The NFC East is a constant battlefield with each season coming down to the bitter end with the Week 17 victor earning the divisional crown. Last year was no exception.
The Washington Redskins managed to hold their own against the Dallas Cowboys in a chaotic match between arch-rivals, but will they be able to duplicate the results for the 2013 season, or will the Tony Romo and company get revenge? Perhaps the New York Giants will make another run at the Super Bowl. Or will the Philadelphia Eagles, behind first year coach Chip Kelly, finally have a dream team?
Predictions for the 2013 season:
Washington Redskins (10-6):After a few rocky seasons, Mike Shanahan has finally found a staff, roster and playbook to fit his vision. Next of kin offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, tweaked the offensive scheme to better use the arrival of Robert Griffin III and showcases his strengths. On the flip side, holes in the secondary showed the once proud defense was vulnerable at best.
Although the Redskins won their first division title since 1999, the defense ranked 30th against the pass. Conversely, a defensive line minus starter Adam Carriker yielded just 95.8 yards per game. Through the Draft, the Redskins managed to select three defensive backs that could help shore up the secondary, but are still unproven. As for the front line, Brian Orakpo says he is 100 percent healthy which should help free up Ryan Kerrigan and give quarterbacks headaches. But can Orakpo stay healthy the whole season?
The offense was the story line across the NFL with two rookies, Griffin and Alfred Morris running all over the field to average 169.3 yards a game, which puts the Redskins as 1st overall. Despite being an efficient passer, RGIII ranked only 20th in passing yards and to keep out of harms way, may have to rely on his arm more so than his legs. Threats like Pierre Garcon and Fred Davis, back from injury, can help utilize the pass as a more serious threat.
The biggest concern going into the season will be RGIII’s knee and if he can stay healthy all season then the Redskins will be a serious threat. It won’t all be on him though, the defensive backs need to worry about coverage and not always trying to make a play on the ball.
Dallas Cowboys (10-6): A transitioning stage for the Cowboys is underway with Bill Callahan, offensive coordinator, set to make the play calls on offense and not head coach, Jason Garrett. Also, Rob Ryan was relieved as defensive coordinator and Monte Kiffin from USC was brought on board, which may need some time to adjust.
The 2012 season for the Cowboys defense was beaten up, ranking 24th in points allowed, 19th against the pass and 22nd against the run. The addition of a few players to help shore up the defense plus Morris Claiborne has a year under his belt could prove helpful in strengthening the defense. DeMarcus Ware is always a threat and if the new system can generate gaps for him, expect an increase in sacks.
On the other side of the ball, Tony Romo, despite critics, is in complete control and has several new weapons and existing ones coming back to full health. Dez Bryant and Miles Austin already have proven themselves and addition of Terrance Williams can create some separation from defenses. Ranked 3rd in passing yards which is repeatable but they need to adjust their run game which was an abysmal 31st in the league.
If the defense can step up their side of the game with the new system under Kiffin and establish a running game with DeMarco Murray, then winning 10 games in obtainable. Only if Jerry Jones could just step back and trust more in the personnel that he appointed.
New York Giants (8-8): Tom Coughlin retains his coordinators and most of his roster that have proven to be Super Bowl Champions. At the helm is Eli Manning, a proven winning quarterback, whose experience under pressure can be the difference between a win and a lost. However, that can either be a positive or a negative, depending on whose willing to help him on the field.
On offense, the biggest issue is if Hakeem Nicks can stay healthy the whole season. If on the field, he’s a serious threat boasting multiple 1,000+ yards seasons and giving Victor Cruz a chance for his third straight 1,000+ yard season. On the ground, losing Ahmad Bradshaw is a minor setback but David Wilson could come out as a true threat, time will tell.
Normally, the Giants are known for their stout defense but last season they ranked 28th against the pass and 25th against the run, not normal for the Giants. Jason Pierre-Paul underwent back surgery which makes him miss preseason but a player of his caliber should come back barring any setbacks. Despite the Giants having quick defensive backs, receivers were able to get separation and create some big plays.
The Giants are generally an average team throughout the regular season but they’ve proven in the past that they can hit a hot streak at just the right time. The issue being, if a divisional opponent has a substantial lead already established, can the Giants catch up?
Philadelphia Eagles (6-10): The Eagles are in a minor rebuilding phase, installing a new head coach, Chip Kelly, who plans on overhauling the offense to a familiar style as he had in Oregon. The quarterback position is still an unknown which could disrupt rhythm in the offense if they need to adjust mid-season.
Despite ironing out a few kinks, LeSean McCoy should get more touches which could cause headaches to defense with his explosive speed and ability to cut. Add in DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin’s speed running routes, Eagles offense can still be a hassle for defenses. They ranked 13th in both passing yards and running yards despite going 4-12 last season. However, their defense was a little more suspect.
Against the run, they ranked 23rd giving up on average, 126.3 yards a game. In 2013, they will be facing some of the leagues best running backs and without a real strong front 7 that’s proven themselves, it could be an issue. The backfield is stronger with the addition of Kenny Phillips, ranking already 9th overall last season.
An improvement from last year but Michael Vick is known for being injured and then it leaves either Nick Foles or rookie Matt Barkley which can cause some growing pains. A work in progress but headed in the right direction that could pay off sooner than later.