Tuesday, September 3, 2013

NFL Divisional Previews - NFC East

The NFC East is filled with question marks. Just one team made the playoffs from the division last year, the Washington Redskins, who recovered from a 3-6 start to win the division. It really is anyone's guess as to who the division front-runner will be. Some like the Redskins but they have major questions when it comes to the durability and health of start QB Robert Griffin III, as well as a mediocre defense. The New York Giants seem to perform best in years after they miss the playoffs, which they did for the third time in four years in 2012. The Philadelphia Eagles have a new head coach for the first time in a long time, plucking Oregon's Chip Kelly to be the guy. Kelly is bringing with him a new style of offense, that he hopes resurrects Mike Vick's career. The Dallas Cowboys are sticking with the Tony Romo/Jason Garrett combo, but seemed destined for more disappointment.

1. New York Giants    

2012 Record: 9-7, 2nd place NFC East
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin (11th season New York Giants, 163-128 career)
Key Additions: OT/G Justin Pugh, WR Louis Murphy, TE Brandon Meyers, DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Mike Patterson, ILB Dan Connor, CB Aaron Ross, S Ryan Mundy, K Josh Brown
Key Losses: RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Domenik Hixon, TE Martellus Bennett, DE Osi Umeniyora, DT Chris Canty, OLB Michael Boley, ILB Chase Blackburn, S Kenny Phillips, K Lawrence Tynes

2013 Outlook: In typical Giants fashion, New York got off to a hot start last year, and then crumbled down the stretch. But unlike in their fluke Super Bowl years, they weren't able to sneak into the playoffs and then suddenly catch fire. So instead, they missed the playoffs for the third time in four seasons. The reason for the demise of their 2012 season was pretty clearly the poor play of QB Eli Manning down the stretch. Manning has the two Super Bowl rings and is definitely a good quarterback, but any talk of him being better than Peyton is pure poppycock. Manning went the last nine games of the season without even breaking 300 yards passing. He definitely missed having the old Hakeem Nicks. Nicks battled injuries throughout the season and didn't seem like the same player when he was in the lineup. Nicks wants more money so this year is key for him if he wants to make bank. A major reason he wants more money is his fellow wideout Victor Cruz got paid this off-season. Cruz proved that his 2011 season was no fluke and that he is one of the premiere wideouts in football. Brandon Meyers replaces Martellus Bennett at tight end. I really liked this move by the Giants and think Meyers could be in for a big season. David Wilson has been handed the keys to the car at running back, finally forgiven for his opening game fumble against the Cowboys last season. The pressure will be on him even more after his backup Andre Brown suffered a broken leg in the preseason finale. The offensive line remained largely the same, although they did draft Justin Pugh in the first round of the draft. Right now Pugh is listed as being David Diehl's backup at right tackle on the depth chart. Chris Snee remains at right guard. Did you know that he is Tom Coughlin's son-in-law? Bet you didn't! The Giants defense was atrocious last season, finishing 25th against the run and 28th against the pass. Changes had to be made, so longtime defensive end Osi Umeniyora, who had been unhappy for years with his contract was allowed to leave for Atlanta. The Giants are hoping for a bounce back season from Justin Tuck, who struggled mightily in 2012. Jason Pierre-Paul also saw his sack numbers go way down, but that might have been more due to the struggles of others around him. Cullen Jenkins was brought in from Philadelphia to fortify the defensive line. Mark Herzlich from Boston College will be the new starting middle linebacker, while the rest of the linebacking corps is highly questionable. Even more questionable is the Giants secondary. Corey Webster was another defensive player who had a bad year for New York in 2012. The other corner, Prince Amukamara hasn't stayed healthy long enough for anyone to truly judge him yet. Ryan Mundy is the new safety, formerly of the Steelers, and will be paired up with Antrel Rolle. Lawrence Tynes made some huge kicks in his Giants career but his time was up, and he has been replaced by veteran Josh Brown. Steve Weatherford is serviceable at punter. David Wilson is still listed as the kick returner, but it will be interesting to see how long that remains with him and not much else at running back. The schedule starts off pretty light for New York so expect another hot start. They will hit their typical speed bump, but this year, I think they manage to sneak into the playoffs. However, I don't expect them to push through another ridiculous Super Bowl run.

