2015 NFL Preview: NFC East

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It is one of the most unpredictable divisions in the NFL and it is not necessarily because the NFC East has the most great teams.

In fact it is almost opposite as the NFC East Is full of teams that have some of the biggest markets in the league.

As a result these teams are under the biggest microscope in sports as they are playing for some of the toughest fan bases in the league.

When a team doesn’t do too well one season the fan base calls for change which can make it tough on ownership and the rest of the management team.

When the fans demand something in the East it is often heard and responded to in a quick manner.

No fan base wants to go through a rebuild year but in the East it seems like teams refuse to undergo a rebuild for fear that the fans might walk away.

That makes it a very tough division as there is no patience from fans and in return no patience by the organizations.

That goes from any executive group to the players on the field as movement is a constant in the division.

New regimes come and go while the teams attempt to win the division which is the only answer to avoiding the headlines and the call of people to be fired and traded.

That attitude has created an interesting dynamic in the division as no team has won the division in consecutive years since the Eagles did it from 2001 until 2004.

Since that 2004 season a new team has taken the title every year making it the division with the most parity throughout the NFL.

Most divisions have one dominant team or two strong teams and more than one division has been taken by one team over the last few years.

The East is the exception as they remain a division where truly anyone can win the only problem for all of them is that it has not translated in a lot of playoff wins for everyone.

In 2009 the East sent two teams to the playoffs with the wild card coming into effect but that was the last time that the second place team earned a wild card spot.football-sidebar

Lately the race for the division and the close battles between every team have hurt the hopes of sending more than just one team to the playoffs.

No team has been utterly dominant in the division and certainly no team has been good enough to sustain their good seasons.

When that happens and teams play each other they can often fight it out so much that their records aren’t good enough to get that playoff spot.

So the division title means that much more in the East as it seems like the only way to get into the playoffs and have a shot at the Super Bowl.

This year will be no different as all four teams have reasons why they can win the division and reasons why they can’t win the division.

Some teams have plenty more reasons why not than why but the fact is that they can all win if they have a good year.

Last year’s division champion was the Cowboys but after a controversial call in the playoffs they fell short of the Super Bowl.

They are back but like usual controversy has followed them with the release of one of the best players in the NFL.

The Giants’ fans are once again calling for their long-time coach-QB combination to be torn apart one way or another after a bad season.

Then again every time Tom Coughlin’s job is on the line the Giants have won the Super Bowl so the Giants may very well be headed back.

The Philadelphia Eagles are on a new level of rebuilding as nobody knew what head coach Chip Kelly was doing in the off-season.

Along that vein nobody knows how the completely rebuilt team will fare this year as they might be the biggest mystery in the division and possibly the league.

Washington is also a mystery after making a big choice at quarterback and changing the way that most will see them this year.

It is another year where there is plenty to get excited about for both teams but plenty to worry about as well as there is no one team that looks to be the obvious winner in 2015.

