Monday, August 1, 2016

2016 NFC East Preview

Eli Manning will lead the Giants out of the NFC East and into the playoffs

With NFL training camps starting around the League, now seems like an ideal time to get your fandom in shape and keep your sports reputation pristine at your next saunter to a PokemonGo  gym. The Sports Shop will preview each NFL division, replete with predictions from the rest of the crew from the show. 

This post will focus on the teams of the NFC East, what they’ve done in the offseason, and what to expect of them this season.

Last Year’s Winner: Washington Football Team


Record Last Season: 9-7 (Division Winner)
Key Acquisition(s): Josh Norman, Josh Doctson (draft)
Key Loss(es): Alfred Morris, Robert Griffin III, Terrence Knighton, Junior Galette (injury)

A year after stunning nearly everyone and winning the division, Washington will still be a large question mark going into the 2016-2017 season.  While the past few years have featured plenty of controversy at the quarterback position, the team desperately needed to address a secondary that routinely ranked in the bottom third in the League in touchdowns allowed the past three seasons.
To address their persistent issues in the back of their defense, they scooped cornerback Josh Norman out of Free Agency. Norman becoming available was a shock to most around the League, but was perfect for a team in need of stability at the position.  Norman is 28 years old and is coming off his best season.  He instantly makes their secondary better with his ball-hawking skills (a preposterous stat? it was more advantageous to throw the ball away than to throw to Norman’s man last year). He’ll be a welcomed addition considering Washington ranked 21st in interceptions last year.  Washington also picked up Safety Su’a Cravens out of USC in the second round of the draft. He’ll play immediately as their dime linebacker, essentially a tweener position that will allow him to play in space on obvious passing downs. They followed the Cravens pick with the selection of Kendall Fuller, a DB out of Virginia Tech.

Kirk Cousins will be the number 1 QB headed into the season (USATSI)

The offense will be fascinating to watch, as Kirk Cousins comes into the season as the starting QB for the first time in his career.  He was Franchise Tagged and essentially has a year to prove he’s the future of the position for Washington.  He’ll have a plethora of talented options in the passing game to buttress his bid for permanence in the Nation’s capital. In addition to DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon, Jamison Crowder’s emergence means that Washington will have one of the best WR corps in the League (to say nothing of 1st round draft pick Josh Docston, who will begin his career on the Physically Unable to Perform list) .  Additionally Jordan Reed, who started the most games of his career last season, will look to make an impact from the TE position. Alfred Morris has moved to the rival Cowboys, which perhaps would be a bigger issue had Washington not ranked 30th in yards per attempt.

Prediction:  The team addressed its most pressing need with the commitment to the secondary in the draft and free agency. There is still the matter of the poor showing at the running back position, but perhaps having a deadly receiving corps will help alleviate defenses’ aggressiveness attacking of Washington’s running backs.

This season will come down to whether Cousins has improved. He didn’t beat a single team with a winning record last season.  It was good enough to win the division last season. But it won’t be this year. They’ll have a shot at a Wildcard berth, but won’t repeat as NFC East champion.  

Philadelphia Eagles

Record Last Season: (7-9)
Key Acquisition(s): Chase Daniels
Key Loss(es): Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, DeMarco Murray, Walter Thurmond, Chip Kelly (coach)

Last season was the last of the Chip Kelly era was entertaining only if you resided outside of Philadelphia. After shipping out LeSean McCoy and DeSean Jackson (under some extreme inauspicious conditions) and letting Jeremy Maclin walk, a 7-9 season just wasn’t going to cut it.  After an overtime win against the Cowboys brought the Eagles to 4-4, the squad never climbed back to .500, dropping two out of their last three games and missing out on the playoffs.
Many of the people Kelly brought in as head of player personnel have been jettisoned to make room for the new coach, Doug Pederson, and returning head of player personnel (from the Andy Reid era) Howie Roseman. With the large amount of upheaval on the roster, and a new guy calling the shots, it will be a surprise to everyone exactly what the team will look like.  One thing is clear, they will huddle, and be more traditional with their play counts—a constant point of contention under Kelly, even with his early offensive success.

