If the Philadelphia Eagles are used to one thing, it’s constantly proving people wrong. As underdogs, the Eagles trail the Dallas Cowboys once again as the favored team to take the NFC East during the 2022 season.
Pre-draft, the Cowboys were -120, followed by the Eagles at -300. However, since the 2022 NFL Draft, Philadelphia has dramatically closed the gap. According to DraftKings, Dallas is now +130, following by Philadelphia at +165.
After a tremendous upgrade to Philadelphia’s roster, can they take the title?
EAGLES VS. COWBOYS: POSITIONAL COMPARISONS (*STARTERS ONLY)
Quarterback: Jalen Hurts vs. Dak Prescott
An unfair comparison — second-year starter Jalen Hurts vs. seventh-year starter Dak Prescott.
Prescott is one of the best quarterbacks in the league. Since the Cowboys drafted him in 2016, he has continuously proven to be an asset. Even after a season-ending injury in 2020, Prescott returned for the 2021 season, finishing with a 104.2 passer rating. He completed 4,449 passing yards, and a career-high 37 passing touchdowns, winning the NFC East, and advancing to the playoffs. Prescott also leads all active NFL quarterbacks with the most 400+ yard passing games since 2020, according to Pro Football Focus.
Hurts has had an entirely different journey. Drafted with the intention of second-string, Hurts took over for former franchise quarterback Carson Wentz. In Hurts’ first full season as starting quarterback for the Philadelphia Eagles, he finished with 3,144 passing yards and 16 touchdowns. He had trouble seeing down field, often resorting to leaving the pocket, but with that came an immense run game. Hurts finished as the Eagles’ top rusher with 784 rushing yards and ten touchdowns.
Hurts has the opportunity this season to prove himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL this season, but for now there’s not enough to go on. Dak Prescott wins this round.
Running Back: Miles Sanders vs. Ezekiel Elliott
The Eagles selected Miles Sanders in the second-round of the 2019 NFL Draft. In his last three seasons in Philadelphia, he’s done well, but has failed to reach the 1,000 yard mark.
Sanders’ mediocre stats were deceiving during the 2021 season. Despite his lowest-career total rushing yards, Sanders had the highest average of his career (5.5 yards), and the second-highest rushing average among running backs. He also became the first Eagle since 2014 with consecutive 120-yard games.
Ezekiel Elliott has been with the Cowboys since 2016, the same year Prescott was drafted, giving both players the opportunity to establish a long-term working relationship. Elliott’s most productive seasons were early in his career. Last season, he finished with 1,002 rushing yards, and the lowest yards per game average (58.9). Elliott also had the lowest rushing first downs (55), yards after contact per attempt (2.73), and explosive runs (13). However, he did it all with a partially torn PCL.
Both running backs have acknowledged the need to improve this coming season. Miles stated, “There’s some stuff I can improve on, and with the injuries. It’s as simple as that.” Elliott had an agreeable statement, saying, “I think every year we’ve got something to prove.”
There’s no doubt fans will surely see an enhanced gameplay from both players this season, but Ezekiel Elliott just has more experience, giving him the upper hand.
Wide Receiver: A.J. Brown, DeVonta Smith and Quez Watkins vs. CeeDee Lamb, Michael Gallup and James Washington
Adding A.J. Brown to the roster was one of Howie Roseman’s best moves. The former Tennessee Titans’ wide receiver missed four games last season, completing 869 receiving yards for five touchdowns. Though it was statistically his worst year, Brown completed over 1,000 receiving yards his previous two seasons. He’s quick and good with his hands. Pair that with agile DeVonta Smith and deep threat Quez Watkins, and the Eagles will have one of the best receiving corps in the league.
Dallas’ receivers have moved quite a bit on the roster. Since Amari Cooper, Malik Turner, and Cedrick Wilson have moved on, CeeDee Lamb and Michael Gallup have become the clear-cut targets for Prescott. Both have experience with the quarterback and have 1,000+ yard seasons under their belt.
