2014 NFC East Division Preview

Shady-mcCoy

 

Addison Hunsicker

The 2013 NFC East crown came down to a week 17 matchup between the Philadelphia Eagles and Dallas Cowboys. With no Tony Romo, Dallas had to find a way to win with Kyle Orton, which they did not do. Orton threw an interception to Brandon Boykin in the final minutes, and the Philadelphia Eagles captured the NFC East title, but their season would come to an end the following week with a loss to the New Orleans Saints in the first round of the playoffs. The Eagles had a breakout year in Chip Kelly’s first NFL season as a head coach in 2013, with LeSean McCoy having another stellar year along with Nick Foles emerging as the team’s starting quarterback. In Dallas, the Cowboys yet again disappointed their fans with a third straight 8-8 season, just missing out on the playoffs in the final week. Eli Manning’s New York Giants started off 2013 with six straight losses, ending the year winning seven out of their last 10 games. And down in the nation’s capital, Robert Griffin III and the Washington Redskins fell a part after starting 3-5, losing their last eight regular season games, finishing an abysmal 3-13. Who will win the NFC East in 2014 and find themselves in the playoffs? Let’s take a look at how the four teams in the NFC East will fare in 2014.

1. Philadelphia Eagles
2013 Record: 10-6
2014 Projected Record: 10-6

The biggest story revolving the Eagles in the off-season was the release of DeSean Jackson. Despite the loss of Jackson, the Eagles still have pieces to work with at the wide receiver position in Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper, rookies Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff, along with Jeff Maehl. Philadelphia also added Darren Sproles in the backfield to accompany LeSean McCoy, adding to their offensive threats. Even with all of the losses and additions, Chip Kelly will still have an explosive offense to utilize in 2014 with second year quarterback Nick Foles. In 2013, Foles had a record-breaking year, finishing with 27 touchdowns to just two interceptions, and will have a chip on his shoulder (no pun intended) in 2014 to prove that he is in fact a franchise quarterback in the National Football League. Foles will have to continue making smart decisions, taking care of the football, and having efficient games in the air with accurate passes for this upcoming season, and the Eagles will be in good shape to win the NFC East for the second straight year.

The centerpiece of the Eagles offense in LeSean McCoy will have the most to do with Philly’s success in 2014. Last year, Shady McCoy had 2,146 yards from scrimmage on 366 touches, scoring 11 touchdowns. Even with the addition of Darren Sproles, McCoy will still see a heavy workload, and must produce at a high level for this Eagles team to have success. Chip Kelly’s entire fast-paced offense revolves around McCoy being effective in the rushing and passing game. Sproles will be a nice touch in the backfield for screens, runs to the outside, and in the return game, but McCoy will still be the centerpiece. The Eagles offensive line returns intact, but right tackle Lane Johnson will miss the first four games because he violated the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy, receiving a suspension. Jason Peters is a stud at left tackle to protect Nick Foles’s blindside, while Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce, and Todd Herremans round out the all-pro offensive line.

Question marks regarding the Eagles chances of repeating in 2014 as NFC East champions revolve around the defense. The defense will not be great, they will be average. Malcolm Smith should help to improve an Eagles secondary that ranked last against the pass in 2013, but an improved Eagles pass rush will ease the pressure off of the unproven secondary. Last year, Philadelphia could not get to the quarterback. Bill Davis will need first-round pick Marcus Smith along with Connor Barwin, Trent Cole, Brandon Graham, and Vinny Curry to cause havoc at the line of scrimmage in order for the Eagles to have success on the defensive side of the football. Should the Eagles only give up 23.9 points per game in 2014 like they did last year, the defense will put the team in a good position to make the playoffs once again.

2. Washington Redskins
2013 Record: 3-13
2014 Projected Record: 8-8

If Robert Griffin III returns to 2012 form and puts his horrendous 2013 season behind him, the Washington Redskins will be the team that most challenges the Philadelphia Eagles for the 2014 NFC East crown. First year head coach Jay Gruden cannot afford to have his franchise quarterback go down with an injury or perform poorly, or else Washington will be in trouble. RGIII must stay in the pocket at all costs, and when he leaves the pocket to scramble with his legs on the ground, the former Heisman winner has to make smart decisions. He must avoid any contact by sliding on the ground in open space when being approached by an opposing defender, and by getting out of bounds when running up the sideline. Should RGIII play an effective 16 games for Washington this year, the Redskins will be a scary team to face because they have plently of pieces alongside RGIII.

Alfred Morris and Roy Helu provide excellent depth in the backfield with Morris being Washington’s ground-and-pound back, and Helu using his receiving abilities on third down situations. With RGIII to likely little read option calls, Morris will have to run effectively through the tackles and along the outside in order for Washington to maintain their rushing attack. The biggest acquisition for Jay Gruden was the signing of DeSean Jackson after he was released by the Philadelphia Eagles. Jackson will provide RGIII with a speedy deep-threat that opposing defense’s will have to respect. Along with Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed, the Redskins will have an explosive passing attack if RGIII gets his act together in the pocket.

