A few years ago the NFC East was not only the class of the NFC, but among elite NFL divisions. The powers have shifted as the windows of opportunities change. You could very well look at these four teams and flip a coin to predict the standings come playoff time. The thing is, the survivor of this division usually gives the fan base hope and the media views the winner as the dark horse to reach the big game. The offenses have all shown flashes of spectacular, and they will need to pave the way as the defenses are all mediocre at best. The common theme of this particular race appears to be health.
The Washington Redskins believe they can repeat as division champions, unfortunately it doesn’t help when both your top two signal callers are banged up and so are their receivers. They will lean on the ground game of Alfred Morris and supposedly Roy Helu as well. Robert Griffin III is going to get the Michael Vick treatment from me, and safety valve Fred Davis is the guy they need to make a lot of plays this year. This occasionally opportunistic defense has the best chance to improve in the division, by simply getting their injured leaders back like Brian Orakpo and Adam Carriker.
The New York Giants have a foundation of two-time Super Bowl champions, but missing the playoffs has Tom Coughlin on that all too familiar hot seat again. Eli Manning gets his favorite target Victor Cruz back while adding vertical threat Brandon Myers down the middle, however Hakeem Nicks possesses the most talent as well as the most games missed. After flashing show promise finding daylight, David Wilson spears the rushing attack that Andre Brown showed he can also hit the hole. Injuries to Jason Pierre-Paul and Justin Tuck have slowed them down, which affects the vulnerable back end of the defense.
The Dallas Cowboys have surrounded Tony Romo with more weapons than a defense than account for. The great Jason Witten has been the go-to guy, and Miles Austin’s ability to break tackles has created a name for himself. Dez Bryant on the other side is emerging into an elite player, and they just drafted tight end Gavin Escobar to take advantage of one on one mismatches. If they can spread the ball and move the chains to aid the defense that has changed its base formation, it would also keep DeMarco Murray on the field with limited touches in the backfield. DeMarcus Ware should continue his dominance, even in a 4-3 base defense, and it would be great if Jay Ratliff and Sean Lee are there to elevate the status of this defense.
The Philadelphia Eagles enter the season as the unknowns with new blood in Chip Kelly. Michael Vick is at the helm and has the offensive line and running game to succeed. He has weapons with the speed on the outside to gain yards after the catch, but he can’t freestyle out of the offense to play hero ball because we’ve all seen it end with turnovers. The offense might get back on track overnight, but the outside speed on the defense has to adapt and make their presence felt quickly. Best-case scenario, the pash rush in the new 3-4 alignment has to get the quarterback, which allows the aggressive secondary to make plays in front of them.
The Giants are the team with recent hardware, but the Redskins busted on the map behind two rookies that look to defend the division and win a playoff game this time around. Unlike Deion Sanders I don’t believe in Eli, at least in the regular season. The Eagles could make the noise they’ve been accustomed to for most of the past decade, but can you make a prediction that hinges on the health of Michael Vick or even RG3 for that matter? That would leave America’s Team with Tony Romo forming the most explosive offense on paper, but he hasn’t been the most reliable despite leading the league with six 4th-quarter comebacks last season.
As usual it will be another up-for-grabs roller coaster season for the NFC East. If I had to put my money on one team, which isn’t the wisest thing to do, I’m going to roll with the team with the best running back and offensive line. The ground game keeps your (mediocre) defense off the field, while putting your QB in playaction situations to move the chains and put more points on the scoreboard than the other team. LeSean McCoy just might have the best cutback in the league today, and of course he’s a dual-threat when he catches the ball. Although I’d rather take a wait-and-see approach with the new blood that is Chip Kelly, there’s just a certain “it-factor” with the identity they are striving for, that the other teams might be lacking. Washington can evidently take a step back, Dallas probably has the worst offensive line ranked in the division, and you can’t like New York when JPP and Tuck are major question marks to even call that defense respectable.