Gallup is recovering from a late-season ACL injury, and likely will not be prepared for Week 1. James Washington will take his place, but after starting only two games in 2021, the Eagles’ receivers will be more superior.
Tight End: Dallas Goedert vs. Dalton Schultz
Goedert started his career in the shadow of former Eagles’ tight end Zach Ertz. But, last season he proved that through darkness comes light. In 2021, he finished with 830 receiving yards and a 90.7 PFF grade — his career-high. Also a career-high were his yards per reception (14.8), and his yards per game (55.3). Goedert has continued to lead all tight ends in run-blocking since he was drafted in 2018.
Similarly, Schultz also finished 2021 with career-highs, including receiving yards (808), yards per reception (10.4), yards per game (47.5), and touchdowns (8). However, unlike Goedert, blocking is not Schultz’s speciality. PFF graded him 19th-best in run-blocking and 31st-best in pass-blocking. Recently, he told the Cowboys that he won’t be attending OTAs over the lack of progress for a long-term contract. I think this hurts him like it did for Ertz in 2020, and Dallas Goedert ends up on top.
Offensive Line: Jordan Mailata, Landon Dickerson, Jason Kelce, Isaac Seumalo and Lane Johnson vs. Tyron Smith, Tyler Smith, Tyler Biadasz, Zach Martin and Terence Steele
The Eagles’ offensive line in a brick house. In the 2021 season, the group allowed only 32 sacks in 17 games. According to Pro Football Focus, Mailata, Kelce, and Johnson all graded in the top-10 at their respective positions last season. And, despite missing almost the entire season, PFF graded Seumalo 74.8.
Alternatively, the Cowboys struggled last season, following their bye week. The group didn’t allow time for their teammates to pass the ball, and a lack of consistency proved that some guys (such as Biadasz) may not be a long-term solution. After Dallas lost Connor Williams, the team had an immediate need to fill his position. During the 2022 NFL Draft, the Cowboys selected Tyler Smith with the No. 24 overall pick. He may be a powerhouse, but he also rings in the penalties.
Dallas’ line will continue to need work. In the meantime, the Eagles will expand upon their comfortability with one another. Mike Renner of PFF predicted that the Eagles will have the best offensive line in the league in 2022 — hard to compete with that.
— PFF (@PFF) May 28, 2022
Defensive Line: Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Javon Hargrave and Derek Barnett vs. DeMarcus Lawrence, Carlos Watkins, Neville Gallimore and Dante Fowler Jr.
Looking at the Eagles here, the players are solid, but there are some unknowns going in 2022. Brandon Graham suffered a season-ending injury last year, and Fletcher Cox had the worst season of his career. The two, however, are Pro Bowlers and have 859 tackles and 117 sacks between them. Hargrave will enter his second season with Philadelphia, finishing with a career-high 63 tackles and 7.5 sacks.
The wildcard for Philadelphia will be Derek Barnett. The former first-round pick had only two sacks last season, accruing eight penalties. Though Barnett lost a total of 62 yards, he had decent pressure, totaling 76 quarterback hits.
For Dallas, the only lock here is DeMarcus Lawrence. He’s been with the Cowboys since 2014. Lawrence is reliable and ranked first against the run last season with a grade of 93.2. Watkins joined Dallas last season, Gallimore showed promise in 2020 before missing much of 2021 with an injury, and Fowler is a newcomer.
Philadelphia’s players may be older and prone to injury, but they still have it in them to win this round.
Linebacker: Kyzir White, T.J. Edwards and Haason Reddick vs. Devante Bond, Leighton Vander Esch and Micah Parsons
Philadelphia added two newbies to their starting lineup — both from the Philadelphia area. White is a former Los Angeles linebacker who led the Chargers in tackles with 144 in 2021. Reddick had his breakout season in 2020, rushing the passer 43.4 percent of the time. He finished with 12.5 sacks and 50 quarterback hits. Last season, he left the Cardinals, signing with the Carolina Panthers. Reddick completed another 11 sacks and 18 quarterback hits. He is fifth in the NFL with 23.5 sacks.
