clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

NFL Division Preview: NFC East

New, comment

The NFC East is far from the best division in football, but the mediocrity in the division will make it very entertaining and one of the toughest division to predict in 2014.

If you buy something from an SB Nation link, Vox Media may earn a commission. See our ethics statement.

Howard Smith-USA TODAY Sports

While the NFC East is far from the best division in football, the mediocrity in this division makes it one of the toughest to predict in 2014. Will the Giants/Eli Manning show up in 2014? Can the Eagles build on their 2013 success despite a lackluster defense? Can Romo stay healthy? Can Jason Garrett actually imitate a real NFL coach? Can Jay Gruden be a successful NFL coach? Can RG3 recover his 2012 form? Lots of questions in the NFC East will make it an exciting division to watch.

1) Philadelphia

2014 Prediction: 10-6

2013 Record: 10-6, 1st Place

Confidence in Pick: 60%

Key Losses:

  • DeSean Jackson, WR (Wash)
  • Michael Vick, QB (NYJ)
  • Jason Avant, WR (Car)
  • Patrick Chung, SS (NE)
  • Bryce Brown, RB (Buf)

Key Additions:

  • Mark Sanchez, QB (NYJ) -back-up
  • Malcolm Jenkins, FS (NO) - should start
  • Darren Sproles, RB (NO) - should start in specialized role behind/with RB LeSean McCoy
  • Marcus Smith, DE (1st Rd Louisville)
  • Jordan Matthews, WR (2nd Rd Vandy)

Coaching Changes:

  • None of note

Reasons for Optimism:

Chip Kelly - I misjudged the Eagles in 2013 and did not see Chip Kelly having the success he had. I learned my lesson. While his defense (29th) needs to improve, the offense is enough to win in a lackluster division.

LeSean McCoy - For those that think Chip Kelly's rapid-paced offense is not conducive for RBs, think again. In 2013 LeSean McCoy led the NFL in yards (1,607) and was the only RB to average 100+ YPG (100.4). In fact, McCoy had 268 more yards than the next closest RB (Forte - 1,339) and averaged 10.0 more YPG than the second place RB (Adrian Peterson). All told, McCoy had 2,146 all-purpose yards, 11 TDs and 52 receptions. Sproles may cut into some of these numbers, but the fact remains that McCoy is one of the most dangerous weapons in football.

Nick Foles - Another thing I didn't see coming in 2013 was the success of Nick Foles (64% comp., 2,891 yds, 27 TDs and just 2 INTS). While I wouldn't expect Foles to continue at a 13.5/1 TD/INT rate, Foles seems to fit well with Kelly's scheme and with the way Kelly runs the offense, the QB should have good numbers and low INTs. 30 TDs and 10 INTs may be reasonable for Foles in 2014.

Darren Sproles- Giving Chip Kelly a toy like Sproles almost seems unfair, especially since he already has McCoy. In his three years with the Saints, Sproles averaged 77 receptions, 660 yards receiving, 356 yards rushing and 7 TDs. While it remains to be seen how Kelly will use Sproles, it is safe to say he will be used and will make the Eagles' offense more dynamic. I would expect a number of looks with Sproles and McCoy in the backfield at the same time, something that no defense is built to stop.

Return of Maclin - Maclin has never had 1,000 yards or 70+ catches in a season, but he has never played in Chip Kelly's system. DeSean Jackson, a WR who apparently didn't "fit" in Kelly's system had 82 receptions for 1,332 yards and 9 TDs. Maclin should take over the No. 1 role and Jackson's productivity needs to go somewhere; it's safe to think most of it will go to Maclin.

Loss Of DeSean Jackson - I never liked DeSean Jackson... and it appears as though Chip Kelly feels the same. The guy has talent, but he is small, has a bad attitude and is the antithesis of a "team player." Though he produced in Kelly's system, he either didn't fit what Kelly wanted or his attitude wasn't something Kelly was willing to put up with (or both). It is rare that a team outright releases a WR after an 82 catch 1,332 yard season, but by doing so, the Eagles feel as though they are a better team, and I agree.

Reasons to be Cautious:

Chip Kelly - Chip Kelly proved me wrong in 2013. His offense works in the NFL and works well. However, if he plans on making a deep run in January, his defense (29th) has to improve.

