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NFC East preview

The season kicked off last night, at least in the AFC, but there's still plenty of time to get involved before they kick off in the NFC.

Once again, it's over to the astute, resolute but not so hirsute, Ian Steven, @deevo82.

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NFC East

Dallas Cowboys

There was one very simple reason why the Cowboys conquered the NFC East last season – their offensive line. Left tackle Tyron Smith is arguable the best blind side bodyguard in the game whilst center Travis Frederick and right guard Zack Martin are two very inspired recent draft picks by the organisation who decided to focus on the fundamentals of building an offense when everyone thought Jerry Jones would splash out with customary flair on Johnny Manziel.

As a result, running back DeMarco Murray was able to bull his way to 1,845 yards on 392 carries – both league highs last season. Murray has escaped to the rival Philadelphia Eagles leaving the Dallas backfield somewhat weaker. Darren McFadden was constantly injured in Oakland, with many pundits speculating he was hired due to being an Arkansas Razorback alumni, just like Jones. In the last couple of days, Christine Michael was traded for from Seattle which indicates the front office do not have much confidence in their backfield.

The other benefit of having such a good line was the amount of time Tony Romo had in the pocket. Romo is usually an injury or a blunder waiting to happen but he was in fine form in 2014 posting a 113.2 QB rating which was by far the highest of his career.

It does not take a genius to work out where most of Romo’s passes are going. He is either trying to find the gifted but babyish Dez Bryant – who was paid a lot of money in the offseason ($70 million) – or looking for veteran tight end Jason Witten. Other than those two stalwarts, there is not much else talent at receiver for Romo to find.

The biggest issue on defense for the Cowboys is the four game suspensions of inside line backer Rolando McLain and defensive end Greg Hardy, coupled with the season-ending injury to top cornerback Orlando Scandrick. Three key players missing at the start of the season could well tip the balance of power in the NFC East as they Cowboys play the Eagles in week two at the Linc.

Philadelphia Eagles

It was a jumble sale in South Philadelphia in the offseason with Chip Kelly taking over as general manager as top receiver Jeremy Maclin left in free agency, top rusher LeSean McCoy was traded to Buffalo, getting Kiko Alonso in return and quarterback Nick Foles was sent to St Louis in exchange for former Heisman Trophy winner Sam Bradford, and only one starter from the secondary last season remains at the Novacare Complex.

Kelly has repeatedly stated he wants a certain culture in his locker room which was why DeSean Jackson was booted out last year and why McCoy was shopped around this offseason. McCoy frequently clashed with his coach for not taking the easy yards, and for dancing around in the back field looking for a home run. With the money Kelly saved, the former Oregon coach brought in both the league’s leading rusher in DeMarco Murray and also Ryan Matthews from San Diego who should be a capable back up.

Losing Maclin stung the Eagles as he was a much admired figure but the bottom line was Kansas City overpaid in free agency and Maclin joins his old head coach Andy Reid in Missouri. The Eagles filled the spot in the depth chart by drafting for Nelson Agholor out of USC who looks much like a clone of Maclin.

The offensive line returns Jason Peters, Jason Kelce and Lane Johnson, who are all excellent in their own rights but have Allen Babre stepping in at guard to replace Evan Mathis – who held out as he wanted to be paid more, was released by the Eagles, then signed for less than he was already on at the Broncos. The weak link is Andrew Johnson who replaces Todd Herremans at right guard.

On defense, the Birds have one of the better defensive lines in the league with Fletcher Cox close to having a break out year. Bennie Logan has also impressed in the pre-season at nose tackle.

At line backer, Alonso, DeMeco Ryans and Mychal Kendricks are vying for two spots on the depth chart, but all three have had various injuries so it seem a sensible insurance policy. Trent Cole left for Indy in free agency so Brandon Graham steps forward to fill the void at outside line backer.

The biggest change is in the secondary with Bradley Fletcher, Cary Williams and Nate Allen all departing after a poor 2014. Walter Thurmond moves from slot corner to safety whilst Kelly splashed out on former Legion of Boom member Byron Maxwell from Seattle. Nolan Carroll will step into the outside corner slot but will kick inside in nickel, allowing rookie Eric Rowe some time on the field. The Eagles gave up the most big plays in the NFL last season so it is easy to see why the secondary has been overhauled.

