August 20, 2012

Winning the Division: Preseason Predictions For the Tough NFC East

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Being the completely unbiased Philadelphia fan that I am, I am predicting that the Eagles will reclaim the NFC East throne after a disappointing regular season for the entire division — I know the Giants won the Super Bowl, but I don’t want to talk about it. After a season of enduring the “Dream Team” and its nightmare of a season, the Eagles made quality acquisitions during the off-season to offset some major flaws.

One of the largest holes in the Eagles’ defense was their opponents’ ability to run up the middle. Last year the Eagles gave up 4.9 yards per attempt — ranking them second to last in the NFL. They addressed this by getting Demeco Ryans, a middle linebacker from the Texans, for an absolute steal, as well as Fletcher Cox, a defensive tackle from Mississippi, both of whom will help to plug up the middle. However, the concern that Ryan might not return to the level that he played at before the Achilles tendon issue should be minimal because he would still constitute an upgrade from the committee of MLBs they offered last year.

Also by getting rid of Asante Samuel, despite getting terrible returns for him, the Eagles can go back to the press coverage that both Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie are better at. Adding Brandon Boykins, a cornerback from Georgia, through the draft provides a potential slot corner and kick returner who can take some of the responsibility from Desean Jackson. Last year the Eagles looked good on paper and churned out a disappointing 8-8 season, but with these upgrades and the ability to work through the preseason, the Eagles look to be in a better place and will hopefully be able to ride the momentum they gained at the end of last year after going 4-1.

I think the Giants will come in second place in the division due to some deficiencies on their team, the biggest of which is their offensive line. The Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins were first, seventh and tenth in sack totals last year with 50, 42 and 41 sacks, respectively. The weakness of the offensive line will also be evident in the Giants’ running game. With newly drafted running back David Wilson and oft-injured running back Ahmad Bradshaw, this weak offensive line should impede both aspects of the offense and will be tested early and often. Not to mention the fact that the Giants have the toughest schedule in the NFL and it seems unlikely that they will be able to win the division.

I’m predicting that the Cowboys will come in third this year. Although Tony Romo is always criticized, I do not think that he is entirely the problem. Although he is inconsistent late in games and is not an elite quarterback, I think the lack of a running game and the Cowboys’ awful passing defense last year were the major reasons for their late season collapse. Although they upgraded their passing defense with Brandon Carr and by drafting Morris Claiborne, their lack of a bona fide safety is still a problem.

The fact that the Cowboys’ offensive line is weak — in addition to up and comer Tyron Smith — will allow Tony Romo to be shaken and lose confidence. This weakness will also diminish Demarco Murray’s effectiveness especially since he is coming back from an ankle injury. Pair that up with Dez Bryant’s recent issues, Jason Witten’s recent spleen injury and the lack of a solid third receiver and I do not think that they will be able to pull it together to make a run at the NFC east.

Not surprisingly, I’m predicting the Redskins will come in last. However, they do have a ton of upsides, starting with the drafting of Robert Griffen III. He is an incredible athlete and leader. He is smart, fast and has a cannon for an arm. The only knocks on him are his size and his durability, which are valid concerns in the NFL. However, if he can stay healthy, it looks like he is poised to be a top quarterback in the league. His wide receiving corps is not impressive, but I am sure the team will address that in future drafts to accommodate him. Also with rising stars on defense such as Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, I think they have the ability to become more of a threat. For now, though, they do not look overly imposing and will experience some growing pains.

This is still only the preseason and like the Eagles last season, these picks could fail to live up to the hype, but I’m looking forward to great competition in a continuously tough division.

Original Author: Zach Gayner