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NFC East preview

Ian Steven's divisional previews now switch to the NFC - first up, it's the East. Follow him on @deevo82.

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NFC East

Philadelphia Eagles

NFC East – my division, let’s get this on.

I felt last year that the Eagles would have a great offense and a woeful defense and I was right – but I thought Mike Vick would be the featured QB in Chip Kelly’s fast-paced system. I was wrong as Nick Foles surprised everyone by taking on the mantle when Vick went down to a hamstring injury to the Giants to post one of the best season’s by a signal caller in NFL history with a 119 rating, throwing 27 touchdowns to only two picks.

Part of the reason that Foles excelled was the depth of talent on the rest of the offense. Shady McCoy is the most electrifying player in the NFL since Barry Sanders and he led the league in rushing. Opening holes were three of the best players at their position in the NFL. Jason Peters, Evan Mathis and Jason Kelce are all blue chip talents and simply blow people away on the left-hand side of the line. Todd Herremans was inconsistent last season and Lane Johnson will miss the first four games of the season with a PED suspension on the other side of the line.

It looks like the Eagles have been depleted in their receiver ranks as DeSean Jackson was sensationally released by the Birds and picked up by rivals Washington. The pint-sized wide out had blazing speed but also a massive salary attached to his titanesque ego. He did not really fit the system. Jeremy Maclin returns from season ending knee injury and will be the go-to guy if healthy. Riley Cooper went from racist pariah to unexpected star, earning a contract extension. Rookie Jordan Matthews should get a lot of passes thrown his way in the slot and could be in line for Offensive Rookie of the Year. He is the SEC’s leading receiver and tough as they come. It does not end there as Brent Celek and Zach Ertz are a pair of tight ends that can get open in the middle of the field. It is clear the Eagles are stacked on offense.

On defense, they are actually not that bad but the offense is so quick in time of possession that the defense spends a lot of time on the field and the yardage stats are slightly skewed. After an opening four horrible games, Billy Davies’ unit settled down and became very good against the run. It is defending the pass which is the biggest problem as the Eagles lacked a consistent pass rush despite having Trent Cole and Connor Barwin on the roster. DeMeco Ryans returns at middle linebacker after playing more snaps than any other player on defense last season. His worth to the Linc faithful cannot be ignored.

The secondary was immediately upgraded by releasing Patrick Chung who was terrible. Malcolm Jenkins comes in from the Saints for a massive upgrade to a unit that are quietly quite good.

Washington Redskins

Washington will be Philly’s biggest challenger this year but are embroiled in the scandal of their persistent use of the “Redskins” moniker which has upset a lot of people in the USA, with some papers refusing to refer to them by that name. I suggested to Daniel Snyder that he change their name to the “Foreskins” but he has not got back to me on that on yet.

Mike Shanahan has gone and Jay Gruden becomes the latest head coach to try to resurrect the flailing franchise. Hope are pinned on the shoulder of Robert Griffin III who struggled to find form last season after reconstructive knee surgery. He is one year fitter and should be a force to contend with, not just with his mobility but his arm strength as well. He does have a reputation as a bit of a diva however and will have to be managed carefully.

Alfred Morris will be relied on heavily to carry the load in the running game and could end up with the most carries in the NFL this season. He is a fantasy league gem.

Griffin has a couple of legitimate deep threats in DeSean Jackson and Pierre Garcon but RG3 will have to move in the pocket quite a lot to find his targets as the offensive line is pretty poor apart from left tackle Trent Williams.

On defense, Jim Haslett’s system pretty much emulates the Eagles 3-4 - both good against the run, setting the edge well with a couple of book end linebackers in Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo but porous against the pass.

New York Giants

This is going to be a long season for fans of the Big Blue. Eli Manning looks like he is regressing, throwing for 27 interceptions last season and struggling to shake off his funk in the preseason this year. To be fair to the Ole Miss grad, the Giants do not have a lot of talent to help him out on offense.

Rashad Jennings is hardly elite at running back and the G Men have a very week offensive line with Will Beatty charged with protecting the blind side of Manning. There is a chink of light in the receiver group as Victor Cruz is talented and rookie Odel Beckham Jr looks like he could become a quality receiver in the league but might take a while to develop. Jason Pierre Paul is the top talent on a shaky defense and he can be a force if healthy – which he has not been for a couple of seasons.

Tom Coughlin’s men are weak up the middle with Jameel McClain, Devon Kennard and Jacquian Williams at linebacker and will be punished heavily by the run-heavy Eagles and Redskins.

Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie has arrived from Denver to boost the secondary but he developed a reputation at the Eagles to be allergic to contact and is not ideally suited to the division.

Dallas Cowboys

It is if America’s team have become a parody of themselves as it emerged that Jerry Jones was set to draft Johnny Manziel only for his son, Stephen, to snatch the pick off of him at the last moment and select offensive lineman Zach Martin.

It is the ego of Jones that has ruined this franchise and he is quickly matriculating into the league’s biggest front office laughing stock since Al Davis. Jones is insistent that he is a “football man” and refuses to hire the general manager that the franchise desperately need as they sink into the basement of the NFC East.

Quarterback Tony Romo is injury prone and typecast into a choke artist when the pressure is on. He was guaranteed $55 million at the start of 2013 which makes him expensive to move on and the Cowboys are effectively tethered to him despite Jerry’s compulsions.

DeMarco Murray managed to gain over 1,000 yards in only 14 games and should feature heavily in the Dallas offense. Dez Bryant is a very talented wide receiver if not a bit drama prone whilst Jason Witten has been Romo’s security blanket for what seems like 20 years.

The offensive line has got three very good young players in Tyron Smith, Zach Martin and Travis Frederick and will become bedrock of the franchise (until the end of the season when Jason Garrett is fired and the system is changed.)

The defense, already terrible, was made worse by the pre-season injury of their best player, middle linebacker Sean Lee. DeMarcus Ware was allowed to join Denver and I can’t see where the Cowboys will generate a consistent pass rush from.

Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne are two very talented cornerbacks but the safety play is below par and the Cowboys will give up a lot of yards in the air. Expect a lot of games to finish in the region of 38-35…..in favour of the opposition.

Verdict

The Eagles have four of the best players in their position in the NFL in McCoy, Peters, Kelce and Mathis and are going to run the ball for fun again in Chip Kelly’s (literally) breath-taking system. I can’t see anyone in the division being able to keep up with them although the Redskins could run them close.

5 points on the Eagles @2.2 with Bet Victor. This is ridiculous value - the Eagles should be around 1.5.

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