NFC East Preview
The NFC East has been the “down to wire” division in football over the past few years. However, this year may prove to be different. A lot of offseason acquisitions, chiefly by the Philadelphia Eagles may shift the power of the division. Here is a look at how they will finish.
Dallas Cowboys (12-4) The ‘Boys are able to resurrect the success they enjoyed last season, but will have to find a new Cadillac at tailback after losing NFL leading rusher DeMarco Murray to Philadelphia free agency.
Offense: History tells us that losing a top rusher doesn’t affect a team the way losing a number one receiving target does. The Cowboys will be just fine without Murray and will most likely lean on Joseph Randle to take the bulk of the carries running behind a massive All-Pro offensive line. As far as the receiving corps is concerned, Dez will continue to prosper and perform at a high level. I do expect to see more targets and receptions for Terrance Williams, who is listed as the teams number two threat. Williams had a nice rookie year and has chemistry with Tony Romo and if the former Baylor standout develops, it could spell trouble for defenses everywhere. Cole Beasley is another weapon which shouldn’t go unmentioned. The small speedster will play a huge factor in terms of running drag and crossing routes picking up those hard-nosed four or five yards needed for 3rd down conversions.
Defense: The good news for the Cowboys is Greg Hardy won’t be M.I.A. for over half the season now. Hardy and McClain are suspended for four games. This means young players such as rookie Randy Gregory and Demarcus Lawrence will have to provide a spark in order for Dallas over that treacherous four game span which features the Giants, Eagles and a Brady-less New England (Whew!). Morris Claiborne is a guy I look at this season as someone who has to have a put up or shut up type of year. He has been injured and largely inconsistent since coming into the league. Brandon Carr also finds himself on the hot seat with rookie and phenomenal leaper Byron Jones. The Cowboys have upgraded tremendously defensively after spending nearly an entire draft on that side of the ball.
Most Intriguing Player: Efe Obada is a Nigerian born player who stands at 6-foot-6 255 pounds and will play either tight end or defensive end. Obada just started playing football last year for the London Warriors along with being a warehouse man. He has a ridiculous 83 inch wingspan to go along with 4.6-4.7 speed. Obada was trafficked into England and spent the rest of his childhood bouncing around the streets of England. After seeing 3 of his friends get murdered he turned his life around. He eventually joined the London Warriors who have a reputation for getting players off the street and into sport. The Cowboys heard about him from the Warriors defensive coordinator and former Cowboys player Aden Durde and offered him a spot in camp. If Obada has any type of success he could become one of the most talked about players in the NFL. He is also writing a weekly diary for NFL UK which you can read here.
Crystal Ball: After starting with a pedestrian 2-2 record, the stars begin to align as the offense picks up where it left off last season. Defense becomes vastly improved and the pass rush begins to become a force. Will compete with Seattle and Green Bay for the NFC.
Philadelphia Eagles (10-6) No one had an offseason as entertaining as the Philadelphia did. Acquiring DeMarco Murray via free agency was the biggest splash. The head scratching trade of Nick Foles for Sam Bradford and the addition of NFL journey man Tim Tebow, puzzled fans and analysts. Coach Chip Kelly remains loyal to Oregon grads and added Kiko Alonso to help shore up the linebacking corp.
Offense: The biggest question mark I have about this offense is whether Sam Bradford will be able to stay healthy, something he hasn’t done in the entirety of his NFL career. I’m also worried about how Bradford will be able to translate to the hurry-up spread offense Coach Kelly runs. DeMarco Murray will see a lot of carries in a new offensive system, however I expect his production to taper off because defenses will be scheming around him. Adding Nelson Agholor as a wideout is a solid pickup for a team who relishes its offensive weapons. Manifesting all the talent the Eagles have is a different story. I believe they will challenge the Cowboys and split the season series, but come up just short of capturing the division crown.
Defense: The group is much improved with the addition of Byron Maxwell and Kiko Alonso. It will be a battle tested group however having to go against two of the most electrifying wideouts in the game today, Dallas’ Dez Bryant and the one handed web gem himself, Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr. Byron Maxwell , Walter Thurmond and rookie Eric Rowe will have a tough time slowing down these instant game changers. Veteran leadership in the secondary will help the Eagles pass defense this year. Malcolm Jenkins has been a proven safety since coming into the league and I don’t expect that to change. The Eagles defense will be stout, but they will be far from dominant.
Most Intriguing Player: Matt Barkley is just a really interesting person. His relationship is unique is unique as he married the girl he’s been best friends with since he was five years old. He’s also good friend with prison of war and subject of the movie “Unbreakable,” Louis Zamperini.
