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ATPF Division Preview- NFC East

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Dallas CowboysThe Cowboys have missed the playoffs by losing season finales to their chief divisional rival each of the last two seasons. In 2011 Miles Austin lost a pass in the lights and the Giants blocked a Dan Bailey field goal as time expired, the Giants went on to win the Superbowl as the Cowboys watched on wondering what if. In 2012 Dallas failed to perform on a slow muddy FedEx Field as the Redskins edged them. An injury ravaged defense and poor offensive line play cost the Cowboys dearest last year, the roster hasn’t seen a huge amount of upturn but the Cowboys still have arguably the most talented roster in their division.

Offensive coordinator Bill Callahan takes over playcalling duties from Head Coach Jason Garrett though the offense should run a similar scheme. Quarterback Tony Romo remains a polarising figure and 2012 saw the best and worst of him again. He threw four first half interceptions against the Giants last year and three in that season ender in Washington. He however threw for nearly 5000 yards and 28 touchdowns and always puts the Cowboys in games with a chance. This year Romo needs to look after the ball better, he is often guilty of trying to do too much. Receiver Dez Bryant emerged as the superstar that he always had the talent to be in the second half of 2012. Bryant ended the season just shy of 1400 yards and hauled in a dozen touchdown catches, the Cowboys need him to continue where he left off as the dominant playmaker who simply can’t be stopped one on one. Opposite him Miles Austin is a good second receiver when healthy; trouble is its three years since he was last healthy for a full season. Third receiver Dwayne Harris improved as the season went on but will be pushed by rookie Terrance Williams, a big, productive college receiver expected to challenge for a starting berth in 2014. Tight end Jason Witten is by far the most reliable and consistent player in the Cowboys offense, the seven times pro-bowler remains as good as any tight end in the league as an all round player. The running game simply has to be stronger for Dallas to take the next step; in 2012 they averaged less than 80 yards per game on their way to a franchise low total. Demarco Murray is actually a pretty good back but he simply can’t be relied upon to stay healthy, behind him depth is weak and if Murray goes down it could be all on Romo again. The line must take some blame for the rushing total and the battering Romo gets every year. Rookie Travis Frederick will start at center and should bring solidarity to the position. Left tackle Tyron Smith is easily the best lineman on the team but Doug Free was a liability last year whilst guards Mackenzy Bernadeau and Ronald Leary both have major health question marks and have never shown themselves to be NFL quality starters either. A talented, always productive offense should be competitive, they need more from the line and Demarco Murray but having been 6th overall last year they should again be a top 10 unit.

73 year old Monte Kiffin is the new defensive coordinator and will switch the scheme to his hugely successful 4-3 alignment Tampa 2. Kiffin has a few round pegs for square holes but most of the players he inherits will find a position. The defense actually started well in 2012 but they imploded after a raft of injuries, the problem with Rob Ryan’s scheme was its complexity, new players simply couldn’t learn it quickly enough. Kiffin’s biggest concerns are likely his offensive linemen, tackle Jay Ratliff has become a liability and having missed 10 games in 2012 will start ’13 on PUP (physically unable to perform). Jason Hatcher was Dallas’ best lineman last year but switches from end to tackle while DeMarcus Ware, one of the league’s best pass rushers moves to end. Anthony Spencer had probably his best ever year in 2012 and returns to play opposite Ware but an injury to Tyrone Crawford means depth of any quality is slim on this line. Linebackers Sean Lee and Bruce Carter are both immense talents who finished last season on injured reserve. Lee is the leader of the unit; he is a coordinator on the field and is always around the ball. Carter is one of the fastest linebackers in the NFL and is tipped to be a star in Kiffin’s speed reliant defense, Justin Durant, recruited from Detroit should complete the starting unit. Cornerback Brandon Carr was a big money free agent signing last year but earned his cheque, first round pick Mo Claiborne was up and down but has elite ability, they are a solid pair.  Third corner Orlando Scandrick was lost to injury last year. Safety Barry Church is another returning from injury, he is joined by Will Allen, a long-time backup for Pittsburgh. The safety play was poor in 2012 but should improve. Kiffin’s job is to improve last year’s 22nd ranked defense which fell apart late on and better luck with injuries alone would make that possible. He has seven starters capable of making a pro bowl so will be expected to make this a top 10 unit, in his first year expect improvement but not to top 10 status.

