NFC East Predictions

Posted: 08/26/2015 by levcohen in Football

Now that the projected over and under performers are out of the way, it’s time to move on to the important stuff: preseason full standings predictions. I know most of these predicted records won’t turn out to be on the spot, but I still think this is a good way of sorting out who will be in the playoff hunt and who won’t be along with the teams likely to improve or regress. I’ll begin with the NFC East, a division that last year lacked intrigue at the end of the season; the four were spread out by two, four, and two games going from top to bottom. More than anything, this is the division of increased defensive focus. Big-name free agents Greg Hardy and Byron Maxwell joined while others (including linebacker Kiko Alonso) were added via trade. What kind of impact, if any, will those changes have on the division?

Philadelphia Eagles (11-5): I try not to get too sucked in by preseason results. I really do. But it’s hard not to like what the Eagles have done this preseason in their blowout wins against the Colts and Ravens. The running game has looked powerful, young wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Jordan Matthews look like good top receivers, and, most importantly, the defense has been great. Even without the preseason results, though, I was optimistic about this Eagles team. The offense, complex signals and all, pretty simply comes down to Sam Bradford and his knee. The ex-Ram has missed almost the entire last two seasons with a pair of torn ACLs, damaging a career that once, after a ROY win, looked destined for stardom. He’s back healthy for now, and it’s clear that he still can be a good quarterback, especially in the Chip Kelly system. Bradford is accurate and decisive and a clear upgrade over ex-starter Nick Foles. If he’s healthy, the offense can be one of the league’s best. Granted, the team is much thinner at offensive line than it has been in the past few years thanks to the losses of guards Evan Mathis and Todd Herremans. But the other three above-average line starters return, and guards Allen Barbre and Andrew Gardner look like solid replacements for Mathis and Herremans. Meanwhile, the revolving door at the skill positions continued, with Jeremy Maclin and LeSean McCoy leaving and a host of new guys coming in. The receiving core of Matthews, Agholor, Josh Huff, and Miles Austin has been transformed over the past year-and-change and looks pretty strong, but it’s the running game that will really be expected to carry the weight. In DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews, the Eagles have two ferocious downhill runners who will keep each other fresh. Meanwhile, Darren Sproles looks as dynamic as ever and will see time as a slot receiver this season. In some ways, I think the Eagles are going to try to emulate the 2014 Cowboys with an overpowering running game that keeps the defense off the field and an accurate quarterback who can command the offense. Luckily for Philly, I think their defense could be just as good as the offense. Last year’s defense finished a surprising 10th in DVOA, and there’s no doubt it has been improved this offseason. Maxwell will slide in at CB1 and shadow the opponent’s top receiver, and while he’s still fairly unproven, Maxwell is still a clear upgrade over the Bradley Fletcher-Cary Williams fiasco last season. Meanwhile, the front seven was a strength last year and, thanks to Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Alonso, Mychal Kendricks, DeMeco Ryans, Fletcher Cox, Bennie Logan, and others, it will be again. They’ll be able to stop the run; it’s just a matter of whether they can stop the pass. Overall, I think this will be a solid playoff team but one with a few significant flaws (0-line depth, secondary). If Bradford stays healthy, and that’s a big if, I see them going 11-5 or 12-4 and winning the NFC East.

Dallas Cowboys (9-7): I was going to go into this long spiel about how lucky the Cowboys got last year with injuries, but I have an easy way of saying that now. Yesterday, top cornerback Orlando Scandrick tore his ACL and will miss the season, a blow that will be tough to recover from. That’s even more significant when considering that nearly every key contributor, with one major exception, was healthy throughout the year. Tony Romo’s back problems? Not an issue. DeMarco Murray’s injury-proneness? Not last year. America’s Team lived a charmed life last year, and that’s not likely to happen twice. That’s not to say that it will be a disastrous season for the Cowboys, who still certainly have the pieces to win the division. That key piece who was injured last year? That’s middle linebacker Sean Lee, who just so happens to be one of the best defenders in football when healthy. The problem is that he’s never healthy, and I can’t assume he will be this year, either. Without Lee, the Cowboys are weak at linebacker, but they can make up for that with a defensive line that will be much improved with the addition of Hardy (after he serves his four game suspension). Like Adrian Peterson, Hardy’s a polarizing person, but he’s not a polarizing player; few will argue with the fact that he’s a dominant pass-rusher, and he’ll need to be that this year if the ‘Boys will want to make up for a sub-par secondary led by much-maligned Brandon Carr and rookie Byron Jones. This won’t be a good defense, but it wasn’t last year either. I just worry that it will be significantly worse than slightly below average, which is what it was last season. Meanwhile, the offense will be good again this year, although probably not as good as it was last year. The loss of Murray hurts, but Joseph Randle is a fine running back, and that’s all the Cowboys need given their fantastic offensive line. And now that Dez Bryant is signed and presumably happy, we can pencil in another season of the great Romo-Bryant connection. What does a great offense and a bad defense equal? Well, last year the answer was 12-4, but with a little more bad luck and a little regression, I think it’ll be closer to 8-8 this season.

New York Giants (7-9): I have to put this bluntly: to me, the Giants are a very boring team with one very exciting player. Besides Odell Beckham, who are you really looking forward to watching on this team? There’s no tremendous defender, especially now that Jason Pierre-Paul has just nine fingers. Eli Manning is a good quarterback, but he won’t be able to win games by himself. The running game is below average and has been since the punishing combination of Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw led the team to a Super Bowl. And that’s really the main problem. The great Giants teams that included the 2007 and 2012 Super Bowl Champs were built around a strong defense and great running game. Now, the Giants are looking to spread the field more and put the ball in Eli’s hands, and I don’t really think it’s going to work out great. It’s not that this is a terrible team, it’s just that there’s nothing they can really hang their hat on. Besides Odell, who should win them plenty of games by himself. This could be a fairly nondescript season for the Giants and another one in which they fail to reach .500. Now can you imagine if Odell got injured?

Washington Redskins (4-12): I wrote about the Redskins in my post about three overrated teams, so I won’t say much here. But the team’s outlook looks even worse than it was when I wrote that post. I think I overestimated Washington’s line in saying it could be among the NFL’s best. The o-line was terrible in the Redskins’ second preseason game, leading to a constantly hit and eventually injured Robert Griffin III. When the positive things you say about a bad team aren’t true, you know that’s a bad thing for the team. I still think the defense will be fine, but the offense is going to struggle to move the ball.


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