2016 NFL Preview: NFC East

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The NFC East has seen better days as they used to be a division to be feared but lately they have become a division that struggles to find a champion.

Sometimes looking at the division it seems like nobody wants to win the division with teams dropping games regularly.

Last year Washington took the title with a 9-7 record, tied with Houston for the worst record by a division leader.

It has been a struggle in the east and it has been a frustrating few years for the fans of all of these teams.

Many of the team in the East seem to have what they need to take the title and make a run in the playoffs.

Yet every year they fall short of those expectations and struggle to put everything together.

It is a strange thing in the east because they were once a feared division with some of the biggest teams in the game.

The entire division is made up of some of the oldest teams in the league with plenty of history behind them and between them.

They are the teams that have helped to build the leagues and through the years they have all gotten used to success.

This is a new era for the east though as they have all struggled to put everything together and make any kind of impact on the league.

The Dallas Cowboys have always been one of the biggest brands in the sport but lately, they have found ways to lose.

Whether that be making a crucial mistake in a big game or losing their best player at the worst time.

The Cowboys have found ways to lose despite still being considered a team with top talent.

Their long-time rivals in Washington seemed to be the team to take over when they found a young QB that could do it all.football-sidebar

Then that young QB lost favour with his coaching staff and was no longer given the opportunity to try to develop.

Then they found another quarterback who surprised everyone and led them to the title last year.

Then there is the Giants who put together two surprising Super Bowls runs in 2008 and 2012 but right after both they faltered.

They look to get back with much the same structure as they try to figure things out.

Finally, there is the Eagles who have been good at times but have constantly tried to figure things out by changing management and personnel with little success.

The east is a division full of some of the most legendary teams in the league and yet they are also one of the worst divisions in the league.

They enter a new year hoping that they can shake that moniker with teams trying to get back to their former glory.

The east is in a bad state right now and with injuries already hampering some of the teams it might not be getting out of it.

The hope is there for every team to take the division title and to make an impact on the playoffs.

With so many teams struggling though the battle for the division could be great as no team will run away with the east this year.

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It was a rough year for the Cowboys in 2015 as everything seemed to go wrong for a team that was supposed to be the division champion. Looking at the team they are the most talented team on paper in this entire division. That is what can make it frustrating when they continually underperform or get hit with the injury bug. That is what happened in 2015 as Tony Romo, Dez Bryant, and Orlando Scandrick missed significant time last year. This year is already looking like it could be a repeat of 2015 with injuries already playing a big role in the team. The Cowboys suffered a big loss in the pre-season when Romo went down with a back injury in the pre-season setting him out for what looks like most if not all of the season. That leaves the Cowboys with a rookie that was supposed to sit behind Romo and be the heir apparent. Dak Prescott has impressed in pre-season but the regular season is a different beast and he will be tested every week. Luckily he has some great targets to work with in Bryant and Jason Witten who are sure to help with Prescott’s development. There will be a rookie in the backfield as well with Ezekiel Elliott stepping in to try to bring the running back after the loss of DeMarco Murray two years ago. The offence is depending on a lot of inexperience this year with the injury bug already making itself known. On defence, the Cowboys have struggled to find a group that can really make an impact. It has all started with the line where the Cowboys have had issues finding players who can stay out of trouble off of the field. The Greg Hardy experiment failed miserably while both DeMarcus Lawrence and Randy Gregory will start the year suspended. Both of them have regularly been in trouble but on the field, they have all of the potential to be a great pass rush duo. At the second level, Sean Lee showed what the Cowboys were missing after having a healthy season and hopes to do the same again this year. Anthony Hitchens takes over in the middle in his second year as they will depend on him to help set the tone. In the secondary, the Cowboys are depending on the development of players that they have been waiting on for years. Brandon Carr is good but is not a playmaker while Morris Claiborne has never really panned out after being selected in the first round in 2012. The Cowboys are already reeling from a big injury this year and it proved to be their downfall a year ago. If Prescott can impress this year they might have a chance but a lot will ride on him developing quickly and the defence staying out of trouble.

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The New York Giants had a weird pattern going on over the last decade as they seemed to play best with their backs against the wall. When it seemed like long-time head coach Tom Coughlin was about to be fired they would come through and win a Super Bowl to extend his life in the big apple. That was the case in 2008 and 2012 when the Giants took home the Vince Lombardi Trophy while in the preseason dealing with talk about Coughlin being fired. In 2015 they were hoping to do the same as the rumours were surrounding the team again. It wasn’t the case though as they struggled through another year unable to make any type of challenge for the division. That bad season cost Coughlin his job as the long-time coach was somewhat forced to retire leading to a new leadership group in New York for 2016. Offensive Coordinator Steve McAdoo takes over as the head coach, in a strange move as many wonder if they will actually change anything by hiring someone from last year’s group. Not much will change on offence as Eli Manning operates the same offence he has in the last few years. Luckily for him, though Victor Cruz seems to be ready to return from injuries that have kept him out for two seasons. If he can return and be the star he was that will give the Giants a serious passing game alongside Odell Beckham Jr. The running game is still a bit of a mystery as they rotated through most of their backs last year. Someone needs to step up and take control as Rashad Jennings and Shane Vereen have the inside track but rotating will not work to establish a solid run game. On defence, the Giants have been going to work signing a number of big names to try to upgrade the team right away. On the line, they ignored the good season by Robert Ayers letting him go and signing Olivier Vernon to add to Jason Pierre-Paul. The addition of Damon Harrison also boosts the front line in what seems like a much better group. At linebacker, the Giants went with a different strategy in training camp as they signed a number of linebackers looking to find the best one. They settled with Devon Kennard, Kelvin Sheppard, and Johnathan Casillas to fill out the spot. None are necessarily game breakers but they are all getting a shot. In the secondary, the Giants have a solid group led by Antonio Rodgers-Cromartie with new addition Janoris Jenkins while rookie Eli Apple should help in case either goes down. The Giants have an improved defence which makes them a better team but how much can change for an underachieving team without any real shake-up on the sidelines?

