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NFC East 2015 Season Preview
No other division in the NFL has had as much upheaval as the NFC East since last season. The Philadelphia Eagles changed almost half of their roster. The Dallas Cowboys let the NFL Offensive Player of the Year walk to a division rival. The New York Giants didn't have one of their own players give them the finger, but that's only because he blew his finger off in a fireworks accident. And then there is the NFL's most dysfunctional team, the Washington Redskins. Thank you Daniel Snyder for just being you.
Each of the four teams in the NFC East has won the division in the last four years and no team has repeated as division champs since the Eagles did so in 2004. That doesn't bode well for the Cowboys' chances of repeating, but let's take a look at the teams in their predicted order of finish.
Eagles coach Chip Kelly is either a mad genius or simply mad. He replaced his starting QB, RB, WR, both offensive guards, both CBs, a safety and traded his best offensive weapon for an inside LB, where the team already had two established veterans. So what gives?
Well, Kelly wasn't happy with missing the playoffs in 2014, so he blew up the roster after he won a power struggle within the Eagles organization. He traded Nick Foles for oft-injured Sam Bradford in what can only be described as the ultimate high-risk, high-reward move. Bradford hasn't played in nearly two seasons, as he suffered two ACL injuries. If he's healthy all year, he should flourish in Kelly's QB-friendly offense. Of course, he's never been able to stay healthy, dating back to his college days.
Kelly jettisoned LeSean McCoy for ILB Kiko Alonso, but he replaced McCoy with reigning Offensive Player of the Year, DeMarco Murray and even added Ryan Matthews for good measure. With Darren Sproles returning, the Eagles have the deepest and possibly most dangerous backfield in the NFL. Of course, they'll need to run the ball, after letting their leading WR leave and going with youngsters Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholar.
As if that wasn't enough upheaval, Kelly replaced three-fourths of his defensive backfield, highlighted by the signing of ex-Seahawk, CB Byron Maxwell. Of course, the Eagles D ranked 31st against the pass last season, so a complete make-over can only improve the secondary. I do question the logic of moving career slot cornerback Walter Thurmond to safety, but the Eagles like to stay in their base defense more often than most teams, so Thurmond will be covering TEs and receivers a ton.
The one thing that remains the same is the Eagles front seven that is stout against the run. They actually improved with the trade for Alonso, since it looks like DeMeco Ryans might not be fully recovered from his Achilles injury. The D-line is an unheralded group but they are very good run-stoppers
The Eagles have the most talent in the division, but all that talent comes with long injury histories. If the Eagles can stay relatively healthy, they will easily win the division.
The reigning NFC East champs will be hard pressed to repeat due to one thing and for once I'm not talking about Jerry Jones. Well, not exactly. By not re-signing DeMarco Murray, the Cowboys entire team could come apart
I can understand if the Cowboys thought that giving Murray a huge contract after they ran him into the ground with 392 carries and another 57 receptions wasn't the best idea, but replacing him with Run DMC and Beast Mode's caddy isn't going to cut it. The Cowboys are turning their rushing attack over to a committee of hold-overs Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar, who are the very definition of average and new editions Darren McFadden and Christine Michael. I don't care how great everyone says the Cowboys offensive line is. You need at least marginal talent in the backfield to have an effective rushing attack and I'm not sure the Cowboys have that with those guys. Also, the Cowboys O-line was also completely healthy all last season and the odds are against a repeat.
Without a running game, defenses are going to be targeting 35 year-old QB Tony Romo and his bad back all game. Without the threat of a running attack, Dez Bryant will see double teams nearly every snap and that will not sit well with the combustible receiver. Look for Terrance Williams to take advantage of the single coverage and have a breakout year and TE Jason Witten will serve as Romo's security blanket, as usual.
Another side effect of losing Murray will be that the Cowboys won't be able to protect their suspect defense by keeping the other team's offense off the field by controlling the clock. The Cowboys pass defense was ranked 26th last season and their secondary will get burned repeatedly again this season. Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr are just not good CBs. Add in safeties Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox and this is easily the biggest weakness on the team.
