With the Eagles in rebuild mode, the Cowboys battling injuries and suspensions, the Redskins embracing the relative status quo that brought them the division title last year and the Giants investing $204 million in new contracts to improve the defense and returning a dynamic offense, the NFC East outlook writes itself.
4. Philadelphia Eagles
Key personnel losses – Byron Maxwell (CB), Sam Bradford (QB), DeMarco Murray (RB), DeMeco Ryans (LB), Kiko Alonso (LB)
Key personnel additions – Rodney McLeod (S), Leodis McKelvin(CB)
The defining trend of the Eagles 2016 offseason is resetting and deleting anything having to do with Chip Kelly’s legacy. Most, if not all of Chip’s moves have been undone. New head coach Doug Pedersen has handpicked a new QB, 2nd overall pick Carson Wentz. Advantageous as it may be, the Bradford trade to the Vikings signals that the Eagles are looking to retool for the future.
With a rookie QB, a questionable, injury-prone receiving core and a running back duo that has failed to take advantage of one of the best O Lines in the game, there is little to really hang your hat on if you’re an Eagles fan.
Forecast: On the defensive side things are a little more promising and with the McLeod and McKelvin additions to the secondary should make the Eagles D interesting. Clearly, the name of the game is “Rebuild” in the city of brotherly love. With a rookie QB, questions around the skill positions and a defense in transition, I don’t see the Eagles better than a 4 win team, bringing up the rear in the NFC East and finishing at 4-12.
3. Dallas Cowboys
Key Losses: Greg Hardy (DE), Jeremy Mincey (DE)
Key Additions: Alfred Morris (RB), Cedric Thornton (DE)
To no one’s surprise, it’s a case of another year, another Tony Romo injury. After a 4-12 year marked by injuries to the key players – Romo and Dez Bryant – this was supposed the Cowboys’ year. Not so fast.
The Cowboys have given the keys to the offense to rookie QB Dak Prescott. While the Mississippi State rookie has looked outstanding in the preseason, and will benefit from playing behind the top O-lines in the league, the regular season will look a lot different than the preseason highlights we have seen in preseason.
On the defensive side, the Cowboys have been hit hard by suspensions stemming from the weed – PED cocktail, losing their top pass rusher, and one of their top linebackers.
Rod Marinelli’s schemes along with the return of Orlando Scandrick in the secondary will offset some of these personnel losses, but at this point we don’t have reason to believe the Cowboys can improve marginally on that 24th ranked front seven (DL and LBs) or significantly improve on the 30th ranked secondary.
Forecast: Barring miraculous performances from rookies Dak Prescott and Zeke Elliott, anything more than 7 wins for this Cowboys team feels like a stretch. They’ll finish 7-9.
2. Washington Redskins
Key personnel losses: Alfred Morris (RB)
Key additions: Josh Norman (CB) David Bruton (S)
A relatively quiet offseason for the Washington football team whose main offseason move addressed their secondary needs by adding the best cover corner available (Josh Norman). The Redskins came away with the NFC East title last year on the back of a better-than-expected performance from Kirk Cousins, a stellar production from the receiving core (ranked 3rd in the league by PFF) and solid line play. And also because, you know, it’s the NFC East and someone had to win it.
The Redskins failed to address the departure of Alfred Morris. This is concerning, as the Redskins’ running game ranked dead last in the league, despite a 12th ranked offensive line. Another area of concern for Washington is the defensive front, ranked among the last in the league.
Can Cousins replicate last year’s performance? Can the running game improve from last in the league? Is this lackluster defense good enough to help the Redskins get back to the top of this (albeit weak) division? Can they stay away from injuries?
Forecast: In the end, there are too many questions around this team, preventing me from picking them better than 8-8.
1. New York Giants
Key personnel losses: Prince Amukamara(CB), Ruben Randle (WR), Cullen Jenkins (DT)
Key additions: Olivier Vernon (DE), Janoris Jenkins (CB), Damon Harrison (DT) Kelvin Sheppard (LB)
With a new coach, tremendous personnel turnover, this may seem like an aggressive pick to win the division. That is until you take into account the overall weakness of the NFC East and the fact that the Giants essentially gave away 2-3 wins last season due to poor clock management and extremely fluky plays that went against them, and which are unlikely to repeat in 2016. Add in the fact that the Giants have been the most injured team in the league by any measure over the last three seasons and we start to feel more optimistic. Add in the significant additions made to address a disastrous defensive corps, and it truly starts to feel like this is their time.
Picking the Giants implies a leap of faith in their defensive additions. With a revamped D-line, featuring one of the best run stuffers in the league (D. Harrison), the addition of Oliver Vernon and the optimism surrounding the return of a renewed and improved Jason Pierre Paul, this may be the best front defensive front in the division.
The biggest concern for the Giants remains their offensive line. Even a marginal improvement in that area would allow Eli and McAdoo’s offense to thrive.
Forecast: Overall, the improvements in defense, better game clock management, a normalization of injuries and playing the league’s second weakest schedule are all strong enough factors to push the Giants to double digit wins and a return to the top of the NFC East heap. I see them finishing around the 10-6 mark.