NFC East 2013 Season Preview
NFC East Poll
Who will win the NFC East this season?
The days of the NFC East dominating the NFL are long gone. The Giants have missed the playoffs in three of the last four years. The Redskins have been a complete mess since Daniel Snyder bought the team in 1999. The Cowboys are in the midst of a three-year playoff drought. And the Eagles are in full rebuilding mode after finally dumping Andy Reid. Plus this division will be home to some of the worst defensive secondaries in the entire NFL.
In spite of all of that negativity, somebody has to win the NFC East this season. Let's take a look at each team in their predicted order of finish.
The Redskins won the division last season for the first time in 13 years. If quarterback Robert Griffin III is healthy, the Redskins will win the division again. If he's not, this team could be closer to the basement in the division than the top spot.
Everybody knows what a dynamic player RGIII is, but he is coming off ACL surgery on Jan. 8. Luckily for head coach Mike Shanahan, his quarterback has been medically cleared to start Week 1. What remains to be seen is whether or not the team continues to expose their franchise QB to hits by running so many read-option plays.
The good news for Shanahan is that he has a great running back and offensive line to help protect RGIII. The O-line helped lead the way to a first overall ranking in rushing and a fifth overall ranking in total offense for Washington last season. All five starters return again for 2013. They'll again be opening holes for Alfred Morris, who carried the ball 335 times for 1,613 yards and 13 touchdowns last season as a rookie. That yardage total trailed only Adrian Peterson.
The Redskins will be a run first team, but the return of tight end Fred Davis from injury will give RGIII a reliable target in the passing game. The QB also seemed to develop a nice chemistry with Pierre Garcon, but the receiver just couldn't stay healthy last season. Both will need to stay on the field this season to give Griffin any chance of running a balanced offense.
On the defensive side of the ball, things did not go well in 2012. The Redskins D ranked 28th overall and I'm not so sure they will be better this season. Defensive lineman Adam Carriker was placed on the PUP list after yet another quadriceps surgery in July and his return this season is in doubt. His replacement, Jarvis Jenkins, was suspended for the first four games for PED use. But it isn't all bad on the defensive side of the ball. Linebacker Brian Orakpo returns after missing all of last year to lead what is a fine LB corp. Ryan Kerrigan will man the other outside LB spot and the seemingly ageless London Fletcher will anchor the middle.
The Redskins addressed their 30th ranked pass defense by drafting on that side of the ball. Sixth round pick Jacarri Rambo is slated to start at free safety and he can only be an upgrade over what the team had at safety last season. At corner the team drafted cornerback David Amerson and his gambling style of play will fit right in with CB DeAngelo Hall. That isn't necessarily a good thing though, as both are sure to give up more than their share of big plays.
The Redskins were slapped with a two-year, $36 million salary cap penalty before the season, so they were unable to go out and sign any free agents. Instead, they decided to keep many of their own pending free agents. Of course, when it comes to the Redskins, the only thing that matters for the foreseeable future is the health of Robert Griffin III. If he's back, the team will win the NFC East. If not, it could get ugly in the nation’s capital.
New York Giants
The Super Bowl is going to be played in the Giants home stadium in New Jersey, but don't expect them to be playing in the game. Sure the offense will score points, but this isn't the same dominating defense you remember from previous seasons.
Eli Manning will lead a potent passing game now that the team re-signed Victor Cruz, but they need Hakeem Nicks to stay healthy. Rueben Randle is the third receiver and Brandon Myers (79 receptions for 806 yards in 2012 with Oakland) replaces Martellus Bennett at tight end. Manning threw for almost 4,000 yards last season when Nicks couldn't stay healthy, so the team expects an even better showing this season.
The Giants let Ahmad Bradshaw leave via free agency and will turn the backfield over to David Wilson. Wilson has big-play ability, but struggles with short yardage and pass protection. Unfortunately, Andre Brown broke his leg and was placed on the IR-designated-for-return list, which means he will miss the first seven games of the season. At least the team addressed the offensive line by drafting Justin Pugh to add to a veteran group. It's not an especially talented group, but they're adequate. They need to keep Manning clean if this team has any chance at success.
