Handicapping the NFC East
With Organized Team Activities (OTAs) kicking off this week for NFL teams, football fans are already starting to get the itch. The 2015 season should be a fascinating one from a parity standpoint, especially with the New England Patriots likely coming back to Earth some, with the loss of Darrelle Revis and Tom Brady’s suspension.
There could be plenty of hierarchical shake-up in the NFC East division, where the pecking order looks like Dallas, and everyone else.
Let’s break down the division and see what we can parse from the many moves the Philadelphia Eagles made, wondering if Odell Beckham can get any better, and Cowboys owner Jerry Jones’s unbridled optimism.
“How ‘Bout ‘Dem…Running Backs?!”
Cowboys Odds to Win the 2016 Super Bowl: 10/1
Cowboys Odds to Win the 2015-16 NFC East: 13/10
Cowboys Odds to Win the 2015-16 NFC Conference: 6/1
Cowboys Over/Under 2015 Win Total: 9.5
The fact that Dallas’s Rod Marinelli-led defense was far better than forecasted last season sped along both the Cowboys’s outlook and immediate title ambitions.
It doesn’t hurt that Jerry and son Stephen Jones have built a dominant offensive line that rivals the vicious units Dallas fielded in the mid-1990s. Thanks to legal concerns/confusion, the Cowboys signed LSU lineman La’el Collins – a player forecasted as a first-round pick – as an undrafted free agent.
The Collins coup means that Dallas effectively scored three first-rounders despite only having one selection in Round 1. Cornerback Byron Jones was Dallas’s first pick, while the ‘Boys also got DE Randy Gregory from Nebraska – whom most pegged as a first-round talent – to join Collins.
When you combine those dynamic rookies with a road-grading offensive line, and a superstar QB/WR combo in Tony Romo and Dez Bryant, there’s plenty to like in north Texas.
Dallas now has four first-round talents on its O-line with tackle Tyron Smith, guard Zack Martin, center Travis Frederick and Collins. They should break open holes for whichever committee member runs the ball in Dallas, which brings us to the main concern for the Cowboys this season.
The Cowboys will use a committee approach after 2014 leading rusher DeMarco Murray chose to sign with the rival Eagles in the offseason. Dallas signed veteran Darren McFadden from Oakland; if he can stay healthy he’s perfectly suited to the Dallas offense. Head coach Jason Garrett will also have RBs Joe Randle, Lance Dunbar and Ryan Williams in the mix.
The defense will be further improved if they can ever get a full healthy season out of LB Sean Lee. We’ll believe it when we see it. Still, Dallas has the potential for a scary-good offense and a try-hard defense; the Cowboys should score enough so that’s all they’ll need.
Eagles Odds to Win the 2016 Super Bowl: 20/1
Eagles Odds to Win the 2015-16 NFC East: 7/4
Eagles Odds to Win the 2015-16 NFC Conference: 10/1
Eagles Over/Under 2015 Win Total: 8.5
There is a lot riding on the myriad of moves made this offseason by Philly head coach Chip Kelly. He is viewed as a mastermind, but he sure shook up the foundation of this team recently.
Out is starting QB Nick Foles, shipped off to St. Louis in a swap for their oft-injured starter (and gradually obtaining the “bust” label) Sam Bradford. He’ll be running an offense without WR threat Jeremy Maclin, who is also gone.
Oh yeah, Philly also shipped out one of the best RBs in the league, jettisoning LeSean McCoy to Buffalo for LB Kiko Alonso. Fans and ownership alike surely are of the same mind:
This better work.
In fairness, the Eagles replaced McCoy with last year’s rushing champ DeMarco Murray. Yet, Philly’s attack is leaning heavily on rookies and second-year players (WRs Nelson Agholor, Jordan Matthews to name two) and a spotty pivot at best in Bradford.
Bradford has shown flashes, but that’s it.
Philly apparently offered Tennessee the world (specifically, DL Fletcher Cox, LB Mychal Kendricks and picks) for a chance to draft Kelly’s Oregon alum Marcus Mariota, but the Titans didn’t bite. They’ll ride it out with the once promising Ram under center, and hopefully Philly doesn’t have to resort to (shudder) Mark Sanchez.
The defense should be in decent shape with the aforementioned duo joining overpaid CB Byron Maxwell and Alonso. They are good, but not out-of-this-world good.
Ultimately, the Eagles should be a decent team that might surprise, but looks to be notably behind the Cowboys in the divisional pecking order.
New York Giants
Giants Odds to Win the 2016 Super Bowl: 28/1
Giants Odds to Win the 2015-16 NFC East: 3/1
Giants Odds to Win the 2015-16 NFC Conference: 16/1
Giants Over/Under 2015 Win Total: 8.5
As Chris Berman so lovingly calls them, the New York (football) Giants are a tough club to get a barometer on.
They have an ascending gem at WR in Beckham, no doubt about that. Veteran QB Eli Manning is the subject of many’s ire, but he also has a couple of Super Bowls and occasionally puts up gaudy stats. That has to count for something.
In recent years, sometimes the Giants look like they can beat anybody, and other times they look like bottom-feeders. It wouldn’t be a shock to see New York leapfrog Philly for second in the NFC East, or with a Dallas meltdown maybe even win the division.
The G-Men picked up third-down back Shane Vereen from New England, who should pair with Rashad Jennings to make a formidable running duo to support Manning and Beckham. The team hopes OT Ereck Flowers, a rookie that will be plugged in as a starter right away, responds to the challenge.
Defensively, New York relies on pass rusher Jason Pierre-Paul to have big seasons. There are other blue-collar effective players on “D”, but when JPP isn’t getting to opposing QBs, New York’s effectiveness as a unit plummets.
If Pierre-Paul has a renaissance year, Manning can be consistent and Beckham becomes the league’s best WR not named Dez Bryant or Calvin Johnson, the Giants might have something.
Washington Odds to Win 2016 Super Bowl: 100/1
Redskins Odds to Win 2015-16 NFC East: 14/1
Redskins Odds to Win the 2015-16 NFC Conference: 50/1
Redskins Over/Under 2015 Win Total: 6.5
In several ways, the nation capital’s pro football franchise is a mess. Yes, most (all?) of them stem from the ownership of Dan Snyder. Let’s move on.
The blockbuster trade to acquire QB Robert Griffin III a few years ago looks like more and more of a fiasco as time passes. RG3 is essentially a corpse of what he once was; what was given up to St. Louis has unquestionably hindered DC’s development.
The ‘Skins have RB Alfred Morris to implement a power running game, which should suit rookie OT Brandon Scherff just fine, easily the strongest OL in the 2015 draft class with a notable nasty streak. Washington should have a great run-blocking O-line.
Other than that, ugh. Washington has a few decent players (nose tackle Terrance Knighton was a nice pickup from Denver), especially CB Bashaud Breeland, who is a rising star. Overall, though, this team just doesn’t scare you.
Unless Griffin is magically able to turn back time before his many injuries and media missteps, this franchise is bang in trouble.
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