NFC East Preview, Fantasy Sleeper for Each Team

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It’s early July, when the biggest headline is a story on NFL cafeterias. (Fun story, actually!) Still, plenty to cover.

Today’s NFL update:

  • 🗺 NFC East preview
  • 🌭 Cafeteria reports
  • 🏆 Non-QB MVP candidates

2024 NFL Team previews: NFC East

Next up in our series is one of the most prominent divisions. This group feels more competitive than last year’s, with the Cowboys and Eagles sitting atop while the Commanders and Giants improved at key positions after rough seasons. Quickly:

Cowboys in 2024

Biggest question: Can Dallas win in January? 

The Cowboys won 12 games for the third season in a row and led the league in scoring, but it once again led to an early postseason exit. Mike Zimmer replaces DC Dan Quinn as the leader of a defense that allowed 48 points in a home playoff game, while the NFL’s highest-scoring offense replaced studs LT Tyron Smith and C Tyler Biadasz with two intriguing rookies.

Position to watch: Contract negotiators.

s Jon Machota has noted, the Cowboys could end up paying Dak Prescott $60 million per season while also paying CeeDee Lamb and Micah Parsons each around $35 million per season. Nearly half their salary cap for three players?

Fantasy sleeper: TE Jake Ferguson.

In his first year as a starter, the 25-year-old recorded 761 yards and five touchdowns across 71 receptions. With Lamb occupying double teams on the outside, Ferguson should finish higher than where he’s currently being drafted (the ninth tight end off most boards).

Better than in 2023? No.

“We’ll be going all in,” said owner Jerry Jones in late January. While signing big-money free agent deals is no guarantee of success, the Cowboys lost key veterans and look no better (on paper at least) than last season’s team. Improving on 12 wins is a high bar to clear, but it’s all about January.

Latest read: 53-man roster projection: Trey Lance vs. Cooper Rush

Eagles in 2024

Biggest question: Did the NFL figure them out?

After a Week 13 drubbing by the 49ers, the Eagles’ 10-1 start ended with a 1-6 nosedive, the worst since the 1986 Jets. The 49ers contained Jalen Hurts and limited the Eagles run game, which had been averaging 133.3 rushing yards per game, to 46 yards. After that, teams held the Eagles to 109.4 per game.

Position to watch: Secondary. 

In 2022, the Eagles defense ranked first in expected points added per pass play, per the RBSDM database. Last season, that figured plummeted to 28th (it didn’t help that they lost 37 games from defensive backs due to injury). They’ve since added reinforcements in CB C.J. Gardner-Johnson and top-40 picks Quinyon Mitchell and Cooper DeJean. Veteran DC Vic Fangio brings needed experience.

Fantasy sleeper: TE Dallas Goedert.

espite missing three games in 2023, Goedert finished as the No. 14 TE, which is about when he’s being drafted this offseason. His 1.57 yards per route run (a predictive stat for future production) since he became a starting tight end in 2022 ranks No. 8 at the position, and he is excited for new OC Kellen Moore, who he expects will be more tight end-friendly than prior OCs.

Better than in 2023? Yes. 

BetMGM has the Eagles at 10.5 wins, and I expect they’ll win at least 11 for the third straight season, while their secondary should improve after the additions of Fangio, Mitchell and DeJean.

Latest read: 

Giants in 2024

Biggest question: Can this offensive line stop anyone? 

After the Giants allowed 20 more sacks than any other team (85), they received PFF’s worst offensive line grade. This offseason, they added three linemen to their interior and a new line coach (former Patriots and Raiders OL coach Carmen Bricillo) to develop C John Michael Schmitz Jr., a second-round pick in 2023, and RT Evan Neal, a top-10 pick in 2022.

Position to watch: Quarterback. 

Pair PFF’s worst offensive line with its worst receiver group, and it’s almost impressive the Giants finished second-worst in passing yards. It’s equally impressive that Daniel Jones lasted six games. But across those games, he threw for 909 yards, two touchdowns and six interceptions, not what you’d expect from a $40 million quarterback. Backup Drew Lock has been practicing with the first team as Jones recovers toward a make-or-break season.

Fantasy sleeper: WR Wan’Dale Robinson.

The absence of Saquon Barkley and Darren Waller could lead to 100-plus targets for the 2022 second-round pick often used as a short-yardage specialist. Still only 23, Robinson’s breakout season could come yet. He’s currently being drafted after 70-plus other receivers.