The Defense - In 2013, the Eagles defense was bad - 29th overall, 32nd pass, 10th rush - and I don't think they have done much to improve it. I am not enamored by their first round pick, Marcus Smith and believe there were much better players available. If the 2014 Eagles defense puts forth a similar effort as the 2013 defense, the Eagles are likely to see a similar result - an early playoff exit.

Nick Foles Experience - Nick Foles had an amazing 2013 and no doubt proved that he can be a starter in this league, but let's not get carried away, Nick Foles has started 16 NFL games in a season exactly zero times and in seven starts during 2012, Foles had 6 TDs to 5 INTs. I think the real Nick Foles is somewhere between the 2012 and 2013 Nick Foles.

WRs - While I like Maclin and like the move to release Jackson, Maclin has yet to prove he is a No. 1 WR and outside of Riley Cooper's 47 receptions, the remaining WRs on the 2014 Eagles roster caught a total of six passes for 81 yards in 2013.

Overall:

There was no team in 2013 that I misjudged more than the Eagles and Chip Kelly. While I still think the Eagles are a middle of the pack team with a terrible defense, I believe they are the class of a weak NFC East and that is all that is needed to make the playoffs.

2) New York Giants

2014 Prediction: 9-7

2013 Record: 7-9, 3rd Place

Confidence in Pick: 60%

Key Losses:

  • David Wilson, RB (retired)
  • Andre Brown, RB (Hou)
  • Hakeem Nicks, WR (Ind)
  • Brandon Myers, TE (TB)
  • Justin Tuck, DE (Oak)
  • Keith Rivers, LB (Buf)
  • Aaron Ross, CB (Bal)
  • Ryan Mundy, S (Chi)
  • Josh Freeman, QB
  • David Diehl, OT (retired)
  • David Baas, C

Key Additions:

  • Odell Beckham, Jr, WR (1st Rd, LSU) - should start
  • Rashad Jennings, RB (Oak) - should start
  • Mario Manningham, WR (SF) - roster depth
  • Trindon Holliday, WR (Den) - roster depth
  • Kellen Davis, TE (Sea) - should start at blocking TE
  • Geoff Schwartz, OT (KC) - should start
  • J.D. Walton, C (Wash) - should start
  • Robert Ayers, DE (Den) - roster depth
  • Jameel McClain, ILB (Bal) - should start
  • Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, CB (Den) - should start
  • Quintin Demps, KR/S (KC) - should start
  • Andre Williams, RB (4th Rd, BC)

Coaching Changes:

  • Fired - Kevin Gilbride, OC
  • Hired - Ben McAdoo, OC (QB coach, GB)

Reasons for Optimism:

Eli Manning - I don't believe there exists a two-time Super Bowl winning QB that gets less respect and credit than Eli Manning. Sure, he can be wildly inconsistent and frustrating (see all of 2013), but the guy is good and has those two Super Bowl rings to prove it. RG3 may be the most exciting QB in this division, but lets not forget that Eli is still the best QB in the NFC East and is the reason the Giants should always be considered a legitimate contender in the division.

2013 Finish - The downfall of the 2013 Giants was their start - you cannot recover from a 0-6 start. However, the Giants nearly did it by finishing 7-3 down the stretch and were arguably the best team in the division by week 17.

WRs - I liked Hakeem Nicks, and despite his disappearance in 2013, his loss could hurt. However, I really like Odell Beckham Jr and think his speed and big play ability will open up the Giants offense in 2014 and will help provide a safety valve for Manning - therefore less INTs.

Running Backs -While anyone would that argue that Eli Manning had a terrible 2013, you also can't argue that the lack of a run game had a huge impact on Manning. Manning has been his best with a strong run game to compliment the passing attack. In 2013 the Giants did not have a single RB go over 500 yards and their most effective back (4.1 YPC) was 32-year-old Brandon Jacobs. 2 RBs (McCoy - 1,607 and Forte - 1,339) ended the year with more rushing yards than the Giants entire team (1,332). While Rashad Jennings may not be a top back, Jennings, along with Peyton Hillis and Andre Williams make up a huge improvement to the Giants running game and in turn, will make Manning better.