Prediction: 10-6

2. Washington Redskins    

2012 Record: 10-6, NFC East champs
Head Coach: Mike Shanahan (4th season Washington, 175-131 career)
Key Additions: DB David Amerson, DE Darryl Tapp, CB E.J. Biggers
Key Losses: OT Jammal Brown, DE/OLB Lorenzo Alexander, CB Cedric Griffin, S Madieu Williams

2013 Outlook: Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III took the league by storm in 2012. He brought life to a franchise desperately in need of it, and made fools of the people who said the Skins gave up too many picks to draft him. At first though, his brilliance wasn't translating to wins on the field as the Skins started 3-6. But then, as seems to be recent Redskins tradition when they make a playoff run, Washington bounced back, winning their final seven games and their first division title in 13 years. During that winning streak Griffin hurt his knee and actually missed a game. He came back in time to beat Dallas for the division, and then propelled Washington to a 14-0 lead against Seattle in the playoffs. But he had tweaked the injury early in the game and it was obvious as he overthrew receiver after receiver that something wasn't right. Stubbornly, he and coach Mike Shanahan kept him in and then eventually he wound up tearing his ACL and LCL, and the Skins would lose. The talk all offseason has been about whether or not Griffin will be ready for Week 1. He has finally been cleared, although apparently Dr. James Andrews wants him to become the first quarterback in the history of football to never be hit to ensure his safety. Everyone thinks the Skins have to change how they use Griffin. I don't think they do. I think Griffin needs to become a smarter player and stop trying to be a hero all the time. Get out of bounds when he can, throw the ball away if he has to. The Redskins would be foolish to try to not use his legs, his legs are one of his biggest weapons. Fortunately for Washington they appear to have a capable backup in Kirk Cousins, a pick that was deemed stupid by all the know it alls last year. The Redskins found another rookie gem in RB Alfred Morris. Alf rushed for over 1,600 yards and turned a doubter like me into a believer. Washington will be helped this year by the return of RB Roy Helu. When given the opportunity Helu has been very effective, and he could really help conserve Alf this season. Another key player that the Redskins hope remains healthy is Pierre Garcon. The Redskins offense goes to another level with Garcon's playmaking ability on the field. Josh Morgan will start opposite of him, and Santana Moss will be in the slot. Buying a Santana Moss jersey in 2005 was one of the best investments I've made as he enters his 9th and likely last season in Washington. Fred Davis is back from injury to start at tight end. The offensive line was considered a major concern going into the 2012 season but performed quite well. Only right tackle Tyler Polumbus was a real weakness. The rest of the line is strong with left tackle Trent Williams, left guard Kory Lichtensteiger, center Will Montgomery and right guard Chris Chester. The line was able to stay pretty healthy in 2012 and the Redskins have to hope they do as well in 2013, because the depth behind them is thin. The Redskins defense struggled mightily at times last season, but a lot of that can be traced back to losing Brian Orakpo in Week 2. Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan make up a fearsome group of linebackers on the edge, but Orakpo has to avoid being injured a third straight season. The defensive line doesn't get a lot of pressure, so it really is on Orakpo and Kerrigan to make life tough for opposing quarterbacks. Adam Carriker is gone for the year, and his replacement Jarvis Jenkins stupidly got himself suspended the first four games for taking a banned substance. London Fletcher is once again back to man the middle of the field, but last year finally started showing signs of slowing down. The Redskins have almost no depth behind him, so that is an area of concern. It appeared that the DeAngelo Hall era had ended when the Skins released him, but then they re-signed to a much cap friendlier 1 year deal. Hall isn't great, but they could do worse at corner. Josh Wilson is the other starting corner but Washington will probably try to find ways to get their top pick David Amerson onto the field. The safety position was a mess last year for Washington, as Brandon Meriweather couldn't get over injuries. He should be ready to go in Week 1 and in his one game he played against Philadelphia last season he was exceptional. Right now, rookie Bacarri Rambo is penciled in as the other starter at safety, although you can expect longtime Redskin Reed Doughty to see some time on the field. Kai Forbath was a breath of fresh air at kicker, and the Redskins hope they have finally solved that position. Sav Rocca hangs around as the punter but his best years are long behind him. It is really tough predicting the Redskins this season, as so many things could go right, but so many feel like they have the potential to go wrong. Washington has a good amount of talent but they will have to avoid the injury bug as much as possible, as depth is weak in some key areas. I think they will post another winning season but the playoffs may end up just out of their reach.

