NFC East Preview

NFC East Preview

Remember when the Philadelphia Eagles were referred to as the “Dream Team”? It ended up being more like the “in your dreams, team”. They had an awful start to last season (1-4 through five games), and were unable to recover from it, even after gelling a bit more and winning their final four games. Some analysts felt the lockout affected the Eagles more than other teams, since they had more free agent signings than any other team, but that same excuse won’t suffice this year.
Losses: C Jamaal Jackson, OT Winston Justice, DT Trevor Laws, CB Asante Samuel, WR Steve Smith, QB Vince Young
Additions: S O.J. Atogwe, OT Demetrius Bell, DT Fletcher Cox, DE Vinny Curry, LB Mychal Kendricks, LB DeMeco Ryans

Line: 10.0    Win: 9.3        Loss: 6.7        % to win division: 39.2%        % to make playoffs: 57.4%

The Eagles are projected to win 9.3 games, and if we round the numbers, their projected record is 9-7. The odds had the Eagles at 11.7 wins last year, but Philly went 8-8.

An obvious inconsistency last season was the defense. On paper, the Eagles had some top-notch in their defensive backfield, but nothing seemed to work for the majority of the season. Although they tied the Minnesota Vikings for the most sacks last season (50), their defense only generated 24 turnovers, the team’s fewest amount since the 2007 season. The linebackers had a tough time last season, but the addition of DeMeco Ryans, who should be effective in the 4-3, will give them a presence in the middle.

They gave up 27 touchdown passes, a shocking number considering that they led the league in sacks, and that they signed CB Nnamdi Asomugha. The Eagles finished 8th in the NFL in total defense, but were just 16th (4.4 ypc) against the run. The defensive quad, as a unit, played poorly and more importantly, lacked the necessary aggression.  All that seemed to change near the end of the season, when they got the stops to help win the final four games against the Dolphins, Jets, Cowboys, and Redskins.

On the other side of the ball, the Eagles will go as far as Vick leads them. He dealt with injuries in 2011, but upon his return, his health wasn’t the only issue. In almost every game he played in, Vick threw interceptions, most notably the four against the Bills. In their four-game losing streak (week 2-5), he threw seven interceptions. Over the course of the season, he had 10 fumbles. He threw for 3,303 yards with 18 TDs and 14 INTS (84.9 passer rating), and ran for 590 yards.

Vick has plenty of weapons in his arsenal, with guys like DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, and LeSean McCoy providing solid support. McCoy scored in 13 of the 15 games he played in, ran for 1,309 yards (17 TDs) and caught 48 passes.
As we all know, plenty of teams look good on paper. The teams, however, play the game on the field and Vick needs to be healthy to lead his team. He already left the team’s first preseason game because of an injury, and there’s a good chance that the season is lost due to the unpredictable health of their $100 million QB. Philly is talented on both sides of the ball, and it’ll be a huge disappointment if they once again finish 8-8.

Note: The line is at 10.0, and I think I would go over on that. 11-5 is my projected record for the Eagles, but 10-6 sounds about right too.

The Dallas Cowboys are hyped up year after year, and things are no different as we get set for the 2012 season: the team hasn’t made the playoffs in the past two seasons, and with their “aging core”, the window to win something substantial is closing. After a shaky 8-8 season, one where they won five straight in October/November but lost four of their final five, the Cowboys are looking to bounce back and return to what the Cowboys are supposed to be known for: winning.

Losses: TE Martellus Bennett, S Abram Elam, ILB Bradie James, OG Kyle Kosier, CB Terence Newman, WR Laurent Robinson
Additions: CB Brandon Carr, ILB Dan Connor, OG Nate Livings, QB Kyle Orton, SS Brodney Pool, FB Lawrence Vickers, CB Morris Claiborne

Line: 8.5        Win: 9.0        Loss: 7.0        % to win division: 32.4%        % to make playoffs: 49.5%

The Cowboys’ projected record stands at 9-7, but their talent, if used properly, should yield them at least a 10-6 record. So, what’s it going to take to make the playoffs this year and possibly win their division? Let’s focus on two things: defense, and Tony Romo. In five of their eight losses last season, the Cowboys had a fourth quarter lead. Unfortunately, injuries depleted an already weak defensive secondary, and they were picked apart by quarterbacks almost every game.  The defense finished 14th overall, allowing 343.2 ypg and was 23rd against the pass. They did make some key additions to improve their defense: Morris Claiborne, the best corner in the draft, and Brandon Carr, who comes from the Chiefs and will fit perfectly in Rob Ryan’s defense. Combine those two with Orlando Scandrick and Mike Jenkins, and you’ve got some nice talent in the defensive back field.

To make sure the Cowboys do as well as expected, Tony Romo needs to have a similar year to 2011, minus the late-game lapses. In 2011, he passed for over 4,000 yards with 31 TD’s and only 10 INT. Dallas finished 11th in total offense but was just 18th in rushing offense (4.4ypc). The Cowboys will need RB Demarco Murray to have another solid season to take pressure off of Romo and the passing game. Murray ran for 897 yards last year in 13 games, with his best game coming against the Rams (253 yards).

The biggest issue with the team is at their O-line. Romo was sacked 36 times last season, and the Cowboys better hope they can improve on that number. Management is hoping that Nate Livings and Tyron Smith can help protect Romo more than he had been last season.

The Cowboys have plenty of talent, and if the team as a whole can stay focused, they have a great shot at winning the division. Of course, that would mean they finish above the Giants and Eagles, and successfully getting through the first half of their schedule; they play six of their first nine games on the road. They open the season at New York (Giants), and travel to Seattle the week after before coming home to play Tampa Bay and Chicago. Then, they are back on the road against Baltimore, Carolina, Atlanta, and Philadelphia with a home game against the Giants in between those. The Cowboys need to get through these first nine games and the playoffs will be in sight.