Better than in 2023? It’s close.

The Giants’ win total sits at 6.5, which suggests that the additions of star DE Brian Burns and first-round WR Malik Nabers may not be enough to overcome the horrendous offensive line.

Latest read: Giants “Hard Knocks” takeaways: Exploring a Saquon Barkley trade

Commanders in 2024

Biggest question: How long will the turnaround take?

The Texans went from 3-13-1 in 2022 to 10-7 with a playoff win in their first year with a new head coach and rookie QB. Can Washington do something similar in year one with new HC Dan Quinn, No. 2 pick Jayden Daniels and a revamped culture?

Position to watch: Quarterback.

Since Kirk Cousins left in 2017, Washington has started 14 different QBs. Their 15th should be Jayden Daniels, the dual-threat Heisman Trophy winner who showed progress and looked comfortable throughout minicamp. His speed evokes Lamar Jackson comparisons, but the 23-year-old Daniels is ahead of where 21-year-old rookie Jackson was in many passing categories.

Fantasy sleeper: RB Austin Ekeler 

Ekeler never looked like himself after suffering a high-ankle sprain in September. But don’t be fooled by last year’s totals. He started 2023 averaging 7.3 yards per carry, scoring 20-plus fantasy points in Week 1, third that week among running backs. Now healthy, he’s also reunited with former Chargers HC Anthony Lynn (currently RB coach) in Washington.

Better than in 2023? Yes.

The roster, coaching staff and executive level are improved almost across the board. This team could surprise many with a Wild Card playoff appearance.

Latest read: Commanders defensive depth chart projection

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Cafeteria Report: Somebody get the Bengals some Skyline Chili

Building off the NFLPA’s 2024 team report cards, which evaluated the working conditions for players, ESPN spoke with several players about the teams with the most notable meal programs. Among the things I learned: Puka Nacua doesn’t eat vegetables??

The best and worst teams, ranked by the NFLPA and informed by ESPN’s story:

1. Dolphins and Vikings, A: Considering Ravens players once ate 7,500 uncrustables, it’s hard to believe they didn’t lead the list. But in Miami and Minnesota, players get individualized meal plans, talented dietitians and much more variety than the lower-ranked teams provide.

Food also provides a window into the broader organization. The Dolphins ranked No. 1 in the overall report cards, while the Vikings finished No. 2.

32. Bengals, F-: The Bengals, a rare team without a full-time dietitian on staff, are also one of two teams that don’t provide three meals a day to players throughout the week.

“We’ve never really had the true nutritionist,” an anonymous Bengals player told ESPN. “It was one of those things where it was like [food staff] just made stuff and kind of [put it] out there.”

Cincinnati narrowly beat the Chiefs, who finished 31st with an F score, proving yet again that Patrick Mahomes cures any deficiency.

For more on a process that typically starts with 700 pounds of chicken, The Athletic covered the Titans’ cafeteria transformation back in 2019.

Around the NFL

Khyree Jackson, a recently drafted Minnesota Vikings cornerback, died early Saturday in a car crash at the age of 24. Heartbreaking.

When asked about the recent contracts signed by other receivers this offseason, Tyreek Hill said, “I’m also looking for a new deal.” Hill is under contract through 2026, but after this season, the Dolphins could get out with a $22 million dead cap hit (of course, they are unlikely to).

It turns out Aaron Rodgers‘ mysterious mandatory minicamp absence was due to a pre-planned trip to Egypt, not a cave retreat (as 37 percent of Scoop City readers guessed).

The NFL suspended former 49ers safety Tashaun Gipson six games for violating the league’s performance-enhancing substances policy. It’s unclear if the 34-year-old free agent will return in 2024.

Jacob’s Picks

📕 Remember Mark Gastineau? One of the most accomplished pass rushers in NFL history, the former Jet is the subject of a fascinating profile by Dan Pompei. If you’ve never heard of Gastineau, you’ll be glad you read this. (The Athletic)

📺 Giants “Hard Knocks.” Episode No. 2 airs tomorrow at 9 p.m. ET. Episode one made it clear owner John Mara wanted to keep Saquon. Offseason drama during this quiet period? Please. (HBO’s Hard Knocks)

🎙 Can’t get enough NFC East? Robert Mays and Bob Sturm cover important questions (and potential answers) for the Cowboys, Commanders, Eagles and Giants. (The Athletic Football Show)

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