Wednesday, September 4, 2013

2013 NFL Predictions - NFC East

1) Washington Redskins

The Redskins were relevant last year for the first time in a while.  A 10-6 record and playoff appearance gave fans a reason to be excited, but spending the offseason following the medical reports of their franchise QB as well as the back and forth sniping between said QB and Mike Shanahan tarnished that a bit.    

RGIII had a spectacular first season and topped Andrew Luck for the annual top rookie honor, but I’m sure he would trade that award to not be rehabbing a torn ACL as he heads into his sophomore campaign.  He was held out of preseason action but is reportedly ready to go; a fact that received a bit of media attention this preseason.  Unless he changes his style of play (namely knowing when to give up on a play) I worry that the volume of hits he takes will limit his explosiveness and possibly cost him games.  I think we’ll see a good bit of Kirk Cousins this season, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.  Alfred Morris goes under the radar, but all he did as a rookie was finish second in the league in rushing behind Adrian Peterson as leader of the league’s most productive ground game.  Roy Helu is more than capable of taking over the load should he be needed.  I don’t love their receivers as a group, but I do think Pierre Garcon is in line for a really big year.  He’s finally over his foot issues and is unquestionably RGIII’s primary target.  Behind him Josh Morgan, Leonard Hankerson, and Santana Moss are containable.  Fred Davis is back from his Achilles injury and looked good this preseason.  He could end up RGIII’s second favorite target behind Garcon. 

Washington left a bit to be desired on this side of the ball, especially when it came to stopping the pass.  Only the Bucs and Saints surrendered more yards through the air than did the Skins.  DeAngelo Hall is the most overrated corner in the game, and Josh Wilson isn’t anything special.  Washington took David Amerson in the draft, and it won’t take him long to become the best corner on the team.  The theme is repeated at safety where Philip Thomas should rise above the mediocre Brandon Meriweather and Reed Doughty.  Everyone has injuries, but the Skins losing Brian Orakpo in week two for the year was a crushing blow for this defense.  That left Ryan Kerrigan as the lone pass rushing threat, in an otherwise non-threatening defense.  London Fletcher again led the team in tackles and looks like he can play another 20 years.  Getting a healthy Orakpo would help any defense, but also having a healthy Adam Carriker and better talent in the secondary could help turn things around on defense.  

I saw what the Shanahans did with a rookie QB, a rookie RB, and without their best pass rusher.  It would be foolish to think they won’t be able to handle adversity, such as RGIII missing some time (which I think will happen).  The Redskins repeat.  

Breakout – David Amerson
Disappointment – DeAngelo Hall

2) Dallas Cowboys

With three straight third place finishes, Jerry Jones has to be as antsy as ever for his investment to start paying dividends.  As a result, Jason Garrett enters the season on a hotter seat than any other coach in the league.

I don’t think there’s a QB in the NFL that draws as much “hate” as Tony Romo.  You’d think he was Sanchez or Locker with the amount of criticism the guy gets.  He’s easily the best QB they’ve had since Troy Aikman, but being winless in the postseason since ’09 almost always comes back to (fairly or unfairly) the guy under center.  Speaking of center, first round reach Travis Frederick is the only addition they’ve made to a poor offensive line.  Tyron Smith didn’t progress last year, and Doug Free regressed even more, if that’s possible.  Give Tom Brady and Peyton Manning this protection, and they’ll start hearing boos too.  Jason Witten may still be Romo’s favorite target, but Dez Bryant showed late last season that he’s on his way to becoming one of the game’s elite receivers by totaling 50 receptions and 10 TDs in his last 8 games.  Miles Austin has become a forgotten man as hamstring issues have limited his explosiveness the last couple of seasons.  You could do a lot worse than him as your #2 receiver.  In Dallas, the running game takes a back seat to the passing game.  That will continue to be the case if DeMarco Murray can’t put together a complete season.  There’s talent but no experience behind him on the depth chart.

Monte Kiffin returns to the NFL as the Cowboys defensive coordinator.  With Kiffin comes a switch to a 4-3 front, but much of last year’s base personnel returns.  How will they adjust to the new scheme?  How aggressive will this scheme be?  DeMarcus Ware is a factor in any scheme, so he should have no trouble adjusting.  Anthony Spencer on the other hand will be one to watch.  Will he reach double digit sacks again?  Jason Hatcher is a force in the middle, but Jay Ratliff has been in a decline both on and off the field.  Bruce Carter should thrive at WLB being able to show off more of his speed and pursuit in that role.  Sean Lee is a force when healthy, but he missed most of last year with a foot injury.  They’re good at corner with the veteran Brandon Carr and second year player Morris Claiborne.  Like Bryant, Claiborne’s play improved down the stretch last year.  My biggest concern about this defense is at safety where they should be tested quite a bit within the division.  Barry Church is returning from an Achilles injury, and Will Allen is an uninspiring veteran signed this offseason.

I’m still in Romo’s corner, but the Cowboys can’t afford to have another dismal year on the offensive line, nor can they remain at the bottom of the league in rushing.  I think those will be the key reasons they don’t win the division.

MVP – Tony Romo
Breakout – Bruce Carter
Disappointment – Anthony Spencer  

3) New York Giants

The Giants missed the postseason for the third time in three seasons, falling horribly apart in the second half by losing five of their last eight games.  An offseason has passed, but questions still remain regarding Coughlin’s crew.   

