Washington came out of nowhere to surprise everyone last year by winning the NFC East. Dallas was coming off a 12-win season in 2014; the Eagles were still believers in the Chip Kelly system — and they’d just posted 2 straight 10-win seasons; and the Giants with Eli Manning at QB and Tom Coughlin coaching should never be dismissed easily. So yes, when the Redskins walked away with the division crown last year, it was quite a shock.
It seems 2016 may be a two horse race with the Eagles clearly in rebuilding mode, as new head coach Doug Pederson attempts to undo many of Chip Kelly’s doings, and the Cowboys dealing with the reality of starting a rookie QB, as Tony Romo rehabs from a broken back. The ‘Skins and the G-Men have offenses that could light up the scoreboard most Sundays. Here’s a closer look at each team in the East.
With the addition of deep threat Josh Doctson, the Redskins passing offense will rank in the top 2 in the NFC.
Kirk Cousins ran that Washington offense with great ease and effectiveness a year ago. A solid running
game, led by Matt Jones, and the addition of former TCU WR Josh Doctson should serve to only make Cousins’s job that much easier. Improvements on the defensive end — namely the signing of cornerback Josh Norman from Carolina — will help to give the Redskins some balance and some added intensity on that side of the ball.
Doctson proved at TCU he can be a deep threat with good hands. He should fit in nicely in the NFC East, where explosive, playmaking receivers are aplenty. With him in the fold, Washington should have an offense that is a little more unpredictable — which will likely give the below average defenses in the division fits.
New York Giants
Despite a defense ranked in the bottom 10 of the NFL and a run game in the lower 1/3, the Giants will win the NFC East.
No one should question the Giants offense. (At least they shouldn’t question the passing game.) Eli Manning, as stats show, has gotten very comfortable in Ben McAdoo’s offense. He has athletic wide receivers who will make plays on the ball. And with the Giants defense being what it is (that’s my polite way of saying it’s not good), Eli is likely to find himself needing to chuck the ball around and score a lot of points week-to-week.
Don’t expect the Giants to run the ball too much — and that’s not an immediate recipe for disaster in today’s NFL. Look no further than what the Patriots do each year on the ground — it’s not exactly impressing people. Other teams have also proven that a potent air attack can make up for a weak ground game — Saints in 2009 when they won the Super Bowl, the Colts when Peyton won his first ring, the Packers every year.
The old belief of controlling the clock by running the ball and stopping the run can be balled up and thrown right out the window this season in the NFC East. And no team will be better at that than the Giants.
Dez Bryant will not reach 1,000 yards in receiving this year; and Ezekiel Elliott won’t be healthy enough to play in 10 games.
Before Tony Romo went down in the preseason, I thought Dallas had a very solid team — but that was assuming the key pieces (Romo, Dez Bryant, Ezekiel Elliott, and the offensive line) stayed on the field, healthy. Now, expect Dez’s numbers to fall (I’m tempted to say he won’t reach 750 yards), but also expect the Cowboys to try and run Ezekiel Elliott all day long. You have to remember, this is just a kid, who isn’t really used to playing more than 13 games in a season and has never faced the caliber of defender he is about to take on this year in the NFL.
The offensive line is one of the best in the NFL, but that won’t help Zeke, if he’s getting 25 to 30 touches a game. That’s too many and he’s likely to feel it. But what other option do the Cowboys really have? Plus, Jerry Jones did not take the former Buckeye number 4 overall last May to gingerly nurse him along. He’s going to play and play a lot because he might be their best hope at winning this season. And if he’s actually able to stay healthy and withstand the punishment, Elliott very well could have Dallas in playoff contention in December and January. Personally, I have my doubts.
The Eagles would have been better served to have selected Ezekiel Elliott rather than Carson Wentz.
Philly has a lot of weak spots on their roster. New head coach Doug Pederson will spend most of his first season at the helm auctioning players and evaluating his talent. Will Ryan Mathews turn into his Jamaal Charles? Mathews will have the whole season to prove whether he can be or not. Is Zach Ertz finally going to live up to all the hype he’s received over the last year or two? And is Carson Wentz Philadelphia’s quarterback of the present and the future? Peterson will find out.
Look for the Eagles to play spoiler down the stretch. Don’t mix up my words — I don’t expect them to contend nor do I expect the first 10 or so weeks to be very fruitful for Philly fans. But towards the end, I think Pederson will have an idea of what he’s got and that should translate into some better play on the field in the final month of the season.
Feedback is always welcome through the website in the comments box or on my Twitter feed — @brian22goodwin.