2017 NFL Preview: NFC East

nfc-eastThe NFC East is an interesting division as they have rarely produced teams that can be considered powerhouses, especially in recent years.

What is even stranger is that despite their inability to produce powerhouses the NFC East has produced teams that surprise everyone and make their way deep into the playoffs.

It is not a usual thing as most division will produce one team that is far and above the rest of the teams in the division.

Those teams move to the top of their division and eventually find their way to the playoffs where they are expected to make a run.

Underdogs are always the most fun to cheer about as a team with seemingly no chance can come out of nowhere to make an impact on the league.

They are the teams that nobody is watching or paying attention to yet they use that as motivation to surprise everyone.

It has a very specific effect on teams as when they are not watched they can go into themselves and use it as a way to perform above what is expected.

Underdogs have a built in way of motivating themselves as there is nothing more powerful for a team than when they can believe that the world is against them.

It bonds a team together and gives them a different purpose to play for and when a team finds a purpose they can all play for they are much more powerful.

So when a team makes the playoffs and things get more important an underdog gets, even more, motivation to surprise everyone.

The NFC East is full of underdogs as most teams in the division have that sense of being a blue-collar team.

That is a team that isn’t necessarily the flashiest or out there but rather a team that just gets to work.

They often reflect the city they are a representing and in the east, there are plenty of blue collar cities.

The Philadelphia Eagles are the fullest representation of that workman attitude as the city represents that exactly.

In Washington, the name of the game has always been that type of attitude with some of their most popular players being the offensive lineman that they nicknamed the Hogs in the 1980s.

The Giants and the Cowboys are slightly different from the rest as the Giants are considered more of the money team in New York.

The Dallas Cowboys couldn’t be any different from a workman’s team as they are still one of the biggest brands in the game.football-sidebar

There is still this attitude in the entire division that to win the division there will need to be some of that workman’s attitude.

No team in the division is good enough to simply roll through the rest of the division with pure talent, at least not right now.

Instead, they have to grind and find their way to the top and although that might be changing in the near future the grind is going to happen again.

The Dallas Cowboys are the team that could change everything and they could change it very soon.

They have always been one of the more flashy teams in the league making big moves and taking some of the bigger name talent.

Now they have two of the best young players in the game and seem to be building another one of those classic Dallas teams.

The Giants are reloaded and looking to make another run at the top but so are the Eagles and Washington.

The Cowboys are the future of this division with their new talent but issues off of the field have left them exposed for the 2017 season.

That means that those workmen teams are ready to take their swing and be that underdog that could take a win.

The Cowboys are that team that doesn’t quite fit into the division but they are the team that will be one of the best in the league in a very short time.

That is if they can get over their issues and if not the underdogs will take over for another year and set themselves up for a surprising run.

dallas_cowboys

They have always been the flashiest team not only in the NFC East but in the league as America’s team has needed to keep up appearances. They like flashy things and for years they signed the flashiest players with not a lot of sustained success. That seemed to end in 2016 as the Cowboys finally took a massive step towards becoming a legitimate contender for the next few years. It came in the form of two rookie superstars that dal-statschanged the face of this team and with two rookies leading the way things were looking up for the future of this team. Then the off-season arrived and things began to take a turn for the worst as players began to leave for bigger paydays leaving the Cowboys with some big gaps on the team. It was just the beginning though as one of their young superstars began paying for his transgressions. In the summer of 2016, Ezekiel Elliott was accused of hitting his then girlfriend multiple times and causing some serious injuries. The NFL investigated for a year before handing down a six-game suspension which then led to Elliott suing the league and seeking a reduction in his suspension for a lack evidence. That is a situation that is up in the air although many believe his suspension will be reduced but despite that, the Cowboys will be without a massive part of their offence for some time. That leaves the running game in the hands of Darren McFadden for the until Elliott returns which isn’t terrible but Elliott was the engine for the offence and losing him for any time is not going to be good. It also puts more pressure on the Rookie of the Year, Dak Prescott who is the starter from the beginning of the year and on after being an emergency replacement last season. His top targets remain intact as Terrence Williams, Jason Witten and Dez Bryant are all big parts of this offence and all will be needed to help the rookie in his second year. On defence, the Cowboys might have some issues as they lost a number of key players in the off-season. Most of the losses came in the secondary where Morris Claiborne, Brandon Carr and Barry Church are all gone. Instead, they look to free agent signee, Nolan Carroll who will join Orlando Scandrick as two veterans in the defensive backfield. Sean Lee remains a leader at linebacker and is really one of the few defensive stars. Up front, there isn’t a lot as they struggle to get after the quarterback as the team looks to DeMarcus Lawrence and Tyrone Crawford are both expected to do more on the line. The Cowboys are a promising team but with some key losses on defence and offence, things might not go as smoothly as they did a year ago leaving the door open.

