This will be the first installment of a series I’ll release as a preview for the upcoming NFL season. Training camps have started for a few teams, with the rest starting this week, and as the old saying goes, “hope springs eternal”. Every loyal fan is optimistic that this year their team will be the one to hoist the Lombardi trophy. Or as I like to call it, everyone has a case of the Lloyd Christmas disorder…
So what I’ll attempt to do, one division at a time, is point out the reasons for optimism, for concern, and for some poor schmucks I’ll be destroying their dreams long before week 1 kicks off. We start with the NFC East.
Why they should be optimistic: It’s year 2 under Jay Gruden, so maybe just maybe there’s some hope that the offense will be better with a full offseason of building more comfort with his system. I mean, the additional reps can’t hurt right? Maybe with the extra reps the offense will finally click and they’ll be able to maximize the talent they have with RGIII, Garcon, D-Jax and Alfred Morris.
Why they should be concerned: Frankly, because this is a quarterback driven league and right now their biggest question mark is at that position. RGIII has shown major regression since his rookie season, and also hasn’t been able to stay healthy. He didn’t look comfortable in Jay Gruden’s system even before he got injured. He had the look of a wild bronco that had been tamed – no fight in him, and no play-making ability as he awkwardly sat in the pocket and took hit after hit. He threw only 4 TDs in 9 games last season…doesn’t take an expert to figure out that’s not going to cut it.
It doesn’t stop at RGIII though. The defense was awful last season. No pass rush, no ability to generate turnovers, and they gave up way too many big plays in the passing game. They tried to address those needs in the offseason, but weren’t successfully able to add any game-changing talent on that side of the ball…so the same concerns linger for another season.
What are their chances: Realistically, there isn’t a snowball’s chance in hell that this team wins the division. There’s talent on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense looks poised for another terrible season. My official prediction = 4-12; Gruden gets fired, and RGIII will be playing quarterback for another franchise in 2016.
Why they should be optimistic: They added the NFL’s leading rusher from last season, in DeMarco Murray, to Chip Kelly’s high-octane offense predicated on getting in as many plays as possible. So far Chip Kelly has a track record of success, despite them missing the playoffs last season and they’re in a very winnable division.
Why they should be concerned: Let’s start at the key position for every NFL team, quarterback. Granted Nick Foles didn’t look all that impressive when healthy, he was definitely better than Mark Sanchez…who reminded everyone why he’s known more for the ‘Butt Fumble’ than anything else. Fast forward to 2015 as training camp gets ready to kick off, and now the Eagles are banking on the health of Sam Bradford. A proposition that seems about as smart as betting that Jared from Subway never watched kiddie porn. Was that too far? I never know.
Don’t get me wrong, when healthy Sam Bradford has shown the ability to be an adequate starting QB. But the guy is coming off his 2nd ACL tear (albeit one in each knee) and has never shown the ability to stay healthy throughout an entire season. With the laughable Mark Sanchez once again manning the back-up position, I wouldn’t feel real comfortable as an Eagles fan with that duo at the helm of my franchise. Couple that with the fact that this offseason saw Kelly trade away LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso, and let Jeremy Maclin walk in free agency, and all of a sudden that high-octane offense looks a lot more like a Ferrari that you’re trying to make run with parts from a Toyota Corolla.
What are their chances: I think the Eagles will be competitive in a division that should be at least slightly improved from last year. If Bradford can stay healthy, which is a HUGE if, then they’ll be in the mix coming fighting for a playoff spot. If he goes down, then forget about it. Either way, the Eagles reek to me of a team that had an insane amount of fluky big plays last season (with all the special team and defensive touchdowns) that won’t repeat again. In the end, I think they finish 9-7 best case scenario, and my official projection is a 6-10 finish that gets Chip Kelly on the hot seat heading into next offseason.
Why they should be optimistic: They won the division last season. Tony Romo had one of the best statistical seasons of his career, despite battling injuries for a portion of the year, AND had it not been for that questionable overturning of Dez Bryant’s TD catch vs Green Bay at Lambeau field…the Cowboys would have been the ones traveling to Seattle to face the Seahawks for a spot in the Super Bowl (in a stadium by the way that they had ALREADY won in during the regular season). Sorry to throw a little salt in that wound Cowboys fans, but the point is…last season was as successful a year as Jerry’s boys have had since the days of Aikman, Irvin and Smith.
