Thursday 24 August 2017 / 07:24 AM

SEASON PREVIEW: NFC EAST

Our 2016-17 NFL Preview will highlight each division in the NFL, with an in-depth look at each team as we head into training camp and preseason football. We’ll give predictions and summaries of a season. We’ll also push out our first Power Rankings, as well as an early MVP preview and prediction. The next look of our preview is the NFC East, where I had to literally flip a coin to decide who I felt could win this division. Here are the predictions, in order of projected finish:

 

  1. New York Giants

Offense: While new head coach Ben McAdoo may have stepped into a tough situation, at least he stepped into the best of what he could on offense. The Giants feature Eli Manning, an elite-level quarterback who has two Super Bowls to his name. The receiving corps is deep, but a true number two isn’t readily available, with Victor Cruz struggling to stay healthy. But that can be looked over with Odell Beckham Jr. catching passes on the other side. The offensive line needs to improve, but the hope is that with a true starting running back, which McAdoo says the team will go with over the committee approach used last year, the Giants offense will settle in and again be one of the best in the NFL.

Defense: Well, it doesn’t get much worse than the Giants’ defense in 2015. The Giants were near the bottom in nearly every category, and struggled to do almost anything on the defensive side of the ball. I mean, Eli Manning threw six TDs in a game and still lost. Bu the Giants are looking to correct the issue, putting MASSIVE money into the defense and dedicating the draft to that side of the ball. The Giants will have their best defensive line since their 2011 Super Bowl, adding Damon Harrison and Olivier Vernon to line up with Jason Pierre-Paul. They also bolstered the secondary, drafting Eli Apple and brining in Janoris Jenkins. They also added veteran Leon Hall, who should help the secondary. While I’m not normally a fan of throwing money at an issue, there is a huge amount of talent on this defense, although they aren’t particularly deep.

Best Case: The Giants roll out to a solid start behind a defense that is finding itself, and an offense that is one of the top three in the league. Beckham stays healthy and puts up another 1000+ yard, 10+ TD year, and Sterling Shepherd establishes himself as another solid young receiver. The defense becomes a top-15 unit, and the Giants use a super manageable November and December schedule to win the East and roll to the NFC Championship.

Worst Case: The Giants get bit by some good offenses early in their schedule and the defense, having not had many snaps between them, comes apart. The offense struggles to keep pace as the running game never gets established. Eli shows signs of wear, and the Giants are dropped by the Redskins and Cowboys, and miss the postseason for another year.

How They’ll Finish: Look, this team isn’t a lock to win this division. I legitimately flip-flopped on the winner even as write this. But I like what NY has. The Giants have the pieces of a good defense, with great lineman and some good coverage corners. McAdoo finally has a scheme that looks to fit, and Eli Manning is as good as anyone with some great weapons around him. And seriously, have you seen their schedule?  By a razor’s edge, the Giants should be the favorite of this division.

  1. Washington Redskins

Offense: Well, Kirk Cousins was a pleasant surprise last season, turning into a great leader for Washington, and winning the battle with RGIII for the QB in Washington. There’s still a question as to whether Cousins in the long-term answer at QB, but he certainly looked good in 2015. He’s got a plethora of talent around him, with DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon at receiver, and a terrific young tight end in Jordan Reed. The offensive line is solid but not spectacular. The running game is a question mark, with Matt Jones getting the nod as the starting back, but that shouldn’t be much to be excited about . The passing game will the strong, but anything outside of that is yet to be seen.

Defense: For as exciting as the offense was last season, the defense was pretty bad. The Redskins made their efforts to improve on the defensive side of the ball, getting Josh Norman from Carolina in a huge coup. The Redskins now have on of the best corner duos in the NFL, with Bashaud Breeland and Norman, as well as DeAngelo Hall at safety. But Norman will also face a learning curve, as he’ll see a new defense in Washington and will face a challenge to prove himself without a great pass rush. But the line is a big question. Junior Galette will miss another season, which is crushing for a team that already didn’t have any pass rush. Now the burden will fall on Ryan Kerrigan and the safeties to create pressure to help the line.

Best Case: The Kirk Cousins “You like that?” Tour continues, with Cousins putting up solid numbers and cementing himself as the franchise QB. The defense improves, and the secondary is lethal. The Redskins lockup Romo and Manning and are able to pull out the division and take a trip to the NFC title game.

Worst Case: The wheels come off the wagon, with Cousins getting hit with the turnover bug again, and the running game never materializing. The defense struggles as Norman is exposed and the line can’t create pressure. The Redskins take a big step back in the much more solid division, going 7-9 and finishing third in the division.

How They’ll Finish: The loss of Galette hurts, and the Redskins still have a lot of questions. They are better from a talent standpoint, but the jury is still out on whether Cousins can handle the reigns consistently. I think they’ll contend for the division the whole way, but this has the feel of a borderline wild card team in an improved division.

