Monday, August 25, 2014

2014 NFL Divisional Previews - NFC East

The New York Giants have missed the playoffs four out of the past five seasons and coach Tom Coughlin might be starting to lose some of the goodwill that two Super Bowl trophies have earned him. Chip Kelly is being hailed as a revolutionary, as his offense took the NFL by storm and helped the Eagles reclaim their NFC East throne. It's another new era in Washington, as Robert Griffin III and others couldn't throw the Shanahan's under the bus fast enough. The Dallas Cowboys had one of the worst defenses in the history of football last season and somehow might be even worse off this season.

1. New York Giants

2013 Record: 7-9, 3rd place NFC East
Head Coach: Tom Coughlin (11th season New York Giants, 170-137 career, 2 Super Bowl championships)
Key Additions: WR Odell Beckham Jr., RB Rashad Jennings, WR Mario Manningham, LG Geoff Schwartz, RG John Jerry, C J.D. Walton, LDE Robert Ayers, ILB Jameel McClain, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, S Quintin Demps, KR Trindon Holliday
Key Losses: RB Andre Brown, RB Brandon Jacobs, RB David Wilson, WR Hakeem Nicks, TE Brandon Myers, TE Bear Pascoe, OT David Diehl, G Kevin Boothe, C David Baas, DE Justin Tuck, DT Linval Joseph, OLB Keith Rivers, CB Aaron Ross, S Will Hill, S Ryan Mundy

2014 Outlook: The 2013 season got off to a disastrous start for the Giants, as they lost their first six games. They ended the season winning 7 of their final 10 games but were once again on the outside looking in when it came to the playoffs. Despite 2 Super Bowl championships some of the natives are growing restless with the inconsistency of the Eli Manning/Tom Coughlin era. This could serve as a make or break season for Coughlin, as if the Giants miss the playoffs again, his seat will be piping hot. Manning was a disaster in 2013, throwing a career high 27 interceptions and completing just 57% of his passes. His offensive line, which had been a constant for Manning throughout his career fell apart due to age and injury. Hakeem Nicks, once one of the fastest rising receivers in the league, didn't even score a touchdown and injuries to David Wilson and Andrew Brown left the running back position a mess. Wilson was forced to retire due to his neck injuries and Brown left via free agency, so the Giants will start free agent acquisition Rashad Jennings at running back. He will be backed up by Peyton Hillis and Andre Williams, and Williams has been earning praise throughout the presseason. With Nicks gone to the Colts, Rueben Randle slides into the number two receiver slot opposite Victor Cruz. Jerrel Jernigan was the Giants leading receiver in their final three games last season and Mario Manningham became the latest Giant to fail in San Francisco and come crawling back to New York. The Giants also drafted Odell Beckham Jr., so Manning will have plenty of choices of who to throw to. Adrian Robinson is the new starting tight end and could share time with Bear Pascoe. As mentioned above the Giants offensive line has undergone a major transformation. Announcers everywhere are saddened that Tom Coughlin's son-in-law Chris Snee is no longer playing. Also gone are David Dahl, Kevin Boothe, and David Baas, replaced by Geoff Schwartz, and J.D. Walton. The Giants defense is also taking on a new look, saying goodbye to Justin Tuck, Linval Joseph, Keith Rivers, Aaron Ross, Will Hill, and Ryan Mundy. They signed DE Robert Ayers and CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie away from the Broncos. Johnathan Hankins will replace Joseph up front, pairing with Cullen Jenkins. DE Jason Pierre-Paul had a disastrous 2013 season filled with lack of production and injury. With Tuck gone, even more pressure will be on him to rebound to his earlier form. The linebackers are a huge question mark for the Giants. Jon Beason is a shell of his former self due to injuries and Spencer Paysinger and Jameel McClain are average at best. The back four should be strong, as they will now pair Rodgers-Cromartie with the emerging Prince Amukumara. Antrelle Rolle and Quintin Demps make up a strong pair of safeties. Josh Brown is adequate at kicker although not terribly reliable from long range while punter Steve Weatherford is starting to see his skills decline. The Giants return game could potentially see a boost if another free agent pick up from the Broncos, Trindon Holliday gets his chances. Holliday has issues holding on to the ball but when he does he is one of the fastest men in football. The Giants have a lot of new pieces and it is questionable that they will all mesh together but I believe in Coughlin and Manning. They have proven that they can lead a team to the promised land, and while I don't believe that will be a 3rd Super Bowl title, I do think it will mean winning the highly mediocre NFC East.

