NFC East Outlook
July 30, 2013
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"Let’s Talk About “Wide Open"
No matter what happens the year before, in the off-season or through pre-season there is never any real separation between the four teams in the NFC East futures. To prove this point is simple: look at the last four division champions. The Cowboys, Eagles, Giants and Redskins have each won the division once in the last four years. So which team is the best bet to take home the always ruthless and cutthroat NFC East in 2013?
New York Giants (2012: 9-7 straight up, 7-8-1 against the spread)
NFC East Futures: +220 to win
NFC Championship Odds: +1200 to win
Regular Season Win Total: 9.0 Games
For a team that has won the Super Bowl twice recently, missing the playoffs last year was a huge disappointment, especially when you consider that the Giants are usually penciled in to win the NFC East futures market handedly every year. Fans in Dallas may want to disagree but the truth is that the action floods in on the Giants each and every year because they’ve been the most consistent entity in the division for the past six years. Being the darlings of the biggest city in the country helps in this regards as well.
Depth has always been on New York’s side, especially in the trenches where they routinely find marquee pass rushers. Gone is Osi Umenyiora and in steps Justin Tuck as the spotlight guy on the defensive line. Everything on the defensive side of the football starts with the pocket collapsers up front, and there’s no way around the fact that they have to do a better job of penetrating in 2013. New York ranked 31st in yards allowed, giving up 6,134 on the year though they allowed the 12th fewest total points throughout the season.
Offensively, the Giants have gone with unknown backs with strong success and the starting spot in the backfield is still up in the air but the ground game sees to benefit from a fully healthy Hakeem Nicks who was plagued with various lower body injuries last year. Cruz and Nicks are one of the deadliest receiver combos in the league, and Nicks is especially difficult to guard when he’s at full tilt. Yes, that’s a fantasy alert for you nerds out there.
By every measure, the steady-as-hell Giants have the best chances of anyone to win the division realistically. The problem is that they always run in to one or two games that cause them significant troubles. And they’re a routinely slow starter, which is why the regular season win total is auspiciously difficult to grade. Amongst these teams, I’d take their chances to win the NFC East futures race and the OVER at 9.0 wins, but I’d be nervous about anointing them – or any of these teams – as conference champions.
Washington Redskins (2012: 10-6 SU, 11-5 ATS)
NFC East Futures: +220 to win
NFC Championship Odds: +1500 to win
Regular Season Win Total: 8.5 Games
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the reigning division champions next on this list. Like the Colts in the AFC, the Redskins are the team I’m earmarking for a major market correction. Under 8.5 wins, along with staying away from their futures prices overall is going to be the mantra for me when approaching the Redskins. Even their first few games will be untouchable in regular season betting until we see how Robert Griffin III returns from his devastating knee injury.
If RG3 is at his best, the Redskins have a chance to storm the NFL once again as one of the best overall betting teams and an NFC East futures entity that has a lot of promise. But the odds are against it from an intangible angle. Do you think the second overall pick in the 2012 NFL Draft is going to move about the field with such reckless abandon while wearing a knee brace? And there is a definite and unavoidable rift building between quarterback and head coach Mike Shanahan, who mismanaged Griffin’s injury in the playoffs to the point that we all thought the former Baylor’s career was finished. Those aren’t giving the Redskins any points for optimism.
As usual, Washington will be a strong regular season play at times but it’s all riding on the talents of Griffin. Will he be able to return to his 2012 form or will he regress with fear of injury looming over his potential contract extensions? I fear it’s the latter. Like Griffin’s surgically repaired knee, the Redskins fans should brace for a rough season.
Dallas Cowboys (2012: 8-8 SU, 6-10 ATS)
NFC East Futures: +300 to win
NFC Championship Odds: +2200 to win
Regular Season Win Total: 8.5 Games
America’s Team is always the hardest nugget to really measure in the sport. With DeMarcus Ware and Anthony Spencer anchoring either side of a defensive front that will move to a 4-3 formation this year, this team stands to be devastating when on guard. They allowed the 24th most points in the league last year because of spotty linebacking and they haven’t done much to shore up that weakness. Unlike most people, I think the key to Dallas is their iffy second and third levels of defense.
But like most people, I also have zero faith in Tony Romo especially compared to that of the loyal-to-a-massive-fault Jerry Jones. Romo is a divisive talent because he always puts up amazing numbers, has incredible mechanics (many veterans credit Romo with the fastest release in football though I think it’s a toss up between him and Brees) and is one of the most recognizable people in the sport based on the fact that he plays for one of the biggest markets out there.
The argument against Romo has always been his performance in the playoffs, and we have years of history to prove that he is nowhere close to the type of quarterback that can carry his team deep in to the winter. Romo is a great producer in the regular season, however, so don’t lose sight of this through the 2013 campaign. Just don’t forget what happens to the Cowboys in the playoffs because it’s never pretty.
Like their linebackers, Dallas has had trouble with running backs. The fans wanted Felix Jones to be the go-to back for years, even though I never really liked him at this level. We have no idea how good DeMarco Murray actually is because we have such a small sample size to prove his prowess and he’s coming off a rehab year where he didn’t play that much.
In the futures markets I usually stay away from Dallas, but they have the chance to get out to an early lead in the division by playing New York in Week 1. The Cowboys fail to surprise more often than not, and are laughable in the playoffs because Romo is the opposite of clutch (much like Matt Ryan). They’re a prohibitive bet for now, especially in the divisional futures market, but they could always step up and shock people. I’m betting against it though.
Philadelphia Eagles (2012: 4-12 SU, 3-12-1 ATS)
NFC East Futures: +350 to win
NFC Championship Odds: +3000 to win
Regular Season Win Total: 7.5 Games
I was overly optimistic about the Eagles with Chip Kelly coming in to re-motivate the team until Jeremy Maclin went down with a season ending ACL injury over the weekend. That’s awful news and hurts this team all around. The combination of DeSean Jackson and Maclin made the Eagles deadly, and having just one of them is going to make things difficult for Philly in 2013.
Which begs the question: isn’t it about time Kelly announce Vick as the starting quarterback? The Eagles are probably best suited to replicate what Seattle did last year by relying on a sticky defense and running the ball as much as possible. Jackson is a Harvin-like athlete, Vick still has speed that most players dream of and LeSean McCoy is one of the most underrated cow-bell backs in the entire league. The loss of Maclin hurts a lot, but it isn’t crippling if Vick can return to form.
This all falls on Chip Kelly, one of the most innovative offensive minds in the country when it comes to this game. Can he motivate the Eagles to play to their potential? Can he institute his unusual offense with a roster that gave up on Andy Reid half way through last year? That’s a lot of questions to answer right now, but if you’re asking me which team in this division has the best chances of overcoming the odds, it’s the Eagles. They’re just too talented.
I believe in Michael Vick and I have all the faith in the world in Chip Kelly after seeing what he did in Oregon with lesser talent than his non-Pac-12 opponents. The Eagles may be pegged for dead last by all accounts but this is a topsy turvy division at best and I think they’ll over perform compared to the other three teams. This is harder to argue with Maclin out, but I’m still there for now. I’m taking the OVER on the regular season win totals, the mark on the NFC East futures and a flier bet on them winning the NFC Championship. It’s easy to remember their awful 2012 campaign, but it’s also impossible to ignore that the Eagles have as much potential as any other contender in the NFC futures.