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2015 Division Preview: NFC East

The NFC East, while not the best division in football, should be one of the most competitive and entertaining in 2015. Can the Cowboys hold on to the top spot? Are the Eagles poised for a big season? Can the Giants return to Super Bowl form? And can the Redskins finish anywhere but last?

James Lang-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 2015. Which Giants team and which version of Eli Manning will show up in 2015? Can the Eagles build on their 2014 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 bounce back, or will he even play? Lots of questions in the NFC East - which will make this an exciting division to watch.

1) Philadelphia Eagles

2015 Prediction: 11-5

2014 Record: 10-6, 2nd Place

Confidence in Pick: 70%

Why the win the division:

Chip Kelly - Regardless of how you feel about Chip Kelly - personally or his philosophy/scheme - one thing is certain, he knows how to run a high powered offense that can put up points. The Eagles, with Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez at quarterback, were 5th in yards per game and 3rd in points per game (behind only the Packers and Broncos - teams lead by Aaron Rodgers and Peyton Manning). Sam Bradford may not be Rodgers or Manning, but he is better than Foles and Sanchez...who combined for 27 touchdown passes and 4,581 yards in 2014.

Running game - I understand why the Eagles traded LeSean McCoy, but I don't understand why they traded him only to replace him with DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews. But, regardless, a running attack that features Murray, Mathews and Darren Sproles will be dangerous. Most don't realize how friendly Kelly's offense is to running backs. In 2014, the Eagles ranked 9th in rushing yards per game (124.5) and McCoy had his two best seasons (in terms of rushing yards) during his two years will Kelly. Over the course of 2013 and 2014, McCoy ran for a total of 2,926 yards and 14 touchdowns. Regardless of how the carries are split, having three talented runners in a run friendly offense will keep the backs healthy and the rushing yards per game high.

Reasons they may not win the division:

Chip Kelly - Chip Kelly has proven a lot of people wrong in terms of how successful his offense could be in the NFL. However, he has yet to prove he can implement a defense that can allow his offense to make a deep postseason run.

The Defense - Since Kelly was hired in 2013, the Eagles defense has been towards the bottom of the league and part of the reason is due to his offensive philosophy. We have never seen an offense as fast paced as Kelly's Eagles, and while entertaining to watch and great for fantasy football, it is terrible for a defense. When a fast paced offense like Kelly's go three and out, a tired defense is put in a terrible position and forced to go back out on the field after only a few minutes of rest. This happens too often for the Eagles to be considered a legit Super Bowl contender, and is a large reason why Kelly has yet to win a playoff game despite going 20-12 his first two seasons in Philadelphia.

Their glass quarterback - I love the signing of Sam Bradford and if Kelly can get  27 touchdown passes and 4,581 yards out of Nick Foles and Mark Sanchez, I can only imagine what he can get out of Bradford...if Bradford can stay healthy. Bradford has torn his left ACL in each of the last two seasons and his durability is a concern, especially for an offense which subjects its' quarterback to more hits as a result of running so many plays.

Pure arrogance - Players don't have to like a coach in order for the team to be successful, but they have to respect the coach and listening to the stories from players who have left the Eagles, via trade or their own recognizance, their clearly is a disconnect (to say the least) between players and coach and it seems to be vast. When the team is winning, this may not be an issue. If the team goes on a losing streak, this may cause an implosion.

Overall:

I see the Eagles and their high powered offense as the best team in this division, but as currently constructed, I can't see them making a run in the playoffs. Like they have been the last two years, the Eagles will be a lot of fun to watch and will help many fantasy football teams along the way.

2) Dallas Cowboys

2015 Prediction: 9-7

2014 Record: 12-4, 1st Place

Confidence in Pick: 50%

How they win the division:

Controlling the clock with a powerful run game and an opportunistic passing attack - The Cowboys had the best offensive line in football in 2014, had the top running back in terms of yards and ranked 3rd in terms of yards per attempt. While they lost DeMarco Murray in free agency, I believe Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle can carry the load behind this line. If the Cowboys continue running the ball the way they did in 2014, it will open up big play opportunities for a very capable passing attack.

