2016 NFC East Predictions and Preview
Dallas Cowboys (2015 record: 4-12): The key to the Cowboys’ 2016 season can be summed up in two words; Tony Romo. Until rookie Dak Prescott is ready to take the reins, the beefy offensive line has to keep Romo healthy and upright if they are to become relevant again. The rest of the offense around him should be near excellent. RB Ezekiel Elliott was the perfect ‘need’ fit for this squad and should have no problem leading all rookies at the position – though he was drafted way too early. The receiving corps is thin but when Dez Bryant leads the group, you don’t a bevy of uber-talent behind him. He’s coming off of his own injury issues, but is a stud and will prove it this year.
The defense took a couple of hits in the offseason, as Demarcus Lawrence, Randy Gregory, and Rolando McClain simply refuse to grow up and will miss chunks of games due to suspension. There are question marks in every faction of the defense. The pass rush is lacking, the secondary is void of talent, and the linebacking corps is wafer thin, with rookie Jaylon Smith’s debut earmarked for 2017 after ripping his knee to shreds in the Fiesta Bowl.
Luckily, the rest of the division is underwhelming. This should help the ‘Boys win the division. **LATE NOTE: Romo could miss up to two months with a back injury. Prescott is slated to be the starter.
NY Giants (2015 record: 6-10): The Giants went into the offseason with far too many holes to fill, especially on the offensive line and on defense. They did a nice job upgrading the defense, especially at cornerback; the signing of Janoris Jenkins and the drafting of Eli Apple are significant. They upgraded nicely up front as well, bringing in Olivier Vernon to help with the pass rush and ‘Snacks’ Harrison to clog up the middle. For some inexplicable reason, though, they again neglected the middle of the defense; the linebackers were weak again last year and will be again in 2016.
The offense didn’t see the same upgrades and really only has two viable pieces in Eli Manning and Odell Beckham Jr. How Beckham was able to put up the numbers he did is beyond us; there was no, and remains no, viable secondary or tertiary target in the passing game. They drafted Sterling Shepard in the second round, but the jury is still out on how his game will translate to the pro level. Victor Cruz is still around, but is having no luck in his return from serious leg injuries. The line and running back squads remain unchanged, which doesn’t bode well for the unit. And we’d be remiss not to mention the downgrade on the sideline; Tom Coughlin is no longer in charge, being replaced by rookie HC Ben McAdoo.
The division is weak, but the Giants probably won’t see more than seven wins.
Philadelphia Eagles (2015 record: 7-9): Thankfully, the Chip Kelly Era is over in Philly. He single-handedly ripped this organization to shreds with his bloated ego, and it’s now up to new HC Doug Pederson to bring respect back to Eastern PA. Man, he’s got his work cut out for him. We’ll start on offense, where Philly went all-in on top draft pick Carson Wentz. They’d be better off letting him learn the offense and letting either Sam Bradford or Chase Daniel man the spot this year. Neither instills confidence but they are serviceable for the interim. The receivers are solid, though they lack a definitive top option. Jordan Matthews is a two at best and Nelson Agholor was pretty awful as a rookie. The best option could be TE Zach Ertz, who appears primed for a serious breakout. The running game is barely adequate; Ryan Mathews is not a full time back. The line isn’t awful, but anchor Jason Peters is on the wrong side of 30 and suffered some back issues in 2015.
The defense should a bit above average, especially in the secondary where Malcolm Jenkins and Rodney McLeod will be a formidable duo at safety. CB is a little shakier, but became deeper in the offseason with the signings of Leodis McKelvin and Ron Brooks. Look for the former to win a starting spot, if he can stay healthy. The front seven is adequate and the addition of athletic LB Nigel Bradham will fit the new 4-3 scheme much better than other options.
The Eagles are in full rebuild and won’t compete much this year, despite the division being subpar.
Washington Redskins (2015 record: 9-7): At least there will be no QB controversy this year; RGIII’s career careened to a halt while Kirk Cousins’ stock soared. We knew he couldn’t be as bad as he was in 2014, but we also don’t think he’s as good as he was last year. Expect his completion rate to even out closer to 65% and a few more INTs. His WR corps got stronger when they drafted Josh Doctson. He’s got size, athleticism, and great hands; look for him to be the top red-zone target once his foot heals and he can get on the field. They’ll need him as Pierre Garcon is getting older and DeSean Jackson is getting more brittle. TE Jordan Reed will be one of the best in the game, and he could improve upon last year’s numbers (87/952/11 TDs). The running game took a hit when Alfred Morris bolted for Dallas; Matt Jones is OK but needs to prove he can be a viable full-time option, as they’re fairly thin at the position. The line suffered through an inconsistent season and zero upgrades we made. They’re young, so perhaps another season together will get them to gel. They rebounded nicely on defense and added a huge piece in the spring.
CB Josh Norman is one of the best in the business, and now he gets to face OBJ twice per season. That’s some must-see TV. He, and the rest of the secondary, will be helped by an improved pass rush (only 38 sacks last year). They already took a hit when LB Junior Galette tore an Achilles for the second straight year. Sophomore Preston Smith will be relied upon to show some improvement, as he had an uneven rookie year. The line is being shifted around; Terrance Knighton departed for the Pats and Trent Murphy is going to give it a go as a DE.
The Skins will have a tougher schedule this year, courtesy of their 2015 record, and a bit of a slip could be in order.
PREDICTED 2016 STANDINGS
NY Giants 5-11