The view on the other side of the ball is considerably darker though. The Giants defense was bad last season and could be even worse in 2013. That's saying a lot when you consider the Giants defense was ranked 31st overall last season. Jason Pierre-Paul only registered 6.5 sacks last season and just had back surgery in June. Justin Tuck only had four sacks last year and they let Osi Umenyiora leave via free agency. So without their normal dominant pass rush, you would expect the Giants secondary and linebackers to pick up the slack, right? Not exactly.
The linebackers are just not good after letting Michael Boley and Chase Blackburn leave via free agency and moving Mathais Kiwanuka back to defensive end. Meanwhile, the secondary was putrid last season, ranking 28th against the pass. Corner Prince Amukamara was the only member of the secondary who wasn't awful last season and now the safeties are banged up. Antrelle Rolle has an injured ankle and Stevie Brown is done for the year after tearing his ACL.
The Giants will score some points on offense, but it remains to be seen if they'll be able to score more than their defense allows. The Giants would need absolutely everything to turn out perfectly for them to make a run at the playoffs. Unfortunately, things never go as smoothly as planned and I don't expect much from the G-Men this season.
You gotta love Jerry Jones. That is, unless of course, you are a Cowboys fan.
As entertaining as Jones is, he is a terrible GM. This offseason he stripped head coach Jason Garrett of his play-calling duties, which makes him seem like a lame duck, hired a 73-year old defensive coordinator in Monte Kiffin who hasn't coached in the NFL since 2008 and will be switching from a 3-4 defense to a 4-3 defense on the fly and signed a quarterback who can't win in the playoffs to a $108 million extension.
That quarterback would be Tony Romo. Despite a career-low passer rating of 90.5, Romo managed to throw for almost 5,000 yards last season. That was in spite of the fact that the running game was non-existent at times and Romo was sacked repeatedly. He's been sacked 36 times each of the last two seasons, which is the third-most in the NFL over that time. The team tried to remedy the offensive line by drafting center Travis Frederick in the first round. Of course, in typical Jerry Jones style, Frederick was not considered a first round talent. Even if Frederick turns out to be good, the atrocious guard play might get Romo killed.
Running back DeMarco Murray is certainly talented enough, but he just can't seem to stay healthy long enough to produce big numbers. He only played in 10 games last season. Speaking of injuries, receiver Miles Austin was never playing at 100% last year and it showed. Luckily for Romo and the Cowboys, Dez Bryant emerged as the best receiver in the NFL not named Calvin Johnson. Bryant totaled 1,382 yards and 12 touchdowns last season and should be even better this season as his maturity level rises. There is also Romo's security blanket, tight end Jason Witten. Witten had a career-high 110 catches last season and, unlike many of his teammates, he has only missed one game in his entire nine-year career.
On the defensive side of the ball, Kiffin's switch to a 4-3 defense is sure to encounter a transition period. But the biggest beneficiaries of the switch should be Demarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer, both of whom are moving from outside linebacker to defensive end. Since both played end in college, it should be a seamless transition. Both are coming off 11-sack seasons and will present a formidable pass rush for the Cowboys defense. Jay Ratliff is expected to be back in time for the regular season and he will be a key component to this defensive front.
The linebackers are led by Sean Lee, but the outside guys are nothing special. The Dallas secondary might be an issue though. It seems like that is a recurring theme in the NFC East this season. It appears that the corners will be Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne, while Barry Church and Will Allen will man the safety spots. With that secondary, the team better hope that the defensive line gets to the quarterback on almost every pass play.
The Cowboys haven't won the division since 1995 and they won't win it this year either. They also won't make the playoffs with their issues on the offensive line and in the defensive secondary. At least when they finish 8-8 again, we'll all be entertained as Jones blows up his team yet again.
