(Photo by Larry French/Getty Images)
(Getty Images/Larry French)
The Redskins haven’t won back-to-back division titles in 32 years, and nobody’s won the NFC East in consecutive seasons since 2004.
Both streaks end this season…by default.
The Skins will play a first place schedule — which generally doesn’t mean anything — but this year, it translates to Washington playing defensive world beaters Arizona and Carolina. Couple that with the division-wide misfortune of facing the AFC North, and gaudy records won’t be in the cards for the NFC East.
That said, the Redskins are more talented than they were last year. Kirk Cousins is better after a productive offseason, Jordan Reed is healthy (and well paid) after his 2015 coming out party, and DeSean Jackson looks extra motivated in a contract year. Josh Norman brings swagger and star power to a defense desperate for both, Preston Smith looks poised for a breakout sophomore season, and rookie Su’a Cravens has shown signs that he can be a difference maker.
That should be enough to overcome the stagnant rushing attack and a shaky defensive line that didn’t add any notable help in the offseason. With only one or two juggernaut offenses on the schedule, don’t be surprised to see the Skins not only repeat as division champs, but actually make a deep playoff run 25 years after their last Super Bowl.
Last year, Big Blue came up mighty small late in games, losing five games they led in the 4th quarter. So the Giants spent $114 million in guaranteed money to four defensive free agents (Janoris Jenkins, Olivier Vernon, Damon Harrison and Jason Pierre-Paul) and added ex-Redskin linebacker Keenan Robinson to help breathe life into one of the league’s worst defenses. Management thinks they’ve got something good
but I’m not sold on the notion that simply dumping a two-time Super Bowl winner (Tom Coughlin) for a young offensive coordinator (Ben McAdoo) who was also a part of the back-to-back 6-10 seasons will fix what ails the Giants.
The ground game remains a question mark, but Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. will continue to play catch in opposing secondaries and the long-awaited return of Victor Cruz can only help matters. That will keep New York competitive, but I see them fading down the stretch after a fast start, which will allow the Redskins to clinch the division before their Week 17 tilt.
Despite the growing preseason legend of Dak Prescott (even in his own mind
), the reality is this: Any Dallas prediction has to be predicated on the health of Tony Romo. The Cowboys are 10-23 without him since he took over the starting job in 2006 and over their last 36 games, the Cowboys are 17-5 with Romo and 1-13 without him.
However, the rest of the offense looks good with Dez Bryant back healthy, rookie Ezekiel Elliott bringing big play ability to the backfield, and ex-Redskin Alfred Morris providing at least a good change of pace option behind the best offensive line in football.
It’s not so sunny on defense though; the unit opens the year with multiple key suspensions–Randy Gregory (10), Rolando McClain (10 games), and Demarcus Lawrence (4) — and the secondary has more questions than answers. With a patchwork D and an offense led by a rookie at least half the season, count on a very slow start but a competitive finish for not-so-big D.
Though there’s evidence to the contrary
, Philadelphia thinks they’ve got a link to their glory years with new coach Doug Pederson taking the helm. The former Andy Reid assistant says he’ll keep elements of predecessor Chip Kelly’s up-tempo offense in place, but the fact of the matter is they don’t have as good a QB situation as their investment in it suggests: Sam Bradford’s inexplicably arrogant holdout indirectly led to his trade, Chase Daniel comes to town to be a present-day Todd Collins, and the Eagles gave up a bounty of picks for Carson Wentz, who was pegged for a redshirt season before the Bradford trade (and is already banged up). Add in the 10-game suspension of offensive lineman Lane Johnson, and there isn’t much reason to believe this will be a top flight unit.
However, the defense seems to be in good hands with Jim Schwartz. His squad was flying around, creating turnovers in the preseason and he brought linebacker Stephen Tulloch to Philly just before preseason. If Schwartz can keep the D swarming in the regular season, the Eagles could be more competitive than expected.