Prediction: 10-6

2. Philadelphia Eagles

2013 Record: 10-6, 1st place NFC East
Head Coach: Chip Kelly (2nd season Philadelphia, 10-7 career)
Key Additions: QB Mark Sanchez, RB Darren Sproles, S Malcom Jenkins, CB Nolan Carroll
Key Losses: QB Michael Vick, WR DaSean Jackson, WR Jason Avant, S Patrick Chung

2014 Outlook: A season with ups and downs is how I would characterize the first season for the Eagles under Chip Kelly. In Week 1, Michael Vick and Kelly blitzkrieged the Redskins and an offensive revolution appeared to have been sprung on the NFL. But the Eagles followed that game up by losing five of their next seven and the narrative of Kelly quickly changed to college coach that couldn't hack it. Unsurprisingly, Vick was hurt during that string of losing and Nick Foles was inserted as the starter. Foles proceeded to play out of his mind, throwing 27 TDs and 2 INTs and the Eagles won seven of their final eight games to claim the NFC East. Vick was allowed to walk and Foles is now unquestionably the man in Philly. After such a strong season Foles really can't go anywhere but down but even if that is just slightly down, it would still be a strong season for him. Foles is helped by having perhaps the best running back in football, LaSean McCoy. McCoy was at first skeptical of the hiring of Kelly but quickly got on board once he saw how Kelly planned to use him in the offense. McCoy is not only a fantastic rusher, he is also great at catching the ball out of the backfield. The biggest move the Eagles made in the off-season was waiving DaSean Jackson after he had a career year. Apparently, Jackson didn't mesh well with Kelly so now Jeremy Maclin, who missed all of last season due to injury, is the Eagles #1 receiver. Maclin has proven to be a nice complement to Jackson but it remains to be seen how he will perform now that he he is the "man". Racist Riley Cooper ended up having the best season of his career after making headlines for all the wrong reasons in the off-season. It is imperative that he and Maclin have strong seasons because behind them on the wide receiver depth chart is a whole bunch of meh. Zach Ertz should become a bigger part of the offense, as he and Brent Celek form a pretty lethal 1-2 punch at the tight end position. The Eagles return all five starters on the offensive line, including stud left tackle Jason Peters. They will be without right tackle Lane Johnson for the first four games of the season due to suspension, and Dennis Kelly is slotted to start in his place. It was important that the Eagles offense score points because the Eagles defense, especially their pass defense, was not good. The Eagles were 10th in the league against the run and got strong play from NT Bernie Logan, RDE Fletcher Cox, and LDE Cedric Thornton. On paper the Eagles have a strong linebacking corps but the group didn't always play up to their potential in 2013. DeMeco Ryans and Connor Barwin were inconsistent, while Trent Cole improved upon his porous 2012 season, but still isn't quite the dominant presence on defense that he used to be. Malcolm Jenkins, formerly of the Saints, will take over for the atrocious Patrick Chung at safety, and be flanked by the mediocre Nate Allen. Corners Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher are average at best. Alex Henery hasn't been nearly the kicker I anticipated he would be after being so good at Nebraska but punter Donnie Jones is coming off a strong season. I think the regression of Foles this season, combined with a defense that still has too many question marks will leave Philadelphia out of the playoffs in 2014.

