Preseason controversy sets the stage for exciting NFC East
The NFC East was one of the worst divisions in the NFL last year. The Redskins, with a 9-7 record, were the only team to make it to the playoffs. The 2016 season does not look any better. The Giants and Eagles both have new head coaches, half of the Cowboys defense is suspended, Tony Romo is out 6-10 weeks with a broken bone in his back and nobody is sure if Kirk Cousins can perform for the Redskins.
The New York Giants will be under new head coach Ben McAdoo for the 2016 season after an ugly breakup with tenured head coach Tom Coughlin following a 6-10 campaign last season. McAdoo’s signing signaled an uncharacteristic offseason shopping spree, with massive contracts luring free agent defensive end Olivier Vernon, cornerback Janoris Jenkins and nose tackle Damon Harrison. Overspending in free agency usually does not work out well, but given the Giants’ desperate need to overhaul the defense, it was welcomed by the Giants faithful.
McAdoo, previously the Giants’ offensive coordinator, seems a good fit for the head coaching job given his chemistry with long-time quarterback Eli Manning. Still, McAdoo faces the daunting task of restructuring Big Blue’s offensive game plan. Last season, the Giants called 67 percent passes in the red zone, resulting in countless stalled drives giving way to unnecessary field goals. Furthermore, veteran Rashad Jennings leads a running back committee that is terribly inconsistent at best.
The pressure is on McAdoo to right the Giants’ ship and he faces a steep battle in doing so. If the Giants are able to keep their composure during late-game situations, they will certainly increase their chances at winning
The Washington Redskins had an uplifting season in 2015, but upon closer inspection, one can attribute their success to a significantly weak schedule. Even with an easy schedule, the run game was especially weak and the defense gave up a tremendous amount of points. The Redskins looked to free agency to bolster their defense, shelling out a pretty penny to coax cornerback Josh Norman away from the Panthers.
Perhaps Redskins fans are most excited about the chemistry developing between Cousins and tight end Jordan Reed. Reed emerged as one of the premier tight ends in the league last season, and established himself as a top target for Cousins, given his ability to climb the ladder and snatch high passes.
The odds are against the Redskins to make the playoffs for the 2016 season. They face a way more difficult schedule than last year, so it is going to be much harder to repeat as division champs. Nonetheless, Cousins is entering a contract year, and is set to elevate the offense, in order to complement a newly-staffed defense.
The Philadelphia Eagles have a new coach this season in Doug Pederson, signaling a new era as the team shifts away from the spread offense. The team drafted quarterback Carson Wentz with the second overall pick in the draft, in hopes that he can lead an under-center offense.
Unfortunately, Wentz suffered a hairline fracture in his ribs earlier in the month, suggesting that veteran Sam Bradford will get the nod to start Week 1 against the Cleveland Browns.
The offensive uncertainties continued when the Eagles traded away running back DeMarco Murray in the offseason, leaving the role to an injury-prone veteran Ryan Mathews.
The Eagles face the toughest campaign in the NFC East, with a weak roster lead by a first-year head coach. It is widely understood that the Eagles are in a rebuilding stage, and so many are learning to curb their expectations for the season.
The Dallas Cowboys were excited coming into the preseason with a healthy team and new rookie running back Ezekiel Elliott. Unfortunately, it did not take long for the injury bug to revisit star quarterback Romo, this time biting hard as he is expected to miss six to 10 weeks with a broken bone in his back.
Rookie signal caller Dak Prescott has already been named the Week 1 starter after an impressive preseason behind one of the best offensive lines in the NFL.
The biggest flaw for the Cowboys is their defense because many of their key defenders are hurt or suspended. Perhaps the biggest question mark on the defense is the absence of their leaders, including middle linebacker Sean Lee who continues to battle a series of knee injuries, and cornerback Orlando Scandrick who is coming off a significant ACL tear.
If Prescott can hold down the fort until Romo comes back from his injury, the Cowboys will be in a pretty good spot. They will have a tremendous red zone offense that will also help them throughout the season. If the Cowboys can win some close games and control the ball in the second half, they will be in a pretty decent spot.
The NFC East will once again be a roller coaster in the 2016 season. At the moment, there is no clear cut team to take the division. Nevertheless, the preseason drama is shaping a high-intensity, neck and neck race for the lead, which makes the NFC East so exciting to watch. It will certainly be interesting to see how the season pans out and who will be the 2016 NFC East Division champs.