It’s almost that time again, on September 8th, there will be a Super Bowl 50 rematch to kick off the new NFL season. This series is being used to go through each division to do a preview of each team and where each team is going to place within each of their divisions. This is the final installment, I will do a weekly preview and power rankings each week starting tomorrow.
No team has won this division in back-to-back seasons since the Philadelphia Eagles had four consecutive titles from 2001-2004 and that could very well change this season. The 2016 Eagles are looking for the future with their offseason, the Cowboys could take this division if they are able to stay healthy, and the Giants have had good teams recently that haven’t played to their talent level. Washington won a bad division that seemed like no one wanted to win and it will be interesting to see if they are actually good or not.
After their incredible 2014 season things changed for the worst for the 2015 Dallas Cowboys. They let Demarco Murray walk in that offseason, Dez Bryant got injured in week one and was never really the same, and Tony Romo got injured in week two, came back in week eleven to only get reinjured in week twelve. Those three were the keys to their offensive success in 2014 and were the reason that they only won four games last season. Unfortunately, it looks like Tony Romo will already miss a good chunk of the 2016 with a broken bone in his back. Initial reports say that he will miss at least six weeks and it is safe to assume that he won’t be back until after their bye in week eight. They do have hope that rookie quarterback Dak Prescott can come in and keep this team competitive in Romo’s absence, especially with this really good offensive unit.
The one bright spot last season was that the Cowboys were still able to run the football even though everyone knew they would run the ball. They drafted a really good running back in Ezekiel Elliott to run behind the best offensive line in football. They also brought in Alfred Morris and Darius Jackson, and they still have Darren McFadden and a returning Lance Dunbar to make this running game good, no matter who is running it. It will also help if Dez Bryant can come back healthy and give Dak a good weapon to go to. They also still have Jason Witten, who has been arguably the most consistent tight end in football for the last fourteen years and has only missed one game in his entire career back in 2003.
The other problem with this team is the defense. Their two starting defensive ends, Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory, will both be suspended for at least four games, luckily, those four games are some of the easier ones on the schedule. Their interior line isn’t terrible with Tyrone Crawford and newly acquired Cedric Thornton, they should be able to help slow down apposing run games. This linebacker unit is rather weak after Sean Lee. Anthony Hitchens is a versatile linebacker, but he should be a there for depth, not a starter. It also looks like an addiction to ‘Purple Drank’ will prevent their former starting middle linebacker, Rolando McClain, from playing in the NFL ever again.
They problem with this secondary is the lack of turnovers. Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne haven’t necessarily lived up to the hype when they were brought in, but they made strides to be better last year. They do have Orlando Scandrick coming back and should make a big difference from the slot. The other bright point of the secondary is second year player Byron Jones. Jones made a few rookie mistakes, but did an overall good job guarding anyone the Cowboys asked him to. Now that they are putting him at safety for good, he should be able to progress and be the best safety they have had in a long time.
There was a lot of hype surrounding the Eagles going into the 2015 season. They brought in DeMarco Murray, Kiko Alonso, and Byron Maxwell and were supposed to run over this division. Fast forward one year and none of those players are still on this team, they have a new coach, they drafted the quarterback of the future that shouldn’t see the field this season, and the expectations are significantly lower. They just traded quarterback Sam Bradford to the Vikings for a 2017 first round pick. The number two pick, Carson Wentz, has the arm strength, size, and speed to become a top quarterback in this league, but he needs to develop a lot to get to that top level and is currently dealing with a minor rib injury. Chase Daniel is a solid backup and has a good rapport with their new head coach Doug Pederson, but he has never had to be the starting quarterback in the NFL.
They still have one acquisition from last season in Ryan Matthews. Matthews has the talent to be a really good back, but he has had his fair share of injuries throughout his career. Darren Sproles is still one of the best playmakers in the NFL and could change a game with just one run or return. Jordan Matthews is still a good receiver, but all of the other receivers need to step up and give Carson Wentz some legitimate outside weapons. They do have two really good tight ends with Zach Ertz and Brent Celek. Either one of them could start for almost any team in the league. The Philadelphia offensive line dropped off in terms of production last season. They need Jason Peters to stay healthy this season in order for them to be successful this season.
The strength of the Eagles defense is the secondary. Malcolm Jenkins is one of the best safeties in the league. Leodis McKelvin is an underrated cornerback that isn’t what he once was, but he is still a good player. Nolan Carroll isn’t the best cornerback either, but he is serviceable on the other side. Rodney McLeod is also a solid safety to complement Malcolm Jenkins and will be a good replacement for Walter Thurmond. Eric Rowe needs to improve and possibly take one of the outside spots by the end of the season.
The biggest change of this defense is switching from the 3-4 to the 4-3 up front. Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan rushing from the middle could be a scary duo. Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham are two good ends that will benefit from the inside rush. Their mike linebacker, Jordan Hicks, is really good, but the others, Mychal Kendricks and Nigel Bredham, had poor seasons and need to perform better this season. If they have seasons similar to last year then this defense could be in a world of trouble. Past these players in the front seven, there isn’t a lot of depth and could end up getting gassed by the end of the season.