Tom Coughlin - He rubs a lot of players the wrong way, but he has 2 Super Bowl rings. Coughlin has more Super Bowl rings (2) than the rest of the coaches in the NFC East have playoff wins with their current teams (0). Advantage: Coughlin and the Giants.

Reasons to be Cautious:

They are the Giants - Is there any team in the NFL more unpredictable than the Giants since Coughlin took over? It seems every year they go through a four game stretch where they look like the best team in the NFL. And follow it up with a four game stretch where they look like the worst team in NFL. This inconsistency cost them the playoffs in 2012 and 2013 and has cost them a top seed every time they have gone to the playoffs.

O-Line - The Giants tied for the 12th best O-line when it came to sacks surrendered in 2013, but that doesn't tell the true story. They still gave up 40 sacks - or 2.5/game - which is a lot of sacks and let's not forget the fact that not a single RB they blocked for was able to reach 500 yards in 2013. They were 29th in rushing and according to PFF, they were the 28th ranked line in 2013.

Defense - I was very surprised to see that the Giants defense was ranked eighth in 2013 (in terms of yards) but I guess when your QB turns the ball over 31 times, the other team is bound to have some short drives. I like the pickups of DRC and Ayers and think the Giants defense will be better in 2014. But, this is still a defense that gave up 30+ points six times in 2013 and 23+ points nine times.

Loss of Tuck - The loss of Tuck and his 11.0 sacks will most certainly hurt a team that only had 34.0 sacks as a team. However, they picked up Ayers who had 5.5 sacks in 2013 and if JPP is healthy, he can certainly replace Tuck's sack numbers.

Overall:

Like the 2013 Giants, the 2014 Giants team does not impress me, but that doesn't mean much - the Giants didn't impress me either year they won the Super Bowl. The fact remains, Coughlin and Eli have more Super Bowl rings than the rest of the coaches and QBs in the NFC East have playoff wins with their current team (zero playoff wins for coaches; one playoff win for Romo). Advantage Coughlin, Eli and the Giants.

3) Washington

2014 Prediction: 6-10

2013 Record: 3-13, 4th Place

Confidence in Pick: 50%

Key Losses:

  • Josh Morgan, WR (Chi)
  • J.D. Walton, C (NYG)
  • Darryl Tapp, LB (Det)
  • Josh Wilson, CB (Atl)
  • Adam Carriker, DE

Key Additions:

  • Colt McCoy, QB (SF) - roster depth
  • Andre Roberts, WR (AZ)
  • DeSean Jackson, WR (Phi) - should start
  • Shawn Lauvao, G (Cle) - should start
  • Mike McGlynn, G (Ind) - roster depth
  • Jason Hatcher, DT (Dal) - should start
  • Darryl Sharpton, LB (Hou) - should start
  • Ryan Clark, S (Pitt) - should start
  • Trent Murphy, OLB (2nd Rd, Stanford)
  • Morgan Moses, OT (2nd Rd, VA)

Key Suspensions

  • Fred Davis, TE (suspended indefinitely by the NFL)

Coaching Changes:

  • Fired - Mike Shanahan, HC
  • Fired - Kyle Shanahan, OC (OC, Cle)
  • Hired - Jay Gruden, HC (OC, Cin)
  • Hired - Sean McVay, OC (TE Coach, Wash)

Reasons for Optimism:

RG3 - He took the league by storm in 2012 and looked like anything but a rookie. He is definitely one of the most exciting players in the NFL and if healthy, could lead this team back to the playoffs. He has (or at least had) the rare combination of running ability and passing accuracy which makes playing against him so difficult.

Alfred Morris - Morris is a legit RB that followed up a 1,613 yards and 13 TD rookie campaign with 1,275 yards and 7 TDs in his second year. Despite these numbers, Morris seems to fly under a lot of radars.

Offensive Weapons - I have never been sold on Pierre Garcon as a No. 1, but after his 2013 season (113 rec, 1,346 yards 5 TDs), I think I need to admit I was wrong. With a solid RB in Morris, a solid receiving RB in Helu, a young stud TE (Reed), the addition of DeSean Jackson and an offensive minded coach (Gruden), the Redskins will be a matchup problem for defenses.