Prediction: 8-8

3. Washington Redskins

2013 Record: 3-13, last place NFC East
Head Coach: Jay Gruden (1st season Washington, 0-0 career)
Key Additions: QB Colt McCoy, WR DaSean Jackson, WR Andre Roberts, LG Shawn Lauvauo, LOLB Trent Murphy, DE/DT Jason Hatcher, S Ryan Clark
Key Losses: WR Josh Morgan, C/G Will Montgomery, DE/DT Adam Carriker, ILB London Fletcher, CB Josh Wilson, P Sav Rocca

2014 Outlook: Another new era in Washington as Jay Gruden is the latest coach brought in to try to return the Redskins franchise to an era of sustained success. It has been 23 years since the Redskins have won 11 games or more in a season. The Shanahan regime thought they had found their man to bring that success, when they traded away the future to be able to select Robert Griffin III. Griffin was fantastic in his rookie season, but his reckless style came back to haunt him and he suffered a torn ACL and MCL in a playoff loss to the Seahawks. Griffin wanted to rush back and the coaching staff and organization acquiesced to his request and allowed him to start the 2013 regular season opener. Griffin ended up looking rusty for most of the season and suffered through a trying year. He clashed with the Shanahans and struggled to handle criticism, eventually being benched for the final three games of the season. He appears happier now playing for Gruden but the true measure of this relationship will be seen when the inevitable hard times hit. Will Griffin quickly throw Gruden under the bus like he did the Shanahan's? Or will he have the wherewithal as a third year player to understand that the true measure of a leader is how he handles adversity? Also, can he manage to get a through season injury free but maintain some of the elusiveness that made him so effective in the first place? Alfred Morris had another strong campaign proving that his rookie season wasn't a fluke. Gruden likes to have his running backs catch the ball out of the backfield, so either Morris will have to develop a new skill, or Roy Helu Jr. will see an increase in playing time. The biggest acquisition the Redskins made in the off-season was signing DaSean Jackson. The Redskins didn't overpay for Jackson and there is certainly reason to believe that he and Griffin could mesh into quite the duo. The Redskins also signed Andre Roberts away from the Cardinals and he should make a very solid number three receiver. Pierre Garcon returns, coming off a career season, but can he put up those big numbers and stay happy if he has to share the ball with Jackson? Jordan Reed was a pleasant surprise in his rookie year at tight end, although he had problems staying healthy. The Redskins have some nice pieces to have one of the most dynamic passing games in football.  What might stop that from being a reality is the highly questionable offensive line. The Redskins added LG Shawn Lauvao via free agency, but he is average at best. Center Kory Lichtensteiger, RG Chris Chester, and RT Tyler Polumbus are mainstays of the line but that isn't necessarily a good thing. The one elite player Washington does have on their offensive line is LT Trent Williams. Williams has lived up to his draft hype and has turned into a perennial Pro Bowler. The Redskins defense was atrocious and like everything else that sucked with Washington this somehow turned into Mike Shanahan's fault. Supposedly, he handcuffed defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. Nevermind that Haslett has never coached a top 10 defense in his career, it was all Mike's fault! The Skins did look to bolster their defensive line by plucking the Cowboys sack leader Jason Hatcher in free agency. Hatcher has been battling injuries this off-season so he could be a bit behind the eight ball once the season starts. London Fletcher finally had Father time catch up with him and realized it and retired. He will be replaced by Keenan Robinson who has shown some promise this preseason. The Skins also have the talented Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo at linebacker. Both guys have their moments of dominance but neither has been able to put it all together in a complete package. Orakpo is in a contract year, so if he wants to be paid like an elite talent this is the year for him to show that. The Redskins also drafted promising linebacker Trent Murphy out of Stanford. The secondary mostly remains the same despite their struggles, with the only change being the return of aging Ryan Clark at safety. S Brandon Meriweather was brought back and hopefully spent his summer learning the new hitting rules so he can avoid more fines and suspensions. No one has a higher opinion of themselves than CB DeAngelo Hall who laughably refers to himself as the best corner in football. Hall does have a nose for the football but he gets burned far too often for someone who sees himself as an elite corner. CB David Amerson had his rookie struggles but the Skins are hopeful he will make a jump in year two. Kai Forbath is currently in a battle with Zach Hocker for the kicking job. Forbath is pretty accurate but can sometimes struggle from long distance. Former New York Jet Robert Malone is the team's new punter. Niles Paul will likely return kicks and Santana Moss punts if he makes the team. Roberts and Jackson also have experience as return men so either way the Redskins return game should be much improved from a year ago. I think the Redskins offense can return to their 2012 form, but I am not expecting much improvement from the defense. I am not buying all this talk that Jim Haslett has just been held back all these years. The guy has proven with many teams that he just can't coach defenses to a high level. The Redskins will at least be respectable this season, but not good enough to make the playoffs.

