The NFC East has been a pretty bad division in recent years, but last year did feature an exciting two-team race between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. The Eagles bolted out to a 6-2 start, only to stumble to 10-6, while Dallas played its best football down the stretch and won the division with a 12-4 record. New York and Washington have been non-competitive the last two seasons, but could they make this a three or four-team race in 2015? Let’s find out…
4th in Division: Washington Redskins; 4-12 W/L Projection
Strengths: The Redskins suffered another disappointing campaign in 2014, ultimately finishing 4-12. If they’re to do any better this time around, the defensive line will anchor them. Led by Jason Hatcher, the D-line features lots of depth with the additions of Terrance Knighton and Stephen Paea. Outside linebacker will be another plus for this team, as they have Ryan Kerrigan, Junior Galette and second-round pick Preston Smith. The secondary isn’t very good, but quarterback pressure should help mask their deficiencies.
Weaknesses: Washington seems a long time removed from the magical 2012 season, where Robert Griffith III led them to a division title as a rookie. He hurt his knee towards the end of that year, but his problems now come from a mental standpoint. He’ll get yet another shot to reclaim his glory, with weapons Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson helping. But until he proves otherwise, RG III, who’s 5-15 in his last 20 starts, just isn’t a winner right now.
3rd in Division: New York Giants; 8-8 W/L Projection
Strengths: Eli Manning went from the worst season of his career to the best in short order, throwing for 4,410 yards and 30 touchdowns in 2014. And this despite the fact that major weapons like Victor Cruz, Odell Beckham Jr. and Rashad Jennings all missed plenty of games due to injury. Manning has them all back this year, along with newcomer Shane Vereen, making this one of the most-explosive offenses in the league.
Weaknesses: The Giants appear to be a typical case of good offense trying to carry a suspect defense. The D-line and secondary are solid, but linebacker could be a mess this year. Jon Beason is the only proven commodity here, and New York is still trying to figure out who will man the other linebacker spots.
2nd in Division: Philadelphia Eagles; 9-7 W/L Projection
Strengths: Few teams in the NFL have had as many moving parts as Philadelphia did during the offseason. The exchange definitely appears to be a win for the running back position, with LeSean McCoy exiting, but DeMarco Murray and Ryan Matthews replacing him. They’ll join Darren Sproles in what is the league’s most-loaded backfield; expect #1 rushing stats from this three-headed RB committee.
Weaknesses: New QB Sam Bradford could be an upgrade over Nick Foles, or a disaster when injuries are taken into account. Bradford hasn’t played an NFL game since the middle of the 2013 season, because he’s torn his ACL twice since then. Assuming he gets hurt again, Mark Sanchez will take the reigns, which is a definite downgrade. Add in the loss of top wideout Jeremy Maclin, and everything is up in the air for the passing game.
1st in Division: Dallas Cowboys; 11-5 W/L Projection
Strengths: The offensive line for the Cowboys is outstanding at both pass protection and clearing running lanes. This means that we should once again expect a great campaign from Tony Romo, who finished with a 69.9 completion percentage and 113.2 quarterback rating – both first in the NFL. His favorite target, Dez Bryant, will certainly benefit from Romo’s accuracy in 2015. Terrance Williams, Devin Street and TE Jason Witten will also see plenty of targets.
Weaknesses: It’s little secret that the Dallas secondary will plague them this season. Barry Church and J.J. Wilcox are one of the worst starting safety duos in the NFL, while Morris Claiborne and Brandon Carr aren’t much better at cornerback. First-round draft pick Byron Jones will help, but he can’t man all the secondary positions and he lacks experience. So bottom line: expect plenty of shootouts from Dallas, with them winning a majority of the time.