2014 Scout NFC East Preview

A look at the NFC East heading in to the 2014 season...

Dallas Cowboys
By Mark Lane, CowboysToday.com

OUTLOOK: The 2014 outlook for the Dallas Cowboys is the same as it has been since 2011. The roster keeps getting younger and more talented, but there are still deficiencies across the board that will prevent them going deep into the playoffs. Even quarterback Tony Romo admitted in a local radio interview that this team is still a couple years away from truly being dominant. The team may be good enough to finally win the division, but not deep enough to play in the conference championship game.

OFFSEASON: The Dallas Cowboys’ offseason focused on cutting dead weight and adding younger, quality talent. The parting of ways with defensive linemen DeMarcus Ware and Jason Hatcher are smart moves heading forward, as is drafting an offensive lineman in the first round for the third time in four years.

OFFENSE: The Cowboys are set offensively. They have a solid offensive line to block for their franchise quarterback and create running lanes for their Pro Bowl ball carrier. Wide receiver Dez Bryant will only improve in 2014, and his sidekick Terrance Williams is also set to provide another solid year of contributions. The offense is as talented as it has been since 2007.

DEFENSE:The defensive unit has some issues. The loss of middle linebacker Sean Lee casts a shadow upon the group’s leadership. Cornerbacks Brandon Carr and Morris Claiborne have to showcase their talents this year, or it could be their last. The team’s most vulnerable unit is the defense, and it must improve if Dallas is to go anywhere.

SCHEDULE: The schedule is pretty formidable. The Cowboys host an NFC championship game competitor in the San Francisco 49ers on opening day, and they also go on the road to take on the Seattle Seahawks in October in front of CenturyLink Field’s Twelfth Man. Dallas must make hay while the sun shines at home, because the road games will be tough.

ROOKIES: The rookie class features studs on the offensive and defensive sides of the trenches in guard Zack Martin and defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence. Martin is a safe pick, but the scrutiny will be on Lawrence. If he doesn’t produce in his first year, critics will be quick to label him a bust and the front office a failure.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF...The Dallas Cowboys will make the playoffs if Tony Romo stays healthy for all 16 games. He has the ability to keep the Cowboys competitive, and gives them a chance to win any game when the deficit is a touchdown or less. The defense also must improve from being the worst in the league. Head coach Jason Garrett’s job, and the jobs of so many others, depends on it.

THE FRANCHISE:
QB Tony Romo

MVP - Offense:
WR Dez Bryant

MVP - Defense:
CB Orlando Scandrick

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
DL Tyrone Crawford

FAN FAVORITE:
TE Jason Witten

OVERRATED:
LB Bruce Carter

SWAN SONG:
DE Anthony Spencer

ROOKIE STUD:
DE DeMarcus Lawrence

ROOKIE DUD:
LB Anthony Hitchens

BEST FA SIGNING:
DT Henry Melton

WORST FA SIGNING:
DT Terrell McClain

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
DE DeMarcus Ware

TEAM TO BEAT:
New York Giants

MUST-WIN GAME:
Week 17 at Washington

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
Philadelphia Eagles

New York Giants
By Rick Laughland, TheGiantBeat.com

OUTLOOK: With new faces across the depth chart, Big Blue has redemption on its mind. Eli Manning tossed a league-high 27 interceptions last year and was sacked a whopping 39 times behind an anemic offensive line. New York upgraded its front five, fortified its secondary, and added playmakers Odell Beckham Jr. and former fan favorite Mario Manningham to its arsenal. Look for the G-Men to shore up their quarterback protection issues and compete for the divisional crown in a mediocre NFC East.

OFFSEASON: The Giants lost emotional leader Justin Tuck and defensive tackle Linval Joseph during free agency. Former Broncos defensive end Robert Ayers will be relied on heavily in Tuck’s absence, while third-round draft pick Jay Bromley could plug the hole left by Joseph’s departure. New York reunited Manningham with Manning after the receiver spent two injury-plagued seasons with San Francisco. In dire need of a shutdown corner to pair with Prince Amukamara, the Giants inked Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie. New York also re-signed S Stevie Brown and LB Jon Beason, signed LB Jameel McClain and inked free agent RB Rashaad Jennings to round out its major summer transactions.