The defensive side of the football will hault Washington from achieving much success in 2014. With no more London Fletcher to solidify the middle of the field, the Redskins will struggle to make key stops to get the football back into the hands of the offense. Signing Ryan Clark at safety and drafting linebacker Trent Murphy out of Stanford will not be enough to improve the Washington defense. Safety Brandon Meriweather is suspended the first two games of the regular season and cannot seem to avoid making an illegal hit when the time comes, only adding to the lists of issues for Jay Gruden on the defensive side. The Redskins will give up a lot of yards, and if RGIII along with the entire offense is good enough to put up points on a consistent basis, Washington will be able to contend for the division title. If RGIII goes down with an injury or does not produce, and the offense cannot consistently put up points to keep pressure on the opposing team’s offense, then the Redskins will find themselves out of the division race before December comes around.

3. New York Giants
2013 Record: 7-9
2014 Projected Record: 6-10

In 2013, Eli Manning was very good at throwing the football to the opposing team, as he led the NFL in interceptions with 27. Along with Eli Manning and the passing attack being ineffective, the Giants also could not establish a running game of any sort. In the off-season, Tom Coughlin added Rashad Jennings and drafted Andre Williams out of Boston College to help with the rushing attack in 2014. Even with the additions of Jennings and Williams, New York will still have a horrific time on the ground due to Eli Manning’s struggles in the air. With a poor offensive line, Eli may not even be able to set his feet and throw the ball this year, and will be rushed by opposing defenses a majority of the time. When Manning gets time to throw, he has a hard time being accurate with his passes.

Eli does have Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle, and first-round draft pick Odell Beckham Jr., but those three will not be enough to combat Eli’s inconsistent accuracy, a non-existent running game, and an inferior offensive line. Luckily for the Giants, they have a solid defense that will keep them in games. They ranked in the top 10 in least amount of yards allowed per game in 2013, and only surrendered 23.9 points per game. The secondary is solid and the addition of Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie will help the Giants improve their pass defense, and the front seven should be servicable enough to provide an adequate rush defense. Overall, 2014 will be a season of turnovers along with an ineffective offense for New York, and the Giants’ defense is not elite enough to make up for the anemic offense.

4. Dallas Cowboys
2013 Record: 8-8
2014 Projected Record: 5-11

The Dallas Cowboys will be the laughing stock of the NFL in 2014. Jerry Jones has done nothing but fill the headlines for all of the wrong reasons in the off-season, preparing to lead his team to yet another disasterous season. Jones released DeMarcus Ware in March, but he did lock-up place kicker Dan Bailey for seven years, so at least the Cowboys will not have to worry about their kicking game for a while. With no DeMarcus Ware, Sean Lee’s torn ACL in OTAs made an even bigger impact to the already obliterated Dallas defense. Defensive end Anthony Spencer is hurt and will not be ready for the start of the regular season, and cornerback Orlando Scandrick is suspended four games for violating the NFL’s performance-enhancing drug policy. The Cowboys could possibly have the worst defense in NFL history in 2014, and if they do not, they will certainly be close.

The only reason why the Cowboys will win games is because of their offense. With Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, and Jason Witten as weapons for Tony Romo, along with DeMarco Murray and a solid offensive line, Dallas will be able to put up points. The problem is, they will have to put up points on every single possession, because their defense will be so horrible. Jason Garrett will have to utilize DeMarco Murray more than he did last year, and the Cowboys should not have a problem putting up points in the majority of their games. But then, the fourth quarter will arrive. Every week there is something new with the Cowboys on how they will blow that specific game. Whether it is a Tony Romo interception, a drop by a receiver, a fumble by a running back, or a complete collapse by the defense, the Dallas Cowboys will find a way to lose week in and week out. Tony Romo does get too much heat for the Cowboys’ mediocre seasons, and he will have an elite season once again in 2014. Despite Romo and the offense producing, the defense will be too horrendous for the Cowboys to be anywhere near the top of the NFC East this year.

Division Awards
MVP
: Robert Griffin III – His performance will decide the fate of the Washington Redskins this season. If he does well, the Redskins will contend for the NFC East title. If he does poorly, Washington will not reach the playoffs for a second straight year.
Offensive Player of the Year: LeSean McCoy – Shady McCoy is the centerpiece of one of the most explosive offenses in football. He will get his touches, yards, and touchdowns en route to yet another spectacular season.
Defensive Player of the Year: Prince Amukamara – The Giants need their defense to be solid for them to win games, and Amukamara will make sure that is the case.
Rookie of the Year: Jordan Matthews – With the release of DeSean Jackson, the Eagles will need Matthews to step up to replace the lost production.

The NFC East will ultimately be a two team race between the Philadelphia Eagles and Washington Redskins. In the end, Philadelphia’s high-powered offense and average defense will be too much for the Redskins to catch with their questionable quarterback in Robert Griffin III and deficient defense. Nick Foles will prove himself to be a franchise quarterback in 2014, and LeSean “Shady” McCoy will make sure that the Philadelphia Eagles fly to the playoffs as NFC East division champions.

Image Source: Drew Hallowell/Getty Images

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