new_york_giants

For some, the Giants are running out of time to get back to the Super Bowl as Eli Manning does not have all of the time in the world. The fact is that despite the detractors Manning is still a good quarterback and with two Super Bowl rings he is clearly a QB that can win the big game. So it has been disappointing over the years to see the Giants waste the talent and not build the team they need to take the Super Bowl before the end of the nyg-statsManning era in New York. Last year they tried to change things up spending a lot of money to upgrade their defence and give the offence some support. That investment paid off as the Giants were able to get back to the playoffs and although it was short lived the commitment that they showed was well received. With a new season ahead the Giants looked to continue to add to the team in order to continue to develop into a legitimate contender once again. This year the big investment was an attempt to find another big target for Manning to use in the passing game. Although some talented receivers have come through the Giants and Manning has enjoyed their presence they have lacked that big target since Plaxico Burress was with the team. They looked to fix that with the signing of Brandon Marshall who is still one of the best receivers in the game when he can use his big body to bring down passes. He may have struggled recently but with quarterback issues on the Jets, he never could get comfortable. Now he will become a big target for Manning who won two Super Bowls using the endzone fade with Burress. Marshall and Odell Beckham Jr. should form some great options and should spread out the defence to open things up. The running game is in the hands of Paul Perkins who broke out last year and will hope to provide balance. The issues on the line could sink all of these plans though as they continue to shuffle young lineman to find the right combination. On defence, the Giants enjoyed a resurgence last year thanks to a lot of spent money on new players. Damon Harrison handles the run from the inside of the line while Jason Pierre-Paul remains a good rush end, especially when paired with Olivier Vernon. BJ Goodson anchors a good linebacking group but they are not the strength of this defence. That is instead the secondary where the Giants got a great year from Janoris Jenkins, Landon Collins and Eli Apple and expect much of the same out of the group this year. The spending paid off a year ago as the Giants went from missing the playoffs to a wild card team. This year it might work even better as the Cowboys might be exposed giving a retooled Giants offence and their top ten defence a chance to take the division title.

philadelphia_eagles

The Eagles were the rulers of this team for a long time until they lost their starting quarterback that led them for years and never found a replacement. For years they were left without a top level talent under centre and the team suffered for it as they could never quite put things together to make a run at the Super Bowl. That all seemed to change in 2016 when the Eagles drafted Carson Wentz and the Division-I FCS star phi-statsdeveloped quickly into the pivot they needed. Nobody expected Wentz to be the starter right away as it was likely going to take a few years before he was ready. Then he beat out everyone for the starter role and proved to be one of the best rookie quarterbacks in the league. After his breakout year, the Eagles decided that they are going to build around Wentz in hopes that it can help them compete again. They spent big on getting top free agent Alshon Jeffrey who will give Wentz a true #1 target in the passing game. They also went out to sign Torrey Smith who will be a deep threat like he has been on every team he has played for while the safety valve of Zach Ertz returns. In the backfield, the Eagles saw a lot of inconsistency at running back last year and they hope to change that with another big signing. Bringing in LeGarrette Blount gives the Eagles a big body in the backfield that can take most of the touches. Darren Sproles will take the role of the change of pace back that will likely make him more successful as a part of this offence. On defence, the Eagles still have some holes that they never went out to fix this off-season. There aren’t many holes on the line as Fletcher Cox still leads the group and their top pick, Derek Barnett is expected to get some time behind Vinny Curry. At the second level, the Eagles are struggling to put together a great group to surround Jordan Hicks as the rest of the group all have some issues. Hicks is the bright spot though as he is turning into a dynamic playmaker in the middle of the defence. The biggest concern is in the secondary where the only move with any immediate impact was signing Patrick Robinson. He won’t likely be a solution for the future though as they look to two draft picks for that in Rasul Douglas and Sidney Jones. Neither of those rookies are expected to do much this year though and so the teams worst unit remains much the same from a year ago. The Eagles are making moves to help Wentz but instead of focusing on their biggest issues on defence they went to get offensive talent and although it will turn out well for the offence they won’t have enough to make the playoffs this year.

washington_redskins

For Washington, things are consistently inconsistent in the off-season as dysfunction seems to be the name of the game for the team. There really shouldn’t be the dysfunction that they deal with as the team is actually performing at a great level right now. With Kirk Cousins becoming a legitimate top NFL QB, Washington is now a team to watch even if their 2016 season wasn’t exactly what they wanted. Staying the course doesn’t seem to wsh-statsbe in the gameplan though as Washington went through an offseason that they didn’t need. First came the firing of GM Scott McCloughan, who reportedly had relapsed after battling with alcoholism for years. The move came just before the draft leaving the front office in disarray right before their biggest day of the year. Then came the changes to the roster and the battles to try to keep the team together that had been so successful over the past few years. The biggest priority in the off-season was to get Kirk Cousins back and after using the franchise tag he will return to the team and continue to lead the offence. It is going to be an offence that is very much changed though as Cousins no longer has his two favourite targets with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon both leaving in the offseason. That will take away over 2,000 yards of offence from the passing game which is not going to be easy to replace. Bringing in Terrelle Pryor will help while they need Josh Doctson to step up in his second year while Jordan Reed remains one of the top tight ends in the game. At running back Washington will look to Rob Kelley to continue his development after putting up 700 yards in his first season in the league. On defence, Washington needed to get better after the defensive side of the ball became the main issue last year. They focused on the defence in the draft and some of those draft picks will have an impact this year. That includes Jonathan Allen who will provide a much-needed boost to the defensive line opposite Ziggy Hood. The addition of Tracy McGee in the middle also helps solidify the line for the new season. In the linebacking corps, Ryan Kerrigan still counts among the best pass rushers in the league although the rest of the group isn’t up to the same level. The secondary is led by the biggest free agent acquisition of 2016 I Josh Norman. He remains a top corner in the league and certainly reduces the field as many teams avoid his side of the field. With DJ Swearinger and the hopeful resurgence of Bashaud Breeland, the group is a good one. Washington may have had an unsteady offseason but the talent is still on the team and despite some major losses they can still make a run although the top of the division is crowded.

Prediction:
There is opportunity in the division as the team that was supposed to take over might have to go through an off year. The Dallas Cowboys have taken a step back after losing a lot of defensive players and potentially their star running back. That will allow the New York Giants who have concentrated on their issues in the offseason and look like the best team in the division. The Cowboys are still good and will likely make the playoffs but won’t win the division. Washington could take advantage of the Cowboys too as they might be able to take the second spot but will come up just short for the second year in a row. Meanwhile, in Philadelphia, the issues that they have on defence are far from solved and although they have a lot of offensive talent they won’t be able to make an impact finishing last in the division.

nfce-prediction

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