Can they finally live up to their expectations, or is another lost season going to cost Jason Garrett his job?

Note: The line is at 8.5, and I [nervously] would go over on that. 9-7 is my projected record for the Cowboys.

The NFC East is stacked! We’re talking about the NY Giants, last year’s Superbowl champs, as the third best team in the division? I think we can all agree that the Giants weren’t the so-called best team in the league last year, but had everything clicking for them at the right time. They finished the season 9-7, and at the end of the regular season, New York actually had a negative six-point differential and ranked in the bottom 10 in points allowed. Regardless, assuming the team can stay healthy, their pass rush and passing game will keep them in playoff contention all season, and in striking distance of teams like Green Bay and San Francisco.

Losses: RB Brandon Jacobs, WR Mario Manningham, OT Kareem McKenzie, CB Aaron Ross, DE Dave Tollefson
Additions: TE Martellus Bennett, OT Sean Locklear, CB Antwaun Molden, LB Keith Rivers, DT Shaun Rogers

Line: 9.0        Win: 8.6        Loss: 7.4        % to win division: 25.7%        % to make playoffs: 42.4%

Notice a trend? The Eagles, Cowboys, and the Giants (when rounded) are projected to finish at 9-7. The Giants might have been satisfied with that finish last year, since it snuck them into the playoffs, but they’ll be hoping for a better record this time around. Although I’m not sure they will end with a better recordThey found a star in Victor Cruz, and their vertical passing game is potent enough to make other teams cringe when Manning has the ball in his hands.
Manning is coming off his best season as a pro: he threw for 4,933 yards, completing 61% of his passes with 29 TDs and 16 interceptions (92.9 passer rating). His production came out of necessity since the team’s running game ranked 32nd in the league (3.5 ypc) with only 89.2 yards per game. The running game continues to be unpredictable as Ahmad Bradshaw returns after an injury-ridden season. They waived Brandon Jacbobs, and added Davis Wilson (32nd pick in 1st round from Virginia Tech) to add some speed to the lineup.
With the ball in the air, however, things were fantastic for the Giants last season. Cruz caught 82 passes for 1,536 yards with 9 TDs and a 18.7 ypc avg. Hakeem Nicks added 76 catches for 1,192 yards and 7 TDs, which gave the Giants their first duo to top 1,000 yards in the same season. In the second round of the draft, they added Rueben Randle to replace Manningham as their third receiver.
2011 regular season and postseason were quite different from one another in regards to New York’s defense. The defense finished 27th overall (25ppg, 376.4ypg) and were 29th against the pass. In the postseason, however, they played well after the return of Osi Umenyiora. The addition of FS Antrell Rolle stands out from the others. He’s got great range, and when given the space, a great tackler. The Giants needed help at the Free Safety position, and given how much they paid Rolle, there’s definitely an expectation for him to produce and make plays.
There’s no doubt that they have the best rotation of ends with Jason Pierre-Paul (16.5 sacks), Umenyiora (9 sacks), and Justin Tuck (5 sacks), and if they play like they did in last year’s postseason, the Giants have high hopes of winning the division.
Note: The line is at 9.0, and I would go under on that. 10-6 is my projected record for the Giants.

The NFC East already has three Pro Bowl quarterbacks, and there’s another one looking to join the group. After starting 11-21 in his first two seasons in DC, Mike Shanahan realized now was the time to change things around, and that’s exactly what happened with the addition of Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III. RG3 is the new face of the team and every fan is hoping he ends a run of 21 quarterbacks who have started for the Redskins in the last 19 years.

Losses: S O.J. Atogwe, QB John Beck, WR Jabar Gaffney, S LaRon Landry, LB Rocky McIntosh, WR Donte’ Stallworth

Additions: WR Pierre Garcon, LB Jonathan Goff, QB Robert Griffin III, S Tanard Jackson, G Josh LeRibeus, S Brandon Meriweather, WR Josh Morgan, S Madieu Williams

Line: 6.5        Win: 5.9        Loss: 10.1    % to win division: 2.7%    % to make playoffs: 6.0%

Griffin joins an average team in a tough division and hopes to improve an offense that finished 16th overall and 25th as a running team. Griffin has tremendous speed and athleticism, but will attempt to stay in the pocket as much as possible and throw it to guys like Garcon, Santana Moss, Leonard Hankerson, and Josh Morgan. RG3 has some options with the team’s running game also, which boasts some decent depth at the RB position with Tim Hightower, Evan Royster, and Roy Helu. Helu, who took over for an injured Hightower, rushed for 640 yards on a 4.2 yards-per-carry average last season.
This team has plenty of weak points, with the offensive line being the biggest one. In 2011, they allowed 41 sacks and made zero moves in the offseason to improve the line.
The defense finished 13th overall (339.8ypg), and 18th against the run (4.3 ypc). The team improved from 2010 to 2011, getting more acclimated with Coach Haslett’s 3-4 scheme, but there’s plenty of room for more improvement. The defense continues to adapt and grow, with the likes Meriweather, Jackson, and Williams in town to replace Atogwe and Landry. The line is solid, but the secondary lacks any sort of consistency for the team to depend on.
The team is in no position to promise its fans anything. They have some offensive weapons to use, and while RG3 is going to have a historic season, it won’t be enough sneak into the playoffs. They will need to continue rebuilding over the next couple years before they can even pretend to be a contender of any sort. Fans can expect to be out of the NFC East basement soon, hopefully before 2014.
Note: The line is at 6.5, and I would definitely go under on that. 5-11 is my projected record for the Redskins.


Originally written for AccuScore