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.

Draft Grades: NFC East

Rookie camps have started so we should probably finish telling you how each team drafted. Here is the NFC East:

Dallas Cowboys: C 

Round 1, Pick 19: Leighton Vander Esch, LB, Boise St. Dc7yJUkUwAA7v_k.jpg

Round 2: Connor Williams, G, Texas

Round 3: Michael Gallup, WR, Colorado St.

Round 4: Dorance Armstrong Jr., DE, Kansas

Round 4: Dalton Schultz, TE, Stanford

Round 5: Mike White, QB, Western Kentucky

Round 6: Chris Covington, LB, Indiana

Round 6: Cedrick Wilson, WR, Boise State

Round 7: Bo Scarbrough, RB, Alabama

Vander Esch and Williams are both good players, but Dallas waited until the third round to address its biggest need. At one point I mocked Gallup in the first, so there’s some value in getting him in the third. But that leaves the question of how stacked could they have been if they took another receiver when they should have?

New York Giants: A

Round 1, Pick 2: Saquon Barkley, RB, Penn St. DbwBw5CX0AMs_Ha.jpg

Round 2: Will Hernandez, G, UTEP

Round 3: Lorenzo Carter, LB, Georgia

Round 3: B.J. Hill, DT, NC State

Round 4: Kyle Lauletta, QB, Richmond

Round 5: RJ McIntosh, DT, Miami

Despite only having six picks, the Giants nailed this Draft. Barkley finally provides a steady running back. He’ll be running behind second round steal Hernandez, who also fills a big need. They could have taken Bradley Chubb at No. 2, but still found potential JPP replacements in the later rounds. Charlie Casserly of the NFL Network said Lauletta was the future franchise QB. I’m not too sure about that, but he’ll certainly make a decent backup.

Philadelphia Eagles: C+

Round 2: Dallas Goedert, TE, South Dakota St.

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Round 4: Avonte Maddox, CB, Pittsburgh

Round 4: Josh Sweat, DE, Florida State

Round 6: Matt Pryor, G, TCU

Round 7: Jordan Mailata, South Sydney Rabbitohs Rugby Club

Goedert bumps the Eagles up half of a letter grade because he 1) is good 2) creates a threat to defenses as Philly works in a two tight end set. The rest of their draft wasn’t great, but it didn’t have to be. The Eagles were (obviously) good already. I’m not too sure about drafting Mailata, who has never played a down of football, but it’ll be cool if he translates.

Washington Redskins: C-

Round 1, Pick 13: Da’Ron Payne, LB, Alabama

Round 2: Derrius Guice, RB, LSU

Round 3: Geron Christian, OT, Louisville
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Round 4: Troy Apke, S, Penn State

Round 5: Tim Settle, DT, Virginia Tech

Round 6: Shaun Dion Hamilton, LB, Alabama

Round 7: Greg Stroman, CB Virginia Tech

Round 7: Trey Quinn, WR, SMU

Washington’s best pick in this Draft was Guice in the second. There might be some character concerns, but he has great football value. Payne seems like an emergency pick after they lost out on Via Vea.

Michael Bennett indicted for assaulting elderly lady

Philadelphia Eagles defensive lineman Michael Bennett was indicted on Friday by a Harris County, Texas jury for allegedly pushing an elderly, disabled security guard last February.

KHOU in Houston reported that Bennet was indicted for “injuring a 66-year-old paraplegic who was working at NRG Stadium to control access to the field at Super Bowl LI.”

The incident reportedly occurred when Bennett tried to access the field following the game.

Bennett’s brother Martellus was playing for the Patriots at the time.

A warrant has been issued for Bennet’s arrest.

He risks losing out on the rest of his $40M contract.

Bennett has a history with the police, as he accused Las Vegas officers of racial targeting last August. His accusations were later debunked by video.

UPDATED: March 25, 4:50 p.m.

According to his lawyer, Rusty Hardin, Bennett is expected to turn himself on Monday. He lives in Hawaii, so he was not in the continental U.S. when he was indicted on Friday. Bennet faces up to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine on charges of knowingly injuring a person over 65 years old.

What’s up with Nick Foles?

