Patriots still stand alone, but the Cowboys & Eagles will duke it out in the NFC East
Over the past decade, the Washington Redskins experienced a string of disappointments, consistently finishing at the bottom of the NFC East, except for their third-place finish in 2007, where they lost a wild-card game to Seattle, and their first-place finish in 2012, followed by another wild-card loss to Seattle.
The primary cause of their struggles was an unsound business strategy that lavished substantial contracts on free-agent acquisitions, some of whom were costly underperformers, such as Albert Haynesworth.
Notably, the 2012 trade, involving three first-round picks and one second-round pick sent to the St. Louis Rams in exchange for quarterback Robert Griffin III, is regarded as one of the most ill-advised draft trades in NFL history, with Griffin’s tenure marred by turmoil rather than triumph.
In the present year, Washington seems to have adjusted its model, opting to trade down in the draft to accumulate young talent and address the shortcomings of their dismal defense from the previous season under the guidance of new coordinator Joe Barry.
While they still face challenges and lack a capable quarterback, Washington appears to be charting a more promising course for the future.
However, in discussions concerning divisional races, the Redskins will not be significant contenders this season.
The New York Giants boast a highly talented quarterback in Eli Manning and possess the NFL’s most dynamic wide receiver in Odell Beckham Jr.
Nevertheless, the team has grappled with injuries, an unfortunate circumstance that impacted them significantly in the previous season.
They were particularly afflicted, losing their primary wide receiver, Victor Cruz, and running back, Rashad Jennings, for extended periods.
The injury woes were further compounded on the defensive front. The Giants found themselves without their premier cornerback, Prince Amukamara, their primary slot player, Walter Thurmond, and their leading linebacker, Jon Beason, among other losses on the defensive line.
Despite these setbacks, they secured a position within the top 10 in total defense.
Adding to the intrigue, Steve Spagnuolo, the architect behind the Giants’ two Super Bowl victories, has returned to his role as defensive coordinator. The Giants’ prospects hinge on their ability to maintain good health and lucky breaks.
However, this presents a dilemma as the Giants find themselves battered in the preseason, with over 20 players contending with various injuries and at least four already ruled out for the season.
The Giants’ standing come December will depend on which players can endure the physical toll.
Amidst rebuilding efforts in Washington and focusing on rehabilitating injuries in New York, the NFC East division appears poised for a showdown between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys.
The Cowboys clinched the title last year thanks to their formidable ground game, characterized by a traditional, power-running approach that punished opposing defenses.
Notably, in 2014, they leaned on the run, executing more rushing plays (508) than passing attempts (506) on their path to claiming the division crown.
Although their standout running back, DeMarco Murray, now plays for the Eagles; the Cowboys have maintained their formidable offensive line, known for its physicality.
From the author’s perspective, Tony Romo is one of the league’s most underrated quarterbacks. If he can replicate his career-low nine interceptions from the previous season, the Cowboys’ offense has the potential to be exceptional.
On the defensive front, the Cowboys made a significant acquisition by signing defensive end Greg Hardy, aimed at bolstering their pass rush.
The highly anticipated return of linebacker Sean Lee is expected to make a considerable impact. However, the recent loss of their top cornerback, Orlando Scandrick, represents a significant setback for the improving defense.
The question arises whether the Dallas defense possesses the necessary components to compete with what is expected to be an enhanced Philadelphia offense.
In Philadelphia, former Rams quarterback Sam Bradford has taken the reins of the Eagles’ offense.
His ability to stay healthy has been a persistent concern throughout his career, notably heightened by the recent hit from Terrell Suggs.
Additionally, Chip Kelly’s preference for keeping his quarterbacks in the shotgun formation further fuels discussions about Sam Bradford’s durability.
The Eagles’ offense is poised to be explosive again, courtesy of head coach Chip Kelly’s innovative scheme.
However, the primary reason for Philadelphia’s potential contention lies in their revamped secondary. When a defense ranks second in the NFL in sacks (49) but also sits second in passing yards allowed per game, as was last season, it signifies a straightforward issue.
To address this, Philadelphia made two notable additions in former Seahawk Byron Maxwell and former Giant Walter Thurmond, both considered potential shutdown cornerbacks.
While the Eagles have a reputation for their scoring ability, their recent efforts indicate a commitment to strengthening their defense as well.
With these considerations in mind, it appears that Philadelphia is positioned to reclaim the NFC East division this season.
The New York Jets have undertaken significant changes this offseason to address pressing issues. The more composed Todd Bowles succeeded the energetic yet offensively challenged former head coach Rex Ryan.
Recognizing vulnerabilities in the secondary, the Jets made a key acquisition by bringing in the lockdown player Darrelle Revis.
However, the lingering uncertainty remains at the quarterback position, where Geno Smith, the incumbent starter, will be sidelined for ten weeks with a broken jaw.
It’s worth noting that the Jets have ranked 31st and 30th in passing in each of Smith’s previous seasons, raising doubts about whether he can show substantial improvement in his third year.
From the author’s perspective, this issue remains a significant hurdle for the Jets, and their prospects will continue to be limited until it’s addressed, irrespective of any improvements on the defensive front.
The Miami Dolphins have maintained a steady performance around the 8-8 mark since 2008. The question is whether they can break through to a higher level.
Quarterback Ryan Tannehill, whose accomplishments may have gone unnoticed, finished among the league’s top 10 quarterbacks.
He amassed over 4,000 passing yards, 27 touchdowns, a mere 12 interceptions, and achieved a 67-percent completion rate.
The critical inquiry revolves around Tannehill’s potential for further progress. The Dolphins are expected to field a formidable defense, having added Ndamukong Suh, the NFL’s premier free-agent acquisition, to an already impressive lineup.
Nevertheless, the author believes that reaching the 10-win threshold might prove challenging for Miami, especially considering their daunting final five games, which include matchups against Baltimore, the New York Giants on Monday Night Football, San Diego, Indianapolis, and New England.
The Buffalo Bills appear optimistic as Rex Ryan takes charge, bringing his distinctive swagger to the franchise.
Ryan arrives with a personal mission to take on his former team, the Jets, and to confront the perennial thorn in his side, the Patriots.
The Bills made a noteworthy signing in running back LeSean McCoy, adding a touch of star power to their roster, although a hamstring issue did affect his preseason.
While the author anticipates improvement from the Bills, there remains a long-standing concern: Rex Ryan’s track record in developing quarterbacks.
The competition for the starting quarterback position remains unresolved, but promising performances have been exhibited by Tyrod Taylor, Matt Cassel, and E.J. Manuel.
Rex Ryan faces a challenging decision, with only a few weeks to make it. The Bills are expected to remain in the second position within the AFC East, but they could become a potent force if they can secure consistent quarterback play.
In the AFC East, some things are as certain as death and taxes, and one of them is the New England Patriots dominance.
As long as Tom Brady, regardless of the length of his suspension, continues to be the quarterback and Bill Belichick serves as the head coach, the Patriots are poised for success.
Despite the loss of key players in free agency, such as Darrelle Revis and Brandon Browner, and lingering issues on paper, like the secondary rotation, offensive line, and broad receiver health, the Patriots’ stability at the head coaching and quarterback positions represents a valuable asset in the NFL.
The Patriots have consistently demonstrated an ability to adapt and address concerns as each season progresses, making the goal of answering every question definitively on Day 1 an unnecessary one.
The Deflategate controversy may well serve to fuel an “us versus the world” mentality within the New England Patriots, providing Tom Brady with an additional motivation to enhance his legacy.
While the other teams in the AFC East are expected to present stiffer competition, the division is anticipated to remain under the Patriots’ control.