  1. Dallas Cowboys

Offense: Dallas is massively improved on offense, and that’s simply because of what they are getting back. Tony Romo is back, along with Dez Bryant, for a team that went 4-12, but certainly didn’t feel that bad. They’ve brought in do-everything rookie Ezekiel Elliot to carry the torch in the backfield, and have a good compliment in Darren McFadden. Although I doubt Elliot will have much trouble, as the Cowboys have the best offensive line in football, anchored by Pro Bowlers Tyron Smith, Zack Martin, and Travis Frederick. But make no mistake, the whole thing rests on Romo. He has to stay healthy, as Dallas still has done nothing to improve their backup QB situation, featuring a squad that went 1-11 as starters last season. They need Romo if their doing anything this season.

Defense: The Cowboys were pretty average on defense, even for a team that was on the field a good bit without much support from the offense. They had virtually no pass rush, and they’ll struggle again this season as their top two, Randy Gregory and DeMarcus Lawrence, will both miss the first four games of the season. And reports are that Gregory may be suspended even longer.  The secondary is decent, but nothing to write home about as Orlando Scandrick has to stay healthy, and Morris Claiborne has yet to have the light come on consistently. But the biggest hit the Cowboys have taken is the suspension of Rolando McClain, who also hasn’t reported to training camp. The Cowboys have a massive uphill battle to climb on defense.

Best Case: The Cowboys stay healthy, and they take advantage of a manageable schedule. Romo and Bryant pick up where they left off, and Ezekiel Elliot turns into a young stud. The offense is the most prolific in the NFL, and the defense makes strides to improve under young pieces. The offense manages to put up enough points to keep pace with the opposing offenses, and the Cowboys steal the NFC East, and get a home playoff contest with the Redskins, and this time Kirk Cousins doesn’t like that.

Worst Case: Do I need to go there?  Worst case is pretty much what we saw in 2015: injuries. Romo can’t stay healthy, Dez maybe hits the IR. But the Cowboys have already started losing a lot of players to suspension and other things. But this team is different with Romo. The Cowboys struggle to win 5 without him, missing the playoffs again and casting doubt on Romo’s days in Dallas.

How They’ll Finish: Look, there’s no mistake. The Cowboys go as far as Romo takes them. I liked Dallas before the loss of McClain, and with some serious doubt on the long-term health of this team, I just can’t pick Dallas to win this thing.

  1. Philadelphia Eagles

Offense: The Eagles have a lot of money and optimism tied up in their quarterback situation, giving solid money to both Sam Bradford and backup Chase Daniel. The Eagles also traded up to draft Carson Wentz at #2 in the NFL Draft. But I doubt there’s an answer this season in any of the three. Bradford will no doubt be the starter, but with his injury history it could be Wentz at any point in the year.  New head coach Doug Pederson’s West Coast style will fit them better than Kelly’s system. The offensive line is solid enough, but Jason Peters appears to be showing signs of age, missing time last season due to injury and already battling some problems in training camp. The running back position is talented but aging, with Darren Sproles having some miles on him and Ryan Matthews only getting 106 touches last year. But the big hole on this offense is the receiving corps. The group dropped enough passes last season to leave Bradford looking woefully ineffective. Jordan Matthews was bright spot, but had butter fingers as well. Nelson Agholor is going to have to live up to his potential, as there isn’t much outside of those two. The tight end group is strong, and may end up having to carry the passing game with Brent Celek and Zach Ertz.

Defense: The Eagles defense was a whole new level of bad last season, as the injury bug and some rough coaching put the Eagles with one of the worst overall defenses in the league. They dealt Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell to Miami, ending the experiment on the two players and revamping the defense. The linebacker position will be solid, with Jordan Hicks showing great promise. They need some help from Mychal Kendricks, who has to improve now for the second level to be adequate. The defensive line also looks rough, with Fletcher Cox and Bennie Logan anchoring but some serious questions outside of them. This line is going to struggle to stop the run, and the pass rush remains average. The secondary is the massive change to the team, with a revamped backfield featuring stud Malcom Jenkins and fresh face Rodney McLeod. But the corners aren’t that great. They’ll struggle to find production from Nolan Carroll, Eric Rowe, and Leodis McKelvin and crew of late draft picks. The defense again seems like a massive work in progress.

Best Case: The receivers decide to wake up and the offense performs as a top-10 unit. Wentz shows some flashes and gets some work in relief, while Bradford shines. He Eagles take advantage of a really manageable September and October to build momentum and excitement. The defense manages to work it’s way up to respectable, and the Eagles unseat an injury-riddle Dallas and an inconsistent Washington team and go toe-to-toe with New York for the division. The Eagles win a wacky NFC East, as most of the division finishes around .500.

Worst Case: The Eagles struggle as mightily as they did in 2015, with Wentz taking over as the starter midway through the season. The Birds trade Bradford and give the full reigns over to Wentz, who struggles with growing pains behind an injured line and some faulty play at receiver. The defense remains in the bottom tier of the league and the Eagles end up at 4-12.

How They’ll Finish: The Eagles are going to be better than they were in 2015, but this is still a rebuilding team. The team is young, and I do think Wentz is the real deal. But this team is going to be rough. They aren’t ready to contend yet, but if their young pieces start to come together, this could be solid building block in Philly as they shake off the shadow of the Chip Kelly era.

Next Installment: AFC North

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About the author

Austin Albertson

Austin is CBS' senior NFL and NBA analyst, bringing you commentary on everything between the lines and inside the hashes, from the film room to the scoreboard.

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