The Philadelphia Eagles hold a valuable asset in Super Bowl LII MVP Nick Foles, and have some difficult decisions to make regarding what to do with him.

Carson Wentz is definitely the starter, but Foles has proven he can play and there are teams willing to pay a price to land him. The Eagles have all the power in the situation, as Foles is under contract, and can do as they please.

Here are some potential landing spots, in no order, for the well-endowed quarterback.

Denver Broncos: This one is a bit of a stretch. There’s a very strong chance the Broncos lose out on the Kirk Cousins sweepstakes and draft a quarterback. Foles would be a good addition to lead the offense and mentor the rookie, but Denver doesn’t have the assets to give up.

Arizona Cardinals: Our Editor-in-Chief Jeff Griffith proposed a second round pick and Tyrann Mathieu to Philadelphia in exchange for Foles. Jeff is kind of crazy, but this move makes sense. The Eagles can add a talented safety to their already scary roster on top of the pick. The Cardinals get their quarterback, who will cost less than the Honey Badger.

Philadelphia Eagles: As noted earlier, Wentz is the starter. But how healthy will he be? Reports said he might have to wear a knee brace for the rest of his career. Maybe he’ll need to rest his leg more than we thought. Foles can obviously win as a backup. Why not hang on to him just in case?

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Cleveland Browns: The Browns kind of gifted Wentz to the Eagles, so this might be their chance to make up for that blunder. They own 12 picks in this draft,including two early second-rounders. There will be a lot of talent on the board for the Eagles to capitalize on. Meanwhile, the Browns gain a veteran to throw into the fire while their rookie quarterback learns the pro game.

Draft Overview: Indianapolis Colts

The Indianapolis Colts went 4-12 in a rough 2017 season and coach Chuck Pagano was fired soon after.

Quarterback Andrew Luck did not play a single snap, even though he was supposed to be ready to start the season. After a mystery vacation to Europe, Luck recently started throwing. He should be good to go for camp in July.

Frank Reich was hired as the new coach in early February after winning Super Bowl LII as the Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator.

Jacoby Brissett and Scott Tolzien were dropped in the back field 56 times last season. Even if Andrew Luck is completely healthy in 2018, it won’t be good if he takes that many hits.

Remember when owner Jim Irsay angrily tweeted about Luck needing better protection?

Since that angry tweet, Luck has been sacked 114 times, an average of 38 per season.

Irsay has said repeatedly that Luck is his man. If he is that committed, his team should consider drafting an offensive lineman to help protect his quarterback. There are two guys already in Indiana (Notre Dame’s Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson) who are expected to come off the board early.

For the third straight time, Penn State running back Saquon Barkley makes an appearance in a draft overview. Frank Gore was the team’s leading rusher last year, running for 961 yards. That’s not bad for being 34 years old. Gore can still play, and play well, but it might be time to look to the future. A younger Barkley can carry the ball more and take some of the workload off of Luck.

While drafting an offensive lineman or a running back like Barkley makes sense, there is a safe pick for the Colts to make — this one on the other side of the ball.

General manager Chris Ballard seems to be focusing on defense this season, citing that the Colts can’t rely on luck all the time. The defense allowed 25.3 points per game in 2017, which ranked 30th in the NFL. Their defense needs a playmaker.

North Carolina State defensive end Bradley Chubb fits the Colts’ needs. He’s big, he’s athletic and he’s productive. Speed on the edge is especially important when you play in a division with elusive quarterbacks Marcus Mariota and Deshaun Watson.

Colts hire Eagles’ Frank Reich

The Indianapolis Colts have reportedly hired Philadelphia Eagles offensive coordinator as their next coach, per Mike Garafolo of the NFL Network.

The hire comes days after Josh McDaniels backed out of the position to return to the New England Patriots.

Reich was also the San Diego Chargers offensive coordinator before joining the Eagles in 2016. His first NFL was with the colts, where he started as an offensive assistant in 2008.

He is expected to fly to Indianapolis tonight to sign his contract, something the Colts really hope actually happens this time.

UPDATE, 5:37 p.m.

Reich has signed a five-year contract, making the deal official.

Trying to explain the Josh McDaniels debacle

New England Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels was set to become the next coach of the Indianapolis Colts, but backed out just hours after the Colts announced the hire on Tuesday.