Prediction: 9-7

3. Philadelphia Eagles     

2012 Record: 4-12, last place NFC East

Head Coach: Chip Kelly (1st season Philadelphia, 0-0 career)
Key Additions: OT Lane Johnson, FB Zach Ertz, TE James Casey, NT Isaac Sopoaga, DE/OLB Connor Barwin, DE/OLB Emmanuel Acho, ILB Jason Phillips, CB Cary Williams, S Patrick Chung, P Donnie Jones
Key Losses: QB Trent Edwards, RB Dion Lewis, OT King Dunlap, OT Demetress Bell, G Jake Scott, DE Darryl Tapp, DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Mike Patterson, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, P Mat McBriar

2013 Outlook: 2012 was a complete disaster for the Eagles. QB Michael Vick continued to be brittle and the team completely quit under long tenured coach Andy Reid. The Dream Team ideal had never materialized and instead the Eagles had become one of the worst teams in football. Reid was shown the door as it was clear he had taken the franchise as far as he could. The Eagles then hired Chip Kelly away from the Oregon Ducks. What Kelly will be able to do in the NFL remains a mystery but his offenses were some of the most exciting, prolific and fast paced in all of college football. He is hoping to bring that style of play to the Eagles, and has decided that Vick is the man to carry out his vision. I think Vick can thrive in this type of offense but the real question with him is can he remain healthy? If not, the Eagles at least have a backup they feel pretty good about in Nick Foles. RB LeSean McCoy is looking to have a bounce back year after an injury plagued 2012. He expressed some discontent with Kelly's hire at first on Twitter but seems to have come around. The Eagles also have depth at running back with Bryce Brown as his backup. Brown showed some real burst last year when he got to play but was a fumbling machine. Kelly has high hopes for WR DeSean Jackson and the many ways he can potentially use him in the offense. Jeremy Maclin was lost for the year at the beginning of training camp, forcing racist Riley Cooper into the number two spot. Brent Celek burst onto the scene a few years ago at tight end but ever since Vick took over at quarterback he hasn't been the same player. Kelly likes to use the tight end so maybe this is Celek's return to upper echelon play. The Eagles badly missed Jason Peters at left tackle last season and are happy to have him back. In what seems to be a recurring theme, the question is, can he remain healthy. They spent a first round pick on on right tackle Lane Johnson, and have center Jason Kelce returning from injury. If the line can stay healthy it could be one of the better units in football. The Eagles defense has undergone a massive makeover. Gone are disappointments like Nmadi Asomugha, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and to a lesser extent Cullen Jenkins. The defensive line is a huge mystery as to what kind of production the Eagles will get. They signed away NT Isaac Sopoaga from the 49ers, but Sopoaga could never crack the starting lineup in San Francisco. DT Fletcher Cox showed some promise his rookie year, so the Eagles are hoping for big things from him in year two. The linebacking unit looks like an old Houston Texans defense, with Connor Barwin joining DeMeco Ryans. Trent Cole was terrible in 2012 and having turned 30 the Eagles have to been concerned if his best days are behind him. The secondary looks nothing like it did last year. Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are the new starting cornerbacks. After how terrible Asomugha and Cromartie were last year, you figured Fletcher and Williams have nowhere to go but up. Patrick Chung was brought in from New England to start alongside Nate Allen at safety. After some initial struggles Alex Henery has turned into one of the better kickers in football. The Eagles added another former Texan at punter with the addition of Donnie Jones. The Eagles are hoping that Jackson can return to the threat he once was at punt returner. The Eagles might be the toughest team to predict going in the season. Just so many question marks and new pieces to the team. I expect them to improve on last season's abomination, but chemistry will take time to build. Unfortunately for impatient Eagles fans that will mean a third straight year of missing the playoffs.

