NFC East hosts some sleeping Giants of the NFL.
The final installment of our National Football Conference NFL preview series brings us to the NFC East; an enchanting division featuring storied franchises in large cities that get their fair share of media attention.
These teams typically lead the NFL in pre-season hype and many fancy them in the betting markets throughout the NFL fixture calandar.
Save for the Eagles; the Cowboys, Giants and Redskins all have major question marks hanging over them — it’s possible only one team from this division could make the post-season.
The Eagles and their accelerated-pace offense took the league by storm in 2013, winning the division and giving the Saints all they could handle in the wild card game. Coach Chip Kelly made Nick Foles look like Joe Montana and got career years out of DeSean Jackson, Riley Cooper and LeSean McCoy.
The offense was so good it masked a really mediocre defense. The Eagles stayed offensive in the offseason adding Darren Sproles and drafting Jordan Matthews out of Vanderbilt. They are a fun team to watch and their fast paced, yet run-heavy attack actually that tends tire opposing defenses out.
Foles will regress some from his 120+ quarterback rating he posted in 2013, but not to the levels some think.
On offense, this team appears to be set. The yardage lost by the departure of DeSean Jackson creates, Kelly seems content to replace by a combination of a healthy Jeremy Maclin, an emerging tight end in Zach Ertz and the receiving skills of Sproles and Matthews.
Last year’s leading rusher LeSean McCoy is the centerpiece of the offense and Foles & Co. use playaction off of the quick strike rushing abilities of McCoy.
The defense is still a work in progress. Some analysts suggest the Eagles are attempting to make 4-3 defensive roster “peg” fit into a 3-4 scheme “hole”. Whatever the case, the Eagles will be surrendering their fair share of yards and completions to opposing passers.
The Philadelphia secondary is simply bereft of talent and the defensive line, with Trent Cole lining up at linebacker, doesn’t have a pass rusher who can consistently win one-on-one matchups.
Overall, the Eagles are the class of the division and one of the few teams in the conference that could threaten the NFC West powers. A division title and a march into January should be no tall order for Year 2 of the Kelly regime.
The BetBright Verdict
10-6 (1st in NFC East) – We have them priced as fifth favourites for the NFC conference at 12/1 in the betting.
Eagles’ opening game: Philadelphia Eagles vs Jacksonville Jaguars at 6pm on Sunday September 7th Lincoln Financial Field.
The Cowboys fell on their face again in 2013, losing to the Eagles in a division-deciding game at the end of the regular season.
Their league-worst defense put pressure on their offense all season long and at the end, these Cowboys ran out of bullets. Dallas would then lose their biggest-name player on defense, Demarcus Ware, to free agency and injury took their best player on defense, linebacker Sean Lee, out for the season.
They also let unheralded defensive end Jason Hatcher defect to the Redskins.
On offense, the Cowboys are set up to score points in a hurry either through the air (quarterback Tony Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant and tight end Jason Witten) or on the ground, with DeMarco Murray and a great offensive line.
They have good depth at running back and tight end and a new offensive coordinator, Scott Linehan who likes to spread the ball around to all of them. Keeping Romo right side up and demonstrating a commitment to the run game will help hide Dallas’s deficiencies on defense.
On defense, the team was a horror show in 2013, tickling players instead of tackling them. Injuries, bad luck and lack of cohesive vision plague the entire franchise. Their defensive line, already a mess, is worse now because they lost their rookie pass rusher, ironically named Demarcus Lawrence, for the season.
Cornerback Orlando Scandrick will miss four games due to a suspension for PED’s. The corners Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr aren’t a fit for the new defense.
Overall, the Cowboys defense could be worse than 2013 and cause opposing offenses to salivate when perusing upcoming game schedules. That said, besides the Eagles, no one in this division looks to be able to fully capitalize on their defensive meltdowns.
Of course they have the NFC West in three of their first six games so we’ll know quickly.
The BetBright Verdict
8-8 (2nd in NFC East) – We have them priced as twelfth favourites in the betting for the NFC conference at 23/1.
Cowboys’ opening game: Dallas Cowboys vs San Francisco 49ers at 9:25pm on Sunday September 7th at AT&T Stadium.
