NFC East Outlook
August 4, 2014
By Tony Mejia
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Over the past five years, each team in this historically hyper competitive division has claimed an NFC East title. Philadelphia is the only team to win multiple times in that span, a statement that should remain true this time next year. While fans of the other three franchises can cry themselves to sleep by reminding themselves that the Eagles are the only one of this foursome without a Super Bowl, the fact is that they're the only ones that don't carry massive question marks into this season. Even with DeSean Jackson plotting vengeance in D.C., growing pains are likely to weigh down Washington. New York and Dallas have hovered around, or in the Cowboys case, exactly, at .500 for three years running. Don't put it past either team to regress further.
Projected order of finish
3) N.Y. Giants
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The Eagles have a year under their belt in Chip Kelly's system, which is going to help him get his message across fasted and more efficiently, ultimately leading to steady improvement. Brevity has always been a key for Kelly, who loves concise practices as much as he does up-tempo offense. With the continuity provided by Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy, not to mention an expected boost from the arrival of Darren Sproles and return of Jeremy Maclin, "Fly, Eagles Fly" will be heard frequently at Lincoln Financial Field. Sportsbook.ag has their projected win total at 9, so it's certainly worth banking that Philadelphia soars over that, either matching or surpassing last year's 10-6 mark.
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After three consecutive 8-8 finishes, oddsmakers had an easy decision with what to project for Dallas, especially since owner/GM Jerry Jones kept head coach Jason Garrett and his staff in place while not really upgrading the roster. Coming off a season where the defense was often an abomination, the Cowboys cut franchise all-time sack leader DeMarcus Ware and watched star middle linebacker Sean Lee tear his ACL in late May. Former No. 6 pick Morris Claiborne is hobbling around with a sore knee, while quarterback Tony Romo is still pacing himself following back surgery last December. There would be nothing shameful about another 8-8 finish given all the obstacles, but I don't see the Cowboys as a .500 team.
Games to Watch - September
Sept. 7 - Washington at Houston: The Jay Gruden era begins in muggy H-town, where Robert Griffin III is sure to have his share of support against a Texans team eager to put last season's disaster in the rear view mirror. There are no must-wins in Week 1, but getting off on the right foot would sure take some pressure off Gruden or fellow newbie Bill O'Brien.
Sept. 7 - San Francisco at Dallas: Two of the NFL's elite franchise will show faithful Cowboys fans exactly where both currently in a game sure to feature plenty of a grimacing Jones clasping his hands.
Sept. 8 - N.Y. Giants at Detroit: Eli Manning showcases his early command of New York's newly installed West Coast offense against a front four whose pressure he'll be wise to avoid. Factor in a road environment in the season's first Monday night matchup and you get a challenging first test.
Sept. 14 - Arizona at N.Y. Giants: Now mix in a short week of preparation for a talented Cardinals secondary and it's clear that Manning will need plenty of early help from playmakers like Reuben Randle and rookies Odell Beckham and Andre Williams.
Sept. 15 - Philadelphia at Indianapolis: This one is on Monday night for a reason. Bravo, schedule-makers. Hopefully, it lives up to the hype as an early litmus test between Super Bowl hopefuls.
Sept. 21 - Dallas at St. Louis: The Cowboys won last year's meeting 31-7 and need to capture winnable road games like these if they're going to truly contend. Of course, the Rams have assembled one of the NFL's most feared defensive fronts, which can't make Romo's back feel any better.
Sept. 21- Washington at Philadelphia: DeSean Jackson's return will be the big story, but the first divisional game of the season should also supply an early front-runner since these appear to be the NFC East 's most talented sides.
Sept. 25 - N.Y. Giants at Washington: Week 4 opens on Thursday night at Fed Ex field with a rivalry that's always personal. It will help to have a home crowd behind Washington given the lack of recovery and preparation time from what's bound to be an emotional contest in Philly.
Sept. 28 - Philadelphia at San Francisco: A truly difficult first month for the Eagles ends in the Bay area against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. A projected top 5 offense visits Vic Fangio's elite defense in the week's marquee matchup.
Sept. 28 - New Orleans at Dallas: Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan got revenge against his former employer in a 49-17 rout last November, watching Drew Brees carve up the Cowboys for an NFL-record 40 first downs and a franchise-best 625 yards. He'd love to go into Jerry World and have his defense put on an equally impressive showing in an enticing Sunday night battle.
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