With the regular season bearing down on us, let’s take a look at the 2014 NFC East Predictions.
The NFC East teams have to play the AFC South and NFC West this season in addition to their divisional schedule.
I am making predictions as if injuries did not occur unless otherwise specified and each projected finish is from looking through each game over the course of the season and predicting each winner from each matchup.
For playoff predictions and award predictions, check out Football Fan Source’s 2014 NFL Season Preview!
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Projected Finish: 9-7
Philadelphia is the team to beat this year in the NFC East. Their offense is dynamic and their defense is improving just enough to make them factors for a deep playoff run. It will be fun to see what Chip Kelly does in his second season as head coach.
The Eagles offense is, by far, their strength, with playmakers all over the roster. LeSean McCoy is arguably the best running back in football (I say he is), Nick Foles was ridiculous last season throwing 27 touchdowns and two interceptions and the receiving core is getting Jeremy Maclin back after missing all of last season due to injury. Darren Sproles was brought in this offseason to be a weapon in the passing and rushing game and other players wait in the wings for their opportunity. Tight end Brent Celek has been solid, but second-year tight end Zach Ertz has been considered a big breakout candidate this season. Rookie Jordan Matthews may even push Riley Cooper for receiving targets as the season progresses. The up-tempo offense for Philadelphia is nearly impossible for defenses to effectively defend and with the Eagles adding players for depth at key positions, they can stay fresh. Philadelphia is a very good offensive team this season.
Defensively, they aren’t as sturdy, but have improved. Mychal Kendricks at inside linebacker looked like a steal as a rookie last season. His athleticism makes him a great addition to a defense that must take the field frequently due to their offense’s explosive scoring capability. Trent Cole and Connor Barwin make a formidable outside linebacker duo rushing the passer. In the secondary, Cary Williams has the makings of a solid corner while Malcolm Jenkins settles in after playing well in New Orleans for the past five seasons. Jenkins could provide much needed safety help.
Philadelphia is a very good team in a very weak NFC East. That said, the NFC East traditionally beats up on one another pretty well and the matchups with the NFC West don’t bode well for the Eagles though I will enjoy watching Philly’s offense against Seattle’s defense. Philadelphia likely finishes better than nine wins if Foles plays well. He won’t match last season’s touchdown:interception ratio, but he will do enough. I just think the NFC West matchups and a couple losses to their division provide speed bumps for Philadelphia.
Player to Watch: WR Jeremy Maclin – DeSean Jackson is in Washington. Maclin was on his way to being a top-flight receiver before he missed last season. If he is healed and remains healthy, I am expecting big things from him.
2. Dallas Cowboys
Projected Finish: 8-8
Oh Dallas… Dallas has been overhyped and overrated for years now. Despite being flush with talent, they were unable to put it together to even make the playoffs finishing 8-8 in back-to-back…to-back seasons. Heck, each time it came down to a “win and get-in” game and they lost all three times to each of the other teams within their division. First, they lost in the 2011 regular season finale to New York. They lost in 2012 to Washington and last season to Philadelphia. Well, there isn’t anyone left to let into the playoffs. That’s good, right?
Dallas will be dynamic offensively. New play-caller Scott Linehan likes to throw the ball and utilize the talent at his disposal. Quarterback Tony Romo, if healed from offseason back surgery, will play very well this season, directing receivers Dez Bryant and Terrance Williams to big years. Tight end Jason Witten is still a quality player and running backs DeMarco Murray and Lance Dunbar may actually be used in this scheme! Murray has been considered an injury risk thus far in his career, but has a lot of talent. Bryant is a top-five receiver, but may put up more numbers than anyone as Dallas has to play catch-up. The offense should be fun to watch.
The defense is a different story. Owner Jerry Jones let Demarcus Ware head off to Denver, lost Jason Hatcher and couldn’t find much of anyone to fill the huge voids left by these players and others. He also can’t seem to get over passing on Johnny Manziel, but that’s another story. So, Dallas faces down a season in which their defense may be atrocious. The defensive line has some recognizable faces in defensive end George Selvie – who I think will lead Dallas in sacks this season – and defensive tackle Henry Melton. At linebacker, Bruce Carter is an athletic specimen who needs to take the next step in his development for Dallas. Rolando McClain in the inside just came back after retiring for the second time. The former Oakland Raider first-round pick has been back and forth from the game for awhile now, but if he pans out, he could be a huge bargain buy. Brandon Carr is still the top secondary player for Dallas. It would be nice to see if former first-rounder Morris Claiborne can finally crack the starting unit.
