Paul’s NFL Preview: NFC East

NFC East Preview

            Let me start by saying that I will not even try to predict records for these teams because they have dealt with major inconsistent play over the last few years. I wouldn’t be surprised to see any of these four teams win the division and to see all of these teams finish between 7-10 wins on the season. This is probably the hardest division to predict and should be interesting to see how the season unfolds in the NFC East.

Giants

Have to start the Giants discussion with Eli Manning. He is capable of playing great in big games but frequently plays down to the competition so nobody really knows what to expect from him in now his 10th season with the Giants since being drafted. Eli will have his usual receivers back with Hakeem Nicks and newly extended Victor Cruz back in the fold. When healthy Nicks and Cruz have shown to be a formidable tandem but Nicks has been injury prone his entire career. If Nicks stays healthy it will open up the middle of the field for Cruz and now with David Wilson in the fold the Giants finally have a running back that can catch the ball. Wilson will give the Giants some added dimensions that New York isn’t accustomed to seeing from their running backs which would be speed and pass catching ability. The only question with Wilson is if he can handle the full load at running back. Wilson has only had a full workload once which was his last season at Virginia Tech so the Giants may opt to split carries between him and Andre Brown to start.

On defense there are just as many question marks where inconsistent and poor play from this defensive group has doomed the Giants in the past. Last year the Giants ranked 31st in the league in total defense and haven’t exactly gone out to improve their defense in the offseason. With Osi, Kenny Phillips, and Michael Boley gone there are really no impact players on this defense besides Pierre-Paul (if healthy).  The biggest question may be how Jason Pierre-Paul’s back will respond from offseason surgery. He started his career great but after a down year last year and a surgically repaired back there are concerns about what JPP will give them next year. The Giants will need to rely heavily on JPP next year who might not even be ready for the season opener. There will be more pressure than ever for the Giants offense to carry the defense and keep them off the field.

Verdict: If the Giants can get healthy seasons from Nicks and Pierre-Paul they could make a playoff run but if those guys can’t stay healthy there are way too many question marks for this team to make any kind of playoff run.

Redskins

Once again have to start the Redskins discussion with Robert Griffin III as we all know you can’t have success without consistent quarterback play. RGIII had an amazing rookie campaign but the excitement surrounding him has dissipated a little since he tore his ACL in the playoffs against the Seahawks. It was truly a sad ending to a great year from a very exciting young quarterback. As great as his rookie season was there will be questions on how he will respond to the knee injury. Being so young I seem to think he will recover fine and should regain his speed. My biggest question is how he will follow up on such a great rookie season. Now coaches and players have had a year to watch film on him and pick up on his tendencies. This year will be the true test to see if RG3 is the real deal and can adjust to the other teams making adjustments to him. Washington will feature a very similar team to what they had last year as they retained most of their free agents and didn’t make any significant moves in free agency. The Redskins should lean heavily once again on the legs of Alfred Morris and RG3 as they still don’t have great weapons to throw to. Garcon is really their only talented receiver and he has his own injury issues. It should be interesting to see how teams defend the read-option attack this year.

Defensively, the Redskins have a decent defensive unit with many guys returning from last year. They ranked 22nd in points allowed last year and will rely on De Angelo Hall to lead a very suspect secondary into next year. On the defensive front Brian Orakpo should be back healthy after being injured most of last year to help their pass rush. With him and Ryan Kerrigan they should form a solid pass rush from the outside linebacker positions in their 3-4 scheme. Lastly, I can’t forget about London Fletcher who will return for another season at age 38.

Verdict: If RG3 comes back healthy from last year and shows he can somewhat duplicate his rookie season (without the injury of course) the Redskins should be in position to go back to the playoffs. However a suspect defense and a limited arsenal for RG3 to throw to could hold them back from making a playoff run.

Cowboys

Then there is America’s team, the Cowboys. Not sure how they got that name but I’m going with it. Well once again let’s start the Cowboys discussion with Tony Romo. Romo has also had an inconsistent career marred with some horrible losses in the playoffs that make Cowboys fans cringe. There is no doubt Romo can play but his inconsistencies have left the Cowboys out of the playoffs or losing in the first round too many times. That didn’t stop Jerry Jones from making Romo one of the highest paid quarterbacks in NFL history though. Romo will have his receiver arsenal back for another year where Dez Bryant was a real bright spot for them last year. When Dez is healthy and keeps his head on straight there is no doubt he is a top five talent at the receiver position. With Dez, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten returning there is no excuses for Romo not to have success through the air. Another issue for the Cowboys is they could not get anything going with their rushing game. Demarco Murray spent more time out with injury and the Cowboys finished 31st in the league in rushing last year. Having a healthy Murray will be key for them as they really have nothing behind him and they need that balance to be a successful team. Cowboys were 4-1 last year when Murray had 15 or more carries.

Like other teams in this division there isn’t much to speak as far as defensive performance goes. There is more talent on this defense than the rest of the NFC East though as you have the hall of famer Demarcus Ware and other talented players like Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Jay Ratliff. The Cowboys got rid of Rob Ryan and brought in the ageless wonder Monte Kiffin who will bring back the 4-3 defense. In the secondary Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are talented corners but must improve their play from last year. From a talent standpoint this is probably be the best defense in the division but that has never stopped them from playing poor defense in the past.

Verdict: I think the key for the Cowboys making a playoff run is the health of Demarco Murray, They need him to maintain a good pass/rush balance so Romo doesn’t have to throw the ball over 40 times a game like last year which led to too many turnovers.

Eagles

The Eagles were definitely the most active of any team in the NFC East in the offseason by firing long time coach Andy Reid and replacing him with the former coach of Oregon, Chip Kelly. It should be interesting to see how Chip adjusts his offense at the NFL level with the personnel he has. The Eagles are the only team in the division with no clear cut starting quarterback heading into next year but don’t expect Chip to make the decision on who he will name the starting QB until well into the preseason. Michael Vick had a horrible season last year marred with a ton of turnovers but he would fit a typical Chip Kelly offense where mobile quarterbacks seem to be the best fit. Along with Nick Foles don’t be surprised if Matt Barkley gets some serious consideration for the starting job if he plays well throughout training camp and preseason because Chip has the most familiarity with him. Other than the quarterback the rest of the offense will look similar to last year with Desean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin as the starting wideouts and Lesean McCoy in the backfield. With the huge questions at quarterback look for Lesean McCoy to get plenty of touches early in the season until one of these quarterbacks gets comfortable in the new offense. Besides the run game it will be interesting to see if Chip Kelly can get more production out of Jackson and Maclin and really use their speed to their advantage. Jackson and Maclin must be willing to go over the middle more and improve their toughness in order to be more successful wideouts.

There have been many changes on the defensive side of the ball for the birds along with an entire new defensive coaching staff. From early signs it appears the Eagles will move to a 3-4 or some form of a 3-4 heading into next year with new defensive coordinator Billy Davis. Players like Trent Cole and Brandon Graham will have to try and adjust to being outside linebackers in a 3-4. The secondary has also been completely rebuilt with Nnamdi Asomugha and Rodgers – Cromartie gone while adding corner Cary Williams and safety Kenny Phillips to the mix. With all the new faces on defense and the switch to the 3-4 it is really too early to tell what this defense will look like come week 1 but I would expect this defense to be average at best heading into next year.

Verdict: The Eagles have enough talent on offense where if they got consistent quarterback play they could make a playoff run in a shaky division. Lesean McCoy must have a huge year on the ground for the Eagles to have a shot at the playoffs however the Eagles are also the team most likely to finish last in the division because of the huge questions at quarterback.