Firing of the Shanahan - While he does have 2 Super Bowls rings, those came with John Elway at QB. In four seasons with Elway, Shanahan was 47-17 (.734) and in his 16 seasons without Elway, Shanahan was 123-121 (.504). Hardly great numbers. In fact, in his last six seasons as a coach, Shanahan had just one winning season (2012: 10-6), four losing seasons and three fourth place finishes. Though I am skeptical about Gruden as head coach, I think his scheme and coaching style is at least better than that of Shanahan.

Reasons to be Cautious:

Jay Gruden - As I mentioned above, I am not in the camp that thinks Gruden should be a head coach. In fact, watching his game calling in Cincinnati made me believe he was a borderline coordinator. Gruden definitely knows offense, but oftentimes overthinks the game. I recall the Bengals 2011 playoff loss where A.J. Green had zero targets in the first half because Gruden's game plan was to get Jermaine Gresham involved because he thought the Bengals had an advantage in that matchup.

RG3 - Along with the health concerns, I also question his decision making. Regardless of the 2012 scheme, RG3 did a fair amount of putting himself in harm's way in 2012. Then you have the odd and immature 2013 preseason squabble in the media regarding Shanahan's decision not to play him. There seemed to be either a lack of understanding, lack of communication, or lack of respect (or all of the above) between Shanahan and RG3. And even though Shanahan is no longer in Washington, that is not a character trait you like to see, especially from a young (and mostly unproven) QB. RG3 also saw his completion percentage and YPA decrease from 2012 to 2013 from 65.6 percent and 8.14 YPA to 60.1 percent and 7.02 YPA - significant drops. He also saw his INTS go from five in 2012 to 12 in 2013. Lastly, outside of the improbable seven game win streak to end 2012, RG3's record is 6-17 (including the playoff loss).

DeSean Jackson - DeSean Jackson is a tremendous talent with incredible explosiveness and big play ability. However, he is a diva receiver (putting it nicely), has a terrible attitude and believes his numbers and goals are more important than team goals. I don't like that on the field or in the locker room - and apparently it was bad enough that Chip Kelly and the Eagles didn't even trade him, they felt cutting him and getting nothing was the route to go... and that says a lot.

Defense - While the 2013 Redskins defense was ranked a mediocre 18th, they lack playmakers  and have a very vulnerable secondary in a division that offers some of the better passing attacks in the league.  Any secondary that feels the need to start DeAngelo Hall is in trouble - especially if that secondary will be tasked with covering the likes of Bryant, Witten, Cruz, Beckham Jr, Nelson and Cobb. They better reach the QB - something they only did 36 times in 2013 (t-21st) - because if not, receivers are likely to be running open in this secondary and that is a recipe for disaster when guys like Rodgers, Romo and Manning are throwing the ball.

Overall:

I think 2012 was a perfect storm for the Redskins. The Redskins needed breakout years from RG3 and Morris, combined with the Giants and Cowboys underperforming just to get to 10-6. And, I don't think they are as bad as they were in 2013 (3-13). I think they are somewhere in between, but I don't see them winning more than they lose.

4) Dallas

2014 Prediction: 5-11

2013 Record: 8-8, 2nd Place

Confidence in Pick: 40%

Key Losses:

  • DeMarcus Ware, DE/OLB (Den)
  • Corvey Irvin, DT (Det)
  • Jarius Wynn, DE (Buf)
  • Jason Hatcher, DT (Wash)
  • Ernie Sims, ILB (AZ)
  • Miles Austin, WR (Cle)
  • Phil Costa, C (Ind)
  • Everett Brown, DE

Key Additions:

  • Zack Martin, OT (1st Rd, ND)- should start
  • Demarcus Lawrence, OLB (2nd Rd, Boise St)
  • Brandon Weeden, QB (Cle) -back-up QB
  • Terrell McClain, DT (Hou) - will compete for starting job
  • Henry Melton, DT (Chi) - should start
  • Jeremy Mincey, DE (Den) - should start
  • Rolando McClain, ILB (Bal)

Key Injuries/Suspensions:

  • Sean Lee, LB (knee)
  • Orlando Scandrick (4 game suspension - PED)

Coaching Changes:

  • Hired - Scott Linehan, OC (OC, Det)
  • Hired - Rod Marinelli, DC (DL Coach, Dal)
  • Re-assigned - Bill Callahan, OC (OL Coach, Dal)
  • Re-assigned - Lane Kiffin, DC (Asst HC-Def, Dal)

Reasons for Optimism:

Offensive Talent - If talent won games, the Cowboys wouldn't have any offensive problems. They have talent. Dez Bryant and Jason Witten are each top five to 10 at their respective positions. DeMarco Murray, when healthy (a big if), is a solid RB. And Tony Romo, despite all the criticism he gets, is the type of dual threat QB that makes all of his weapons even more dangerous.