New York Giants
The New York Giants have had an interesting offseason starting with the new head coach Ben McAdoo. McAdoo was the offensive coordinator last season so there shouldn’t be a lot of change to the scheme or any key looks offensively. They still have a consistent starting quarterback with Eli Manning that has done almost everything in this league. They still have one of the most polarizing wide receivers in the game with Odell Beckham Jr. Beckham is a threat whenever he is in the game and got a good receiver on the other side in second round pick Sterling Shepard. It will be interesting to see if Victor Cruz can come back healthy to give Manning three really good receiving options to give opposing defenses some serious headaches.
The offensive line had a lot of troubles last year, especially at the tackle positions, but it will be interesting to see if Ereck Flowers can progress from his rookie campaign and be better this season. The running game isn’t very good on this team with Rashad Jennings, Andre Williams, and Shane Vereen provide depth, but none of them are really that good. Hopefully they can get something out of one of these runners to balance out this offense.
The Giants didn’t just change their coach, but the defense got a lot more expensive throughout the offseason with the additions of Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins. Having Vernon on the other side of Jason Pierre-Paul will be beneficial, but there are questions if he was worth the amount that he was paid. Damon Harrison was another acquisition for the Giants that should be able to help with the run game to solidify the defensive line. The linebackers are one of the weakest parts of the team and was the defensive position that the Giants didn’t really address in the offseason.
Janoris Jenkins is coming in to take the place of Prince Amukamara, but he had his issues with the Rams and they had a better pass rush than the Giants do. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is a solid corner on the other side, but doesn’t have the talent to take on number one receivers in the league. Their first round pick, Eli Apple, is a good athlete, but had issues in college with plays that would be considered holding and pass interference in the NFL. It will be interesting if their first round pick from last season, Landon Collins, can make the progress he needs to become a good safety in this league.
Washington was fortunate to play in a poor division last year. Kirk Cousins showed that he belongs in this league and silenced all of the Robert Griffin supporters and now with RGIII in Cleveland, there shouldn’t be that distraction surrounding this team. Cousins also has some good weapons around him to make this team very successful. DeSean Jackson is still a really good receiver and Pierre Garcon is a solid number two option. It will be interesting to see how this team integrates their first round pick Josh Doctson who has really good size and hands to make a real difference in this offense when he gets healthy.
They also have arguably the best tight end in the league, not named Rob Gronkowski, in Jordan Reed. Reed helps Cousins get out of some rough situations and became a serious red zone threat last season. Their offensive line is above average that should be getting better with Brandon Schreff entering his second season and adjusting more to the NFL speed. The one concern about this offense is the running game. They let Alfred Morris just walk his way to Dallas and are hoping that Matt Jones can come in and be the three down back that they desperately need.
The Redskins defense has some problems with their front seven. The Chris Baker, Kedric Golston, and Trent Murphy combination have problems stopping the run and won’t scare any opposing offenses. You combine those three with their poor inside linebacker play and good running teams should be able to take advantage of this defense. The one hope of the defensive front seven is the outside linebackers. Preston Smith and Ryan Kerrigan can both rush the passer and will hopefully be able to limit the opposing air game. This front seven is going to need some serious help from the secondary and luckily they are very good.
The Washington Redskins turned some heads this offseason when they were able to land the top free agent cornerback, Josh Norman. He has been a proven starter that has caused some major problems for division rival top receivers, Odell Beckham Jr. and Dez Bryant. There haven’t been a lot of corners in this league that can stop those two receivers. DeAngelo Hall may have lost a step as a cornerback, but he should vastly improve because he has had a full offseason to adapt to the safety position. Quinton Dunbar is a solid number two corner and Bashaud Breeland is a good slot corner. If this defense is going to be successful, they are going to have to rely on this secondary.
4th Place: Philadelphia Eagles
The Eagles have a way to go before they can rise back to the top of the NFC East. Carson Wentz should be a really good quarterback, but will go through a lot of rookie troubles. Having to rely on a subpar defense that is learning a completely different scheme will make this team have a lot of growing pains. This season could be rough for the Eagles fans as the team wins four or five games.
3rd Place: New York Giants
The Giants have had a lot of changes in the offseason and it will be interesting to see how quickly the team can come together. The offense hasn’t changed a lot as Ben McAdoo is still in charge of the offense, but the defense is different. If Olivier Vernon and Janoris Jenkins can become integral parts of the defense then they could be pretty good, but it will take some time and they will win around seven games.
2nd Place: Washington Redskins
The Redskins looked really good last year and have the potential to be good again, but that means Kirk Cousins has to play out of his mind again this season. He does have some really good weapons in Jordan Reed, DeSean Jackson, and Pierre Garcon, but he doesn’t have a running game to lean and their defensive front seven has issues. They should win around eight games and just miss the playoffs this season.
1st Place: Dallas Cowboys
The Dallas Cowboys are the hardest team to predict in this division because of all the health concerns and suspensions surrounding this team. Their defense will get a shot in the arm in week five when Demarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory come back from suspension. If Dak Prescott can manage the games while Tony Romo is out with Ezekiel Elliott, Dez Bryant, and Jason Witten, then they should be able to win a few games. They should look more like the 2014 team than the 2015 team and will probably win either nine or ten games and win the division.
My name is Sean, I have been a fan of the NFL for at least 25 years and want to get my thoughts out to the public. Please visit the main site for more posts