It’s no coincidence that the Giants’ season headed south when Eli Manning’s play deteriorated.  I’d like to blame it on a lack of weapons, but even with Hakeem Nicks struggling with injuries throughout the season, he had the dynamic Victor Cruz and skilled Martellus Bennett at full go and a running game that was still one of the league’s most productive.  Does he bounce back, or is this the Eli that Giants should expect to see in ’13?  Cruz got paid and can now focus on putting up a third straight 80+ catch and 9+ score season.  I’m worried about Nicks, but second year receiver Rueben Randle is ready to jump in and prove himself.  Brandon Myers replaces Bennett at tight end, but I don’t think that’s an upgrade.  David Wilson takes over as the primary ball carrier, and his workload increased when Andre Brown broke his leg in preseason action.  Whether he’s doing it for motivational purposes or not, Coach Coughlin is not happy with Wilson’s progress as a pass blocker.  The Giants will struggle if Wilson isn’t able to rise to the occasion as the feature back, but I think he’ll be fine. 

How worried are Giants fans about JPP?  Their best pass rusher underwent back surgery this offseason and won’t be on the field when the Giants take on the Cowboys to open the regular season.  Pierre-Paul exploded in ’11 with 16.5 sacks but fell back to earth with ten less in ’12.  They’ll be in bad shape if he can’t be his usual terrifying self seeing as how the Giants as a team had 15 less sacks in ’12 than they did the previous year.  Osi Umenyiora finally got his way and is out of New York, so he’s no longer an option.  The Giants will need Justin Tuck to regain his ’10 form after two straight disappointing seasons.  Mathias Kiwankua will get his wish of moving back to defensive end, and they’ll need him to be ‘the guy’ until JPP returns.  Cullen Jenkins and Johnathan Hankins are large (literally and figuratively) additions to the interior, but unfortunately, the Giants didn’t get any better at linebacker this offseason.  Keith Rivers, Mark Herzlich, and either Spencer Paysinger or Jacquian Williams will be the starters.  The secondary may be worse.  Corey Webster stunk last season, Prince Amukamara hasn’t come anywhere close to meeting expectations, and Terrell Thomas is trying to come back from last year’s ACL injury.  The more they let Antrel Rolle play at safety, the better off they’ll be.  Stevie Brown becomes a starter with Kenny Phillips joining the Eagles.

The fact that there’s no clear leader in this division plays into the Giants favor, but I worry that the defense won’t be able to make up for any offensive shortcomings, especially as long as JPP is out. 

MVP – Eli Manning
Breakout – David Wilson
Disappointment – Jason Pierre-Paul

4) Philadelphia Eagles

The most intriguing team may be the one expected by many to finish dead last.  The Chip Kelly experiment is underway, and everyone is wondering just how well his offensive style will do in the pros.  Unfortunately, it looks like the other side of the ball may be their undoing.

Dog Killer won the starting job over Nick Foles, but given the former’s health and performance in recent years, the latter should stay loose.  If DK can stay healthy he’s got a chance at a huge bounce back season in Kelly’s up tempo offense.  The one guy they’ll need to bounce back most is running back LeSean McCoy.  After scoring a whopping 17 TDs on the ground in ’11, McCoy totaled an extremely disappointing 2 in ’12.  I think he bounces back this year; maybe not all the way to 17 TDs but significantly nonetheless.  Bryce Brown showed himself to be capable of handling the load in McCoy’s absence and figures to be a regular part of Kelly’s offense.  DeSean Jackson is a player who should thrive in this offense.  He’s a dynamic talent whose skill set Kelly is sure to take advantage of.  Jeremy Maclin’s season is over before it started after an ACL tear in training camp which will have the politically incorrect Riley Cooper starting in his place.  There’s good news up front where the offensive line should be much improved over last year.  Jason Peters appears healthy at left tackle, and Jason Kelce returns after missing nearly all of last season.  Getting those two back is huge, as was adding the athletic Lane Johnson in the first round of the draft.

Here’s where I expect to see problems.  Philly was one of the worst teams in the league in points allowed last season, and judging by the way things went this preseason, this year looks like a repeat.  The Eagles will be running a new defense with quite a bit of new personnel.  Rarely does that work seamlessly.  I like Fletcher Cox who should fit well next to Isaac Sopoaga up front.  Their top pass rushers look to be Trent Cole and Connor Barwin.  Both are coming off largely disappointing seasons where they each tallied three sacks after posting at least 11 in ’11 (Barwin had 11.5).  Brandon Graham has yet to meet expectations but remains in the mix.  Second year LB Mychal Kendricks should get a chance to display his versatility, but I wonder if DeMeco Ryans will regress again back in a 3-4 set?  Here lies the biggest mess.  Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher replace Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.  While the latter two were disappointments in Philly’s odd scheme, I’m not sure the new duo is going to have a ton of success against teams like Dallas and New York who go vertical regularly.  Free agent signing Kenny Phillips didn’t even make the final cut, so Nate Allen and another free agent, Patrick Chung, will be the safeties.  Not promising.

I think the Eagles will score a lot of points on offense but surrender even more on defense.  It will be entertaining, but I don’t expect them to win many more than the four they won last year. 

MVP – LeSean McCoy
Breakout – Mychal Kendricks
Disappointment – Trent Cole

Division MVP – Tony Romo
Division Breakout – David Wilson
Division Disappointment – Jason Pierre-Paul

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