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NFC East: Fearless Predictions Of The 2014 Division Race
Nobody in the NFC East tees the ball up until Sunday afternoon, but this looks like my last good opportunity to put some things on record before the season begins. Don’t worry, you don’t have to bookmark this post – I’ll revisit my predictions when the season ends to see how smart or how stupid I am.
Of course, feel free to tell me how smart or how stupid you think I am in the meantime – Twitter and email are probably your best bets.
Predicted order in the NFC East, along with my reasoning.
1. Washington Redskins (9-7)
I hate picking favorites, and that’s got at least something to do with my pick of Washington over Philadelphia. The Eagles are a good team – but they aren’t that much better than the offseason talking points would indicate.
Washington’s entire season hinges on the play of Robert Griffin III, so this is a bit of a risky bet. My best guess is that with a full offseason of work and the addition of a quarterback-friendly coach in Jay Gruden, Griffin is going to play more like he did as a rookie and less like he did in 2013. I’m aware that the first-team offense didn’t score a touchdown in the preseason, but that’s hardly a fair indicator of progress.
I doubt Griffin is as dynamic as he was in his rookie season, but he’s got a few more weapons to work with after the addition of DeSean Jackson and the emergence of Jordan Reed as reliable threats to go along with Alfred Morris and Pierre Garcon. The defense, which struggled in 2013, also beefed itself up a bit with veteran signings like Jason Hatcher, Ryan Clark and Duke Ihenacho.
After its Week 10 bye, Washington also gets four of its final seven at home – including the last two games of the year. It sets up nicely for them to have a playoff shot, provided Griffin can carry them that far.
2. Philadelphia Eagles (8-8)
Basically, I’m just not convinced the Eagles can tear off another run like that again – not with this current roster. It’s pretty stunning to see a team rip off seven of eight wins down the stretch, especially considering the talent on the roster.
What would have to go right to keep Philly playing at that level? Is Nick Foles going to replicate his 27:2 touchdown-to-interception ratio? He’s good, but I doubt he can maintain that. LeSean McCoy is also one of the league’s best backs, but are the odds in his favor of repeating as the rushing champ? I doubt it. Who’s the game-breaker in the passing game? Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews all look like good players, but can they replicate the big-play ability Jackson brought to that offense? I assume Chip Kelly thinks that’s the case, but I have reservations.
It extends to the other side of the ball, too. Have the Eagles seriously addressed their leaky defense? They signed Malcolm Jenkins to play safety and they drafted Marcus Smith in the first round. I’m not sure those are additions that will make noteworthy impacts this season.
What about the health factor? The Eagles dealt with a stunningly low number of injuries last year, and history tells me that’s not the type of thing that carries over from year to year.
I think the Eagles are a good team, and they’ll be in the playoff picture late in the year. But I don’t think they’re the runaway favorite to win the division that so many seem to expect.
3. Dallas Cowboys (6-10)
For better or for worse, the Cowboys are going to snap their .500 rut this season – I just don’t think the offense can drag this team across the finish line.
I know they haven’t played a real game yet, but we haven’t seen a whole lot to suggest the Dallas defense has improved much from its atrocious effort in 2013. The pass rush looks non-existent – not to mention injured – and the best linebacker is out for the season. The secondary is missing one of its most important pieces for the first 25 percent of the season.
I do think the offense will be outstanding. We could be looking at three to five Pro Bowlers between the likes of Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, Tony Romo and DeMarco Murray. The expectation is a top 10 offense, and I think they’ll get there, barring injury. But as has been pointed out elsewhere this offseason, even offensive juggernauts like the Cowboys’ 2007 offense only averaged 28 points per game. I foresee a few games this season where the Cowboys score 30 or more and lose the game.
Maybe most importantly, I don’t see how this team works around an absolutely brutal back half of the schedule – and I’m not talking about the teams they play. The Cowboys play five of their final seven games on the road, and those games are going to happen outdoors, in cold weather locales like London, New York, Washington, Chicago and Washington D.C.
I don’t have faith in this group to overcome that.
4. New York Giants (4-12)
If you go find my posts from the spring and summer, you’ll find a post or two where I say it wouldn’t surprise me to see the Giants turn it around and win the division. That was back when I thought their free agency additions on the offensive line would pay some dividends.
With preseason concluded, it doesn’t seem like that’s going to be the case. Their big free agency signing, Geoff Schwartz, is now on short-term IR and will be missing until Week 9. Longtime starter Chris Snee retired, and Brandon Mosley, the starter at right guard, has been hampered by injuries – which goes the same for left tackle Will Beatty. While Schwartz recovers, rookie Weston Richburg will start at guard.
If the line can’t hold up, then Eli Manning is probably going to struggle in the form of interceptions and sacks – similar to 2013. Another free agency acquisition, running back Rashad Jennings, is also likely to struggle if the line isn’t opening holes.
The defense looks destined to improve with the return of Jon Beason from injury and additions like Walter Thurmond and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to what was already a good secondary. In a bit of a reversal of the Cowboys, though, I’m not sure if the defense will be able to shine if the offense is putting it in bad situations.