2018 NFL Preview: NFC East

nfc-eastIt has been one of the most dysfunctional divisions in recent memory as the NFC East is a division full of teams with constant high expectations and a lot of eyeballs on them.

Every team in the east is under a microscope and when that microscope comes in the form of some of the biggest brands in football things can get a little weird.

The Dallas Cowboys have been known as America’s Team for years and remain one of the most valuable sports franchises in the world.

A team worth $4.8 billion has done a lot of marketing to make themselves one of the few globally recognized franchises in the world.

With that comes a lot of people watching what they can do and that brings more pressure than almost any other team.

They are not just beholden to fans in Dallas or even around Texas, they are one of the few teams that have fans from everywhere.

They have a lot of people watching and the creator of the monster that is that cowboy star expects to win.

Jerry Jones didn’t create one of the most recognizable brands to have that brand lose games and so he is often heavily involved in how the team is run.

That can lead to a lot of friction as Jones usually has the final say on just about everything to do with the Cowboys.

He has made some questionable decisions and the latest, released Pro Bowl receiver Dez Bryant, is another head-scratcher.

The Cowboys are expected to win Super Bowls and if they don’t things tend to get a little heated in the Lonestar state.

They aren’t the only ones who are under a massive microscope in the division though as the New York Giants are a part of the media capital of the world.

They have taken the focus far beyond the Jets and are constantly in the papers throughout New York.

There is nothing that can be done in secret as private spats between players turn very public very quickly.

It was a big reason why the Giants struggled throughout the year as locker room issues were made public while every move that certain players made was analyzed beyond normal.

In Maryland, Washington’s team is never quite out of hot water thanks to the nickname controversy that still boils.

That seems to have sunk into their management as the team continues to make strange decisions that don’t seem to be making them any better.football-sidebar

They continue to deal with issues on and off of the field while making some strange personnel decisions along the way.

In Philadelphia, the dysfunction has always come from the fans who are among the most brutally honest in the league.

They are a group that won’t stand for losing but have had teams fail to do much in recent years.

That changed last year when they were finally able to celebrate a championship with a Super Bowl win.

That won’t stop the fans from booing should the team struggle out of the gate as a bigger standard has been set and the Eagles are expected to meet that standard.

The East has been a division full of owners taking control, in-fighting, personnel decisions and rowdy fans.

It has led to some strange things in recent years and as a new season approaches there always seems to be a guarantees that a big story will come out of the east.

Whether it be the nickname controversy again in Washington, more fighting in the locker room for the Giants, Jones making more detrimental decisions or the Super Bowl champions getting booed.

Something is going to happen in this division and there is no way to know what it will be as the media is squarely focused on this division.

With the Super Bowl champions now residing in the east that scrutiny will only get bigger throughout the new season.

Can the Eagles repeat or will anyone be able to sort their own issues out and challenge the best team in the league?

