Like for college football’s premier conferences, I am also going to get in my NFL preview fix. Of course, every year the league has those surprise squads and teams that dramatically fall off so my previews normally go ker-plunk by Week 2 of the regular season (or the pre-season sometimes). Like the others, I will start with the champions division of the NFC East where the Super Bowl champion Eagles reside. It is somewhat strange to stay that, but on a personal note, I’ve always liked the Eagles since I started watching football. Maybe because of the colors or the fact I’ve never been fond of Dallas, Washington, or New York and they’ve always been the underdog for the longest time in that division. But anyway, I’m going to be as objective as much as possible for this division.
(1) PHILADELPHIA EAGLES
LAST SEASON: 13-3 (1ST PLACE, NFC EAST, WON SUPER BOWL).
KEY ADDS: DT-Haloti Ngata (FA-Detroit), LB-Corey Nelson (FA-Denver), WR-Mike Wallace (FA-Baltimore), DE-Michael Bennett (Trade-Seattle) TE-Dallas Goedert (Draft-South Dakota State), LB-Paul Worrilow (FA-Detroit), TE-Richard Rodgers (FA-Green Bay)
KEY LOSSES: DT-Beau Allen (FA-Tampa Bay), RB-LeGarrette Blount (FA-Detroit), TE-Trey Burton (FA-Chicago), CB-Patrick Robinson (FA-New Orleans), K-Caleb Sturgis (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), TE-Brent Celek (released), DE-Vinny Curry (released-Tampa Bay), WR-Torrey Smith (Trade-Carolina)
The Eagles capped a dream season last year of winning the Super Bowl, despite being really underdogs as a first seed. That was in part because of Carson Wentz going down, but Nick Foles stepped up. Philadelphia as many have suggested has the best top-to-bottom roster in the NFL despite key losses in the off-season and should be good to go. The offense is going to click especially if Wentz comes back 100% healthy and if not, Foles is ready to go. The defense is a strong defense in all three levels from the line through the secondary. Adding Michael Bennett will help out, but a question will be is he going to implode on himself like he did in Seattle in his final season. But overall, this is a very stacked team and really have a great balance. It is hard to think they will have a major drop-off, if any in 2018. They may not go 13-3 again, but we are talking maybe 12-4 and a bye in the first round barring key injuries.
KEY QUESTION: WILL THE EAGLES HAVE ANY SUPER BOWL HANGOVER? It’s possible, but I don’t see them being that team. They have that vibe that they want to show that last year wasn’t a fluke.
MY PREDICTION: 12-4. A couple of intriguing road games for the Eagles in 2018 as they visit New Orleans and Jacksonville. Won’t be easy to win those. But aside from that, they should be firing on all cylinders.
(2) NEW YORK GIANTS
LAST SEASON: 3-13 (4TH PLACE)
KEY ADDS: RB-Jonathan Stewart (FA-Carolina), OT-Nate Solder (FA-New England), LB-Kareem Martin (FA-Arizona), OG-Patrick Omameh (FA-Jacksonville), WR/KR/PR-Cody Latimer (FA-Denver), DE-Josh Mauro (FA-Arizona), FS-Michael Thomas (FA-Miami), CB-William Gay (FA-Pittsburgh), WR-Russell Shepard (FA-Carolina), LB-Alec Ogletree (Trade-Los Angeles Rams), P-Riley Dixon (Trade-Denver), RB-Saquon Barkley (Draft-Penn State), G-Will Hernandez (Draft-UTEP), LB-Lorenzo Carter (Draft-Georgia), DT-BJ Hill (DT-NC State).