Tony Romo takes a step into the upper echelon of NFL quarterbacks - Few quarterbacks are criticized more than Tony Romo, and in my opinion, most of the criticism is unfair. Since becoming a starter in 2006, Romo is 75-48, has a completion percentage over 65%, a quarterback rating of 97.6 and 242 touchdowns to just 110 interceptions. In other words, Romo is a very good QB and the ability to extend plays with his legs. In his seven healthy seasons, Romo has averaged over 30 touchdowns and less than 13 interceptions for a TD/INT ratio of more than 2/1. If Romo can limit the costly mistakes in crucial situations - something he has struggled with - this can be a legit Super Bowl contender.

Why they won't win the division:

Tony Romo - Despite the praise I heaped on Romo above, he still has a reputation (which is fair) of finding a way to make big mistakes in the most critical situations. Dallas finally limited this in 2014 by establishing (and sticking with) a power run game. However, if Jason Garrett decides to get trigger happy again in 2015 like he has most of his career, we could see the return of the old Tony Romo and the return of the .500 Cowboys.

Questions at the running back position - While I liked that the Cowboys didn't break the bank for Murray and I think McFadden and Randle can carry the load, McFadden has never started more than 13 games in his seven year career, has surpassed 1,000 yards rushing just once and hasn't averaged more than 3.4 yards per carry since 2011. Randle, on the other hand, has as many arrests in the past two years (2) as he has NFL starts and you just don't know when he is going to find the need to shoplift underwear again. The Cowboys are concerned enough about their running back position that they traded a conditional draft pick for Seahawks backup Christine Michael.

Jason Garrett - Despite his 12-4 finish last year, in my opinion, there is not a coach in the NFL less deserving of his position than Jason Garrett. He was Jerry Jones' golden boy and handed the job in 2011 and has managed just one winning season in four years, despite having one of the more talented rosters in the NFL, and if not for an awful call last year in the wild card game, he would still have zero postseason wins. As difficult as it may be to believe, Garrett's game management and sideline demeanor make Marvin Lewis look like Vince Lombardi. In my opinion, the players don't respect Garrett because they know he doesn't call the shots (Jones does), and if things start going south for the Cowboys, the locker room will fall apart.

A poor secondary - The Cowboys had one of the worst secondaries in the NFL in 2014 and now they are without their best player (Orlando Scandrick) for the entire season. If the Cowboys cannot get to the quarterback, the secondary will be exposed.

Lack of dependable players - The Cowboys have three major contributing players on their team - Greg Hardy, Dez Bryant, Joseph Randle - who have been accused of domestic violence at least once. One of those players (Hardy), was also accused of threatening to kill his victim while tossing her on a bed of guns. One (Bryant), assaulted his own mom, and the other (Randle) also felt the need to steal cologne and underwear despite his NFL salary. They also have a rookie defensive end (Randy Gregory) - who they are expecting big things from - that has what appears to be a significant pot issue. These are not the type of players that can be counted on and a locker room full of these types of characters is a recipe for disaster.

Overall:

Many have the Cowboys as a Super Bowl contender and I disagree - I think they are a borderline playoff team and this one of my bold predictions. Yes, the Cowboys were one iffy call away from the NFC Championship, but let's not forget, if not for a terrible call, the Cowboys (and Garrett) would have had another year without a playoff win. In my opinion, there are too many unreliable players on this team, combine that with the loss of Murray and a poor coach, and I think the Cowboys take a few steps back in 2015.

3) New York Giants

2015 Prediction: 7-9

2014 Record: 6-10, 3rd Place

Confidence in Pick: 50%

How they win the division:

Eli Manning plays like a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback - 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 2013), but the guy is good and has those 2 Super Bowl rings to prove it. With Eli at quarterback, the Giants should always be considered a legitimate contender in the NFC East.

The running game helps the passing game - In 2014, the Giants ranked 23rd in rushing yards and only two teams had a worse yards per rush than the Giants 3.6. I like the additions of Shane Vereen and Rashad Jennings and if those two can establish a respective running attack, Manning becomes much more effective.

