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Cover 3: Forecasting 2021 NFC East race

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In this week's edition of Cover 3, the Giants.com crew answers four questions in forecasting the NFC East race.

Question 1: Which team will be the toughest competition to winning the division?

John Schmeelk: The question here is whether to value offense or defense more? If you value offense more, the Cowboys are the easy pick. If you value defense, Washington is the easy pick. The other way to consider the question is whether you have more confidence in the Dallas defense or Washington offense? Ryan Fitzpatrick will turn 39 in November and is very up and down. If the Cowboys can stay healthy at quarterback and on the offensive line, they might have a Top-3 offense. I think Dan Quinn will make their defense slightly better and take them out of "historically bad" territory. Despite Washington likely having a Top-3 defense, let's go with Dallas. It's never a bad idea to go with the best quarterback in the division - Dak Prescott.

Dan Salomone: Despite the streak of no repeat champions in the division since the early 2000s, the road still goes through the Washington Football Team. Last year's winners aren't going anywhere under coach Ron Rivera and a defensive front that features Chase Young and a host of other first-rounders. The division title could once again come down to the wire with the Giants hosting Washington in Week 18.

Lance Medow: I think Washington and Dallas are the two strongest contenders in the division based on the talent returning across the board, but let's give the Cowboys the edge because of their quarterback. Dak Prescott is the most accomplished and consistent player at that position in the division and when you have a solid option under center, it can be a huge difference maker in the long run. Ryan Fitzpatrick is a polished veteran and has many weapons around, him but his track record isn't as strong. Dallas also showcases one of the best receiving corps in the NFL in Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup and CeeDee Lamb, a workhorse running back in Ezekiel Elliott and an offensive line that will be returning several veterans who were injured last season. Washington has a stronger defense, but Dallas made a change at defensive coordinator by bringing in Dan Quinn this off-season and returns several intriguing players at linebacker who should help a unit which struggled to stop the run in 2020.

Question 2: Which newcomer to a division opponent will make the biggest impact?

John Schmeelk: There is an easy argument for DeVonta Smith or Anthony Harris for the Eagles. Micah Parsons or Jamin Davis could help Dallas and Washington, respectively, although linebackers often struggle in their first NFL season. So let's tweak the spirit of the question and go with the combination of veteran holdovers La'el Collins and Tyron Smith, who missed nearly the entire 2020 season due to injury. If those two book-end tackles are healthy, the Cowboys' offense could be hard to contain.

Dan Salomone: This is a quarterback league, and Washington added a little magic to the position. Of course, that man is Ryan Fitzpatrick, who has thrown for nearly 35,000 yards for eight different teams (Washington will be his ninth). The reigning division champions, who took Tom Brady and the Super Bowl champion Buccaneers into deep water in the Wild Card round with a fourth-string quarterback, improved the most important position in sports.

Lance Medow: The Cowboys selected linebacker Micah Parsons in the first round and he'll have the opportunity to make an immediate impact in the middle of the defense. He also has the versatility to become a valuable weapon who can stop the run and get after the quarterback. Last season, Dallas surrendered just under 159 rushing yards per game (31st NFL). Parsons' arrival should help them improve in that category and serve as a solid complement to Leighton Vander Esch and Jaylon Smith.

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Question 3: Which matchup are you most looking forward to watching in 2021?

John Schmeelk: It will be very exciting to see the Giants' secondary take on the Cowboys' receiving corps (Amari Cooper, Ceedee Lamb, Michael Gallup) in a battle of what may be the two best units in the NFC East. And how about how the Giants' offensive line blocks Washington's defense front. Last season, the Giants' line performed fairly well in those two games – can they do it again? If the Giants' offensive line can hold up in Week 2 against one of the best defensive lines in the NFL, it will bode very well for the remainder of the season. The Giants have also played well against Washington the last few years and it will be important to continue that trend.

Dan Salomone: The Giants vs. Lincoln Financial Field. Big Blue has not won at the home of the Eagles since 2013, a drought of seven consecutive losses. The Giants almost broke the streak in Joe Judge's first trip there as head coach, but they squandered an 11-point lead late in the fourth quarter and ended up losing by a point. Judge made it clear his team needs needed to control its own destiny, but the way the 256th and final game of the 2020 NFL season played out might add some juice back to this rivalry between the two major fanbases.

Lance Medow: Last season, both Giants-Cowboys games went down to the wire and were decided by seven total points. Those battles tend to be intense and competitive on an annual basis and there's no reason this year would be any different. New York's defense will have to solve a healthy Dak Prescott and Co. and Dallas, showcasing a new scheme, will look to contain a Giants' offense that added several weapons this off-season.

Final Question: How many wins will it take to win the NFC East?

John Schmeelk: Despite seven games winning the NFC East in 2020, this season should return to a more traditional win total. With the schedule now consisting of 17 games, a team likely will have to get to 10-7 if they want to win the division. 9-8 might do it, but the Giants, Cowboys, and Washington appear much improved this year. The division also does not have to play the NFC West or the AFC North, as it did last year. The AFC West and NFC South are no slouches, but they do not rise to the level of those other two.

Dan Salomone: Anything in double digits will get it done. The NFC East, despite being the only division to boast four Super Bowl champions, was the butt of jokes last year with a seven-win team claiming the title. The Giants were under no illusions about it being a down year for the division, so their off=season moves had as much to do with keeping pace with the rest of the league as it did with their three closest rivals. With Washington ascending, Dak Prescott coming back from injury in Dallas, and Philadelphia serving as an unknown, the division champ will most likely need at least 10 wins.

Lance Medow: Let's guarantee it will be more than seven wins, given 2020 was a very rare occurrence. The NFC East winner will need at least 10 victories. When you take into consideration the additional regular season game, 10-7 is a fair estimate and 11 wins would put you in a comfortable spot. Since the division was formed in 1970, the leader had at least 10 wins over a full season all but four times. These four exceptions happened over the past 10 seasons, but injuries played a role in the last two and there's no way to predict any team's durability this far in advance of the season.