2014 NFL Preseason Predictions: NFC East
A few days ago, I kicked off my NFL divisional predictions with my 2014 prediction for the AFC East. Today I turn my attention to the NFC East.
As I noted in my previous post, I've gone through the entire 256-game regular-season schedule and selected a winner for each game. Therefore, the projected records are not only based on a team's talent level but also their schedule.
Over the next couple of weeks leading up to the season opener, I will post predictions for the remaining divisions, Super Bowl XLIX and individual postseason awards.
Here are my predictions for the 2014 NFC East:
1. Philadelphia Eagles — Projected 2014 Record: 9-7
Orchestrating a worst-to-first turnaround in his first season as an NFL head coach, Chip Kelly proved his skeptics wrong. Only the Denver Broncos gained more yards (7,317) than the Eagles (6,676). While LeSean McCoy took home the rushing title, Nick Foles finished with the third-highest passer rating (119.2) in NFL history behind Aaron Rodgers (122.5, 2011) and Peyton Manning (121.1, 2004). In a season where Manning set single-season records for passing yards and TDs while taking home a fifth MVP, it was Foles — not Manning — that led the NFL in passer rating.
Repeating last year's remarkable efficiency (27:2 TD-to-INT ratio) seems all but impossible, but Philadelphia should once again have one of the league's top offenses. While the team cut loose DeSean Jackson, who posted career highs (82/1332/9), they get back Jeremy Maclin from a torn ACL, re-signed Riley Cooper, drafted Jordan Matthews in the second round and traded for running back Darren Sproles. In addition, second-year tight end Zach Ertz seems poised for a breakout season. Foles & Co. should feel more comfortable in their second year in Kelly's offense and a faster tempo seems likely.
One of the challenges of an up-tempo offense, however, is how much your defense is on the field. While they seemed to move the ball at will, the Eagles ranked 29th in the league in defense. In addition, no team had a lesser time of possession. The Eagles improved their secondary by signing safety Malcolm Jenkins via free agency and their pass rush by using their first-round pick on Louisville's Marcus Smith. How much their defense improves will be key to determining how far they can go in the postseason.
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2. New York Giants — Projected 2014 Record: 8-8
Starting the season with a six-game losing streak, the Giants built a hole too deep for them to make a run at the postseason despite their strong finish. The Giants closed the season by winning seven of their final 10 games.
Quarterback Eli Manning threw 1,250 percent more interceptions than Foles. While that overstates how bad he was, it really doesn't. Not only did Manning set a career worst with 27 interceptions, but he led the league by five. In addition, Eli threw only 18 touchdowns, his lowest total since his rookie season.
With a new offensive coordinator, the Giants new scheme will use quicker throws and fewer option routes. That should cut down on sacks and interceptions while increasing completion percentage. There may be a period of adjustment, however, as we've seen with his struggles in the preseason.
The duo of free-agent addition Rashad Jennings and rookie Andre Williams should give the Giants a viable 1-2 punch at running back. The Giants struggled to run the ball last season; only three teams averaged fewer yards per game.
On defense, Jason Pierre-Paul seems poised for a rebound season now that he's healthy. Since his 16.5-sack season in 2011, JPP has only 8.5 sacks in 27 games including just two sacks in 11 games last season. The Giants had only 34 sacks last season; only five teams had fewer sacks.
3. Dallas Cowboys — Projected 2014 Record: 5-11
As a Cowboys fan, I've suffered through several seasons of mediocrity. Good enough to give us foolish souls a glimmer of hope yet bad enough to make costly mistakes to break our collective heart. Well, 2014 is the year the mediocrity ends. But that's not necessarily a good thing.
The Cowboys offense is loaded and should be one of the best in the league. Skill-position guys like Dez Bryant and DeMarco Murray are studs. For all the criticism that he receives, Tony Romo is not the (main) reason the Cowboys have struggled and he's one of the top 10 or so quarterbacks in the league. Even if Jason Witten has begun the downward slope of his career, he's still one of the better tight ends in the league. And the team has assembled one of the better offensive lines in the league.
As good as the Cowboys offense should be, it's possible (likely?) that the Cowboys defense will be worse. Not only was DeMarcus Ware a cap casualty, but they will once again be without linebacker Sean Lee (ACL). No team allowed more yards last season and it's unlikely to get any better in 2014.
4. Washington Redskins — Projected 2014 Record: 4-12
As the Eagles went from worst to first, the Redskins in turn went from first to worst.
There are a few reasons for optimism on offense — RG3 and Jordan Reed are healthy and DeSean Jackson fell into their lap as the Eagles parted ways with the explosive receiver, as noted above. In addition, Trent Williams is one of the league's best offensive tackles. With Jay Gruden taking over the coaching reins from the Shanahans, the offense should be fine in 2014.
Led by Brian Orakpo, Ryan Kerrigan and Jason Hatcher, the Redskins have several key pieces on defense, especially their front-seven. That said, they lost the veteran leadership of London Fletcher in the middle and their secondary is the defense's weak link.
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