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Cowboys linebacker Sean Lee

2013 Predicted wins8-9 wins

Playoff Prediction- All four teams will fancy their chances in the NFC East, all four have claims but the Cowboys may have the most all-round talent and are our narrow favourites.

New York GiantsIn 2012 the Giants matched their 9 regular season wins of the previous year but failed to make the playoffs where in ’11 of course they got in and the rest as they say is history. Since Tom Coughlin’s first year in charge back in ’04 the Giants haven’t had a losing season and have won two superbowls, Coughlin is heavily under-appreciated. Inconsistency was their downfall in 2012; at times they looked like the reigning champions but not often enough. Coughlin and his staff made changes to the roster in an attempt to bring improvement, he knows from experience you don’t have to dominate all season to have a shot.

Quarterback Eli Manning was nearly 1000 yards behind Tony Romo and lost out to RG3 in pro bowl voting last year but is still the best quarterback in the NFC East. Manning can make all the throws but most crucial is his ability to perform at his very best when it really matters. His top two receivers are Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz but Nicks was never 100% in 2012 with a knee injury. When healthy Nicks is a dynamic, powerful playmaker while Cruz is a matchup nightmare from the slot, he is one of the most feared players in the NFL. The Giants have high hopes for Rueben Randle and when Cruz moves inside he will get plenty of looks, a breakout year is very possible. Fourth year veteran Brandon Myers had a career year in Oakland and promptly left, in an offense more diverse in talent he won’t put up the same numbers but is expected to be an upgrade from departed after one year Martellus Bennett. The Giants moved on from oft-injured Ahmad Bradshaw in the offseason and David Wilson will get the start. The 2012 first round pick is explosive but needs to look after the football better, defenses are well aware of his capacity to fumble. The offensive line of the Giants gets little investment in youth but the aging group continue to do enough to allow Manning to flourish. Of the starters only left tackle Will Beatty is under 30 and long time right side linemen Dave Diehl and Chris Snee are surely coming to the end of the road. The Giants could only manage 14th overall last year but expect them to be in the top 10 this year, infact if Nicks and the aging line can stay healthy the Giants could be one of the most dangerous offenses in all of football.

The Giants defense can be a Jekyll and Hyde sort of unit. They look distinctly ordinary at times like most of last year; they look unplayable at others, like the 2011 Playoffs. The Giants rather than making drastic changes are heavily relying on better play from their incumbents to lift them away from last year’s woes.  Defensive coordinator Perry Fewell loves to rotate his linemen and adding Cullen Jenkins, Mike Patterson and rookie second rounder Johnathan Hankins at tackle gives him that capacity. Jenkins and Joseph will start but all four will see plenty of the field. The same can be said at end where again the Giants have four players likely to all see plenty of action. Jason Pierre-Paul was one of the most dominant players in the NFL in 2011 but struggled to reach that level in ’12 and had back surgery in June. He may be ready to play week one but he can’t be 100%, whether he can be later in the season is crucial to the Giants. Thirty year old Justin Tuck has been a brilliant player in New York but looked slow and unexplosive last year, whether he bounces back or continues to decline will also be vital to the defense. Veteran Mathias Kiwanuka and rookie Damontre Moore are the two key backups who will both see action. Linebackers Keith Rivers and new recruit Dan Connor are both players with something to prove and Jacquian Williams’s promotion to likely starter also raises question marks. The Giants inability to stop the run last year was fatal and this group must offer improved play in that area. The loss of safety Stevie Brown, their best defensive back last year to injury hurts a Giants secondary that is suspect anyway. Veteran corner Corey Webster struggles to match up with elite receivers and Prince Amukamara, a first round pick in 2011 is yet to play to that level. Second year pro Jayron Hosley and reacquired Aaron Ross can improve the play at the third and fourth corner positions. Antrel Rolle is a pretty good free safety but with Brown’s injury the strong safety position is a real worry. Ranking 31 overall would have been incomprehendable this time last year to the Giants but that was what happened. In 2013 they must be better and although they almost certainly will be this defense could put their high powered offense in a lot of shootouts.

