Philadelphia Eagles 10-6: Went 9-3 vs. NFC teams
Dallas Cowboys 8-8: Went 5-1 in the division
New York Giants 7-9: Finished with back-to-back wins
Washington Redskins 3-13: Lost their last 8 games
The Redskins turned a last-place finish in 2011 to leap frog their rivals for the division crown in 2012. The Eagles turned a last-place finish in 2012 to leap frog their rivals for the division crown in 2013. The Redskins returned to the cellar and should leap frog the Giants and Cowboys, probably not the Eagles in 2014. The NFC East has been up for grabs for several seasons now, I just see Philly regaining control like the early-mid 2000s.
Philadelphia Eagles (11-5): They replace DeSean Jackson with an intermediate route committee that eats up YAC, the defense looks improved but that hinges on the D-line rotation.
Washington Redskins (6-10): Great skill position players with some defensive standouts, highly questionable O-line and secondary.
Dallas Cowboys (6-10): The defense doesn’t have a chance at stopping anybody, hoping DeMarco Murray and company can chew up clock.
New York Giants (4-12): They look like one of the worst teams in football, they’re going to need their defense to step up and be the better unit.
Philadelphia Eagles: 1st Place, Division Champs, 11-5
The Eagles set franchise-highs on the offensive side of the ball in coach Chip Kelly’s first season. They rode LeSean McCoy to the top rushing offense in football and added Darren Sproles to the arsenal. Nick Foles took over at the helm to put up ridiculously-dominant stats. The drop-off naturally occurs when a guy puts what he can do for several games on tape. The gameplan calls for high-percentage passes in a run-first offense, and Kelly moves his chess pieces all over the field which include his linemen. Jeremy Maclin is back and Zack Ertz will take on a bigger receiving role, likely finding himself with the advantage in the slot. They set the standard with their uptempo pace, which has put their defense in undesirable situations but they are built to play with a lead.
The secondary is the strength of the unit. They have big defensive backs, all are 6’0 or 6’1 aside from the best slot corner in the game, Brandon Boykin. They’re rangy, like to get physical against the run, and don’t miss many tackles. Mychal Kendricks roams the field while DeMeco Ryans clogs the middle. Connor Barwin looked well-rounded last season. He didn’t get to rush the passer much but he shed blocks consistently to stop the run, and was the team’s top option to cover tight ends. They’re hoping the back-7 will aid a questionable D-line. Trent Cole started to ignite in the ladder part of the season, but Brandon Graham should earn a lot more playing time because he is the better pass-rusher these days.
Mark Sanchez is one of the better backup quarterbacks in the league. He didn’t necessarily guide the Jets to those consecutive AFC Championship game appearances, but he made some plays without much of a cast to contribute. If called upon because Foles struggles or gets nicked up, don’t expect this offense to skip many beats. Foles gives them the best chance but they have a capable backup and that’s key to the marathon season. The defense played well the second half of the season and they don’t face many offensive juggernauts. I think they start the year 5-1 before the week 7 bye, and close out the year 6-4 to win the division and clinch a playoff berth.
Washington: 2nd Place, Miss Playoffs, 6-10
D.C. has an explosive offense. Coach Jay Gruden will have to mix things up to overcompensate for a mediocre-at-best offensive line and get the best out of Robert Griffin. They are deep out wide after career years from Pierre Garcon and newly acquired DeSean Jackson. Andre Roberts also came to town and will man the slot and return duties, he flashed deep threat abilities which brought him here. They expect big things from tight end Jordan Reed, hopefully he doesn’t suffer any more concussions. Whether Roy Helu can stay on the field or not, Alfred Morris is the key to their offense. The ground game keeps their defense on the sidelines, chews up clock, and sets up the play-action that Griffin excels in.
The defense isn’t special but it was banged up a year ago. They do have a pair of edge-rushers in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan. DeAngelo Hall isn’t going to detour any passes, but the veteran is a sure-handed tackler and make plays on the ball. Perry Riley is the man in the middle after grabbing the torch from London Fletcher. The quarterback of the defense hopes former Cowboy, Jason Hatcher, and Barry Cofield can make life easier for him up front.