OFFENSE: With former Packers coordinator Ben McAdoo calling the shots, the Giants are fashioning a West Coast system, a strong departure from the “passing option” offense of the past 10 years. Expect some growing pains as players adjust to a new scheme, but with a dynamic receiving corps and deep pool of running backs, the offensive unit could ascend to the upper tier of the NFC.

DEFENSE:Jason Pierre-Paul is the only holdover from the Giants’ once-vaunted pass rush, but he is just one year removed the back surgery that sidelined him the final five games of last season. With safety Stevie Brown healthy after season-ending ACL surgery, Rodgers-Cromartie in the fold and team captain Antrel Rolle headlining a talented secondary, the Giants’ need linemen Ayers, Jonathan Hankins and Cullen Jenkins to wreak havoc up front if they expect to be an elite unit in 2014.

SCHEDULE: In addition to their usual six NFC East games, the Giants must face the tough NFC West teams this season, including last year’s NFC Championship combatants Seattle and San Francisco. They also must play NFC threats Detroit and Atlanta, two pass-happy teams intent on making playoff runs.  Fortunately, New York drew the AFC South this season, which means they miss last year’s AFC powers.

ROOKIES: Beckham Jr. could be a superstar if he continues to refine his route-running and gets on the same page as Manning. Running back Andre Williams is a powerful rusher capable of wearing down defenses, and serves as a perfect change-of-pace back to the shifty Rashad Jennings and speedy David Wilson. Center Weston Richburg could be a sleeper, and outside linebacker Devon Kennard is a player to keep an eye on with his blazing speed and knack for getting to the quarterback.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF...The offensive line protects Eli Manning and the Giants win the turnover battle.

THE FRANCHISE:
QB Eli Manning

MVP - Offense:
QB Eli Manning

MVP - Defense:
S Antrel Rolle

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
WR Odell Beckham Jr.

FAN FAVORITE:
WR Victor Cruz

OVERRATED:
RB David Wilson

SWAN SONG:
OL Chris Snee

ROOKIE STUD:
WR Odell Beckham Jr.

ROOKIE DUD:
DT Jay Bromley

BEST FA SIGNING:
WR Mario Manningham

WORST FA SIGNING:
S Quintin Demps

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
DE Justin Tuck

TEAM TO BEAT:
Philadelphia Eagles

MUST-WIN GAME:
Week 7 at Dallas

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
Dallas Cowboys

Philadelphia Eagles
WarNest.com

OUTLOOK: The Eagles got off to a slow start in Chip Kelly’s first season, yet finished with a bang, winning seven of their final eight and clinching the NFC East. A close loss to the Saints in the wild card round ended their season, but there is a lot of optimism in Philadelphia. An upgraded cast due to a strong free agency period – which included the release of DeSean Jackson, who didn’t fit in Kelly’s locker room – should only boost this team’s potential in 2014. If the defense can keep pace with the offense, the Eagles could make a deep playoff run this year.

OFFSEASON: The Eagles were aggressive in upgrading the roster this offseason. They traded for Darren Sproles, re-signed Jeremy Maclin, Riley Cooper and Nate Allen, and added Nolan Carroll and Malcolm Jenkins in free agency, a duo that should significantly upgrade the team’s secondary. In addition, they did not lose any top-level contributors from last year, other than Michael Vick.

OFFENSE: The Eagles boasted the top rushing attack in the league last year, as well as the NFL leader in yards from scrimmage, LeSean McCoy. Nick Foles emerged as a Pro Bowl quarterback and should only continue to improve. With wide receivers Maclin and Cooper on board, as well as the addition of two receiving weapons in the draft, the Eagles are poised to again be one of the top offenses in the league.

DEFENSE:Philadelphia’s defense was horrible against the pass in 2013 (32nd in the NFL), which ultimately cost them in the playoffs. The secondary received a boost with the additions of Carroll and Jenkins, and the front seven is solid, with a core unit ideally built for the club’s 3-4 scheme. If this unit can improve on the back end, they should be able to provide solid support to the offense.

SCHEDULE: The NFC East is never an easy road to travel, and that trend will continue this year, as every team made significant upgrades in the offseason. The Eagles also square off against the highly talented NFC West. Road tilts against the 49ers and Packers, as well as three straight divisional games to close the campaign, will likely decide Philadelphia’s fate in 2014.