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The Philadelphia Eagles are a team that have tried everything to get them out of the slump they are riding right now. Their latest was to hire the high-profile college coach Chip Kelly to help them change things around. The hiring of Kelly was a good one in 2013 as his first year brought the Eagles to the playoffs while his second kept them at 11 wins although they just missed the playoffs. His promotion to GM is what sunk him though as he took over control of the team and the Eagles only managed seven wins. As a result, the Eagles decided to change things again and fired Kelly bringing in Kansas City offensive coordinator Doug Pederson. Now the Eagles enter another rebuild as they got rid of many of the big names that Kelly had brought in and hope to hit the reset with a smarter build. That all starts at quarterback where the Eagles went all-in on their first round draft pick, Carson Wentz. That was made known when the Eagles traded Sam Bradford leaving Wentz as the Week 1 starter. Wentz will have a big jump from Division I-FCS to the NFL and he has little time to adjust which is certain to lead to some hiccups. He will have a young group around him too as the top receiver for him is Jordan Matthews who enters his third year while Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff hope to develop into big targets. The Eagles will have experience in the backfield with Ryan Mathews and Darren Sproles likely splitting time and trying to take some pressure off of the rookie quarterback. On defence, the Eagles will be switching systems to a 4-3 which might suit their personnel better. Fletcher Cox should transition easily as the defensive tackle while Connor Barwin and Brandon Graham will move from linebacker to their original positions at end. In the second level, the Eagles will hope for a fully healthy season from sophomore Jordan Hicks who looked good in his rookie season but had that year cut short. The secondary, new addition Leodis McKelvin should help them improve a terrible pass defence that will need to improve if they want to compete. The defence seems to be better with smart signings that will help the team improve. What is more concerning is the youth on offence as all have great potential but not much is known until the games begin. It will be the difference for an Eagles turnaround as they will need their young offensive players to come through in a big way. If that can happen they will be at the top of the division but depending on young players is always a big risk because they are so unpredictable when making the jump to the NFL.

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Everything seemed to be turning around for Washington when they made a massive deal during the 2012 NFL Draft. They traded away a number of picks in order to select Robert Griffin III to solve their QB issues that they have been dealing with for years. In his rookie year, he brought new life to the team earning his first Pro Bowl appearance and winning Rookie of the Year. In that great year though he hurt his ACL and was unable to play in the playoffs while he recovered. He struggled to find his way back to the starter role and with a coaching change came a new regime that never seemed to like RGIII and despite him trying to return he always seemed to be fighting the idea that he wasn’t good enough in the pocket. Last year that came to a head when Griffin was sat in place of Kirk Cousins and lost his job quickly when Cousins began to take over. RGIII is gone now and Cousins is the full-time starter as they hope to find their way to the top of the division for another year. Cousins proved to be good last year but many wonder if that was just a one-year fluke as they see if he can do it again. He will have help to get there though as DeSean Jackson hopes to avoid injury and be a constant target alongside Pierre Garcon who was one of Cousins’ favourite targets. The backfield is a bit unknown as Alfred Morris is gone with sophomore Matt Jones taking over and little known about him. The defence will see a lot of changes from last year and the most come at the line where the three starters are all gone from last year. That will put more pressure on Ricky Jean-Francois Kedric Golson and Chris Baker to provide the all-important pass rush. Of course, a lot of that pass rush will fall on Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith who are both proven pass rushers now. The biggest addition is in the secondary though were Josh Norman takes over at corner after emerging as one of the best in the league with Carolina last season. Whether he can meet the high expectations that came with his new contract is a massive question for this team in 2016. If he comes through the top receiver on every team is covered giving Bashaud Breeland the ability to cover secondary choices which he has shown he can do. The defence could be an improved group with Norman in place but they still need some work while the offence still has some questions to figure out. If Cousins can come through again this year they could be on their way to the top of the division again this year.

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Prediction:
The east is once again a division where there is a lot more question than answers as the battle for the division could be interesting. It seems like the Giants are not the ones to challenge though as they made a big change without really making a big change. That could mean they still need to figure things out before they can put themselves in the division hunt again. The Cowboys could have been up near the top as they had so many stars returning from injury. When Romo went down in the preseason the hopes of this team went down with him as too many questions are left without him in the lineup. The battle might come down to Philadelphia and Washington as they seem like the two teams who have figured out more than everyone else. For Philadelphia getting rid of the big names and making smart moves was great but a rookie QB will keep them out of the playoffs. Washington will make it in as they already have a good enough team and the additions they made will give them a better chance to win back to back division titles.

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