Friday, August 4, 2017

2017-18 Season NFC East Preview

The Dallas Cowboys were back on top in the NFC East, winning the division title easily with a 13-3 record, tying the best record in franchise history (both 1992 and 2007). However, the 'Boys lost their first and only playoff game at home against the Pack. Still, they are young and strong, and now have a chance to repeat, and show that last season was no fluke. However, the Giants managed to sweep them, and looked pretty strong themselves last season, finishing 11-5. But like Dallas, the G-Men also got bounced out of the playoffs after only one game. Washington managed a winning record last season, led by a pretty strong offense, and they might be able to win the division again themselves. Finally, the Eagles struggled last season, but they were better than a lot of people expected them to be, which probably bodes well for the future, both near and long term. 

So, how does the NFC East shape up? Let me take a shot at it:

1. Dallas Cowboys (projected division winner) - The Dallas Cowboys seemed to have it all for most of last season. After suffering a loss in week one, the Cowboys went on a tear, reeling off another 11 straight wins, and establishing a new franchise record in the process. They were so far ahead of everyone else in the NFC, that nobody could really hope to catch them in the race for home field advantage, as the Cowboys tied their best record in franchise history at 13-3 (accomplished twice before in 1992 and 2007). Dallas looked amazing, with a solid offensive line, a stingy defense, and two very strong and young prospects full of promise for the future in quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Eliot. Dallas had drastically improved on both offense and defense, and this accounted for their incredible success in the regular season. Some were talking about a return to glory and the franchise's first trip back to the Super Bowl in over two decades. But then, it ended just as quickly, as the visiting Green Bay Packers stunned the Cowboys with a huge road win in the playoffs. Still, Dallas has those two young and emerging prospects, although there has been some personnel change, as well, particularly on defense and with that enormously successful offensive line. So the question is, will Dallas follow up on last season's success, or will they perhaps once again struggled with trying to gel, or perhaps being plagued with injuries or even off the field issues. Eliot in particular had a tumultuous offseason, and he needs to have his focus back to where it should be, if the Cowboys are to be successful again this season. All in all, the Cowboys have a vast array of talent, and this should help them to avoid the pitfalls of the 2015 season, when they also followed up a very successful season in 2014 by laying an egg. Dallas should be able to avoid those pitfalls in 2017, and can win the division again. 

2. New York Giants (projected second place) - Head coach Ben McAdoo was successful in bringing the Giants new success, as the team qualified for the postseason for the first time since their Super Bowl championship season in 2011. The G-Men enjoyed their best regular season since the 2008 season, finishing with an 11-5 mark. Along the way, they managed to beat three playoff teams, beating the Lions and sweeping the Cowboys. All of that was what many had predicted, although perhaps it had not quite happened the way that people expected it to. McAdoo was supposed to open the offense up, having strong schemes and a good mind for offenses. Instead, the Giants were one of the lowest scoring offenses in the league, and failed to reach 30 points in any of their games. However, their defense stepped up in a big way, rising to an elite status in the best traditions of Giants teams of the past. Ultimately, it was not enough to prevent Dallas from taking the division, or from Washington to sweep them. In the end, the Giants qualified for the playoffs, but exited immediately with a loss to the Packers at Lambeau Field, where prior G-Men teams had pulled off impressive playoff road wins en route to the Super Bowl. But it was not meant to be for last season's edition of the Giants. However, there is reason to believe that the New York Football Giants have plenty of reasons to be optimistic for this upcoming season. Their defense looks solid, and their offense is loaded with talent, with an all-star quarterback, and an obviously talented set of receivers, including perhaps the most famous receiver in the game right now in Odell Beckham, Jr.. However, there are still some questions with the Giants running game and offensive line, which could inhibit them. The Giants were not very consistent last season, but if they stay as strong defensively as they proved to be last season, and if their offensive line proves strong, the Giants can more than contend for the division, but might even have a shot at another deep playoff run, possibly even the Super Bowl. 

3. Washington (projected third place) - It was easy to forget or overlook Washington last season, but they actually enjoyed a winning season, albeit barely, at 8-7-1. However, it was not good enough to get this team to qualify for the playoffs. Why? Because this team just did not win with any consistency. They managed to pull off some impressive wins against playoff teams, including Green Bay and the New York Giants. However, they also lost some games to teams that they probably should not have lost to, and they just never found the footing to really launch a serious run to make the playoffs. Offensively, this team showed some serious capabilities at times, with two games where they exceeded 40 points, and at least eight games overall where they scored 26 points or more. However, their defense remained largely lackluster, allowing an average of 24 points per game, which accounted for many of their struggles. Quarterback Kirk Cousins continues to impress some, with Washington wide receiver Jamison Crowder even recently suggesting that Cousins ranks as an elite quarterback. Whether or not he is, Washington's offense can be powerful, and they might keep Washington in the playoff race. However, the inconsistencies, particularly on the defensive side of things, might still prevent this team from being a serious contender to qualify for the postseason. 

4. Philadelphia Eagles (projected last place) - The Eagles raced off to the hot start last season, winning their first three games, including a surprisingly lopsided win against highly rated cross state rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. It seemed that then rookie quarterback Carson Wentz and the birds from Philly had people standing up and taking notice. But they followed this up with nine losses in the next 11 games, a spiral that quickly and convincingly saw them out of the playoff race well before the end of the season. The defense looked much better overall last season, and looked downright dominant for those first three wins. However, the offense was not nearly so consistent, running dry particularly during a critical three game stretch in the mid-season that saw them drop from 5-4, and seemingly a playoff contender, to 5-7, and very much on the outside looking in. Still, other than those three straight games when this team scored an average of 14 points in each game (total of 42 points during that stretch), the Eagles otherwise were able to score points fairly consistently last year. They were not exactly explosive, however, but just steady producers. If Philly can take a few steps towards making the offense a bit more explosive, and if the defense can continue to make improvements, the Eagles might once again get people to take notice of them, and it might be longer than a mere three games, too. However, they would need to start beating their division rivals with more consistency, as they managed only a 1-4 record against the NFC East in meaningful games before earning a win against the Cowboys in the regular season finale when Dallas had already clinched everything that they needed, and rested their starters. Indeed, the Eagles can improve, but I doubt that they will improve quite enough to seriously contend for the postseason. At least not this coming year, just yet. 

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