Tony Romo - Romo takes a lot of heat, and a lot of it is well deserved. However, Romo is a very good QB and a lot of his issues are a result of the terrible coaching decisions/game plans he has operated in. Any offensive playbook that has left out the pages containing the run plays is not going to help a QB. Romo has only had 1 losing season in his career and that was a season in which, due to injury, he only started 6 games (1-5). Romo has a career completion percentage of 64.6 percent and a career 2/1 TD/Int ratio (208/101). In his last six healthy seasons, Romo has averaged 29.7 TDs, 4,176 yards and only 13.5 INTs.

Reasons to be Cautious:

Tony Romo - Despite his big numbers, he seems to find a way to make big mistakes in the most critical situations and it would behoove Dallas, and Romo, for the coaches to call a run play every now and again. My other concern with Romo in 2014 is whether his surgically repaired back can hold up over an NFL season. If it can't, the Cowboys don't stand a chance.

Dez Bryant - The guy has all the physical tools to be great and his numbers have been good, but I don't think there is a player in the NFL whom I trust less than Bryant. The guy has a track record of terrible decisions (on and off the field) and untimely drops. If things go wrong in Dallas, Bryant will likely blow up and drag the team down with him.

Jason Garrett - There is not a coach in the NFL less deserving of his position than Jason Garrett. He was Jerry Jones' golden boy and was handed the job in 2011. Since then, he hasn't done anything but underperform. Despite having a talented roster, Garrett has a career 29-27 record (three 8-8 seasons and a 5-3 fill in situation) and exactly zero post season appearances. As difficult as it may be to believe, Garrett's game management and sideline demeanor make Marvin Lewis look like Vince Lombardi. Garrett must have something on Jones, because rather than fire him, Jones decided to keep Garrett but take away his play calling ability... which resulted in another 8-8 season. The players don't respect Garrett because they know he doesn't call the shots (Jones does).

Defense, Defense, Defense - Re-assigning the 95 year old Monte Kiffin and bringing in Rod Marinelli will not fix this defense. The Cowboys were the worst defense in the NFL in 2013 and lost their two best players in the offseason (Ware - released, Lee - ACL). And their next best player, CB Orlando Scandrick, will be suspended the first four games of the season. If the Cowboys don't defend their worst defense in the NFL title in 2014 it will be a surprise. This defense will be historically bad.

Jerry Jones - Is there a worse owner in sports? The guy doesn't know what he is doing, yet refuses to hire people who do. In 1989, Jones bought the Cowboys and made the only good decision in his career - hiring Jimmy Johnson. His ego then fired Johnson in 1993 and Jones' football incompetence began to show. In the 18 years since winning the 1995 Super Bowl, the Cowboys have been churning coaches and have gone 148-148 since - this includes their 2-6 playoff record. Until Jones relinquishes power, the Cowboys are destined to be a shiny and glamorous football team that makes money but doesn't win games.

Schedule - If the defense wasn't a big enough concern, the Cowboys have a brutal schedule.

Overall:

With this defense, this coaching staff, this schedule and Romo's health concerns, this is a 4-5 win team at best. Jerry Jones will try and sell fans otherwise - maybe even call me personally to berate me - but the truth of the matter is that the Cowboys are in a bad position and declining. Romo is 34 and his backup is Brandon Weeden. Witten is 32 with no worthwhile backup. The defense has zero play makers. And the coaching staff is second tier at best. The Cowboys are entering what looks to be a very forgettable period in their franchise history... at least their fans will have a nice stadium to watch the decline.

**Thanks to our friends at Fantasy Football Impact for the in depth team-by-team offseason moves.