dallas_cowboys

It has been a bit of a theme for the Dallas Cowboys over the last decade, they are a talented team with a group that can challenge some of the best in the league. Yet year after year they fall short of expectations either missing the playoffs entirely or losing early in the playoffs. It was supposed to change last year with a new young corps looking like they could lead this team to at least the conference championship and possibly the dalcowboysSuper Bowl. They weren’t bad finishing the season 9-7 but it wasn’t enough and for the Cowboys missing the playoffs is just as bad as a losing season. Heading into a new season the Cowboys are hoping to avoid the controversy that acted as a distraction a year ago and get back to playing football. It is a little tough when they made one of the most surprising decisions of the offseason cutting their leading receiver, Dez Bryant. That leaves a big gap that new signee Allen Hurns and returning receivers Terrence Edwards and Cole Beasley to work together to fill the gap.  Prescott was one of the guys that were supposed to bring the Cowboys to the promise land but after a slight step back in 2017 he looked less like that guy although it could just be a sophomore slump. Although Prescott needs to get back to his potential he will have real support in the backfield with Ezekiel Elliott finally over the suspension drama and ready to play a full season. Elliott is the driving force behind the offence and without the distraction of fighting the NFL off of the field, he should be focused and ready to lead the league in rushing again. On defence, the Cowboys were happy to see Demarcus Lawrence breakout for 14.5sacks after years of drafted pass rushers hoping that they could get that production. Lawrence now leads this rush alongside Tyrone Crawford and David Irving who added 4 and seven sacks respectively. In the linebacking corps, Sean Lee needs to stay healthy because this team runs through him and without him they just don’t seem to be the same. Alongside Jaylon Smith the group is good with range from sideline to sideline. The Cowboys seem to constantly change their secondary and never seem quite too happy with their group. They completely redid it against this year moving Byron Jones to corner and giving Xavier Woods and Chidobe Awuzie their first chance at the starting roles. The Cowboys once again have the talent to compete and they should be a bit better without the off-field issues they dealt with a year ago. That should help them to the playoffs but beyond that, they have yet to prove they can win.

new_york_giants

It seemed like everything was headed in the right direction for the Giants before the 2017 season as a rebuilt offence joined a rebuilt defence to make a potentially great team. After 2016 marked a massive improvement on the defensive side the Giants went to work providing more weapons on offence in order to take the next step in 2017. It all came apart though as the rebuild was not enough to make up for friction in the locker nygiantsroom. With a new group in charge, the Giants are trying to move past the issues from a year ago and begin to compete right now. They will look to Eli Manning to lead them once again as he returns after one of the toughest years of his career. He will try to shake that off under new head coach Pat Shurmur and get back to his reliable self. A big part of that return to being normal is the return of Odell Beckham Jr. The emotional firecracker has been the biggest part of this passing offence but with an injury last year they didn’t have his breakout ability. With him back from ankle surgery the Giants should take a step forward with the fact that he at least takes focus opening up Sterling Shepard and tight end Evan Engram. Teams may have to worry about another game breaker as the Giants bad season came with the reward of drafting Saquon Barkley. Widely considered the biggest talent in the draft, Barkley did a bit of everything for Penn State and could be the running back they have been looking for while also providing a great outlet for the passing game. The rebuild on the defence seemed to only last a year as a group that led the Giants to the playoffs in 2016 fell apart both on and off of the field in 2017. The secondary was the biggest focus two years ago but when players began in-fighting it all came apart. Landon Collins and Eli Apple remain on the team after a very public spat and the Giants are hoping that they are over their issues and can return to their 2016 selves. The linebacking corps got an upgrade with the signing of Alec Ogletree, giving them a legitimate leader in the middle that they have been lacking for years. Up front, a change in scheme left Jason Pierre-Paul out while B.J Hill and Dalvin Tomlinson take over on the ends. In the new scheme, Olivier Vernon will move outside opposite Kareem Hunt to provide pressure. The talent is there to compete but this team was sunk by bad attitudes that weren’t dealt with properly by the head coach. A new coach hopes to solve that issue but if they don’t another bad season is in the cards and rebuild is on the way.