The Philadelphia Eagles have created more buzz nationally than should be allowed for a team that finished 4-12 last season and fired their head coach. But when the team hires Oregon's Chip Kelly to bring his fast-break offense to the NFL, there was sure to be a ton of interest. Unfortunately, Kelly's offense might not work so well in the NFL since there are no Northwestsoutheast States on the schedule every week.
Kelly's offense needs a mobile quarterback, so he brought back Michael Vick as his quarterback. The only problem with that is that Vick is a turnover machine. If the idea of Kelly's offense is to run the no-huddle in order to run as many plays as possible, it's likely that Vick will lead the entire NFL in turnovers. In 10 starts last season Vick threw for only 2,362 yards with 12 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. That made it 24 interceptions over the last two seasons and Vick has also fumbled the ball 32 times in the last three seasons. That just goes to prove that Vick is not a good fit for the read-option offense, where a QB has to make quick decisions and protect the football. Plus Vick is always getting hurt.
Luckily for Kelly, he has one of the most dynamic running backs in the NFL in LeSean McCoy. McCoy was held to just 840 yards with five touchdowns last season, but that's because he played in just 12 games due to concussion issues. But in 2011, McCoy rushed for 1,309 yards and 17 TDs and added another 315 yards and 3 TDs on 48 receptions. He is going to be a beast in Kelly's run heavy offense.
Of course the only way McCoy will have room to run and Vick will have time to pass is if the offensive line returns to their 2011 form. Jason Peters was arguably the best offensive lineman in the entire NFL before he blew out his Achilles and missed the entire 2012 season. He looks healthy now, as do center Jason Kelce and right guard Todd Herremans, who are also returning from injuries. The team added right tackle Lane Johnson with the fourth overall pick in the draft, so this offensive line should be among the league's best.
The receiving corps took a hit when Jeremy Maclin suffered a season-ending ACL tear. That leaves just under-sized one-trick-pony DeSean Jackson to run fly patterns for Vick. Jason Avant is a decent third receiver, but nothing more. Of course, Kelly likes two tight end sets, so Brent Celek, James Casey and rookie Zach Ertz will see plenty of action. There isn't a star among these receivers, but they're good enough for Kelly's spread-em-out scheme.
Even though the offense is sure to score a decent amount of points, the defense will be one of the worst in the entire NFL. New defensive coordinator Billy Davis is switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 set. Anybody that watched the train-wreck that was the Eagles defense last season would probably think any change is good and that there is nowhere to go but up. The only problem with that is that the team doesn't have the personnel to play the 3-4.
Isaac Sopoaga is the only true nose tackle on the roster and the 49ers didn't even try to resign him. The defensive ends are undersized for the 3-4 and the only linebacker who is a perfect fit for this defense is free agent Conner Barwin. Opposite Barwin will be converted end Trent Cole, who has never played linebacker in his career. Inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans wasn't good enough to play for the Texans when they switched to a 3-4, but at least second-year LB Mychal Kendricks looks like a rising star.
The Eagles simply have the worst secondary in the entire NFL. It's hard to believe they could be worse than the historic mess from last season when corners Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie looked like turnstiles and the safeties couldn't cover or tackle anybody, but it might be true. The Eagles made a big deal about signing corner Cary Williams from the Super Bowl Champion Ravens, but most people don't know that Williams gave up more TDs (7) than either DRC or Asomugha last season. Bradley Fletcher is on the other side, but he's only known for his average play and getting hurt. The safeties might be marginally better with veteran free agent Patrick Chung, but Nate Allen simply looks lost.
The Eagles will certainly be an exciting team in 2013, but exciting doesn't mean good. They will score points, but the defense will regularly give up much more. I'm not so sure Kelly's gimmicky offense will work in the NFL, especially now that defensive coordinators have had an entire offseason to figure out how to stop the read-option. The wins won't be there this season, but at least Eagles fans won't have to put up with Andy Reid for a 15th season. At least they have that going for them.