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NFC East Predictions: 2012-2013
It is a good time of year indeed. The weather is still nice, baseball is winding down and as it does we have football just around the corner. With that in mind, I am positive no one is complaining. Football is such a popular sport nowadays that it takes precedent over every other sport to many sports fans alike. With that being said, in the next string of articles I will predict the outcome of all the divisions in the NFL followed by a comprehensive prediction of the season. I hope you all enjoy and sound off in the comment box below. After all, what is sports without debates right?
1. Philadelphia Eagles (11-5)
The Eagles went with a different approach to this off-season but still came out of it as winners. They added smaller pieces through the draft (Fletcher Cox, Mychal Kendricks, Brandon Boykin, Vinny Curry) that potentially could add an extra punch or two to their defense. They didn't stop there either as before the draft they were able to make a surprising trade with the Texans that landed them one of the best linebackers Philly may have seen in quite some time in the form of Demeco Ryans. The Eagles defense last season was a mess as they tried to implement a new scheme under a new defensive line coach and a new defensive coordinator while still trying to accommodate the player's strengths. With Asante Samuel gone, the Eagles corners will always be aggressive at the line of scrimmage and the additions to the linebacking group will help in covering the tight ends and the running backs out on the flats. The offensive side of the ball has plenty of options with DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, Brent Celek, Jason Avant and one of the best running backs in the NFL, LeSean McCoy. McCoy bursted on the scene with a huge year last season and looks to continue where he left off. The Eagles have a reasonable favorable schedule that could see them winning five of their first six games leading into their bye week.
Offensive Player of the Year: LeSean McCoy
This may puzzle people, as most will associate the Eagles success this year with the health and high level of play by their quarterback Micheal Vick. Yes, Vick's presence on the field makes them a better team, but LeSean McCoy has emerged as a top running back in the NFL and since joining the league he has the second highest amount of touchdowns in the league. McCoy, no matter who is in at quarterback, has the ability to keep the defenses guessing as he is a true star player that defense have to constantly keep track of. Like Brian Westbrook before him, he is just as dangerous a runner as he is a receiver. Granted, McCoy is a better pure running back then Westbrook was. If/when Vick gets hurt this season, I expect the offense to still be functional thanks to McCoy and the Eagles ability to game plan with out their star quarterbacks over the years under Andy Reid.
Defensive Player of the Year: DeMeco Ryans
Remember the years of the fantastic in your face physical defenses that the Eagles had under Jim Johnson? I almost forgot what it was like to see Philly have a dominant defense, and we got a taste of what it could be last season. However, when you look at the defense now the biggest difference would be that of the man in the middle clogging up running lanes and being the vocal leader the team has missed since veteran leaders like Brian Dawkins and Jeremiah Trotter left. The Eagles were destroyed last season for having career backups in at the linebacking position and clearly addressed it early in the off-season by making the move to acquire a two time pro bowler in the form of Ryans. His run stopping ability will instantly help the Eagles chances to improve on defense and make the playoffs this season.
2. New York Giants (10-6)
The reigning NFL Champion New York Giants come into the new season with a lot of confidence, but missing players that helped them win it all last season. They lost depth as Aaron Ross left via free agency to Jacksonville and Mario Manningham left for San Francisco. Manningham's departure hurts more than any loss as he complemented Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks greatly giving Eli Manning plenty of valuable targets. Stepping into the role left by Manningham will be a revolving door most likely of players such as Ramses Barden, Domenik Hixon and rookie wideout Reuben Randle. The Giants also replaced bruising running back Brandon Jacobs, with the excellent rookie running back David Wilson from Virginia Tech. All together they still have all the pieces that helped them reach the Super Bowl, but lack the depth. They have questions, certainly, but due to the team's chemistry I still expect them to be a force in the division.
Offensive Player of the Year: Eli Manning
Eli now has two championships to his name, so his confidence has to be sky high. All of that being said, he is still a bit of a streaky player. He can look really good, and then fall of for a couple of weeks at a time. However, he has been allowed to air it out more and more each season as the team has transitioned into more of a passing team. With the loss of Manningham though, that will hurt the passing game. Having two proven wide receivers in the mold of Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz definitely helps, but Manningham's speed complemented the two of them exceptionally well. The Giants did add a big bodied tight end in the mold of Martellus Bennett from the Cowboys to help him in the passing game as well. All in all, in order for the Giants to make it back to the Super Bowl, Manning will need to play as well as he did last season if not better.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jason Pierre-Paul
Jason Pierre-Paul exploded on to the scene last year where he emerged as one of the elite defensive ends in the NFL. Not just as a pass rusher, but as a complete player. He made tackles, he made plays in coverage, quite simply he just made plays. Last season he was one of the team leaders in tackles (86), sacks (16.5) while he also had two forced fumbles and eight stuffs behind the line of scrimmage. He and Justin Tuck are among the leaders of the defense and the Giants will look to him to become more of a vocal leader for the team. His stats and play on the field speak for themselves, but he will be expected to do more than just play at a high level this season.