Prediction: 7-9

4. Dallas Cowboys    

2012 Record: 8-8, 3rd place NFC East
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (3rd season Dallas, 21-19 career)
Key Additions: C/G Travis Frederick, OLB Justin Durant, S Will Allen
Key Losses: RB Felix Jones, WR Kevin Ogletree, DE/DT Kenyon Coleman, DE/DT Marcus Spears, ILB Dan Connor, CB Mike Jenkins, S Gerald Sensabaugh

2013 Outlook: The Dallas Cowboys continue to be mediocre year after year but still draw one of the highest levels of attention in the league. Ever year we hear about how much talent Dallas has and this is the year. Then they will be average all season but still have a chance to win a final game to sneak into the playoffs and win the mediocre NFC East. The last two seasons they have failed to do that and the man most often blamed is QB Tony Romo. I don't really think that is fair as Cowboys fans don't seem to realize how good they have it. Romo has come up small in some big games but he hasn't been helped by a porous offensive line. He also hasn't had a consistent running game in years, mostly because DeMarco Murray, while talented, can never stay healthy. Felix Jones is gone so the depth behind Murray is highly questionable. The Cowboys receiving corps remains one of the better units in football. WR Dez Bryant had a breakout season last year, and showed why the Cowboys eschewed character concerns to draft him a few years ago. Miles Austin is very good when healthy but like Murray, health has been hard for him to attain. Jason Witten remains one of the most consistent tight ends in football. The Cowboys were desperate to improve an offensive line that had Romo running for his life last season. They reached for center Travis Frederick out of Wisconsin by taking him in the first round of the draft. Nate Livings and Mackenzy Bernadeau are back at the guard positions, which to most Cowboys fans isn't a good thing. Also back is right tackle Doug Free, another player that struggled mightily. Left tackle Tyron Smith has been somewhat disappointing thus far but has showed enough good signs that the Cowboys remain optimistic about his prospects. The Cowboys are revamping their struggling defense, as they fired bombastic, overrated coordinator Rob Ryan, but then replaced him with the over the hill Monte Kiffin. Kiffin presided over a terrible defense in USC, and seems to have lost his fastball from his Tampa Bay Bucs days. Anthony Spencer and DeMarcus Ware give Dallas dangerous ends, both capable of double digit sack seasons. DT Jay Ratliff has seemed unmotivated ever since signing a big contract in 2011, but maybe Kiffin can light a fire under him. The Cowboys are very happy to have Sean Lee back at linebacker, after he missed more than half the season in 2012. Secondary has been a problem area for Dallas for years it seems and likely will remain so in 2013. Safety Barry Church is coming back from a torn achilles, while Will Allen was brought in from Pittsburgh where he had his struggles. The corners are pretty good with the young Morris Claiborne lining alongside Brandon Carr. Dan Bailey is one of the best kickers in the NFL, while punter Chris Jones is barely good enough. Returner Dwayne Harris is exceptionally fast and a threat to take one to the house anytime he touches the ball. I think Dallas will be in a lot of shootouts in 2013. Romo will be up to the task sometimes but he isn't someone that can carry your team an entire season. The Cowboys season will rest on the strides the offensive line and defense make. I'm not confident that those necessary strides will come.

Prediction: 7-9

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