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The Dallas Cowboys are the perfect expression of this division as there has rarely been an off-season where they don’t have to deal with something. Last year was Tony Romo’s off-season back surgery but it turned out not be as big with the Cowboys taking the division title to the divisional playoffs. This year the off-season controversy continues to swirl as one of their best players was allowed to walk away. That was DeMarco Murray who led the league in rushing last year and was a big part to the Cowboy’s division title and was allowed to walk away. In his place will be Darren McFadden who has been a reliable rusher for the Raiders over the years and will take on a more feature role this year than he did last year. McFadden will be a reliable start that can get 1,000 yards behind their line but he is not Murray. The passing game remains intact as the Romo leads the team again and continues to be a great pivot in the league. His ability is only heightened by the fact that he has one of the best receivers in the game to through to in Dez Bryant who leads a group that also includes safety valve Jason Witten and young star Terrance Williams. Meanwhile the Dallas defence remains a work in progress as they decided to take some big risks to improve their team. The pass rush was a bad spot in the defence and so they took a chance in picking up Greg Hardy and drafting Randy Gregory. Hardy was suspended for four weeks this year after being accused of domestic abuse and Gregory fell in the draft due to substance abuse issues. If either can avoid making terrible decisions off of the field they will be a big boost to the pass rush even if they aren’t fan favourites. The linebacking corps will be happy to see Sean Lee return after missing all of last year with an injury while Rolando McClain hopes to continue fighting off father time in the middle. The secondary has been through a rough off-season as three starters all missed time. Morris Claiborne was recovering from a torn patellar, Brandon Carr was asked to take a pay cut, and Orlando Scandrick was asking for more money. Claiborne seems healed enough to start and Carr will get another chance to prove himself. Meanwhile Scandrick injured his knee after signing a new contract and will miss this season. That will give rookie Byron Jones a chance this year to start and prove that he was worth the pick. The Cowboys have the offence to compete but the defence needs to overcome the distractions that have set them back this off-season. If they can do that they have the potential to win the second division title in a row but there are plenty of things that need to go right.

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The New York Giants have fallen into a pattern that no team likes to fall into as the Eli Manning era has been full of great and bad. They have won two Super Bowls with Manning at the helm but they have also missed the playoffs in half of those years. Every year they miss it seems as though the axe will come down on head coach Tom Coughlin and Manning. Every year that happens it seems like they make a run and a deep run into the playoffs. The Giants are hoping to do that this year after missing the playoffs for three straight years as once again it seems like Coughlin and Manning are on the hot seat. Manning will lead an offence that found a new superstar last year in receiver Odell Beckham Jr. Not only did he have the best catch of the year but he broke the 1,000 yard mark in his first year of his career. He looks to continue that development as the feature receiver alongside Victor Cruz who tries to return to action after a knee injury ended his season last year. Rashad Jennings will lead the rushing attack while new arrival Shane Vereen will fill the third down back role that they missed last year. On defence the Giants will welcome back a familiar face as Steve Spagnuolo returns to lead the defence from the sidelines. He will try to do the same this year but will have a different team to work with as they lack the star power that they once had. The line was always the key to Spagnuolo’s defences of the past but this group may need a bit more work. Jason Pierre-Paul has been their best rusher but a fireworks incident has left him with one less finger. He has stayed away from the team due to a contract dispute and his accident leaving his status uncertain. For the time being the line will look to Robert Ayers and Kerry Wynn to lead the rush while other will likely get some time on the line. The linebacking corps will look to Jon Beason for leadership but he remains uncertain after injuring his knee in preseason. The rest of the group is inexperienced with J.T. Thomas getting his first starting role and Devon Kennard enters his second season. The secondary will suffer with the loss of Antrel Rolle as Landon Collins comes in for his rookie season to take over the safety spot. The cornerbacks are set this year as Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Prince Amukamara start on the edges. The Giants are a team that has made some improvements but they don’t seem to be ready to compete. They could surprise and compete for the division but more likely they will end the year out of the playoffs as changes could be coming.

