NFL Early Outlook: NFC EAST

This is always the hardest division in the NFL to assess. In true NFC East fashion, there is no clear-cut favorite to win this division. There are still too many questions left unanswered: will Eli Manning regain his confidence and that post season form? Does RGIII bounce back in Washington and live up to the hype of his 2012 draft class counterparts? What does Dallas accomplish with making minimal changes at their most crucial positions? And is Philadelphia as good as we think they are or was Nick Foles and last season a fluke?

The Cowboys had the NFL’s worst defense last season, so naturally on the defensive side of the ball, there is nowhere to go but up. That won’t be the easiest of task with several of their key players already battling injuries. Dallas News reports that Morris Claiborne just injured his knee (and may need an MRI), DE DeMarcus Lawrence has a right foot injury, and one of their best defensive player is in midst of recovering from knee surgery. Sean Lee, middle linebacker, tore his ACL on the first day of organized team activities. He’s staying positive by joining his teammates at training camp and according to Dallas News, his surgery went well as he is remaining hopeful. But how hopeful should the fans be? They can ill afford a defensive effort like last seasons, and QB Tony Romo’s health is still in question after last season’s back surgery. I wouldn’t bank on backup QB Brandon Weeden being able to offer much support (seriously… he stunk it up enough in Cleveland) and owner/general manager/ holder of almost every position in the organization besides coach Jerry Jones, passed on the possibility of picking up Johnny Manziel in the draft. It will be interesting to see if Dallas finally gets over the hump this season; however, the odds of them winning the division are not in their favor.

 Washington has quite enough circling their team with the name change issues than to have to deal with another dismal season like last year. There was much hope for RGIII and the Redskins after his rookie campaign. But last season was anything but an improvement. Most people believed he never really healed from the knee injury he incurred during the 2012 post season, and maybe he returned to the field before he was ready. The slow start of their quarterback and the lack of communication between staff, front office, and players led the Redskins to a 3-13 record and last place. With the addition of DeSean Jackson, a healthier RGIII, and new head coach Jay Gruden, the Redskins should be far better.  They still need to find an identity on defense, as they were very inconsistent over the last few years (mostly due to injuries). Hogs Haven reports that the second year cornerback, David Amerson, looks very good and that could be a great sign for the Redskins secondary.

 With the way so many people refer to Eli Manning as being an “elite” quarterback, its seems unbelievable that he led the league in interceptions in 2013 with 27. Eli Manning hasn’t played as bad as he did last season since his first year in the NFL, and as much as some fans want to blame that battered offensive line, it certainly wasn’t the first time he’s thrown more than 20 picks in his career. The biggest lift the Giants need to recover from that 7-9 season, is for Manning to bounce back to the “elite” form that so many fans claim him to. He’s going to need a solid performance from that offensive line in order to do that. The G-Men signed some pieces to that line over the off-season but only time will tell if they are strong enough to make a true difference. They also need to see if Reuben Randle can be that guy to take the place of Hakeem Nicks and be solid aside Victor Cruz. Last but not least, if Jason Pierre Paul is resurging back to dominance as the Daily News is reporting he is, then the Giants may be in decent shape to take at least a number two spot in the division.

Reigning division champions, Philadelphia Eagles, look to retain their crown. There were many questions that circled the Eagles this same time last year. Many wondered if then rookie coach Chip Kelly would live up to the billing of replacing Andy Reid. Chip Kelly proved to be the man for the job, taking the Eagles back to the playoff scene. But the Eagles had their off-season woes, like letting Mike Vick go to the Jets in free agency; but none bigger than releasing WR DeSean Jackson after Jackson put up the best season of his career. Replacing Jackson is what most fans have the most concern. Yard Barker just recently released a statement by Kelly noting  very subtlely that Jackson didn’t draw double team coverage, and most defenses were focused on stopping the run. Then there’s the pick up of Darren Sproles, a deadly force to have in the backfield behind an already deadly LeSean McCoy. Kelly has already proven to be an innovative coach, so there is a strong likelihood he will use Sproles in various roles to evade the defense from picking up on his system. Not that it would matter with Nick Foles behind center. He did a fantastic job last season of reading defenses. If Foles is truly the real deal, tying Peyton Manning last year with 7 TDs thrown in one game, then the Eagles may have a shot of vying for that first ring.  They should be the favorites to win this division, but the defense of Philadelphia is so inconsistent that retaining that crown won’t be as simple as  the paper statistics suggest.

 EARLY PREDICTION:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles
  2. Washington Redskins
  3. New York Giants
  4. Dallas Cowboys
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