2013 NFL Division Predictions: NFC East (Hanson)
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One of the league's most competitive divisions from top to bottom, all four NFC East teams have won the division within the past four seasons.
Here are my predictions for the NFC East with final-year records:
1. New York Giants (schedule): 9-7
Arguably the most complete team in the NFC East, the Giants have made the playoffs only once in the past four seasons, but they have won two Lombardi Trophies since the 2007 season.
While quarterback Eli Manning had an off year with nearly 1,000 fewer passing yards from the previous season, the Giants ranked sixth in the NFL in scoring offense (26.8 PPG). Provided Hakeem Nicks has better health in 2013, the Giants have one of the league's better trio of wide receivers with Nicks, Victor Cruz and Rueben Randle, who has generated a ton of buzz this offseason. The 1-2 punch of David Wilson and Andre Brown should fill the void of last year's 1,000-yard rusher Ahmad Bradshaw.
The main problem last year was on the defensive end as the team allowed 383.4 yards per game, 31st in the NFL, and they struggled to get to the quarterback as they had only 33 sacks. That is roughly one-third less than they had in each of the previous two seasons: 48 (2011) and 46 (2010).
Provided they get more pressure on the quarterback this year, their overall defensive numbers should improve and they will make the postseason for their second time in five years.
2. Dallas Cowboys (schedule): 9-7
No team in the league generates more strong emotion — whether it's love or hate — than "America's Team." From a success standpoint, however, that's a nickname that no longer applies.
While the 1990s were a successful decade for the Cowboys (albeit less successful than they could have been had Jerry Jones and Jimmy Johnson been able to coexist), the franchise has made the postseason only four times since 2000 and they have won only one playoff game during that stretch.
On a positive note, Dez Bryant has emerged as one of the league's elite receivers and Jason Witten always produces at a consistently high level at tight end, but the team will only go as far as Tony Romo takes them. With an ability to make plays, Romo needs to limit mistakes and become more consistent in clutch moments for the 'Boys to get over the hump.
The team will transition from a 3-4 to 4-3 scheme under new defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin. While they have one of the league's best pass-rushers in DeMarcus Ware, they had only 34 sacks last season and they will need to get a more consistent pass rush from the rest of the team to help generate more turnovers. The Cowboys were tied for last in the league last season with only seven intercepted passes.
Unless the Cowboys can improve upon their -13 turnover differential, third-worst in the NFC last year, it's another year of the Cowboys looking in from the outside as I have the Giants winning the tie-breaker.
3. Washington Redskins (schedule): 7-9
The Redskins gave up a ton of draft picks to move up a couple of picks in the 2012 NFL Draft — and it almost feels like it wasn't enough. While Robert Griffin III (and Andrew Luck) entered the league with a ton of hype, he was (they were) nothing short of sensational as a rookie.
Griffin III, the 2012 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year, posted a remarkable 20:5 touchdown-to-interception ratio while also finishing 20th in the NFL in rushing (815 yards, seven TDs). Coming off a torn ACL, his recovery puts him on pace to start the season opener even though his desire to play in the preseason has generated some unnecessary controversy that the media has blown out of proportion.
The Redskins led the NFL in rushing offense and Alfred Morris finished second in the league in rushing. Their passing attack should be improved provided Pierre Garcon can stay healthy for the full season.
Defensively, the Redskins dealt with a number of injuries along their defensive line and in their secondary last year. Improved health will go a long way in the team bouncing back on that side of the ball.
4. Philadelphia Eagles (schedule): 7-9
With Andy Reid on the sidelines from 1999 to 2012, the Eagles have decided to try to get a fresh start as they begin the Chip Kelly era.
Based on a couple of preseason games, it appears likely that Michael Vick will win the team's starting quarterback competition. Although he recently said that playing football has become fun again under Kelly's up-tempo offense, Vick will always remain a huge injury risk. Provided he stays healthy for at least 14 games, the Eagles could threaten to lead the NFL in rushing. In addition, LeSean McCoy should have a bounce-back season.
The defensive side of the ball could be what holds the Eagles back from bouncing back record-wise, but I have them in the mix at 7-9 even though I project them to finish last in the division.
All of our contributors will continue to make their division and Super Bowl picks and we will track those on this centralized predictions page.