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Defensive ends Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul

2013 Predicted wins8-9 wins

Playoff PredictionThe Giants are a different team in January, if they get in they will be a danger to all but to do so their defense must improve significantly from last year’s performances.

Washington RedskinsWhen owner Dan Snyder brought in Superbowl winning coach Mike Shanahan it was expected that the Redskins period of being the NFC East whipping boys was over. It took him two years but in his third, Shanahan not only ended it but took the Redskins to the playoffs as division champions. You would think it was to be onwards and upwards but quarterback Robert Griffin III, the rookie of the year last year ended the season needing triple surgery to repair his right knee and although he will be fit for week one he missed training camp and all of the Redskins pre-season games.

With Griffin’s electrifying ability last year the Redskins offense was completely transformed and he is one of the most exciting players in the game. Griffin’s dynamic running however will likely be unavailable to coordinator Kyle Shanahan, at least early on and whether Griffin can have the same success as a pure pocket passer is in doubt. Behind Griffin’s brilliance last year Alfred Morris’s incredible rookie season was often overlooked. The sixth round pick won the starting job in preseason and rushed for 1613 yards and 13 touchdowns. Repeating those figures would see Morris ranked near the top of the tree in NFL running backs but asking him to stay healthy again if given close to the 335 carries he had in 2012 would be risky. Returning Roy Helu is one of four other backs who need to reduce wear on Morris by being reliable producers. Receiver Pierre Garcon’s health is cause for more optimism, he is fully healed after missing six games last year and Josh Morgan should be stronger a full year on from ankle surgery. The duo’s run blocking is underestimated and played a major part in being the number one rushing team in the NFL last year. Losing Fred Davis to injury last year cost the Redskins one of their biggest weapons, Davis is healthy again and don’t underestimate rookie Jordan Reed as a pass catcher. The Redskins return all five starting linemen from last year and their rushing statistics show how well the unit played. A 5th overall ranking was had to foresee a year ago but this time around hopes are higher, unfortunately without an elite receiver Griffin will struggle to put up the passing numbers to compensate for his expected reduction in run plays so they will likely slip out of the top 10.

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Redskins quarterback Robert Griffin III

Washington’s practices must be hard fought when it comes to running the ball as their defense plays the run as well as their offense runs it. Nose tackle Barry Cofield and defensive ends Stephen Bowen, Adam Carriker, Jarvis Jenkins and Kedric Golston are all well over 300 pounds and all play the run well, getting better pass rush should be aided by the return of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan at outside linebacker. Orakpo is a particularly disruptive player, one of the league’s best at his position and Kerrigan a former first round pick had 8.5 sacks last year. Inside London Fletcher is still going strong as he enters his 16th season and alongside him Perry Riley is a 4th year pro who led the Redskins in tackles a year ago. Cornerbacks DeAngelo Hall and Josh Wilson have both found home in Washington, the former has been excellent the past couple of years. In addition the Redskins added second round rookie David Amerson and free agent E.J. Biggers from Tampa and suddenly have a pretty strong group of corners. The biggest question mark on this defense is at safety, Brandon Meriweather returns from a torn ACL but such injuries take time to get back to 100% from. Denard Jackson has been suspended all off-season and Reed Doughty’s lack of speed limits what he can do. It would be no surprise if one of the rookies Phillip Thomas or Baccari Rambo get a starting job and in the future they may both become starters. So basically this is a good defense and could be the best in the NFC East this year. The front seven are up there with any in the league against the run but the pass rush must improve; with Orakpo and Kerrigan both healthy there’s no reason it won’t. Safety would have to be a major concern with uncertainty over both spots which only heightens the urgency to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. The Redskins ranked 28th in total defense last year but are too good to not be better this time around, a top 20 spot should be a minimum expectancy.

2013 Predicted wins6-7

Playoff PredictionA tough schedule makes a return trip to the playoffs a tall order, winning divisional games as they did last year (5-1 record) is their best chance. They could be interesting if they did get in; Griffin would be 100% by then but overall they are short of championship quality.