ROOKIES: The Eagles did well in the draft, addressing priority needs with quality players. First-round OLB Marcus Smith is an exciting edge rusher who could eventually replace Trent Cole. Receivers Jordan Matthews and Josh Huff should provide immediate help in the passing game, while cornerback Jaylen Watkins could be the steal of the draft. Fifth-round DE Taylor Hart also has upside as a space-eating 5-technique.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF... The secondary can contribute at a consistent level. The offense is going to score a lot of points and the defensive front is a top-10 run-stopping unit. The weakest link is a secondary that allowed the most yards in the league last year. If they can improve into just an average unit, the Eagles should have no problem earning the NFC East crown for the second year in a row.

THE FRANCHISE:
RB LeSean McCoy

MVP - Offense:
QB Nick Foles

MVP - Defense:
LB DeMeco Ryans

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
DE Fletcher Cox

FAN FAVORITE:
LB Trent Cole

OVERRATED:
CB Cary Williams

SWAN SONG:
WR Brad Smith

ROOKIE STUD:
DB Jaylen Watkins

ROOKIE DUD:
DE Marcus Smith

BEST FA SIGNING:
CB Nolan Carroll

WORST FA SIGNING:
S Malcolm Jenkins

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
DE Clifton Geathers

TEAM TO BEAT:
Dallas Cowboys

MUST-WIN GAME:
Dallas Cowboys

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
New York Giants

Washington Redskins
DCProFootball.com

OUTLOOK: The Redskins come off a highly disappointing 3-13 campaign, one that finished Mike Shanahan’s run in Washington. The roster still holds plenty of talent, and if new head coach Jay Gruden can maximize its potential, this club could push for the playoffs. The key will be building Robert Griffin III back into the player he was before his injury, allowing him to take advantage of the multiple weapons surrounding him. The defense received boosts in both free agency and the draft, so the Redskins should be able to easily improve on last year’s results.

OFFSEASON: The Redskins did well by re-signing DeAngelo Hall and Perry Riley, while Jason Hatcher should provide a solidifying presence along the interior of the defensive line. Yet the team’s biggest move was grabbing DeSean Jackson, one of the league’s best playmaking receivers, from a division rival. His presence alone could take Washington’s offense to the next level.

OFFENSE: The new coaching staff will be building the offense around RGIII, utilizing a trio of quality pass-catchers in Jackson, Pierre Garcon and Jordan Reed, as well as workhorse runner Alfred Morris. Gruden has one of the most dynamic quarterbacks in the league, as well as multiple playmakers at the skill positions, at his disposal. If he’s up to the task, this offense could become a juggernaut.

DEFENSE:The Redskins have quality edge rushers in Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan, while Jason Hatcher can collapse the pocket with the best of them. The club will miss LB London Fletcher and safety is still a serious concern, but Washington has enough playmakers on defense to be an above-average unit this season.

SCHEDULE: The schedule makers did not take it easy on the Redskins, who start the season with a pair of winnable games before embarking on a brutal slate of matchups. Road games against the Eagles, 49ers and Colts, as well as three straight divisional contests to round out the schedule, will decide whether the Redskins make the postseason.

ROOKIES: Despite not having a first-rounder, the Redskins did a solid job filling holes. They added a quality all-around OLB in Trent Murphy, boosted the offensive line with potential starters in Morgan Moses and Spencer Long, and added a high-upside secondary player in cornerback Bashaud Breeland. None are flashy picks, but all four of Washington’s first four selections will contribute this year.

WILL MAKE THE PLAYOFFS IF... RGIII plays like he did before the knee injury. The Redskins have a lot of firepower on offense, and if RGIII returns to the nearly unstoppable force he was in 2012, he’ll carry Washington into the playoffs. The defense has some holes, but a strong season from the defensive line will make them competitive week-in and week-out, which could be good enough for a postseason run.

THE FRANCHISE:
Robert Griffin III

MVP - Offense:
Pierre Garcon

MVP - Defense:
Brian Orakpo

BREAKOUT PLAYER:
Jordan Reed

FAN FAVORITE:
Robert Griffin III

OVERRATED:
DeAngelo Hall

SWAN SONG:
Santana Moss

ROOKIE STUD:
Morgan Moses

ROOKIE DUD:
Trent Murphy

BEST FA SIGNING:
DeSean Jackson

WORST FA SIGNING:
Jason Hatcher

BIGGEST FA LOSS:
Fred Davis

TEAM TO BEAT:
Philadelphia Eagles

MUST-WIN GAME:
Philadelphia Eagles

BIGGEST FAN RIVAL:
Dallas Cowboys


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