Crystal Ball: Murray’s production declines, but doesn’t plummet. Bradford stays largely healthy and is able to run the hurry up. Defense plays well enough to win close ball games but the receiving corp is missing a big name weapon in a division chock full of them. The team still has plenty of talent and should win the wild card but will struggle to top Dallas.
New York Giants (8-8) The G-Men have one of the most electrifying players in the league in Odell Beckham Jr. Eli Manning had a much better campaign than the year before, tossing 30 touchdowns compared to 14 interceptions. The defense looks shaky, but perhaps the return of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo could change that.
Offense: While Manning is aging, the Giants have one of the best young receiving corps in the league. Odell Beckham cemented himself as a human highlight reel last year and landed the coveted Madden cover. Victor Cruz was injured for most of the season last year and was only able to do his patented salsa endzone celebration once. However, the running game is the main concern I have for the Giants which dissuades me from predicting them to have a better record. Rashad Jennings is the presumed starter, but he has a long injury history and wasn’t that productive either. Shane Vereen is an excellent third down back, but won’t be getting many carries. Andre Williams had a dismal yards per carry average last year but had success in goal-line situations. Larry Donnell will reprise his role at Tight End and the team is hoping he can be a more potent threat.
Defense: The D is headlined by the franchised tagged Jason Pierre Paul and Jon Beason along with a young defense. Johnathan Hankins is a guy I look to have an impact this season, he’s a hulk of a man who will be able to provide an excellent run stop and pass rush. The secondary gained an upgrade by adding Alabama standout Landon Collins to go along with Prince Amukamara and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie giving the Giants the best group of corners in the division. The Giants should struggle at Outside Linebacker Devon Kennard and JT Thomas are listed as starters but neither have had much success in a starting role. Offenses such as Dallas and Philly will be able to run the slant and crossing routes to perfection against this crop of linebackers due to the inexperience.
Most Intriguing Player: Steve Weatherford has been called the most shredded player in the NFL by Muscle and Fitness. He is the Giants punter.
Crystal Ball: Cruz stays healthy and shows the flash he had once before. Manning has a good but not a stellar season. The defense is solid but not good enough to stop the potent offenses within the division. The secondary is able to deter some of the league’s top receivers but it’s not as good as the team looks on paper.
Washington Redskins (4-12) The Redskins have had to endure some of the most painful seasons in recent years. Watching Robert Griffin III tear his ACL a few seasons ago was painful for fans of the team and even just fans of the league. This team finds themselves with several unaddressed issues it will have to solve if they plan to compete with the other teams inside the division.
Offense: Depending on who gets the job at quarterback is what will drastically change the season’s outcome for the ‘skins. If RG3 is the starter, then the offense assumes the dual threat role once again, but if Colt McCoy takes the reigns the team now becomes a traditional drop-back and chucks it kind of team. The Offensive line is the most improved part of the team, adding Brandon Schreff through the draft is huge for the team and will help tailback Alfred Morris pave the way for yardage. The receiving corp of Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson are back but I don’t expect either of them to have a Pro-Bowl caliber season because of their starting quarterback. The offense has weapons it just needs a good quarterback and the right system in order for it to get going.
Defense: The defense did upgrade by adding Terrance Knighton to the Defensive Line and Dashon Goldson to shore up the secondary. Deangelo Hall is aging but is still a valuable veteran leader. Where I see the ‘Skins struggling the most is in middle with the group of linebackers they have assembled. Keenan Robinson and Riley Perry are largely inexperienced and will have to see some of the league’s best players over the long haul of the season as well as go against Tom Brady and the Patriots. The Defensive Ends are probably the worst in the division with Stephen Paea and Jason Hatcher getting the nod as the starters. Neither of these guys will dominate offensive lineman. The defense is one thing the Redskins really need to focus on in next year’s draft after they get a quarterback.
Most Intriguing Player: Stephen Paea was born in New Zealand raised in Tonga and dreamed of being a rugby star. He then started playing football and was able to attend Oregon State. At the combine he bench pressed 225 pounds 49 times which was the highest total since 1999.
Crystal Ball: Griffin starts and does okay but becomes more a dropback passer. Alfred Morris rushes for 1200 yards behind Trent Williams and Brandon Schreff. The defense does alright, Ryan Kerrigan records 10 sacks but isn’t able to slow down the other great offenses in the division. The best thing for Redskins fans is to wait till the draft to nab Connor Cook, Cardale Jones or Christian Hackenberg.