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NFC East: Have The Eagles Widened The Gap For 2014?
Like a lot of football fans across the country – especially ones who sit at a computer all day – I make sure to read Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback column as soon as possible on Monday mornings.
It’s a guarantee to be a fascinating and entertaining read every week, but Monday’s edition stood out to me for my own selfish purposes. As he does every week, King ranked his top 15 teams in the NFL based on the weekend’s batch of games and the most recent news.
Philadelphia cracked the list at No. 9, accompanied by King’s blurb: “Normally, entering the offseason in the NFC East, the outlook would be pretty even for the four teams, seeing as though they knock each other off so regularly. But I think the Eagles have separated themselves from the pack—Dallas’ 5-1 division record notwithstanding.”
I don’t know that I definitely disagree with that claim, but I figured I’d look into it. The NFC East is one of the league’s most evenly matched divisions, with all four teams chalking up similarly mediocre records the last few years. The Cowboys are notoriously 24-24 over the past three seasons, but even the Giants, with their recent playoff success, have been just one game better at 25-23 since 2011.
The Redskins have posted a lowly 18-30 record, though their bright season in Robert Griffin III’s rookie year led to a division title.
Then you have Philly, which has won two of the last four division crowns, but has just a 22-26 record to show for it – lowlighted by a 4-12 mark in 2012.
So does one fantastic hot streak in 2013 establish the Eagles as the odds-on favorite moving forward?
The prospects for Chip Kelly’s high octane offense certainly look good. Nick Foles is under contract for two more seasons, and for pennies on the dollar.
The two most dynamic playmakers – LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson – are both around for the foreseeable future. McCoy’s $45 million contract keeps him in Philly through the 2017 season, and Jackson’s $48 million deal doesn’t expire until 2016.
The line they work behind – All-Pros Jason Peters and Evan Mathis, plus Jason Kelce and No. 4 overall pick Lane Johnson – will be intact at least another year, as well. Peters and Kelce come up for new contracts after 2014, though Mathis and Johnson will be around a few more years at least.
The Eagles defense wasn’t much to write home about, as I wrote about often this season. Philly finished 29th overall in total defense and 17th in scoring defense. They did, however, force 31 takeaways, which was a powerful combination with the offense’s ability to hang onto the ball.
DeMeco Ryans, Mychal Kendricks, Trent Cole and Cary Williams all return to the unit. But it seems like an easy guess that defense is the Eagles’ primary concern this year. That, and perhaps some new wide receivers. Jeremy Maclin and Riley Cooper are both free agents this offseason.
It all combines for a pretty strong building block. But in all honesty, it sounds very similar to the situations in Dallas and New York – established players on offense, question marks on defense.
The Cowboys appear to be set on offense for 2014, and hopefully beyond that. The offensive line and receiver corps could perhaps use some tweaking, but the main cast is there for next season. The defensive line has some talent but needs an overhaul.
It all sounds familiar to me.
When you combine their returning cast with the way they finished 2013, it’s probably fair to peg the Eagles as the favorites to win the NFC East next season. But do I think they’ve widened the gap considerably in the playoff race? Not really.
When free agency and the draft shake out, I think you’re looking at four talented but flawed teams.
What else is new?