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NFC East Preview

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NFC East · NFC North · NFC South · NFC West
The NFL draft gets all the attention in the spring but the recent release of the 2014 schedule can be a more telling factor in how a team will fare next season. Take a look at the four teams in the NFC East in this schedule preview. The East is one of the highest profile divisions in the league but it has not been a strong division top to bottom for several years. Each of the four teams has a division title in the last five seasons but no team has repeated as division champion since 2004.

Dallas Cowboys: Despite consistent mediocrity in recent seasons, expectations and interest are always sky-high for the Cowboys. This off-season, the team did not appear to make major upgrades, in fact losing one of its biggest stars as DeMarcus Ware signed with Denver. The Cowboys also avoided the high profile drafting of Johnny Manziel, but there have been some positive additions in free agency led by Henry Melton. If Dallas is to breakthrough to the playoffs in 2014, they will need a strong start as the schedule opens with great difficulty. Dallas opens the season at home against San Francisco before heading on back-to-back road games to Nashville and St. Louis, facing two teams that could provide tough tests this season as improved squads. The next two home games come against New Orleans and Houston before the Cowboys head to Seattle. Getting through that run at 3-3 would be a positive step for Dallas before the middle of the season that features several division games. Overexposed is a word that often comes to mind with Dallas and the Cowboys will play six national TV games including four consecutive TV games in the late season schedule.

Dallas faces six 2013 playoff teams, but four of those games will be at home for a somewhat favorable draw. The East faces an AFC South division that could be the weakest in the AFC, but Dallas and the rest of the East will play the stacked NFC West, featuring both of last season’s NFC Championship representatives. The second place draw for the Cowboys brings in challenging games with the Saints and Bears as well to make up a difficult overall slate. Dallas plays Jacksonville in London in November as the Cowboys will only play seven true road games for an advantage, but the lengthy travel late in the season could be taxing. Getting the bye week before big division games with the Giants and Eagles could be beneficial. The first six weeks could make or break the Dallas season and as usual the Cowboys should be interesting and competitive enough to stay relevant, though contending for a championship seems like a stretch.

Dallas Cowboys 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013
: .488 (18/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 6 (four home, two away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games (includes London): 13,642
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 6 (1 Thursday night, 1 Thanksgiving, 3 Sunday night, 1 Monday night)

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New York Giants
: After going just 9-7 with a point differential of +88 in 2012, the Giants looked like a team poised to deliver a stronger season in 2013. New York wound up 7-9 last season with disastrous numbers on defense and big issues with turnovers on offense. New York started the season 0-6 and rallied to win seven of the final 10 games of the season including putting together a competitive season within the division. The Giants draw a third place schedule in 2014, which means drawing the Lions and Falcons, potentially a dangerous grouping with both of those teams also being big disappointments in 2013 and potentially poised to rebound. One thing to note on the schedule that plays in favor of the Giants is that New York will play a team with a new coaching staff in three of the first four weeks of the season, seemingly a big advantage compared with the rest of the division given the relative stability of the Giants organization in recent years. New York only plays one 2013 playoff team in the first eight weeks of the season, so New York is almost certain to get off to a much better start this year.

The season for New York will face its biggest challenge in November playing the Colts, Seahawks, and 49ers in consecutive games, although that daunting stretch is preceded by a bye week and two of the three games as well as a game with the Cowboys in Week 12 will be at home. New York will only play two games on the road against teams that had a winning record in 2013 and only the finale at home against the Eagles among the final six games comes against a winning team from last season. All in all, New York has what looks like the best schedule in the NFC East, facing the 7th weakest schedule in the league in terms of 2013 win percentage and facing the fewest travel miles in the division. It is worth noting that New York seemingly had a favorable schedule entering the 2013 season as well with a favorable second place draw, but that obviously played out poorly.

New York Giants 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013
: .465 (26/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 5 (three home, two away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 8,193
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 5 (1 Thursday, 2 Sunday night, 2 Monday night)

Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles wound up winning the NFC East last season in a great bounce back season, led by Chip Kelly making a successful jump to the NFL. Philadelphia found a quarterback with efficient play from Nick Foles and the unique wrinkles in the offense proved difficult for many opponents. Philadelphia benefitted from facing three awful defensive teams in the division last season though two losses came in the division. The Eagles were the second highest scoring team in the NFC last season behind only Chicago, but the Eagles were only +60 in point differential as the defense had several problematic games in an inconsistent season. In 2014, the Eagles draw a first place schedule which means pulling Carolina and a facing a trip to Green Bay with those games coming in consecutive weeks in November. The Eagles have a very tough road schedule overall with only one road game outside of the division coming against a losing team from 2013 and that game is at Houston, a team many expect to be very competitive moving forward.

The Eagles do get to avoid traveling to Seattle this season, but they play at San Francisco and also have likely the tougher of the road game possibilities in the AFC South draw playing at Indianapolis and at Houston. After a an early Week 7 bye, the Eagles play three of the next four games on the road in what could be the most important stretch of the season outside of the division games. Philadelphia has four of its six division games in the final five weeks of the season as the success or failure of the season will likely be decided in December. It will be interesting to see if opponents are better prepared for the Eagles in 2014 with a season of film on the offense, but despite some challenges in the schedule, the Eagles only play five games against 2013 playoff teams and this looks like a division that will not require an amazing record to win.

Philadelphia Eagles 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013
: .479 (20/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 5 (two home, three away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 10,247
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 6 (1 Thursday, 1 Saturday, 2 Sunday night, 2 Monday night)

Washington Redskins: After the great breakthrough season in 2012 led by then-rookie Robert Griffin III, the Redskins crashed last season falling to just 3-13 for the worst record in the NFC. The #2 draft pick slot for Washington went to the Rams, so there was no reward for the awful season in which the team was outscored by 144 points. Washington went 0-6 in the division and 1-11 vs. the NFC last season and while the opportunity to improve will be there, a worst-to-first scenario similar to what has played out in this division the last two seasons seems unlikely. Washington made a coaching change with Jay Gruden taking over and the early season schedule should be manageable for a team in transition. Washington opens at Houston, the only team with a worse record in 2013 and another team in transition and then Washington will host Jacksonville in Week 2, so a promising start is possible. Washington will only play two 2013 playoff teams in the first 11 weeks of the schedule, so it would not be a shock if Washington topped last season’s win total by that point before a challenging closing slate.

Washington’s final three road games include trips to San Francisco and Indianapolis in back-to-back weeks and the final two home games will be big division tests against Philadelphia and Dallas. The fourth place draw provides games with Tampa Bay and Minnesota, two teams that are also going through a coaching transition and those games will surround a Week 10 bye. With a fairly average schedule, Washington seems likely to improve on the ugly numbers from 2013 and the first few weeks should be very telling on whether or not Washington can return to being a playoff contender or whether the transition could take some time. Given the tough games later in the season, starting 2-0 might be critical for the Redskins and they have the opening draw to make it happen, facing teams with questionable quarterback situations in the first two weeks.

Washington Redskins 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013
: .490 (17/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 5 (two home, three away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 9,956
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 3 (1 Thursday, 1 Saturday, 2 Monday night)

  
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