2014 NFL Preview: NFC East

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Much like the AFC East the NFC east is one of the stranger divisions in the NFL but unlike in the AFC the East in the NFC is a much more formidable division. The NFC East is a division that produces a little bit more of a punch than their counterparts in the AFC and there is a different level of competition to win the division. In the AFC East the Patriots are the rulers but in the NFC it is almost a toss-up every year to find out who will win. The last few years have created a real divide in the division with the development of two very distinct types of teams. In one section is the old-school teams that prefer a spin on the traditional offence while the other teams have embraced the new age. In the old school category are the Dallas Cowboys and New York Giants. These teams are more traditional teams because they continue to rely on pocket passers on offence while looking to their defence to dominate. It doesn’t always mean that they get what they want as both teams have had mixed success in the last few years. They look to their quarterbacks to lead the offence and they go first down to touchdown more often than not. Then there are the Washington Redskins and the Philadelphia Eagles who are leading the way to a new era in the NFL. These teams are fast and rely on a lot of moving parts to work their offence down the field. They are the teams that love the big plays much more than moving the chains and they have the talent on the teams to do it. It is two very different attitudes that clash every year in the NFC East and they will once again clash in 2014. The two schools of thought are a constantly at war in the new NFL as the new era continues to push itself into the league. Although there is enough space for both thoughts there are still battles between which thought process should be the thought process to use. For many the traditional route is the safe route and with a few adjustments to relate to the passing development. It is the sure way to meet success in the NFL and the people who prefer to use this tend to have success. Then again the NFL is seeing a new breed of athlete make their way to the NFL with players that just need to get the ball in their hands. That means that offences are always trying to adjust and find creative ways to use these athletes to the best of their ability. To do this offences are getting more complex and in many cases are getting faster with major stars leading the way. The new school and the old school continue to fight and there is no division in the NFL that expresses that more than the NFC East where these four teams try to prove that their way is the better way and with a division that has not seen a repeat champion since the Eagles made a run from 2001-04 there are sure to be plenty to say about either side of the argument.

Dallas Cowboys

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The Dallas Cowboys used to be America’s Team and still have one of the biggest followings in the NFL. That massive following leads them to be under a microscope with every move they make. When they fail to meet the always high expectations the talk never seems to stop about what needs to change. There was plenty of that in 2013 as the Cowboys finished with an 8-8 record good for second in the division but not good enough for a playoff spot. The Cowboys came in with lofty expectations as they always do and yet not a lot went right for them. It was the third year in a row that the Cowboys finished with an 8-8 record and as they enter the 2014 season something seems to be different. A massive change seems to be very close as head coach Jason Garrett and starting quarterback Tony Romo may not be around after the season if the Cowboys cannot improve and make the playoffs. There has never been a doubt that the Cowboys have plenty of talent on the field on either side of the ball but they have yet to be able to put everything together. They are a confusing team with Tony Romo under centre and Dez Bryant, Jason Witten, and DeMarco Murray surrounding him this offence looks solid. Yet they cannot seem to get on the same page as stupid mistakes continue to hurt them and have kept them in the middle of the pack in terms of offence. The bad news for the Cowboys is that the offence that shows flashes of greatness but mainly mediocrity is the highlight of the team. The 32nd ranked defence form last year will enter 204 without their biggest playmaker for the last few years as DeMarcus Ware is no longer on the end for them. Every year it seems like the Cowboys are good on paper and yet every year they seem to falter and with a number of losses on an already bad defence that might not change a lot as the Cowboys could be headed towards an overhaul.

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New York Giants

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The New York Giants are a little more bi-polar than many of the teams in the NFL as they have seasons where they win a Super Bowl and then the next season they are in the basement. In 2011 the Giants were Super Bowl Champions but in 2012 they missed the playoffs finishing second in the division. In 2013 it got even worse as they fell to 7-9 and went to third place in the division. As they enter a new season there is a familiar tone to the story being written in New York. The story is that Tom Coughlin has overstayed his welcome and as good as he was in winning two Super Bowls it might be time for a change. That has been said before about Coughlin particularly in 2011 and 2007, they won the Super Bowl both years. As the Giants face another season with many doubting them they are looking to a quarterback that has been able to lead them to two Super Bowls. Eli Manning claimed to be an elite level quarterback in 2012 but for the last two seasons he hasn’t proven his claim to be right as he has not been able to lead the team back to the playoffs. Part of that has been because of the lack of playmakers in the passing game. Victor Cruz is the main target in the offence and will be again in 2014 while the Giants hope that Rueben Randle can take the next step in his second year. The defence is led once again by their defensive line that lost Justin Tuck but still have Cullen Jenkins, Mathias Kiwanuka, and Jason Pierre-Paul. Meanwhile the secondary will see a boost with the addition of Dominique Rodger-Cromartie to help lead a young group with a lot of potential. The defence remains a strength for the Giants with great pressure up front and young players ready to take the next step but a return to the playoffs is going to be up to whether or not Manning and the offence can step things up.