3. Dallas Cowboys (8-8)
Consistency is what makes a team great. The Cowboys have been consistent in being inconsistent. The past two seasons they have had so much talent on both sides of the ball and yet they have barely been above average. This past season they finished 8-8, before that 6-10. Their defense improved last season under the tutelage of Rob Ryan, but it certainly could not have gotten any worse. Adding players like Brandon Carr and rookie Morris Claiborne will help them for sure. However, until the make the push to being a consistent team, then I will not give them credit as a contender. Time and time again over the years they have disappeared in the bigger moments, especially late in the seasons. That has always been the biggest criticism of the team, and will continue to be so until they force everyone to change their opinions with a deep playoff run.
Offensive Player of the Year: Miles Austin
For the Cowboys offense to be effective just as it was last season where Tony Romo had his best season, I expect Miles Austin to rebound from an injury plagued season with a terrific year. Laurent Robinson filled in last season for the Cowboys in a huge way as he caught a team high eleven touchdowns and sixteen yards per catch. Austin and Witten are Romo's go to guys frequently, while Dez Bryant is the home run threat. Austin needs to re-emerge as the possession receiver that he once was. He is a terrific route runner with exceptional hands and with Robinson's departure, Austin will be looked at much more. The Cowboys no longer are three deep at the position of wide receiver, thus Romo will force the ball to Austin. Ever since Austin had his big breakout season (81 receptions, 1320 yards, 11 touchdowns) his numbers have declined slowly. The Cowboys would love nothing more then for him to return to that form.
Defensive Player of the Year: DeMarcus Ware
DeMarcus Ware is the model of consistency and may just be the best pass rusher in the NFL. He has averaged over fourteen sacks a season in his seven year career and finished last season with 19.5 sacks putting him half a sack behind the 100 mark on his career. He is the leader of the defense and will constantly demand a double team which should allow Sean Lee, Bruce Carter and Anthony Spencer to have an easier time of getting in position to make plays. Lee had an impressive season last year playing on the same side of Ware in the 3-4 scheme as he led the team in tackle and even got a few interceptions. Ware is a terrific player, so much so that when his career is over that I am sure he will be talked about as a Hall of Fame caliber player. He truly has been the best player on their team over his seven years, and the best outside linebacker in the league. His biggest accomplishment may just be his ability to stay on the field avoiding injuries.
4. Washington Redskins (5-11)
The Redskins have lacked a true franchise quarterback for a long time. They moved up in this year's draft to get one named Robert Griffin from Baylor. Griffin has plenty of talent, but does he bring the Skins back to the top of the division. I highly doubt it. The Redskins are one of the worst teams over the course of the last three seasons they have barely averaged five wins. There offense has ranked near the bottom of the league over the last four seasons, and even with a new quarterback under center, I don't see too much changing. The offensive line needs improvement, and the same can be said about the wide receivers. While Santana Moss, Pierre Garcon, Leonard Hankerson and Anthony Armstrong are serviceable the Redskins lack a true go to receiver. If this season the Redskins do not make strides, I would think the management would start to take a look at Shanahan. He has come in and granted, it would be a long process to turn this team around, but he has gone through so many quarterbacks. Let's face facts, Shanahan has not done much ever since John Elway retired.
Offensive Player of the Year: Robert Griffin III
Griffin will have plenty expectations on him from the fans and the organization but due to the competition in the division and the difficult schedule, then it will be hard for Griffin to live up to those high expectations this season. By no means do I think Griffin is a bad player, but I think for him to truly excel he will at first need a better pass blocking offensive line to keep him upright. If you want proof, look at the second preseason game against the Bears, (yes, I know it's preseason but still) he had no time at all to scan the field. His top receiver will most likely be Fred Davis the tight end as the other wide receivers will be average. The other teams within the division have very good defenses while the Eagles and Cowboys have very good one on one man to man coverage corners and the Giants and Eagles have terrific pass rushers. Griffin will be tested time and time this season, to earn respect he will need to learn how to keep fighting through all the pressure.
Defensive Player of the Year: London Fletcher
It is incredibly impressive how well Fletcher has stood the test of time. Middle linebackers and running backs have the lowest level of shelf life in the NFL and yet due to his increasing age, his skill set has yet to truly diminish. He is at the age of thirty seven and yet last season he posted a career high in tackles. He truly is a leader on and off the field for the Redskins. The Skins defense has been tough up front thanks mostly in part to him and Brian Orakpo. The Skins have been able to pressure quarterbacks effectively, stop opposing running games but the weakness of the defense is the back end. With Fletcher manning the middle of the defense, they have continued to get better as a unit most likely due to his ability as a leader.