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NFC East: 2015 NFL Divisional Preview

Our traditional NFL previews now guide us to the NFC East, which tends to be one of the more overanalyzed and scrutinized divisions in the league. With media circuses all around and a large share of quotable owners, GM’s, and star players, the East has managed to stay in the spotlight despite its erratic nature and relative lack of success.

Under its current format, the East has only seen the Giants emerge to win a couple of Super Bowls (once as a wild card), while the rest of the division hasn’t accomplished much else. In fact, with the Cowboys winning the East last season, we are now on a streak of the 4 teams having won at least once over the past 4 years, and the division hasn’t seen a repeat winner since the Eagles won it four times from 2001 to 2004.

The Cowboys appear to be a threat to repeat, but the rest of the division also has added enough talent to hang near the top. Will history repeat itself and give us a new champion? At least it seems that the attention given to the East will be justified in 2015, as the division is full of compelling storylines and quality teams.

Standings predictions are carried from worst to best, and include over/under picks using the latest odds posted by Bovada Online.

Washington Redskins
Odds to Win Division: +1400
Over/Under Wins: 6.5

It seems as if any kind of sports franchise that plays its home games in the nation’s capital needs to have some kind of drama to survive, and the Redskins are probably the worst offenders. The confronting and controversial style of owner Dan Snyder trickles down to almost every part of his franchise, as Washington starts again projected to be a cellar dweller in the East. Despite the 10-win division title in 2012, it has been surrounded by 5 seasons that totaled only 22 wins.

2015 has presented a seemingly non-stop media obsession with Robert Griffin’s status, as the embattled quarterback has bounced in and out of the starting spot, and many rumors of his departure from D.C. have also been part of the discussion. In the end, Griffin is bound to stay and be QB1 for the Redskins, but he will certainly have a short leash that could summon Kirk Cousins again. Griffin is 5-15 in his past 20 starts. Elsewhere, the Redskins have some talent, especially in the trenches, but that comes with a suspect coach in Jay Gruden, and without many threats in the passing game.

Despite a middling strength of schedule and some promises of improvement, the Redskins probably won’t be much better than their 4-12 finish in 2014. I would easily go with the Under and see a disaster season in which Griffin finally leaves the franchise and Snyder is canned at some point in the season. It has gotten so bad in Washington, that anything can be expected, except good news.

Philadelphia Eagles
Odds to Win Division: EVEN
Over/Under Wins: 9.5

The Eagles have been, by far, the most successful NFC East franchise under its current construction. However, their past 5 seasons have been a roller coaster ride that has seen them win the division twice and also bottom out. The Andy Reid era gave way to Chip Kelly’s reign, and Kelly has delivered in his very particular way. The Eagles probably had the most interesting offseason in the NFL, with Kelly reshaping the roster of a team that went 10-6 in consecutive seasons. Still, 2014 was a big letdown in Philadelphia, and the playoffs were never a possibility.

Kelly went all-in with his controversial trades, and that has brought in former #1 pick Sam Bradford to Philadelphia. Bradford has been a quality QB while healthy, but his injury report is a horror show all by itself. If and when Bradford misses time, his backup is none other than Mark Sanchez, who benefits from Kelly’s system, but still ranks among the worst signal-callers in the NFL. The Eagles do have a tremendous running duo in Darren Sproles and new acquisition DeMarco Murray, but Murray is also a candidate to miss time at some point during the year. The Eagles have a well-rounded roster, but one that doesn’t offer much depth and could be depleted by just a few untimely injuries.

The Eagles have a tough slate to begin the season, with 3 road games in 4 weeks, and also get to face the AFC East and the kind of defenses that could make Kelly’s game plan a bit vulnerable. If Bradford can stay upright and Murray produces even at 80% of what he did last season, the Eagles could again be propelled to the playoffs. But those are two big ifs. Instead, I see Philadelphia falling back to the pack and delivering an 8-8 season that’s more in line with the risks they are running. Take the Under here.

New York Giants
Odds to Win Division: +500
Over/Under Wins: 8.5

After winning it all in 2011, the Giants have ridden a slow path towards mediocrity, going from 9 wins, to 7, to a 6-10 season in 2014 that was full of frustrations at the surface. And yet, there were also many encouraging signs to build around. With a -20 point differential, the G Men were a bit unlucky to finish as bad as they did, with a poor 1-3 mark in games decided by a touchdown. The Giants also had a top-10 offense, but their defense kept them out of many games.

With Eli Manning and Tom Coughlin ready to take on another season together, the Giants get to experience the sophomore season of phenom Odell Beckham Jr., who instantly gives New York one of the best passing attacks in the NFL. Victor Cruz is also primed to return, and Shane Vereen was one of the team’s few additions in the offseason, so the Giants probably will have a top-10 offense yet again. The defensive unit is a different situation, but probably won’t be as bad again if only because Coughlin knows how to adjust accordingly, even with virtually the same roster.

In many ways, the Giants look a lot like the 2014 Cowboys in the preseason. If they can get some kind of average play from their defense, they have a chance to make some noise in the NFC, with the potential to put up well over 20 points a game without much effort. Their schedule is tricky but friendly overall, with most of its tough out-of-division matchups coming at home. While it may not be enough to win the division, a 9-7 or 10-6 season is certainly within reach for the Giants. Play the Over, as New York is my favorite bet for this division.

Dallas Cowboys
Odds to Win Division: +170
Over/Under Wins: 9.5

After three straight terribly frustrating 8-8 seasons, all of which had the Cowboys with a chance to win the division in Week 17, 2014 was seen as an inflexion point for the franchise. The playoffs were seen as the only realistic way in which Coach Jason Garrett would keep his job, but that would be quite difficult with a defense that was projected to be historically bad. In the end, the Cowboys erased all doubts, with a stunning 12-4 season that saw them go 8-0 on the road, with a top-10 offense built around the best offensive line in the NFL, and a defense that held its own and played well enough to keep Dallas alive.

The team has lost their best 2014 performer in RB DeMarco Murray, but it was probably wise to let him go after his heavy workload and injury history. The general assumption is that his success was built around the offensive line, which has remained stable, and now could give even middling talent like Darren McFadden and Lance Dunbar a chance to accrue tons of yardage through the ground. Even then, the Cowboys still have Tony Romo in his prime, the ever-reliable Jason Witten, and a happy Dez Bryant, which is more than enough to give the ‘Boys a fighting chance every week. Management was also savvy enough to bring in some help on defense, with the controversial Greg Hardy signing ready to anchor the defensive unit once his suspension is over. Still, the secondary remains paper thin, which is a problem that could carry all the way to January.

The Cowboys have legitimate Super Bowl aspirations, even if they might regress a bit after needing to adjust their game plan in a post-Murray world. Despite all this, they also have a friendly schedule and bring back the core of last year’s division winner. Anything worse than 10-6 doesn’t seem realistic for a team with so many weapons, and with a playoff appearance under its belt. Play the Over as the Cowboys win consecutive division titles for the first time since their mid-90’s glory days.

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