KEY LOSSES: DE-Jason Pierre-Paul (Trade-Tampa Bay), QB-Geno Smith (FA-Los Angeles Chargers), RB-Orleans Darkwa (FA), RB-Shane Vereen (FA), G-DJ Fluker (FA-Seattle), LB-Jonathan Casillas (FA), WR/KR-Dwayne Harris (Released-Oakland), OT-Bobby Hart (Released-Cincinnati), WR-Brandon Marshall (Released-Seattle), WR-Tavarres King (FA-Minnesota), OG-Justin Pugh (FA-Arizona), C-Weston Richburg (FA-San Francisco), P-Brad Wing (Released), LB-Devon Kennard (FA-Detroit), CB-Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie (Released)
Last year the Giants season was summed up in one word: hospital. They were injury plagued and some of the players probably could have been checked in to an asylum as well. The team had injury woes, chemistry woes, and a coach who was just out of his element. And rumbles of Eli Manning being in his final season really progressed. However with a new coach in the mix with Pat Shurmur, and some of these head cases gone while making a nice splash in the market for free agents and a great draft, the Giants should get back on solid footing. Now how much of a contender will be a question, but the running game should improve tenfold with Saquon Barkley and the reliable veteran in Jonathan Stewart in the mix. The defense should improve with Alec Ogletree being acquired from the Rams. However, the thing that still could sting the Giants are the attitudes, namely of Odell Beckham, Jr. Eli Apple, and Janoris Jenkins. Those three, who are expected to play a part in their rebound, have got to grow up at some point. If not, then another season goes by the window in New York, and it may be Eli’s last season or one of his last seasons.
BIG QUESTION: CAN ODELL BECKHAM STAY FOCUSED AND KEEP HIS COOL FOR THE GIANTS TO GO FAR? He hasn’t proved he can. Last year he kept saying he wanted to be the highest paid player in the NFL, but questions abound of his weekday partying during the playoffs against Green Bay in 2016 and then his whole video of being with a woman who was doing cocaine in bed didn’t help matters. If Beckham can zero in and be one of the top WR’s in the game while not imploding on his team, the Giants are a sleeper in the NFC. If he continues the antics and they fall back because of it, it may be time for New York to move on from him. And remember this, Eli won two Super Bowls with the likes of David Tyree and Mario Manningham. So having an elite WR to take you to a Super Bowl isn’t necessary.
MY PREDICTION: 9-7. The Giants, barring another year of a rash of injuries, should be a threat. They could win 10 games as a couple of games on the schedule I can see go either way (New Orleans). But they won’t be an easy team to take down, especially if they are gelling.
(3) DALLAS COWBOYS
LAST SEASON: 8-8 (2ND PLACE)
KEY ADDITIONS: WR-ALLEN HURNS (FA-Jacksonville), WR-Deonte Thompson (FA-Buffalo), OT-Cameron Fleming (FA-New England), DE-Kony Ealy (FA-New York Jets), LB-Joe Thomas (FA-Green Bay), FB-Jamize Olawale (Trade-Oakland), WR-Tavon Austin (Trade-Los Angeles Rams), DT-Jihad Ward (Trade-Oakland), LB-Leighton Vander Esch (Draft-Boise State), G-Connor Williams (Draft-Texas), WR-Michael Gallup (Draft-Colorado State)
KEY LOSSES: FB-Keith Smith (FA-Oakland), WR-Dez Bryant (Released), WR-Brice Butler (FA-Arizona), WR-Ryan Switzer (FA-Oakland), OT-Byron Bell (FA-Green Bay), OG-Jonathan Cooper (FA-San Francisco), DT-Benson Mayowa (Released-Arizona), LB-Anthony Hitchens (FA-Kansas City), LB-Kyle Wilber (FA-Oakland), CB-Orlando Scandrick (FA-Washington), TE-Jason Witten (retired)
Dallas will look very different on offense as there will be no Dez Bryant or Jason Witten. With Dak Prescott as the guy in Dallas, it is the changing of the guard. But last year’s season was thrown off because of the Ezekiel Elliott suspension. Had Dallas not had that, they may have sneaked in to the playoffs. But even with Elliott there, Dallas had holes, notably on defense as they couldn’t get much pressure on teams and really make those key stops to win games. It was somewhat of a red flag the year before in their divisional loss to Green Bay. With Bryant and Witten gone, the Cowboys revamped the receiving corps of bringing Tavon Austin and Allen Hurns as Dallas hopes those guys can make the offense complete (at this point I’m just nodding my head and smiling and thinking “sure”). The defense especially against the pass is a concern still as the Cowboys gave up good bit of points though the yardage was down and didn’t get many turnovers because of it. I don’t see the Cowboys really making strides on defense especially when they have to see the Eagles and Giants 4 times while they see Atlanta, Detroit, New Orleans, and Houston (all teams who have quarterbacks who can throw). It may be the difference between a playoff spot or a top 10 pick.
