NFL

NFL Preview: NFC East

 

1. Philadelphia Eagles                                          Projected Record: 12-4

The city of Philadelphia has yet to stop celebrating since the Eagles captured their first ever Super Bowl last February, and there’s no reason to stop the party this season. Even with the inevitable Super Bowl hangover, this Eagles roster is deep enough and talented enough to muster their way to double digit wins and another playoff berth. Quarterback Carson Wentz has yet to fully recover from tearing both his ACL and LCL, but once he’s back on the field all signs point to him picking up right where he left off. Save for tight end Zach Ertz, none of the skill position players Philadelphia’s front office has surrounded Wentz with would be considered elite for their position. Their collection of wide receivers and runnings are all league average or better, and make up for what they lack in star power with an abundance of depth. Wide receivers Nelson Agholor and Alshon Jeffery form an intriguing pass catching platoon, while running backs Corey Clement, Darren Sproles and Jay Ajayi must all split time and carries lining up behind Wentz. On defense, the Eagles have an absolute embarrassment of riches. Defensive lineman Brandon Graham, Fletcher Cox, Michael Bennett, Derek Barnett, Haloti Ngata, and Chris Long are all above average starters, yet they have all teamed up to form one of the greatest pass rushing rotations the league has ever seen. Philadelphia’s secondary was a strength in their road to Super Bowl 52, and while the departure of cornerback Patrick Robinson will certainly be felt the Eagles have enough talent to make due without him. Safety Malcom Jenkins remains one of the leagues best at his position, and corners Jalen Mills and Ronald Darby will need to have big seasons to recreate their success from last season. In total, Philadelphia has an incredibly exciting roster and one of the league’s easiest paths to the playoffs, two surefire ways to make sure any Super Bowl hopeful must pass through the champs first.

2. New York Giants                                                 Projected Record: 6-10

The New York Giants decision to pass on their quarterback of the future with the number two overall pick, and instead opt for a running back sent shockwaves through the draft and speaks volumes to the teams short and long term plans. The pairing of running back Saquon Barkley and wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. was clearly just too enticing for the Giants to pass up. Both players are supreme level athletes capable of pulling off game altering plays anytime they get the ball in their hands. Add in wide receiver Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram, and New York sneakily has one of the league’s top five skill position groups. The problems lie within the rest of their offense. Tackle Nate Solder was brought in to shore up quarterback Eli Manning’s blind spot, while rookie guard Will Hernandez is expected to start from day one. The rest of the Giants offensive line is questionable at best, with tackle Ereck Flowers proving last season that he probably shouldn’t have a job in this league. Poor offensive line play may be a death sentence for Manning, who at 37 can not afford to take too many big hits. As simple as it sounds, much of New York’s offensive game plan this year will be getting it in the hands of their playmakers as quickly as possible. Defensively, the Giants will rely heavily on sacks and turnovers to make up for their overall lack of talent. Safety Landon Collins is the only bonafide stud on the unit, as he is surrounded by players ranging in ability from slightly above average to bottom tier of the league. Cornerbacks Janoris Jenkins and Eli Apple are two enticing yet mercurial talents that could make or break New York’s defense if they both bounce back from disappointing seasons. Pass rusher Olivier Vernon is another veteran player who must return to form if New York has serious playoff aspirations. Overall, the playoffs are not out of the question for the Giants, but everything must go perfectly if they want another shot at a Super Bowl.

3. Dallas Cowboys                                                  Projected Record: 5-11

Things are not looking up for America’s team as a bevy of offseason injuries have depleted even their deepest units. Everything starts and ends for the Dallas Cowboys with running back Ezekiel Elliott. He is expected to almost singlehandedly carry this Cowboys offense, which is fantastic news for his fantasy owners but not exactly a great recipe for winning football games. Elliott is naturally very talented, but a good portion of his success these past two seasons have been directed linked to the play of his line. When healthy, Dallas boasts one of the leagues most fearsome and dominant offensive lines, capable of clearing ungodly sized holes for Zeke to run through. Sadly, it appears the Cowboys offensive line may never reach these heights again, as center Travis Frederick is out indefinitely with an autoimmune disorder. Their line still possesses three above average starters, with tackle Tyron Smith and guard Zach Martin each grading as one of the leagues best at their positions, but the unit that lead Elliott to over 1,600 yards as a rookie is no longer present. Without a dominant season from Elliott, Dallas’s offense quickly becomes one of the leagues more pedestrian and lackluster units. Quarterback Dak Prescott has yet to reach the heights he accomplished as a rookie, and the Cowboys front office has done him no favors in terms of wide receiver help. The team’s number one pass catcher heading in to the year is Allen Hurns, and the team is relying big on free agent acquisition Tavon Austin to provide a spark for an otherwise mundane offense. Incredibly, the defense inspires even less confidence than the offense. Demarcus Lawerence is a commanding presence off the edge, but he will likely be the only Cowboy able to apply consistent pressure. Their linebacking corps is probably the bright spot of the defense, with exciting second year prospect Jaylon Smith and first round pick Leighton Vander Esch teaming up with veteran Sean Lee to provide a level of competency to Dallas’s front seven. The most concerning area of the Cowboys defense is the secondary, where they will likely start rookie cornerback Chidobe Awuzie opposite last season’s starting free safety Byron Jones. On team’s with Super Bowl aspirations, these two would be intriguing rotational pieces and not thrust into a starting role. Long term both Awuzie and Jones should be above average players, but this year they just  have too much being asked of them. All in all, this season should be a long one for the Cowboys and hopefully the last for Jason Garrett as head coach.

4. Washington                                                         Projected Record: 5-11

The Washington football team has made a bevy of interesting acquisitions this offseason, most notably trading for quarterback Alex Smith, but still face a massive gap in talent between them and the upper echelon of the NFC. The injury to rookie running back Derrius Guice delays what could’ve been a rejuvenation for one of the league’s worst rushing attacks last season. Instead, the team will push forward with a committee of Adrian Peterson, Chris Thompson and Samaje Perine, none of which are striking fear into the hearts of opposing defenses. The other skill position players on Washington are equally pedestrian, with free agent acquisition Paul Richardson likely the team’s number one option come week one. The unimpressive options around him have only placed more pressure on Smith, as the world anxiously awaits too see just how productive he can be without the weapons and coaching of Kansas City. On the other side of the ball, its a very similar story for Washington. Cornerback Josh Norman’s reputation may actually be more intimidating than his play on the field, as his days as an elite NFL corner may already be over. Ryan Kerrigan and Josh Allen form an intriguing pass rush off the edge, but neither possess the star power to truly alter the outcome of games. In total this Washington team will likely grind out enough wins to keep them out of the bottom five, but nowhere near playoff contention.

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