The Redskins, no stranger to controversy, fired Mike Shanahan in 2013 after he feuded with quarterback Robert Griffin and owner Dan Snyder. This team went an NFC-worst 3-13 last year and tied with Chicago for most points surrendered (478). They started 0-3 and lost their last eight.
In comes Jay Gruden, the Bengals offensive coordinator who aims to bring an up-tempo pass-happy attack to the nation’s capital.
2013 was a year to forget for the Hogs. Quarterback RGIII, aka Robert Griffin, never looked fully healthy, but probably focused too much on defending himself to the media and his coaches.
Not one to pinch a penny, the Redskins added a bunch of weapons to the capital arsenal in the form of speedy receivers DeSean Jackson and Andre Roberts. The Redskins also brought in Pro Bowl defensive end Jason Hatcher from the Cowboys to anchor their 3-4 defense that already featured quarterback chasers Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan.
On offense, Washington is in a completely new system from the zone-read option style offense ran by Mike Shanahan. That offense in 2012, looked particularly suited to Griffin, and the Redskins won the division. Even in 2013, you could argue the offense wasn’t the problem (9th in yards).
They already have a bellcow running back in Alfred Morris, a speedy flanker in Pierre Garcon and a new-era speedy tight end in Jordan Reed. Adding Jackson and Roberts to that core means the table should be set with Griffin if he can both stay healthy (big if) and pick up the offense (a bigger if).
The Redskins preseason play has not inspired confidence in either. The defense was a dumpster fire in 2013, only surrendered less than 20 points once in the season to hapless Oakland.
Their main issues were the safeties, so they added ex-Steeler Ryan Clark and youngster Bacarri Rambo will see plenty of action. They retained defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, and the defense has looked leagues better so far in the preseason. Hatcher was a great add.
Overall, this team rides entirely on the shoulders of the enigmatic quarterback Robert Griffin the Third. If he can show more to his 2012 level of play, Washington is in the thick of the division crown. If he falters or gets hurt, things could go south in a hurry.
The BetBright Verdict
6-10 (3rd in NFC East) – We have them priced as thirteenth favourites in the betting for the NFC conference at 25/1.
Redskins’ opening game: Washington Redskins vs Houston Texans at 6pm on Sunday September 7th at Reliant Stadium.
New York Giants
After finishing 7-9 after a 0-6 start in 2013, the Giants quietly improved their roster in the offseason, while resisting the urge to make wholesale changes, i.e. fire the coach.
Their offense took a major tumble last year finishing 28th, which masked an improved defense statistically. Protecting and surrounding Eli Manning (who threw an abominable 27 interceptions last year) with talent was the main goal in the offseason.
On offense, the Giants jettisoned offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride in favor of the young Bob McAdoo. McAdoo brings together a short passing game that doesn’t require Manning the Younger to hold the ball as long looking for deep completions.
For that to work, the shifty receivers Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and rookie Odell Beckham will need to gain some yards after the catch. The Giants also shored up there offensive line in attempt to return to more “ground and pound” football. They added ex-Raider Rashad Jennings and collegiate power back Andre Williams to take more pressure off Eli. Their tight ends are not worth mention.
On defense, the Giants surrendered an average of 34.8 points per game in their six game losing streak to start 2013. They trimmed that number down to 17.4 the final ten games, so improvement should continue into 2014.
They signed Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie and Walter Thurmond, two big rangy corners in free agency and they figure Jason Pierre-Paul will be back to his old dominating self. Giants linebackers are still relative unknowns, save for the second rendition of Jon Beason.
On paper, the Giants look to be a middling rush defense with some upside stopping the pass if safeties Antrel Rolle and Stevie Brown return to form.
Overall, the Giants will go as far as the new offensive system (read Eli) takes them. In a down year in the division, there is enough here to make a run at the playoffs.
The BetBright Verdict
8-8 (3rd in NFC East) – We have them priced as eleventh favourites for the NFC conference at 22/1 in the betting.
Giants’ opening game: Detroit Lions vs New York Giants at 12:10am on Tuesday September 9th at Ford Field.
Reckon we’ve called it all wrong? Who are you backing to compete for honours in this year’s National Football Conference? Have your say live in the comment box below or indeed on Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus!