Today we’re taking a look at the NFC East, which is not only one of the NFL’s more competitive divisions, but arguably it’s most difficult to predict as well.
The Redskins, who were an afterthought entering last season, rose to the top of the division in 2015 thanks to a tremendous second half from quarterback Kirk Cousins. Washington is certainly in the conversation to take this division once again, but repeating won’t be easy, especially since no NFC East has won consecutive division titles in ten years. Tony Romo and Dez Bryant are back, which means the Cowboys are almost certainly poised to rebound after a miserable 4-12 season a year ago. The Giants and Eagles, meanwhile, have new head coaches and a few intriguing pieces to potentially make a run at the division crown as well.
Will the NFC East title change hands once again? Fronte, Mando, JMac, and Hempdad make their picks and give bold predictions related to the division as well.
I’ve been saying it all summer: This is the year for Big Blue. First, I’ll start with their defense, which was heavily upgraded this offseason. The combination of Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison, Johnathan Hankins and Jason Pierre-Paul has an eerily similar feel to the Giants’ legendary core of Michael Strahan, Osi Umenyiora, Justin Tuck and a younger JPP. That defensive line will cause a lot of problems for opposing quarterbacks and running backs. Moreover, the additions of Janoris Jenkins, Eli Apple, and Darian Thompson will help lock down their secondary.
On the other side of the ball, this Giants’ offense is poised to be the best its been in years. After already establishing himself as a top talent in the game, the sky is the limit this year for Odell Beckham, who is coming off a 1,450 yard, 13 touchdown year. Supporting the star wideout will be Sterling Shepard and a finally healthy Victor Cruz. Recent reports have lauded Shepard thus far, saying that the rookie has been spectacular. The team also announced they will scrap their running back by committee system and go with a bell cow. In the last four games of 2015 when Rashad Jennings was the feature back, he ran for 432 yards on 5.4 YPC. Eli Manning is surrounded with viable weapons that will help him remain competitive in the late stages of his career. Just like their defense, expect big things from the Giants’ offense this year.
Looking at the other NFC East teams, I think the Cowboys and Redskins pose the biggest threat to the Giants. When healthy, the Cowboys’ offense is one of the best in the league. However, their defense is suspect and I’m not sure if you can rely on their offense to remain healthy throughout the season. I’m also giving the Giants the nod over the Redskins mainly because I think the their offense is more trustworthy than Washington’s. Who knows what we will see out of Kirk Cousins this year?
Bold Prediction: The Redskins will make the playoffs via the wild card
Last year the NFC East was one of the worst divisions in football, but I think the Giants and Redskins have come a long way. I wouldn’t be surprised at all if two NFC East teams found their way into the playoffs next season.
When in doubt, I believe in taking the team with the best quarterback. Even though Kirk Cousins and Eli Manning are coming off stellar individual years, I think a healthy Tony Romo gives the Cowboys a significant edge in the NFC East. Of course, Romo’s not a safe bet to remain on the field, but I’m hoping that if there’s a God of sports, he’ll bless Tony Romo with some better fortune in 2016.
Romo’s not the only reason I’m taking Dallas, though. In early July, I discussed why the Cowboys were likely to take a significant step forward this year. In short, Dallas was incredibly unlucky on numerous fronts last season, especially with regard to success in close games, turnover margin, and, most notably, injuries. It’s unlikely they’ll be as unfortunate in 2016. Moreover, Dallas will play an easier schedule in 2016 because they finished in last place a year ago (t-27th based on last season’s win percentages). And lastly, the Cowboys were able to snag running back Ezekiel Elliott with the fourth pick in the draft. Taking a running back that early is risky, but this particular gamble will pay off for the Cowboys because Elliott was one of the most pro-ready running backs to come out of college in recent memory and he’ll be running behind one of the best offensive lines in football.
What makes the NFC East so hard to predict is that any one of these four teams can take the division title. Yet with the most prolific offense and a better-than-you-might-think defense, I like Dallas.
Bold Prediction: Ezekiel Elliott Will Finish in the Top 3 in Rushing Yards
Yep, I’m moving all my chips into the Ezekiel Elliott pot. The guy was the best college running back I’ve seen since Adrian Peterson. Yes he had a great supporting cast at Ohio State, but he’s lucky that he got drafted by a team with a terrific offensive line. I bet Jason Garrett relies heavily on Elliott in an effort to lessen the burden on Tony Romo’s shoulders, allowing the rookie to burst on to the scene.
The New York Giants are primed for a comeback year in 2016. There are a few aspects of this team that really scream “playoffs,” and it starts on the defensive side of the football.
The G-Men made several key moves this offseason–both via the draft and free agency– to bolster their defense, but two really stand out to me. Linebacker Olivier Vernon was grabbed from the Dolphins to help keep New York’s front seven going in the right direction. Vernon hasn’t missed a game in his career as he enters his fifth season, and durability on defense is just what Big Blue needs. Another crucial offseason acquisition was cornerback Janoris Jenkins. The durable fifth-year corner from the Rams will give the Giants some stability in the defensive backfield, which is something they desperately lacked last season.
The defensive pick-ups are going to be so beneficial for this team, because despite the presence of Odell Beckham Jr., I still see this team having some trouble getting in the end zone. Eli Manning is still an elite NFL quarterback, but he’s aging every day, and his young, inexperienced offensive line certainly leaves something to be desired. However, if the defense can keep opponents under 20 points on a fairly consistent basis, and OBJ can “Odell” a few deep balls this season, this team will be a force to be reckoned with in the NFC East.
Bold Prediction: Ezekiel Elliott won’t have the breakout year everyone’s expecting
I’m thrilled about Elliott’s potential as the most “NFL-ready” back in this year’s draft. However, I think he’ll need just a year or two to realize his full potential. That’s no knock on Elliott–he’ll be a solid back in this league before too long, and lots of perennial Pro Bowlers need some time to mature. I just don’t think he’s ROY material. Stay in your seats, Cowboys fans. That’s all I’m saying.
While most experts seem to think the Redskins might win the NFC East crown, I’ve got 2-time Super Bowl Champion Eli Manning leading the Giants to a 10-6 record and a division title.
The Giants are led by a QB with the most experience out of the other four signal callers, and potentially the stingiest defense in the division as well. New York seems to always put up a good fight and are usually let down by their defense (Eli Manning’s 4th-quarter numbers and total number of 4th-quarter comebacks can back me on this). However, their defense is now strengthened with the additions of players like CB Leon Hall from Cincinnati, a very good veteran, and rookie CB Eli Apple from Ohio State. While these additions should tidy up the defensive side of the ball, all eyes will be on the RB tandem of Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen, and new head coach Ben McAdoo’s ability to work them both into offensive schemes and patterns. A lot of expectations will be placed on rookie WR Sterling Shepard’s shoulders as well; with more than enough, and apparently beatable, coverage on Odell Beckham Jr, the WR2 will be a haymaker position for the Giants this season. He has the weapons in place, so we’ll see if Eli Manning can make one final push to the big game–it might be his last realistic chance.
Bold prediction: Eli Apple will win Defensive Rookie of the Year
I’m really high on the rookie out of Ohio State. In addition to stabilizing New York’s secondary, I think he’ll surprise everyone and win DROY.