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Philadelphia Eagles

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The Philadelphia Eagles were the last dominant team in the NFC East but fell out of the top spot causing a big change in 2013. Last year the Eagles hired a new head coach that was to change everything about the Eagles. Chip Kelly did just that when he came into Philadelphia with a high-octane offence the likes had never been seen in the NFL. Kelly’s offence had worked at Oregon for years and was widely considered the fastest offence in College football. The Eagles wanted exactly that and they hired the man behind it. Changes started immediately with Kelly creating new departments on the team for analysis and spending plenty of money on the analysis. The changes did not work too well at the start of the season but eventually they began to show results while the Eagles finished first in the division. They ended up losing to the New Orleans Saints in the wild card playoff but the new regime showed promise. The Eagles enter the 2014 season with another year to get up to speed in Chip Kelly’s offence and the addition of more speedy playmakers should help things. LeSean McCoy should take another step towards understanding and competing in this offence as one of the fastest players in the NFL. The addition of Darren Sproles should only add to the number of playmakers on the team that Nick Foles will have to use as the starting quarterback without controversy. With the concentration on the offence the defence of the Eagles can be forgotten but they have some very good spots on defence. The defensive line is a good one with Fletcher Cox leading the way but their pass defence is one of the worst. They did not do a lot to change that in the offseason and although the offence will continue to develop they might be sacrificing the defence. If the Eagles hope to compete they need to get better on defence but their offence will mask a lot of issues especially if they take the next step in Chip Kelly’s innovative offence.

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Washington Redskins

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The Washington Redskins looked like they were turning things around in 2012 as the future had arrived. The future came in the form of Robert Griffin III who showed that he has the ability to be one of the most frustrating quarterbacks for defences in the league. Griffin was one of only a few quarterbacks that could throw just as well as he could run and for defences preparing for him it caused a lot of problems. Then at the end of the 2012 season RGIII went down with a torn ACL putting the future at risk. Although Griffin did make a very speedy recovery in time for the 2013 season he was not the same and the Redskins suffered for it as they finished with only three wins ending up last in the division. The entire season for 2014 depends on Griffin as his health could determine whether or not they return to the battle for the division. If Griffin returns this offence could be dynamic and new head coach Jay Gruden and offensive coordinator Sean McVay are hoping to lead the way. With Alfred Morris in the backfield to carry the rushing load and Pierre Garcon as the top receiver Griffin should have a good amount of targets. The addition of DeSean Jackson will only give him another target and he himself can provide plenty of plays. If he is not healthy it could all fall apart again and leave the new coaching staff scrambling to find answers. The defence is led by DeAngelo Hall and Brandon Merriweather who lead a good pass defence but as the defence moves forward they are not as strong. They will look for Brian Orakpo to take the next step and he will need to if he wants to replace London Fletcher. Washington could have a great offence again that will need to disguise defensive holes but with off-field issues about the nickname that could potentially cause a distraction they might just have too much to overcome to beat the other improved teams in the division.

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Prediction:
The AFC East is a strange one with teams continuing to change and new contenders emerging every year. Those shifts seem to be ready to continue and leading the way with the biggest shift will be the Dallas Cowboys who will fall to last place this year after losing the only playmakers on their defence and doing nothing to improve on offence. They will continue to fall short of expectations and if Jason Garrett lasts the full season it would be a big surprise. Washington seems to be better with Robert Griffin III back. Still they are a team that needs a to more than RGIII to compete at this point as their defence will fall short of helping them to the division lead. Between the Eagles and the Giants it could be a tight battle but in the end the Giants will fall short. They are an improved team which will help them make the playoffs but they will not be able to beat the Eagles. The theme of a new champion in the past years will end though as the Philadelphia Eagles will take the division title for the second year in a row.

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