It was rumored that McDaniels might have been scared off by Andrew Luck’s injury anomaly, or owner Jim Irsay’s tendencies to do as he pleases with the team, limiting what McDaniels could control.

On Wednesday afternoon, ESPN reported that control was a large reason for McDaniels’ decision to stay put in New England. Patriots coach Bill Belichick reportedly told his offensive coordinator that he could begin taking on more duties with the team, including roster decisions and salary cap management. New England already lost defensive coordinator/ rocket scientist Matt Patricia, who will be the next coach of the Detroit Lions.

McDaniels deciding to return to the Patriots sparked conspiracy theories suggesting that Belichick was retiring sooner than expected. While highly unlikely, it does make sense that Belichick is preparing McDaniels to be his successor, if the report of increased control is true.

The Colts were expected to hire McDaniels several weeks before they announced him as the coach, but were prohibited from officially doing so because he had yet to coach in the Super Bowl, which the Patriots lost to the Eagles.

Many potential replacements around the league took other coaching jobs during that duration, leaving the Colts with limited options. They are expected to request an interview with Eagles offensive coordinator Frank Reich.

McDaniels’ agent Bob LaMonte dropped him as a client on Wednesday.

Sideline Intel Staff Super Bowl Picks

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The game is near. Here’s what we think:

Ryan Ladika: Patriots 30 Eagles 27 

I’m picking the New England Patriots. While the Philadelphia Eagles are coming off of an absolute dismantling of one of the NFL’s top defenses in the Minnesota Vikings in the NFC Championship Game, they were also going up against a lesser quarterback, compared to newly-minted 2017 NFL MVP Tom Brady, in Case Keenum. Brady has shown us time and time again that he has the expertise and execution to engineer scoring drives whenever he’s on the field. I don’t realistically see Nick Foles standing toe to toe with one of the greatest quarterbacks of all time.

Graham Foley: Eagles 29 Patriots 20

While Brady and Belichick vs. Foles and Pederson seems like a no-brainer for the GOATs, look closer.

The Eagles defense gets incredible pressure by rushing just four, making it difficult to find an open receiver with seven in coverage even for Brady. And don’t forget that No. 1 ranked rush defense.

The Eagles’ offensive line dominated a Minnesota front seven that is far superior to New England’s. With protection, and an incredible run-game going against the 29th-ranked rush defense in yards per attempt, Foles should be able to do enough for a win.

Brady will be Brady and make it close. But Philadelphia has the better team.

Ryan Sharp: Patriots 30 Eagles 16

Last year, the Patriots were down 28-3 in the third quarter of Super Bowl LI. Everybody knows what followed. Two weeks ago, the Patriots turned the ball over down 10 points in the fourth quarter of the AFC Championship. Everybody knows what followed.

If Carson Wentz were in this game, the score would be closer, but the result would be the same. Nearly the entire Patriots roster has played in a Super Bowl and they are led by the greatest coach and quarterback of all time. In a game like this, experience can mean a lot. An inexperienced team led by Nick Foles is not an ideal game plan going against the NFL’s most dominant team.

Their roster may not be deep, but with the leadership of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick, New England can beat any team in any game. I’m convinced it takes luck to beat them. The motivation of winning a sixth championship certainly helps as well.

Jeff Griffith: Patriots 24 Eagles 17

Nick Foles was outstanding against the Vikings. 22-of-36 for 352 yards and three touchdowns is no stat line to scoff at. That version of Nick Foles can beat anybody, in my opinion. We conveniently forget, though, that his performance in the NFC title game could still be considered a major outlier based on his stats from the three previous games — never eclipsing 200 yards or two scores in a contest aside from a home defeat over the New York Giants. With that being said, there’s much more to this game for the Eagles, of course, and I do think a battle in the trenches favors the NFC champs. But until I see a concrete reason on the field as to why Tom Brady and Bill Belichick can’t get it done on the biggest stage — which we very well could see tomorrow night — I have to go with Dynasty over Destiny. In my mind, it’s going to be low scoring, which can favor Philadelphia, but I think a late touchdown drive seals Brady’s sixth ring.