philadelphia_eagles

Nobody saw it coming a year ago as the Eagles were expected to be getting better but were not likely going to be at a playoff level in 2017. They were adding new talent and had a QB that was just beginning to get used to the league leaving a lot of questions. Then they went on a run through the league with everyone assuming that it was going to end but it never did. Winning all but one of their first 12 games set the Eagles up for a serious phieaglesrun through the playoffs and then their MVP, Carson Wentz went down seemingly ending the hopes of a dream season. Nick Foles took over and continued the run through as the Eagles found their way to the Super Bowl beating the Patriots and breaking one of the longest championship droughts for any city in North America. They head into a new season hoping that the success can continue but will have to overcome that dreaded Super Bowl hangover that has hit almost every Super Bowl winning team. They will hope that the return of Carson Wentz from injuries keeps this team hungry as Wentz proved to be one of the best young QBs in the league last year but never got the same experience of the Super Bowl run after tearing his ACL. He will look to get that experience this year and has a lot of the same talent around him to make a run. Zach Ertz remains one of the best targets on the team while Alshon Jeffrey and new addition Mike Wallace give the Eagles two big targets on the outside that could let them push the field, even more, this year. LeGarrette Blount is gone but Jay Ajayi has already proven to be a great back and with the focus could pursue 1,000 yards this year. The biggest part of this team though has been the offensive line which returns almost entirely intact and as one of the best groups in the league, they should drive this offence. On the other side of the ball, the line is a big part of the success as well with Fletcher Cox and Brandon Graham terrorizing the right side of the offensive line. Behind that line is not necessarily the most fearsome group but Jordan Hicks can disguise issues when he is on the field. The secondary will see some changes as Patrick Robinson is gone after a career-year leaving Ronald Darby to fill in alongside Jalen Mills and stalwarts Rodney McLeod and Malcolm Jenkins. The Super Bowl champion shave seen a number of changes but they might not be bad enough to see a setback. They have the ability to make another run and could avoid that hangover but many teams have tried and failed before.

washington_redskins

Washington has been a team that always seems to have uncertainty surrounding it with distractions regarding their nickname and teams that seem good but not good enough. They finished last year without a playoff appearance after a few years of being in the hunt but coming up short and for the team, it was a chance to change things up. With a lack of playoff success in recent years, they finally made the decision to make a change washingtonletting Kirk Cousins walk to Minnesota and bringing in a QB with a familiar past in Alex Smith. He has been named as a game manager for years and in Kansas City experienced a lot of the same issues as Cousins. Smith gets his chance to prove that he is more than a game manager by being successful on another team and guiding them to success in the playoffs. The team didn’t do a lot to help him out though as they are depending on the development of players to provide those targets for Smith. Jordan Reid can become the best target for Smith but he struggles to stay on the field while Josh Doctson and Jamison Crowder are being given the chance to be the true starters and need to step up. The backfield has always been a strange one for Washington as they seem to find a new leading rusher every couple of years only to see them take a step back. Last year Chris Thompson took over until he broke his leg leaving Samaje Perine to take over and lead the team. Thompson is back to take that staring role while it seems like Rob Kelley and Samaje Perine fill in as backups. The defence needed a lot of help in the middle after ranking last in run defence and they are hoping that rookie Da’Ron Payne is the answer at the nose tackle position. The defence runs through Ryan Kerrigan but as the only true star, a lot of pressure and focus falls on his shoulders. That should change with the addition of Zach Brown in the centre who can take some focus of his own. Although the pass defence was improved a year ago with Josh Norman covering top receivers, Washington needed improvements but with a few losses and not many replacements they didn’t do much for the group. Quinton Dunbar will take over opposite Norman while Montae Nicholson and D.J. Swearinger Jr. patrol the middle in a group that is not necessarily improved. Washington is taking a big bet on Smith leading this team but without the improvements around them they might see an identical performance to the QB they let go. They need more on both sides of the ball and without it, they won’t be making the playoffs this year.

Prediction:
The NFC East has been defined by dysfunction over the last few years and the pattern seems to be continuing to come through in the new season. It can make things interesting as that dysfunction has been somewhat an asset in the past for certain teams but is rarely all that great for a long time. The team with the least dysfunction, at least for right now, is the Eagles and as a result, they will likely take another division crown. They may not be as good as they were a year ago but they will be good enough to win this division. The Cowboys could challenge them but there is too much that is unknown right now about some of their biggest stars. If all perform up to their standard they will fight for the top spot and most likely earn a wild card but if not they will miss once again. The Giants were the picture of dysfunction a year ago and they might not be entirely over it leaving them out of the picture while Washington has done little to improve their standing among the rest of the teams in the division.

nfceast-prediction

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