BIGGEST QUESTION: WHEN DOES JERRY JONES COMPLETELY ABDICATE HIS THRONE AS GM? Probably never until the Good Lord comes to take him. It is more when SHOULD Jones step down and the answer has been since 1994. The good moves Jones has made is when he was overruled in some aspect save Dez Bryant. Remember, he was talked out of drafting Johnny Manziel and drafted Zack Martin. But other moves (i.e. signing Darren McFadden, drafting Felix Jones, Quincy Carter, etc.) is on his watch and firing Jimmy Johnson because he got more credit for those Super Bowl wins shows how inept the guy is. Honestly, he may have been talked out of keeping Bryant at that contract. He needs to let his son take over as he really has more of a sense than Jones does.
MY PREDICTION: 7-9. Dallas is just that team that isn’t bad at all, but not good like many still want to believe. Just “average.”
(4) WASHINGTON REDSKINS
LAST SEASON: 7-9 (3RD PLACE)
KEY ADDITIONS: QB-Alex Smith (Trade-Kansas City), WR-Paul Richardson (FA-Seattle), LB-Pernell McPhee (FA-Chicago), CB-Orlando Scandrick (FA-Dallas), QB-Kevin Hogan (Trade-Cleveland), DT-Daron Payne (Draft-Alabama), RB-Derrius Guice (Draft-LSU), OT-Geron Christian (Draft-Louisville)
KEY LOSSES: QB-Kirk Cousins (FA-Minnesota), CB-Kendall Fuller (Trade-Kansas City), S-Su’a Cravens (Trade-Denver), C-Spencer Long (FA-New York Jets), WR-Terrelle Pryor (WR-New York Jets), LB-Will Compton (FA-Tennessee), TE-Niles Paul (FA-Jacksonville), DE-Trent Murphy (FA-Buffalo), WR-Ryan Grant (Indianapolis)
Washington like most years, made a splash in the off-season trading for Kansas City QB Alex Smith, thus ending the polarizing career of Kirk Cousins in the Capital. To me, it was dumbfounding on a few instances. First, the Redskins traded up-and-coming CB Kendall Fuller to the Chiefs. Second, the ceiling on Cousins is far higher than the ceiling on Smith while I think Cousins is a better fit in Jay Gruden’s system than Smith is. And given Smith’s scrambling prowess, leaves him up to injury especially at age 34. And despite not having a real go-to WR, Cousins netted 4,000 yards and used the weapons to the best of his ability. I don’t see Smith being that kind of quarterback. Also, Cousins was sacked 41 times last year. And given how Washington struggled to protect him, a quarterback like Smith may end up getting hit more than Cousins did. And while the Redskins have Josh Norman, having a corner on the opposite side of him has now become a problem. And again, if you look at that schedule, Washington has to see the Eagles, Giants, Falcons, Saints, Texans, and Packers while having one of the worst run-stopping defenses in the NFL in 2017. I don’t see Washington improving any on defense and if anything may have took a step back. Maybe they’re hoping all the Alabama guys they drafted the last few years (Payne, Ryan Anderson, and Jonathan Allen) find that Alabama formula to help out Norman and Ryan Kerrigan.
KEY QUESTION: WILL THIS BE JAY GRUDEN’S LAST SEASON IN WASHINGTON? I think so, even if the Skins are 8-8 and in the playoff hunt. There are too many questions right now despite being in the “win now” mode when they traded for Smith. Not really Gruden’s fault, but this team just doesn’t put a scare into anybody.
MY PREDICTION: 6-10. They may not be bad either, but they aren’t a team that will sneak up or pose a threat to the NFC powers like Philadelphia, the Rams, Atlanta, Minnesota, or New Orleans right now.
Overall the expectation levels for all 4 teams will always be high and always have that “win now” mode, especially in Dallas and Washington. Those two have gaping holes on the roster right now while the Giants biggest enemies may be themselves. It looks like it’s Philadelphia’s to lose once more and maybe another Super Bowl return for the city of Brotherly Love.
-Fan in the Obstructed Seat