Jacob Rosenfarb: Patriots 31 Eagles 24

Super Bowl 52 comes down to a matchup between football’s best player and football’s best roster. The Philadelphia Eagles support one of the deepest rosters in the game, with standout players at almost every position. The New England Patriots on the other hand, have Tom Brady and come Sunday that may be all they need. Nick Foles has filled in admirably for the injured Carson Wentz, but he is no match for the defensive genius of Bill Belichick. Defensively, the Patriots will put pressure on Foles and force him into quick decisions, while offensively the Pats will pick on the Eagles corners with quick routes that negate Philadelphia’s ability to get pressure.

Josh Zaklis: Patriots 27 Eagles 21

Both of these teams have the talent to win.

For the Eagles that talent is spread out throughout their team. The Philly defense has played out of their minds the past few weeks and for most of the year, but they will be facing the most dominate quarterback of all time.

In order to slow down Tom Brady, the Eagles must take a page out of the Giants playbook and pressure Brady with their front four. If Brady sees the Eagles pulling defenders out of coverage to pressure him then it is all over for the Eagles as he will be able to identify the weaknesses within seconds and put the ball in a receiver’s hands.

If the Patriot defense can stifle the Eagles on offense then it is up to Brady to find a way to put up points on the Eagles defense which is no easy task. Just ask Case Keenum. He can beat the defense by establishing the run and throwing a lot of quick passes throughout the game to keep the Eagles pass rush off of him.

As for my pick; my heart says Eagles but my brain says never bet against Brady and Belichick.

 

Why both teams deserve to lose the Super Bowl

 

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The New England Patriots will take on the Philadelphia Eagles in Super Bowl LII on Sunday night. Many previews have been written. You’ve likely read something about how “The game will be won by -insert non-skill positions-”, or “What the -insert team name- need to do to beat the -insert other team name.”

Here’s one about why both teams deserve to lose the Super Bowl.

Philadelphia Eagles

-They are wearing green.

This one is actually out of their control, but still deserves mention. The AFC and NFC rotate being the home team in each Super Bowl. This year was the AFC’s turn, and the Patriots picked white. Unfortunately for the Eagles, the team in white has won the past six Super Bowls, and 12 of the past 13. Philadelphia also wore green in Super Bowls XXXIX and XV, losing both.

-There will be blood.

The Philadelphia Police Department sent a notice to businesses near Lincoln Financial Field saying they couldn’t guarantee safety if the Eagles won the NFC Championship. Fans immediately took to the streets after the victory over Minnesota. Imagine if they actually won the Super Bowl — chaos.

There’s still a chance fans riot if the Eagles lose, too. Oh well. At least we’ll get some funny videos of guys falling off light posts.

-It’s funny.

They’re not quite on a Cleveland Browns level, but the Eagles are on of the most snakebitten franchises in NFL history. People love seeing them come ups short. Let’s name a few incidents…

  • Losing 3 straight NFC Championships
  • Donovan McNabb breaking his ribs in the third NFC Championship
  • Finally winning an NFC Championship, then losing the Super Bowl
  • Donovan McNabb going down in 2006, leaving Jeff Garcia to lead the team through the playoffs
  • Losing another NFC Championship
  • Chip Kelly trading every good player
  • Carson Wentz getting injured, leaving Nick Foles to take on the Patriots in the Super Bowl

Ha.

New England Patriots

-Tom Brady won MVP

It’s pretty amazing that Brady put up the numbers he did at age 40. But last four quarterbacks to win MVP and play in the Super Bowl all lost. Most recently was Matt Ryan, who got to experience the comeback from down 28-3 first hand.

-Nick Foles is the opposing quarterback

The only quarterback ever to beat Brady in a Super Bowl is Eli Manning. Above average at best, Manning has strong shot at the Hall of Fame simply because he beat the GOAT in not one, but two Super Bowls. How funny would it be if Nick Foles of all people joined this club exclusive club?

-It’s someone else’s turn.

Do Tom Brady and Bill Belichick really need to play in an eighth Super Bowl? Do Tom Brady and Bill Belichick really need to win a sixth Super Bowl? Tom Brady is the best quarterback ever, and Bill Belichick is the best coach ever. We’ve seen enough.