A lot of people assume Dallas is heading to the cellar this season, but I think the Cowboys remain frighteningly consistent and finish 8-8 for the fourth straight season. The schedule is rough and their defense should be bad (I’m not sure if I believe it will be the absolute worst though), but the offense is going to be tough to stop and there are no expectations right now.
Player to Watch: LB Rolando McClain – He was a first-round pick for Oakland and didn’t really pan out. He then abruptly retired last season and has been back and forth since. Dallas signed him in desperate need of linebacker depth with Sean Lee out for the year due to injury. Dallas simply “needing” him might be enough to resurrect his career.
3. New York Giants
Projected Finish: 6-10
I see a bad year in the cards for New York. A terrible preseason offensively and questions abound make for a potentially problematic combination as the regular season closes in.
This preseason, the Giants were awful offensively. The lone bright spot was running backs Rashad Jennings and rookie Andre Williams. Jennings, I believe, will have a huge year this season, but Williams is a heck of a runner who will step-in to compliment Jennings. Quarterback Eli Manning couldn’t get anything going this preseason and while I’d like to believe he will figure out Ben Macadoo’s new offensive scheme, Manning still has the reputation of one who really hasn’t performed well outside of two Super Bowl appearances. Receivers Victor Cruz, Rueben Randle and rookie Odell Beckham provide sufficient targets, but Manning can’t seem to get it to them. Randle is the guy I think could breakout this season as his size and athletic ability make him hard to cover. Beckham will be good if he can get on the field. It’s too early to say for sure, but his rookie season may turn into a redshirt as he fights a hamstring injury. The offensive line is now without Geoff Schwartz, which is a major blow to this offense.
Defensively, there isn’t much to report on. They have the talent to be solid as they were last season when they were 8th in yards allowed per game. Jason Pierre-Paul was pretty quiet last season. I expect him to return to form. Middle linebacker Jon Beason is a player. He is a bit injury prone, but makes this defense better with him there. The secondary is improved with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie at corner. He isn’t a true shutdown corner, but he is a good addition to the unit. The defense may keep New York in games, but the lack of offense may influence the outcomes the greatest.
New York always seems to claw themselves out of a bad season and I expect this year to be no different. I see a slow start, but a furious charge in the second half of the year. It should be too little, too late. New York may finish even worse than six wins too if that offense can’t figure something out.
Player to Watch: RB Rashad Jennings – Jennings has a bit of an injury history, but this is a guy getting an opportunity to start after being a career backup. He has the ability to play very well and carry the Giants offensively. At the very least, he is a nice story.
4. Washington Redskins
Projected Finish: 4-12
New head coach Jay Gruden will help Robert Griffin III in his development after a rough season a year ago, but I just don’t see it happening this season.
“RG3” is now working with the offensive mind who got Andy Dalton to the playoffs in three consecutive years. Griffin is a great talent who will be asked to do less running in Gruden’s system, which should help Griffin down the road, but perhaps limit his effectiveness this season. Washington has talent offensively with Alfred Morris at running back and newly acquired DeSean Jackson at receiver, but I have trouble seeing it come together for the Redskins. They will put up points, but may struggle to score on superior defensive teams as they will encounter with their NFC West matchups. The “X-Factor” in Washington is tight end Jordan Reed. Reed is part of the new breed of tight end with exceptional athleticism and a bigger frame. He was coming on very well last season before an injury sidelined him for the season. Gruden likes to utilize tight ends in his offenses, especially to help Griffin along.
The defense in Washington will rely on a strong linebacking core to control the middle of the field. Outside linebackers Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo make a great pass rushing duo. Orakpo, if he plays all year, may finally get the proper recognition for his pass rushing prowess. Inside, Keenan Robinson has played well and is someone to watch as the season progresses. In the secondary, Ryan Clark comes over from Pittsburgh to pair with Bacarri Rambo at safety. DeAngelo Hall remains the top corner.
Some people believe Washington is one of the hardest teams to predict because they could either be surprisingly good or surprisingly bad. I am clearly leaning towards the latter. They will steal a win or two from NFC East foes, but I don’t know if I see them doing much more.
Player to Watch: TE Jordan Reed – Reed will be utilized and has exceptional talents. He could burst onto the scene this season.