The ‘Skins are going to put up points this season, even if it comes at the expense of Griffin. He’ll certainly get more than his fair share of opportunities to “lead” the team, but if the team struggles as much as they did last year then Gruden may give Kirk Cousins a shot. He may not even have to pull Griffin, who missed a game his rookie season and three last season. They play a middle-of-the-road schedule where their opponents combined to nearly split their games (.490). Expect a few shootouts, as well as some disappointing games where they don’t get anything going offensively. I see them starting out 3-6 heading into their week 10 bye, and getting three more wins after that for a 6-10 finish.
Dallas Cowboys: 3rd Place, Miss Playoffs, 6-10
This is DeMarco Murray’s team now. They need another big season out of him with Tony Romo returning after back surgery and a shortage of passing targets. Last season they made it a point to run, for the most part. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten’s contributions aren’t the question here. The O-line is widely thought of as elite, I it’s somewhere in the middle until proven because Romo still had to scramble around often. I’m not sold on Terrence Williams as a number two receiver, and the rest of the unit is young without a top prospect. Whenever you bring three alpha males to run an offense, in this case three may be a crowd as far as the coaching is concerned.
The less we talk about the “D” in Dallas the better. They lost Sean Lee to injury yet again, why expect anything different moving forward? You can’t build around that. They also let free agents, DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher, walk away when they need all the help they can get. Best case scenario, they play like the Chargers did, who made the playoffs by controlling the clock and keeping scores low. The cornerbacks have to be as good as the ‘Boys thought when they signed Brandon Carr and drafted Morris Claiborne. Barry Church developed and led all safeties with 135 tackles in 2013, he is their best defender.
With a bye in week 11, to me Dallas is headed for a 5-5 split before only winning one more game after the bye, maybe two. That of course, is predicting that they split with all three division rivals and I usually just calculate that win to the home team. Of course the wins can come on the road, so while I don’t expect them to only win one game after the bye, I do see them as a 6-7-win team in 2014. They just don’t have any credible units on defense, which could change if the secondary plays up to expectations. Unfortunately, that doesn’t mean the front-7 is much of a threat to offenses, as this was a historically bad defense last season. They need to ride Murray and Bryant, and hopefully this isn’t the year that Witten’s wear and tear catches up. He’s been an elite all-around tight end, even last year, but that O-line better be good so he can actually run routes this time around. So finally, I think they snap their 8-8 streak.
New York Giants: Last Place, Miss Playoffs, 4-12
Two Super Bowls in and Eli Manning has been given a pass for far too long. He can’t keep leading the league in interceptions, no matter how much he has to throw. The G-Men don’t have a starting caliber offensive line, a unit that you can’t just make-due. Victor Cruz is sensational but nobody else has helped him out through the air. If the Giants are somehow in the playoff hunt, that probably means a healthy Rashad Jennings is garnering Offensive Player of the Year consideration. Probably not the case, the new offense hasn’t clicked and probably won’t in 2014. Reuben Randle looks like a stop-gap starter. Rookie Odell Beckham hasn’t played a regular season game yet and he’s already hurt. Things aren’t looking pretty for big blue.
The defense has some veterans that the staff is relying on to form a decent side of the ball. Jason Pierre-Paul has been a one-hit wonder so far, and Jon Beason is still trying to persevere through injuries to be a force in the middle again. Mathias Kiwanuka is a chess piece that moves around the front-7. They brought over Cullen Jenkins to help JPP anchor the line. Their strongest unit just might be the secondary. Antrelle Rolle is a good safety that’s usually around the ball. Stevie Brown was making plays in the back end before his season was cut short to injury. Prince Amukamara was coming on a bit last season, he is joined by veteran Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond from the Seahawks. I like the DBs as the defense can be respectable again.
With that said, I do believe this is one of the worst teams heading into the season. They do seem to hang in games and won’t go away from the NFC East title picture, but I think we’ll see a different storyline. The defense is arguably the best in a mediocre division, but even that remains to be seen. The offense is clearly the worst in the division, with only one strong weapon that’s at least proven himself, that would be Cruz. Looking at the schedule I think they’re capped out at winning a pair of games before and after their week 8 bye, which is the perfect time for a bye to try to regroup and get healthy. So, they have that in their favor if they’re playing better football than expected, but I see 4-12.