Philadelphia Eagles– A disastrous season saw Andy Reid’s long tenure in Philly finally end and the Eagles are now in the hands of Chip Kelly whose high octane offense brought unparalleled success to Oregon in the NCAA. The self proclaimed ‘dream team’ of two years ago seems a long time ago and a lot of the disappointing free agents who formed it are gone. Still, Kelly inherits enough talent to be much better than the 4-12 record a year ago.

Offensively Michael Vick won the quarterback battle and should fit Kelly’s scheme. Even as more and more young dual threat quarterback’s emerge Vick is still the fastest and most dangerous with his legs. As much as the scheme may suit Vick it won’t protect him and his inability to stay healthy has heightened in the last couple of years, he can’t do anything about that but Vick must protect the ball better, 21 turnovers in 10 starts is completely unacceptable. Star receiver DeSean Jackson is Vick’s best weapon but he is inconsistent and has a poor attitude, getting the best from him is a challenge for Kelly. With Jeremy Maclin on IR it will be up to Jason Avant, Riley Cooper and Damaris Johnson to pick up the strain with Jackson. Tight end Brent Celek has rarely produced too much but James Casey is a decent acquisition and rookie Zach Ertz could be better than either, he looks a particularly exciting addition. Running back Shady McCoy was mismanaged in 2012; he is one of the best and most versatile backs in football but was totally underused. He should see more touches this year and 1500 yards from scrimmage is expected again. McCoy’s backup Bryce Brown impressed at times last year and will expect playing time also. The return of three starters on the line helps, particularly Jason Peters who is one of the best left tackles in the NFL. They added the ultra athletic Lane Johnson in the first round to play right tackle, his upside is off the charts and they could be a dominant duo. Inside Evan Mathis, Jason Kelce and Todd Herremans will likely start and overall this is a good line that could be great if Johnson hits the ground running. The quarterbacking situation is the main issue in Philadelphia, there is plenty of talent on offense but have the Eagles got anyone to utilise it? If Vick can stay on the field and cure his turnover issues this offense could be in the top 10.

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Eagles quarterback Michael Vick

The thing keeping the Eagles from contending in 2013 will likely be the defense which is low on talent. New coordinator Bill Davis runs a hybrid defense that lines up in both 3-4 and 4-3 alignments. Rookie Benny Logan and veteran Isaac Sopoaga are defensive tackles in either scheme, Fletcher Cox will play end and tackle and Vinny Curry, Trent Cole and Brandon Graham will play end in the 4-3 or outside linebacker in the 3-4. A lot of moving parts upfront which in my experience is generally not successful, players prefer to have one defined role. DeMeco Ryans, probably the Eagles best defender is joined by fellow former Texan Connor Barwin and second year pro Mychal Kendricks as starting linebackers in either setup. New additions Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams are the starting corners having been solid backups in their last jobs. There is very little experience behind the starters and injuries could leave the defense ripe for the picking. Safeties Patrick Chung (New England) and Kenny Phillips (New York Giants) complete an entirely new secondary but both were injured last year and Phillips is injured more than he is fit. This looks a defense low on talent and will likely need heavy investment in the next couple of years to be competitive. The Eagles at least have some potential in getting after the quarterback and will need to do so to protect their fragile secondary. They were 15th overall in total defense last year but will likely be in the high 20s in 2013.

2013 Predicted wins5-6

Playoff PredictionNot totally inconceivable that they win this ultra close division to make the postseason but on paper they are the definite outsiders.

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Author: Dave

I have been an NFL fan since my first visit to the USA where I stayed in both Dallas and Houston. I have also visited New York, Chicago, Atlanta, Philadelphia and Kentucky. I was hooked the first time I watched a Cowboys game whilst out there although I must confess I had little idea what was going on! Like a lot of British fans I just kept picking more and more up and now follow the NFL news daily and hopefully have a decent level of knowledge myself! I am a Cowboys fan for my sins, I loved the twin cities of Dallas-Fort Worth in my time there and the iconic Cowboys were of instant appeal. First and foremost however I'm a football fan and all my articles will be written impartially. I hope you enjoy our site, feel free to leave us your comments and opinions.

One thought on “ATPF Division Preview- NFC East

  1. Id forever want to be update on new articles on this web site, bookmarked !.

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