NFC East looks to be a close race

Jerry Jones says Cowboys will win the Super Bowl this year, but competition from within the division may challenge those plans. Photo: DeAngelo Hall tries to tackle Dez Bryant/AP

LOS ANGELES, August 22, 2013 — The NFC East, over the last several decades, has grown to become an elite divisional powerhouse in the NFL, producing some of the league’s fiercest rivalries. No other division in the NFL boasts an impressive 12 Super Bowl victories among them, and to put things in perspective the next closest division has eight. While competition has been fierce over the years, last season was a bit of disappointment to say the least, as the Giants, Cowboys and Eagles all failed to make the wildcard. 

Usually this is not a big deal for other divisions. NFC East fans, however, have grown increasingly accustomed to seeing at least two teams represented in the playoffs. Just how will the division shake out this season?

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Tony Romo/AP

Dallas entered last season as the overwhelming favorites to win the division title, and once again disappointed fans falling well short of expectations. Off the field distractions, injuries, a suspect secondary, and a non-existent offensive line have been the bane of this team’s existence for a while now. The Cowboys had a somewhat tough (11th ranked), but very winnable schedule, losing last minute nail biters to the Saints, Ravens, Redskins, and Falcons, and finished just a game away from the division title.

Dallas QB Tony Romo initially led the team to a rough start, but had a strong finish winning five out the last eight games, thanks in large part to the new found chemistry between he and budding superstar WR Dez Bryant.

Talent has never been the issue with the Cowboys as far as being contenders, but their window of opportunity is in fact closing rapidly. The jury is still out on head coach Jason Garrett, and team leaders Jason Witten (11th season), Demarcus Ware (9th season), and Tony Romo (11th season) are also getting up there in age. Owner Jerry Jones practically guaranteeing a Super Bowl victory only adds to the ever-present pressure of being America’s Team.

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Assuming everyone stays healthy, the Cowboys should do much better than last year’s record would suggest. Limiting turnovers, improving an underwhelming secondary and developing some semblance of a running game will ultimately be the determining factor in their overall success. Prediction: 11-5

DeSean Jackson (left) and Chip Kelly/AP

The Eagles’ hiring of Chip Kelly has stirred quite a buzz among Philly fans, and just about everyone is excited to see how Michael Vick’s talents will mesh with this high powered offense. The Eagles, on paper, were much better than their 4-12 record last year would suggest.

Injuries were a major setback for Philadelphia last season. Unfortunately, they may have already suffered some setbacks this year to their receiving corps. Starter Jeremy Maclin and newcomer Arrelious Benn are both lost for the season.  As a result, back-up receiver Riley Cooper has been elevated to a starting role, and Jason Avant will be relied upon more for production now as the third overall receiver. 

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The questions will once again surround Michael Vick as he enters his fourth season as the starter for Philadelphia. With only one playoff appearance since taking over for McNabb in 2010, it is easy to see why fans would be skeptical. Luckily, the Eagles may benefit from the element of surprise with a newly installed, never before seen offense.

The defense will also have to improve if the Eagles are to be successful this season. Signing free agent safety Kenny Phillips will help improve a passing defense that ranked 24th overall last year. Losing starting CB Nnamdi Asomugha will be an addition by subtraction as he will no longer be a distraction. If the offense develops as planned and Vick, McCoy, and Jackson can stay healthy for an entire season, the sky is truly the limit for them.  Prediction: 10-6

Victor Cruz/AP

No other team has been the victim of the Super Bowl hangover more than the New York Giants. It seems every time they win it all, the following season they are completely out of the picture. Maybe it is just a sign of how competitive the division actually is, but New York has never really been a completely dominant team in the regular season. 

In the years of their Super Bowl wins they finished 9-7 and 10-6, respectively. Losing starting running back Ahmad Bradshaw should not affect the running game too much as David Wilson and Andre Brown are more than capable of replacing Bradshaw’s production. Adding to an already formidable receiving tandem in Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks, a new offensive weapon has emerged in Rueben Randle. The second year receiver gives New York a viable third go to receiving option that most Super Bowl contending teams covet.

The only issues with this team point back to the defensive side of the ball. The loss of key free agents Osi Umenyiora, Kenny Phillips and Chris Canty leave major holes that need to be filled. Historically, the Giants have always had a defensive identity. However, in the words of the great Bob Dylan, “The times they are a changin’,” as their identity has now shifted to that of an offensive identity. Led by Eli Manning and Victor Cruz, the offense will definitely not be an issue. If the defense can do its part, the Giants should be right there in the mix for the division title. Prediction: 10-6

Robert Griffin III/AP

Finally, last season’s division champion Washington Redskins shook up the NFC East going above and beyond all expectations by finishing with a respectable 10-6 record. A division title and playoff appearance should only raise the bar on those expectations this season. Fans should not get too excited just yet, as they will have a much tougher schedule ahead of them than last year.

Every team within the division will also be much better this year, and should be better prepared defensively against the Washington’s threat of the read option offense with RGIII. Games against divisional winners Packers, Broncos, Falcons, and 49ers should provide the ultimate test for Mike Shanahan and crew.

The NFL’s fifth ranked offense virtually returns everyone back from last year’s run, and Griffin’s accelerated recovery looks to be very promising. Questions still remain though on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. Can the read option survive as a viable offense in the NFL? How will one of the worst ranked passing defenses fair against the aerial display of the league’s elite? 

Look for Shanahan to rely more heavily upon his signature zone rushing attack this season with Alfred Morris returning, and possibly a new starting QB going into the season. With second year QB Kirk Cousins at the helm, they should still be fairly competitive, but a growing QB controversy could serve as a major distraction to the team. With the combination of returning from injury earlier than recommended, playing a tougher schedule and the pressure of possibly losing his position, RGIII may hit a major setback in the second year of his development. Prediction: 8-8

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Luka Barnes

Luka Barnes is a Los Angeles native and fellow sports enthusiast who writes for the Washington Times Communities as an NFL and NBA contributor. He is also an avid follower of Collegiate and High School athletics.

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