their success this coming year but the range of possible results feels wide.

Image Credit: ESPN

The Floor:

The decision to pay Jones big bucks could turn sour this season. If he just can’t generate positive play with his arm in the same way as he does on the ground, and can’t be at the forefront of the next stage of this offense, it could be a disaster.

Brian Daboll will surely be hoping for a step forward from Jones. He oversaw the development of Josh Allen, and whilst it’s foolish to assume that every bad to average QB can be developed to the same degree, we need some progress from the former 6th overall pick.

If things fall flat for the Giants, we could see a 6-11 outcome. Especially if the drama with Saquon overshadows the season. Could they even slump to the bottom of the NFC East?

The Ceiling:

This team won 9 games last year. Nine. That was above anybody’s expectations and speaks to the team, scheme, and culture that Brian Daboll has introduced. He was my pick for Coach of the Year and rightly so, also the NFL’s. If he can continue to sprinkle the magic dust on this team and evolve the offense just enough to keep defenses off guard then we could see a return to the playoffs. Despite there being no stars on offense outside of Saquon and them being clearly the third-best team in the division.

This is the beauty of being in a weak conference and also having the 4th weakest schedule in the league next year.

Call me crazy but the Giants could win 10 games next year.

Washington Commanders

Ron Rivera has been a steady hand on the tiller for this franchise as they have been through a tumultuous time.

From name changes to ownership scandals. From putting a star edge rusher on the trade block to new owners. Ron Rivera has guided the team from the embarrassment of 3-13 in 2019 to a shade below .500 for this reign so far.

I know that .500 is potentially the worst place to be in the NFL, but whilst all of the off-field stuff is putting the franchise through the wringer, it’s better to have some respectability on the field.

2023 probably sees the team on the cusp of a new era; Ron Rivera probably isn’t the long-term answer at Head Coach and neither is Sam Howell at QB. The new regime will likely want to find their guy at each spot moving forward.

So perhaps sucking for a year won’t be too bad… After all, Caleb Williams is a D.C. boy.

Image Credit: On3.com

The Floor

With a complete unknown at QB, the floor is potentially as low as they want to it be if it looks like Howell isn’t it? However, Rivera gives them a higher floor, similar to how I discussed Mike Tomlin in my AFC North article. Rivera is maybe worth 0.75x Tomlin. The signing of Jacoby Brissett also with Washington a break-in-case-of-emergency option at QB. He will bring a certain level of competence to proceedings if Howell is going off the rails too much.

I’ll give Washington a 5-12 floor, given the fact that they could want a shot at drafting a QB high next spring, and just allow things to drift if it looks like the playoffs are out of reach again. 

The Ceiling

For all of my positive talk of Rivera, I am not sure he gives this team a high ceiling. After all his career record as a Head Coach is 101-95-2 (.515).

Rivera only has three double-digit win years in his career, and they were all back when Cam Newton was Superman. This Commanders’ roster doesn’t have a Greg Olsen or a Christian McCaffrey either.

Honestly, I am finding it hard to get really excited about their prospects… Perhaps this year, another year in the middle of the pack, allowing the new ownership to think of a new name and get their feet under the table might be best. 9-8 ceiling. Which oddly, if the division really takes off, might still be the basement of the NFC East.

Feature Image Credit: Bleeding Green Nation

Lee Wakefield

NFL, CFB & NFL Draft

Lee Wakefield IS A defensive line enthusiast, Chargers Sufferer, and LONG-TIME writer and podcaster with a number of publications. Find his Chargers content over at Bolt Beat. @Wakefield90 on twitter