They locked Dez up to a long-term deal, and signed Greg Hardy this offseason. They were recipients of a huge gift when his suspension was reduced to 4 games, so the hope is he regains his form and fills the gaping pass rush hole left behind by DeMarcus Ware last season.
Why they should be concerned: They lost DeMarco Murray and are faced with a tandem of Darren McFadden and Joseph Randle at running back. I know they have a great offensive line, but that’s still a massive downgrade. Plus, Tony Romo is getting up there in age and has dealt with injuries in each of the past few seasons, so there’s always some concern on that front. The larger concern has to be their defense, which has struggled in recent years – particularly in the secondary where Mo Claiborne and Brandon Carr have hugely failed to live up to expectations. They invested a 1st round pick in Byron Jones (shout out to my Huskies! UCONN!), but there’s still concern. The defense will need to be much improved for the Boys to make a deep run.
What are their chances: They’re probably considered the favorites by most people to win the division. I could definitely see it, but my gut is calling for a return to the days of 8-8 mediocre football. I think Romo gets hurt at some point, misses a couple of games, and the defense struggles to keep the team in games. My official prediction = 8-8 season that results in the firing of Jason Garrett.
New York Giants
Why they should be optimistic: three words…Odell Beckham Junior. I know Beast Mode is already trademarked by Marshawn, but DAMN – this dude is just nuts. I’m a Pats fan and even I get a half-chub talking about this guy (don’t judge me), so if you’re a Giants fan, there’s just no way you’re not jacked up about having him on the field for Big Blue. He put up video game numbers in his rookie season…91 receptions for 1,305 yards and 12 TDs – in only 12 games. It’s scary to think what he could do in 16.
Plus, Victor Cruz is coming back from an injury, and if he can ever come close to regaining the form that made him one of the most dangerous slot receivers in the league, the G-men would have a devastating 1-2 punch at receiver. They also signed Shane Vereen this offseason, who gives Eli another receiving threat – this time out of the backfield. Pair him with the combo of Rashad Jennings and Andre Williams on early downs, add in Larry Donnell at tight end (who at least showed flashes of talent last year), sprinkle in some underwhelming Rueben Randle…and you’ve got (at least on paper) potential for one of the best offenses in the NFC.
Why they should be concerned: Well, all that offensive firepower I just talked about, doesn’t really mean much if your offensive line is trash…which theirs was last season. They invested a 1st round pick in Erick Flowers, and he’ll be forced right into actual (probably at the all-important LT position) as Will Beatty went down with a torn pectoral in May and isn’t expected back before November. So can the revamped offensive line protected Eli enough to take advantage of his weapons? That will be a key questions heading into the season.
The defense meanwhile, particularly the D-line, is usually a calling-card for the G-men and it was a big disappointment last season. Jason Pierre-Paul had a pretty quiet season but came on strong late in the year and built some momentum that probably had Giants fans feeling better (and screaming that management should lock him up to a long-term deal). That was until JPP decided to break a rule that every mom tells their 4-year-old…”don’t play with fireworks”. He had one finger amputated and reportedly had serious injuries to other fingers to there is no timetable for his return. There’s just something about the G-men that makes their players commit major bodily harm to themselves…
There’s also the ever important Eli factor; i.e. which Eli Manning will they get. Will they get the good Eli who threw for 30 TDs against only 14 interceptions last season, or will they get bad Eli from 2013 when he threw a league-leading 27 interceptions with only 18 TDs. I don’t think any quarterback in the history of the NFL has had a more polarizing, Jekyll and Hyde career than Eli Manning. When he’s good, he can carry that team on his back (unfortunately I’ve had to witness it twice as a Pats fan). When he’s bad, he gives Mark Sanchez (back then) and Geno Smith (now) a serious run for worst QB in New York.
What are their chances: As much as it pains me to say this based on my hatred for G-men, I think they’re going to win the division. I think their defense will be good enough, and their offense will carry them to a 9-7 or 10-6 record – which will be good enough to win the division. Plus, look at their schedule – the NFC east plays the NFC South and AFC East this year…hardly a grueling gauntlet of teams they’ll be facing. The official prediction = 10-6, 1st place in the NFC East and they lose on the road in the Divisional Round of the playoffs.