Keep an eye on the specials teams unit as they are arguably the best in the league. Darren Sproles was a dangerous punt returner last season whilst Kenjon Barner forced his way onto the roster with a couple of dazzling returns in the pre-season.

New York Giants

We have been pretty serious so far – so let’s amuse ourselves by talking about Jason Pierre-Paul. Despite his Haitian roots, JPP is an All-American kind of guy. And as Americans like to do on July 4th, the day the movie Independence Day was first shown, the Yanks like to set off some fireworks. For some reason, Pierre-Paul decided that holding onto the firework through infinity was the best course of action – and promptly decimated his hand to such an extent that his right index finger was amputated four days later. Not as big a deal as you might imagine as Ronnie Lott lost a finger but still made his way into the Hall of Fame. What is astounding is that to this day, JPP has not let the Giants take a look at his hand.

Nine-fingered defensive linemen or not – this will be a long season for the Giants. They have a double Super Bowl winning QB in Eli Manning and a pair of electric receivers as primary targets in Victor Cruz and Odell Beckham Jr who was sensational in his rookie year. But that is where the fun stops.

The Giants look likely to start rookie tackle Ereck Flowers, who not only has a daft way of spelling the name “Eric” but he also has to protect Eli’s blind side which is a tough task for a rookie. And if you can pressure the junior Manning, then you can makehim throw interceptions.

The running game is not much better to take the pressure off Manning, ranking 23rd in the league last season.

On defense, it does not look much better. JPP aside, there isn’t much talent. Jon Beason is a smart inside line backer and cornerback Dominque Rodgers-Cromartie got a big pay day the Giants after a good season for the Broncos but DRC showed for the Eagles that he can be very inconsistent if not motivated.

Washington Redskins

One the 17th of August, Robert Griffin stated, “I feel like I am the best quarterback in the league”. A few days later, Griffin is not even the best QB on his team, relegated to third in the depth chart behind Kirk Cousins and Colt McCoy.

The fall from grace has been nothing short of spectacular. His rookie year progressed better than many could have imagined. A playoff run, a trip to the Pro Bowl and a QB rating of 102.4. A bad knee injury caused controversy as the Baylor grad kept playing in the playoffs despite tearing a ligament and that is where the deck of cards started to topple.

Benched for the last three games of 2013 and carted off with a dislocated ankle in week 2 of 2014, it seems that RG3 did little to endear himself to the franchise with rumours of a diva-like attitude. Washington splashed out a lot of compensation in draft picks to St Louis to grab the quarterback which must be immensely frustrating to see their former blue chip star and ticket to success languishing as a third stringer on the bench.

Griffen aside – Washington look to be solidifying under second year head coach Jay Gruden. The Skins have got a good ground game led by Alfred Morris and rookie guard from Iowa, Brandon Scherff, should help to open more holes.

Pierre Garcon and DeSean Jackson are two very talented wide receivers and should stretch the field, allowing Kirk Cousins the opportunity to air it out.

On defense, the injury to Junior Gallette came as a big blow as the line backer tore his Achilles tendon that will keep him out for the year. The former New Orleans Saints was brought in to replace the edge rushing skills of free agent Brian Orakpo. Jason Hatcher has also arrived after a career year in Dallas ad should solidify the Redskins defensive line.

Washington were ranked 24th against the pass last season and they hope they have toughened up with the arrival of Chris Culliver from San Francisco in the offseason. Verdict

The four game suspensions of Hardy and McLain for the Cowboys could be enough to settle this division. Sam Bradford has looked like a natural leading the Eagles offense and they have been dominant so far this season. You would favour the Eagles beating the weakened Cowboys in week two. Dallas also have to face Seattle and New England before traveling December to play Green Bay and Buffalo in what will be sub-zero temperatures.

New York will probably be involved in a lot of exciting games and Eli should put up some fantasy numbers but their defense has too many holes whilst Washington will struggle with the RGIII soap opera still continuing throughout the year.

3 pts on Philadelphia to win the division @ 2.5 with Betbright.

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