Edwards is one of Nick Sirianni’s favorite players. In 2021, he had a career-high 130 combined tackles.
They will go up against Micah Parsons, who was the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year in 2021. Also finishing with an immense rookie season was Vander Esch in 2018. He became the first Cowboys linebacker to be named to the Pro Bowl in their rookie season, finishing with a franchise rookie record for tackles. In 2019 and 2020, he missed games due to injury, returning in 2021 to complete 77 tackles. Bond has been in the NFL since 2017, but hasn’t started in a game since 2018, playing only two games in the last two seasons.
Philadelphia simply has more experience.
Cornerback: Darius Slay and James Bradberry vs. Anthony Brown and Trevon Diggs
The Eagles have two Pro Bowl cornerbacks this season. Slay will be entering his third season with the Eagles, and is coming off a tremendous year. He had three interceptions, two fumble recoveries for 116 yards, and three defensive touchdowns.
In another huge move by Howie Roseman, Philadelphia signed former Giants’ James Bradberry. Last season, he completed 53 tackles, 18 pass deflections, and three interceptions, earning his first Pro Bowl.
The Cowboys have two equally good cornerbacks. Brown had the best season of his career in 2021, playing in 91% of the snaps — the most of any defender on the team. He set a career-high for tackles (71), pass breakups (17), and interceptions (3). Brown’s downfall was late in the season when he was flagged four times in one game, losing 91 yards for Dallas.
Diggs joined Dallas in 2020, becoming the only rookie defender in Cowboys history to lead the team in pass breakups (15) and interceptions (3). Last season, he tied for the franchise record for most interceptions in a single season (11), leading to a total of 43 points for the Cowboys. Diggs earned his first Pro Bowl and his first-team All-Pro. He iw now known as one of the best defensive players in the league.
In the most difficult comparison to make, it was almost a draw; but on age and future potential alone, Diggs and Brown take it.
Safety: Marcus Epps and Anthony Harris vs. Jayron Kearse and Malik Hooker
Without any upgrade to the safety position, Epps and Harris will open for the Eagles. During the 2021 season, Pro Football Focus ranked Epps as the league’s top safety, and fans may be wondering how. He’s missed some key tackles, but he has great instinct. Harris was re-signed to another one-year contract despite failing to make an impression — good or bad.
Conversely, the Cowboys inherited a key defensive player in Kearse last season. In his first season in Dallas, he had the best single-season performance of his professional career. Kearse finished with 101 tackles, 10 pass breakups, two interceptions, and one sack. Hooker is a former first-round pick who brings a veteran appearance to the team. After suffering an Achilles injury in 2020, he joined the Cowboys, starting in three games.
Neither side has really earned it, but if Epps can continue to get to where he needs to be, he and Harris will outshine.
Kicker: Jake Elliott vs. Jonathan Garibay
Saved the easiest for last.
Garibay is a rookie. As an undrafted free agent, he was signed by the Cowboys. Garibay played for Texas Tech, making 15-of-16 field goal attempts and 49-of-50 extra-point attempts. In his conference championship game, he made a 62-yard field goal, setting the record for the longest field goal in Texas Tech history.
Elliott has been with the Eagles since 2017. Despite a rough 2020 season, 2021 was the best season of his career. Elliott finished with 30-of-33 field goal attempts, breaking a franchise record for the best field goal percentage in a single season. He also made all 44 extra-points, and was named to his first Pro Bowl.
Garibay hasn’t proven himself in the league yet, and Elliott may still be riding a high.
THE BETTER TEAM
For the Philadelphia Eagles to win the NFC East, it comes down to two things — Jalen Hurts and the defense.
The Eagles have a stellar receiving corps, but can Hurts get the ball in their hands? The team also has all the working pieces to create a phenomenal defense, but can players such as Cox and Barnett step up this season?
There’s no doubt that Philadelphia has made significant upgrades. After finishing with a 9-8 record in 2021, fans will expect to see a far greater performance in 2022. If the Eagles can find their rhythm early, the NFC East is theirs.