The defense was an absolute mess last season. Whatever they thought they were getting in the acquisitions of Alonso and Maxwell soon proved to be a fallacy.  The team ranked 28th in rushing yards per attempt, 31st in passing touchdowns allowed, and 30th in first downs allowed per game.  Almost out of necessity, the defense will be better because…how could it be worse?

Prediction: This will be a season of change.  Keep in mind, while Sam Bradford will start the season at QB, number 2 overall pick arson Wentz will certainly be in the wings—and I’d be surprised if we don’t see him or Daniels at some point this season as the starter. Don’t expect the Eagles to improve in a competitive division, as they will miss the playoffs yet again.

Dallas Cowboys

Record Last Season: (4-12)
Key Acquisition(s): Cedric Thornton, Alfred Morris, Ezekiel Elliott (Draft)
Key Loss(es):  Greg Hardy

The team lost its starting quarterback, and number one Wide Receiver to disastrous (and predictably poor) results.  Watching Kellen Moore,  Brandon Weeden, and Matt Cassel struggle to be even mediocre in Tony Romo’s stead was extremely difficult last season. Even with 36 year-old Romo coming off a third collarbone injury, Dallas has only managed to bring in Dak Prescott from Mississippi State to compete for a backup position. Thankfully Romo will be asked to shoulder less of the load, as the majority of the line is back and Elliott (the highest rated running back in the draft) should bolster the running back corps significantly.  While he is a rookie, everyone is expecting big things from Elliott.  It’s impossible to ascertain any significance from the numbers they put up last season on this side of the ball because of the team’s key injuries so early in the season.

Elliott may be a rookie, but big things will immediately be expected from the OSU RB

The defense has been a hodgepodge of talented-yet-troubled players. The Greg Hardy experiment was a disaster. Ronaldo McClain will miss time due to suspension, as will DeMarcus Lawrence, and Randy Gregory.  Nearly all of those players were brought in to help a struggling pass rush that ended up ranked 25th in the League in sacks. They were decent enough against the run considering how often they found themselves down significantly in games (six of their losses were by 10 or more points). Despite the rash of injuries to the offensive side of the ball last season, the real question will be on defense—something that they attempted to address in the draft.  Three of the team’s first four picks were on the defensive side of the ball, and all were in the front seven. Pressuring the ball consistently will be key for any shot at a successful season.

Prediction: I’m a sucker for teams that can run the ball with defiance—who see the defense stacked against it and still hand the ball off to their back. Romo is older, but having him as a second option (have I somehow neglected to mention one of the best WRs in football, Dez Bryant?) will be glorious. They’ll compete for the division title, and will likely take the Wildcard.

NY Giants

Record Last Season:  (6-10)
Key Acquisition(s): Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins,
Key Loss(es):  Prince Amukamara, Jon Beason (retired), Reuben Randle, Brandon Meriweather

The Giants were no stranger to injury last season. Victor Cruz missed another year with a lower body injury. The dream of a Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr. WR corps may finally be on the precipice of occurring. Certainly Eli Manning will appreciate the additional target, but he’s been quietly very good the past couple of years, despite the lack of team success. He is one of five guys to throw for 60 TDs over the past two seasons.  Another year under Head Coach Ben McAdoo and Manning will almost certainly continue his dynamic play; they were first in the League in passing touchdowns and 6th in points per game.  If Cruz can get back healthy, this offense will be stellar.

As good as the offense was, even it couldn’t pull this team out of the nosedive of the second half of the season.  The Giants dropped six of their last seven games in large part due to their inability to stop the pass.  They were dead last in pass yards allowed per game, and they gave up 31 passing touchdowns; bad enough to be ranked 25th in the League. The injuries piled up in the secondary, and eventually the team was pulling guys off the free agency pile to play significant snaps.

Prediction: This team had an awful run of injuries, it could happen again (I mean, it is football), but I’m betting that if that defense is even mediocre that the team will be the best in the division. I’ve got the Giants taking the NFC East.

Rest of the crew predictions:

Erroll Reese: NY Giants
Michael Shelton: Dallas
L Dub: Dallas

K Mac: Washington

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