The defense learns to stop somebody -The 2014 Giants were 29th in terms of yards per game, 30th in terms of rushing and surrendered 25.0 points per game (22nd). If the defense can be average, the offense has the ability to carry this team to a division title.

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 team (1). Advantage: Coughlin and the Giants.

Why they won't win the division:

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 4 game stretch where they look like the best team in the NFL and follow it up with a 4 game stretch where they look like the worst team in NFL. This inconsistency has cost the Giants many opportunities at making the playoffs.

Eli Manning - It is so hard to wrap my head around Manning as he is so inconsistent. In three of his 11 seasons, Manning has thrown 20+ interceptions (including 27 in 2013) and he has averaged at least one interception per start in seven of his eleven seasons. Taking a look at the stats below, it appears Manning is much better in the playoffs than he is in the regular season:

Record

Winning %

Comp%

TD/INT Ratio

Rating

Regular Season Eli

91-76

.545

59.0

1.4

82.4

Playoff Eli

8-3

.727

61.5

2.1

89.3

However, his stark inconsistencies show up in the playoffs as well. If you break his playoff stats down, Manning has been to the playoffs five times, twice winning the Super Bowl. However, he has won zero games in his other three trips. In fact, in his two Super Bowl runs, Manning was 8-0 with 15 touchdowns and just two interceptions. In his other three trips to the playoffs, Manning is 0-3 with two touchdowns, six interceptions and a completion percentage below 60%. If Eli is the good Eli in 2015, the Giants could make a playoff push and contend for the division. If he plays like the bad Manning, this is a 5-7 win team.

Defense - The Giants will have a new defensive coordinator in 2015, but the 2014 Giants were 29th in terms of yards per game, 30th in terms of rushing and surrendered 25.0 points per game (22nd) and play in a division with Philadelphia and Dallas, two teams that can score with the best of them. I don't see enough defensive moves in the Giants offseason to lead me to believe this defense will be in the top half of the NFL.

Overall:

The 2015 Giants have some talent, but they don't 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 (2) than the rest of the coaches in the NFC East have playoff wins combined. As a result, I give the Giants a puncher's chance at winning the division.

4) Washington Redskins

2015 Prediction: 2-14

2014 Record: 4-12, 4th Place

Confidence in Pick: 60%

How they win the division:

A miracle - This is a team and franchise in disarray, filled mostly with below average or overpriced talent and coached by one of the worst coaches in the league. If everything goes right for the Redskins in 2015, I still can't see how this team could win the division.

Why they won't win the division:

They are the worst run franchise in the NFL - Dan Snyder is one of the worst owners in the NFL and sports as a whole. In the 16 years since Snyder took over the team in 1999, the Redskins have just four playoff appearances, zero playoff wins, an overall record of 108-148 (.422) and just one of their last seven seasons have ended with a record over .500.

Jay Gruden - As a Bengals fan that watched Gruden and his offense in Cincinnati, I was shocked that Gruden received a head coaching gig. 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 0 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. While I don't think any coach in Washington gets  the support/power they need to be successful (especially with the RG3 fiasco), I can't see Gruden turning this ship around.

RG3 saga - RG3 took the league by storm in 2012 and looked like anything but a rookie. Two short years later, he is the backup quarterback for a bad team and there have been rumors that he could be traded/released. That shows you just how far and fast this team (and RG3) have fallen. At this point, RG3 is nothing but a distraction to a bad team.

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 two years ago, they felt cutting him and getting nothing was the route to go...and that says a lot. Teams who have big time contributors with this sort of selfish mindset do not succeed.

Overall:

The front office is a mess. The head coach doesn't appear to have much control (on or off the field). The quarterback situation is a Sunday afternoon soap opera and the overall talent is marginal. Put those things together and you have a fourth place team and one of the worst teams in the league.

Final division analysis:

The NFC East is a solid division overall and will be competitive and highly entertaining to watch in 2015. I believe the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants all have the ability to win the division, but I think the Eagles have the inside track, followed by the Cowboys and the Giants.