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When the Philadelphia Eagles hired Chip Kelly as their head coach in 2013 everyone knew that it was going to be an adventure. Coming to the NFL many wondered if this fast-paced attack was going to work with NFL players and so far there have been mixed results with one playoff appearance in two years. The adventure continues in a big way this year as Kelly was given complete control over the roster and went to work designing a team that he believes fits his system better. The offence saw the most changes as many of the best players over the past few years were allowed to walk away. Nick Foles was traded to St. Louis bringing in Sam Bradford to lead the offence. Bradford can be one of the best quarterbacks in the league if he stays healthy, he has only played two full seasons in four years. He won’t have former leading receiver Jeremy Maclin to throw to this year as he was allowed to walk away. In his place are two very young receivers as Jordan Matthews enters his second year after an impressive rookie season and Nelson Agholor begins his rookie year with plenty of promise. In the backfield the Eagles saw another star leave as LeSean McCoy was traded to Buffalo. In his place is last year’s leading rusher, DeMarco Murray, who the Eagles hope can repeat their performance this year. New additions Darren Sproles and Ryan Mathews could also see time as the trio of backs provide three different styles. The changes were not limited to offence this year as Kelly also looked to upgrade a defence that needs to be ready to play a lot due to their quick strike offence. The defensive line is one of the few groups that went unchanged this year as Fletcher Cox leads a solid group that was a big reason for success in 2014. At linebacker the Eagles saw the franchises best pass rusher, Trent Cole, walk away leaving Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham to rush the outside. Kiko Alonso was a good pick-up in the McCoy trade but questions remain after missing 2014 with an ACL injury. The secondary saw the most change as the Eagles had one of the worst pass defences in the league last year. They went out to sign former member of the “Legion of Boom” Byron Maxwell to a massive deal while also bringing in Walter Thurmond and drafting Eric Rowe as all three will fill holes left in the off-season. The Chip Kelly era is just beginning in Philadelphia and everyone is looking to see just how it will work out. Those that left are big blows but they are softened by great additions as the Eagles seem to have what it takes to take the division but it won’t be without a fight.

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Washington continues to follow the pattern of the NFC East as they have been unable to overcome of-field issues. Last year it was all about their nickname that has yet to be changed despite the calls for a change due to its racist undertones. When the season started it was all about their quarterback as new head coach Jay Gruden could not decide between Robert Griffin and Colt McCoy. That indecision led to a second four win season in a row and so changes were made. Still the quarterback position remains the main focus of the team as Kirk Cousins has been given the start in Week 1. Griffin was often considered the future of this team but it seems like Gruden doesn’t believe it in his decision-making. Griffin has not been able to stay on the field after a good rookie year ended with an ACL tear but that largely has to do with a line that they refuse to fix. For whatever reason Cousins is the starter this year, at least for the time being, and will lead Washington into a new season. He has plenty of weapons in the passing game as DeSean Jackson returns alongside Brett Celek and Pierre Garcon to create a good trio of pass catchers. The running game is also solid with Alfred Morris leading the way after putting up three straight 1,000 yard seasons in his first three years. The biggest issue with the offence is their line though as they need major help and although Brandon Scherff was a good draft choice there are more holes that will make it tough for Cousins. The defence will see some major changes as new coordinator Joe Barry comes in to try to fix the many issues that plagued them last year. They will go with an entirely new line as they try to find some pass rush this year. New additions Stephen Paea, Terrance Knighton, Jason Hatcher, and Ricky Jean Francois try to upgrade the line from a year ago. The linebacking corps will try to get in on the action but will hurt from the loss of Brian Orakpo who has been a leader on this team since he was drafted. Ryan Kerrigan is the only legitimate pass rusher left as Trent Murphy tries to fit in where Orakpo used to play. The secondary has received a major upgrade with the signings of Dashon Goldson, Duke Ihenacho, and Chris Culliver. DeAngelo Hall is the only holdover and will be the leader of this group but he needs to return from a toe injury to get back to his dominant play. Washington is once again trying to figure out their team and that never bodes well for a season. With so many questions, especially at quarterback, don’t expect them to compete for the division this year as another losing season is in the books.

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Prediction:
The NFC East is once again an unpredictable group of teams that all have issues and great parts. It is a tough division to figure out who will win with every year in the last twelve seasons providing a new champion. That will continue this year as Chip Kelly’s rapid rebuild will work in as they will rise to the top of the division with their new weapons. The Cowboys will fall just short of repeating as champions with their run game taking a major hit in the loss of DeMarco Murray although they will fight for the wild card. The Giants won’t be competing for the division this year or a wild card spot as they just don’t seem to be put together enough to find their way back. Washington is in the same boat as indecision and a bad line will sink them to the bottom of the division.

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