The best player on Dallas' defense is LB Sean Lee, but he can never stay healthy. I'm surprised Chip Kelly didn't trade for him. And the big offseason acquisition on the defense was Greg Hardy who spends more time hitting women than he does quarterbacks. Cheap shot? I think not.
The lack of a running game is going to hinder the Cowboys all season long. It will expose Romo to constant pressure and expose the defense by putting them on the field much more often than they were last season. The Cowboys will probably put up some offensive numbers, but their defense might not be able to stop anyone. That and a tougher, first-place schedule will keep them from repeating as division champs and keep them out of the playoffs.
2014 NFC East Standings
New York Giants
New York Giants
Everybody is so excited about the Giants offensive firepower this season, but besides WR Odell Beckham Jr, I'm just not seeing it. Yes, Beckham is a beast, but Victor Cruz has been out since mid-August with a calf strain and he's coming off surgery for a torn patellar tendon. He may never be the same receiver and Rueben Randle isn't scaring any defensive coordinators.
Also, the Giants were ranked a lowly 23rd in rushing last season and only added Shane Vereen, who is more of a pass catcher than runner. Rashad Jennings or Andre Williams running behind an inexperienced offensive line? That didn't work out so well last season and I just don't see defenses respecting that this season.
So that leaves Eli Manning to carry the team, coming off the best season of his career. Manning set career highs in completion percentage (63.1), passing yards (4,410) and touchdowns (30) last season. Unfortunately for him, he might have to break all those career highs for the Giants to even have a winning record in 2015.
On the other side of the ball, the Giants literally had the offseason blow up in their faces. Or would that be, blow up in their hands? In any event, they had their best defensive player, Jason Pierre-Paul lose a finger in a fireworks accident. Even if he signs a contract to return to the team and comes back at his best, the Giants front seven is going to be a problem for the team. I doubt that George Selvie will solve all of their problems up front and their linebackers are terrible. Jon Beason is the only LB on this roster that is even decent. The Giants were 30th against the run last season and might not even be that good this season.
The Giants pass defense was average last season, but their going with a rookie at safety, Landon Collins, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie should quit on his team right around mid-season. It's what he does. This is not a strength for the team.
Assuming the Giants get at least respectable production out of their running game, the offense should be able to score some points behind Manning. The problem is that their defense could be so bad; they won't be able to score nearly enough points to win half of their games. Could this finally be the season that Tom Coughlin loses his job? Could be.
Who Will Win the NFC East in 2015?
There simply is no more dysfunctional team in professional sports than the Washington Redskins. Don't you ever change Daniel Snyder.
Last offseason, they couldn't get the Gruden they wanted to be their head coach, so they decided to hire his brother. Then this offseason, the wife of the team's GM accused a reporter of performing sexual favors for a story and that story was about how the team benched their franchise quarterback that they traded a king's ransom to obtain only a few short years ago. It's OK. You can laugh. How can you not laugh at the Redskins these days.
So the other Gruden brother thinks that Kirk Cousins, with more interceptions than touchdowns during his brief career, is a better option at QB than Robert Griffin III? Well, I guess that makes sense in Washington. Unfortunately, it won't help any of the Redskins skill position players like receivers Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson. Add in the fact that RB Alfred Morris is nothing but 3 yards and a cloud of dust and this offense will struggle to score this season.
It's not that RG III was great, he certainly wasn't. It's just that Cousins is a below average QB and the entire offense will suffer because of it.
On the other side of the ball, the Redskins actually have some talent. The front seven is their strength with a nice defensive line and outstanding outside LBs. Even after losing Brian Orakpo, they still have OLBs Ryan Kerrigan and Trent Murphy to put pressure on the QB and they added edge-rusher Preston Smith in the draft. Unfortunately, they will have to get to the quarterback quickly, as the Redskins secondary is sub-par. They tried to upgrade the secondary by bringing in safety Dashon Goldson and CB Chris Culliver, but they aren't exactly game-changers.
The Redskins will be one of the worst teams in the entire NFL and at the end of the season, Dan Snyder will blow it all up.....again. He's already destroyed any value his "franchise" QB had and he'll probably be chasing the next "hot" name in the coaching carousel. This situation would be sad, if it wasn't so damn funny.