Prediction: 8-8

4. Dallas Cowboys

2013 Record: 8-8, 2nd place NFC East
Head Coach: Jason Garrett (4th season Dallas, 29-27 career)
Key Additions: RG Zack Martin, QB Brandon Weeden, DE Jeremy Mincie, RDT Henry Melton
Key Losses: QB Kyle Orton, WR Miles Austin, G Brian Waters, C Phil Costa, DE DeMarcus Ware, OLB Ernie Sims

2014 Outlook: When looking up the definitions of mediocre or chokers you will likely find accompanied with them a picture of Jason Garrett and the Cowboys star. For three straight seasons Garrett has coached the Cowboys to an 8-8 record. During those three seasons the Cowboys played for a chance to win the division title in the final game of the season and all three times they have come up on the losing end. The notoriously impatient Jerry Jones has been strangely patient with Garrett. You have to think if the Cowboys wind up missing the playoffs for a fourth straight season that Jones would finally have seen enough. To be somewhat fair to the Cowboys, they played last season's finale without Tony Romo who had to sit with a back injury. Romo had one of the best years of his career last season, throwing 31 TDs to just 10 INTs. He did have some of his infamous late game turnovers that definitely hurt Dallas but overall he is the least of the Cowboys concerns and easily a top 10 quarterback in the league. RB DeMarco Murray will once again attempt to play all 16 games. a feat he has yet to achieve in his career. Murray had a strong season last year and serves a nice dual threat option for the offense, as he also a very effective pass catcher. WR Dez Bryant can be headache inducing with his antics on the field but there is no denying his abilities and that he is one of the top receivers in football. Terrance Williams is now the unquestioned #2 receiver with Miles Austin having moved on to Cleveland. Williams got plenty of chances last season since Miles could never stay healthy. Mainstay Jason Witten is back at tight end but he disappeared far too often in games last year. He would show flashes of his old self from time to time but he no longer appears to be the consistent threat that he used to be. The Cowboys offensive line is average but does have a current and future star in left tackle Tyron Smith. RG Zack Martin was drafted out of Notre Dame this year, and C Travis Frederick was drafted last season so the Cowboys do have some young pieces to build around on the line. Now that defense on the other hand, is ugly. Last season the Cowboys defense allowed the third most yards in a season in NFL history. The thing is, due to injuries, loss of personnel and suspensions they have a great chance of being even worse this season. Longtime star DeMarcus Ware was cut, sack leader Jason Hatcher left via free agency to the Redskins, the Cowboys best player, LB Sean Lee is out for the season after injuring himself in mini camps, and CB Orlando Scandrick will be serving a four game suspension for dancing with Molly. Looking at the Cowboys defensive depth chart, I can honestly say I am only really familiar with CBs Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne. Last year's coordinator Monte Kiffin was demoted and now Rod Marinelli, former coach of the 0-16 Detroit Lions, takes over. Tasked with pressuring the quarterback this season will be DEs George Selvie and Jeremy Mincey and the run stuffers are supposed to be Nick Hayden and Henry Melton. I say supposed to be because let's be honest, there was no stuffing the run done by the Cowboys defense last season. Taking over for Lee will be the inexperienced Andrew Hitchins, while on again, off again bust Rolando McClain may see some playing time if he can stay out of trouble and keep himself dedicated to football. Claiborne will star the year at corner with Scandrick suspended but he has been a major disappointment thus far. Carr has also been disappointing since the Cowboys signed him to a monster contract a few years ago. Barry Chuch and J.J. Wilcox return at safety but both are underwhelming players. One spot the Cowboys did do well at was kicker where Dan Bailey has become one of the most reliable kickers in football. Punter Chris Jones is pretty serviceable as well. Dwayne Harris is a dangerous kick and punt returner. I think this is finally the year the Cowboys break that 8-8 mark. Unfortunately for them, I mean that they will actually be worse than 8-8 this year. Their defense is just so terrible, that no matter what Romo does, there is no way this team will be a contender this season. This will finally be the end of the line for Garrett as coach.

Prediction: 6-10

No comments: