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Cover 3: Toughest competition in NFC East

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In this edition of Cover 3, the Giants.com crew debates who the Giants' biggest competition is within the NFC East.

John Schmeelk: The Dallas Cowboys. Last year, Dallas finished the season with the same number of wins as the Giants while playing without their starting quarterback for most of the season and their offensive line in shambles. Starting left tackle Tyron Smith played only two games, starting right tackle La'el Collins missed all 16 and starting right guard Zach Martin missed six. Dak Prescott played in only 4 ½ games, prompting Ben DiNucci and Garrett Gilbert each starting a game at quarterback. The Cowboys still managed to finish 17th in points per game (24.7) and 14th in yards per game (371.8). Their offense is going to be one of the best in football, if they stay healthy.

The defense was the issue and it remains one until proven otherwise. The Cowboys moved on from defensive coordinator Mike Nolan and replaced him with Dan Quinn, who will likely bring in his Seattle-based scheme that features a lot of Cover 3 and a four-man front. It is a simpler scheme that will allow the defense to play a little faster, but is there enough talent there for the defense to be successful? It is a fair question and could depend on what Dallas does in the draft. They have 10 draft picks.

There's an obligation to mention Washington. They are going to have an excellent defense, and Ryan Fitzpatrick should bring competent quarterback play. Washington, Dallas and the Giants will be fighting it out for the division title at the end of the season.

View photos of the Giants' roster as it currently stands.

Dan Salomone: What do you get when you add a dash of Fitz-magic to a second-ranked defense? The Washington Football Team. The defending NFC East champions cannot be overlooked, especially under a two-time NFL coach of the Year in Ron Rivera and the signing of an experienced quarterback in Ryan Fitzpatrick. You can say what you want about the division last year, but give credit to Washington for clinching it. They also took the eventual Super Bowl champion Buccaneers down to the wire in the playoffs with QB Taylor Heinicke dueling Tom Brady. This team isn't going away.  

"I'm very conscious of where the division was this year, what the final record was," Giants president and chief executive officer John Mara said recently. "But I think you'll see a much stronger division next year. Listen, we didn't win enough games, but I do feel like we're making progress. Some people may dispute that, and time will tell if I'm right or not. But I believe very strongly we did make enough progress to warrant staying the course with the people we have in the building."

Lance Medow: It's going to take more than seven wins to capture the NFC East in 2021, so I'd be stunned if at least one team doesn't set the tone. The Eagles have a new coaching staff, will likely be turning to second-year quarterback Jalen Hurts and are continuing to reshape the roster. So, of the four teams, Philadelphia has the most question marks. Washington's defense was very strong last season under new coordinator Jack Del Rio and that unit will only get better as it adds talent and gets more comfortable with the scheme. The bigger question for Washington is whether the offense will pick up where it left off with Fitzpatrick under center. There's no issue with the versatile talent surrounding him between Terry McLaurin, former Panthers wide receiver Curtis Samuel, Logan Thomas, Antonio Gibson and J.D. McKissic. 

Offensive coordinator Scott Turner took advantage of several of those weapons, but they didn't have stability at quarterback (with four different players seeing time). If Fitzpatrick can do for Washington what he did for Miami last season, you can't sleep on Ron Rivera's crew. But as it stands right now, I'd put Dallas ahead of Washington. The Cowboys were decimated by injuries on the offensive line in 2020 and also lost Prescott, to a season-ending injury in Week 5. 

With both starting tackles (Smith, Collins) and a Pro Bowl guard (Martin) re-joining Prescott in the mix, the Dallas offense will provide quite a challenge. You can't overlook the defense, which remains a question after many struggles last season, but they changed coordinators from Nolan to Quinn and added some players he has familiarity with going back to his days in Atlanta. Linebacker Leighton Vander Esch missed six games in 2020 due to injury, including the Week 17 game against the Giants. If that group can take a slight step forward, it will make the Cowboys a much more balanced team. And no team has won consecutive NFC East titles since the Eagles claimed four straight from 2001-04, so this does not bode well for Washington.

With training camp here, view photos of every move made by the Giants this offseason.

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