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Is there a more bipolar division in the NFL than the NFC East? Does anyone else remember when this was a powerhouse division? The most difficult thing is the level of star power on each team, and how that seemingly doesn’t translate into consistent play. I would sooner bet the mortgage on a coin flip than I would venture a guess at how well any one of these teams will play on a weekly basis. That said, one thing you can bet on is how exciting this division will be and how close it will be at the end of the year.
Most Important Player: Robert Griffin III, QB, Washington Redskins
Not that every quarterback isn’t critical to their team, but Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Nick Foles are not as critical to the success of their individual teams, although their durability is better than Griffin III’s, a player who needs to stay healthy because he is, in fact, critical to the Redskins’ success because he keeps defenses off-balance. If he is playing, Washington could actually steal games and maybe even the division; injured, and this team is going to be drafting in the top 10 next year at the NFL Draft.
X-Factor: Ben McAdoo, Offensive Coordinator, New York Giants
For those of you wondering Who the heck is Ben McAdoo, let me fill you in.
For the last eon, Kevin Gilbride has been the New York Giants’ offensive coordinator; Manning grew up and won two Super Bowls and MVPs in his system. But McAdoo, Gilbride’s replacement, brings in the West Coast style of play, which means a whole new playbook for Eli and his teammates to learn.
So while Eli puts his rap career on hold (if you don’t know what I’m talking about do yourself a favor and check out the video), the rest of the division is trying to figure out how the two are going to operate in this new system. Typically, with a veteran QB, the first year will be a prosperous one, as teams don’t have enough tape to be able to game plan properly, but it is imperative that McAdoo makes the system workable for Manning and company. Too complicated and there will be many miscues for the newly formed defense to overcome.
Best Team: Philadelphia Eagles
This may be a case of the least-worst rather than the best team, but you do what you can with what you have. Last year, Foles looked like he’d been a first round draft pick, and Chip Kelly made it seem ridiculous that he hadn’t been an NFL coach for years. The thing is, both are set for a sophomore slump this year. Either one wasn’t all that good; it was the fact that no one knew how Kelly was going to coach at this level or how Foles would play the position. A year later, there is now tape to help teams pick them apart. Philadelphia lost its best receiver in DeSean Jackson, but has grabbed a quality starter to replace him in this year’s NFL Draft (Jordan Matthews). The team will struggle outside the division, but have enough to win the division again.
Team That Could Surprise: Washington Redskins
This is a team that can flip-flop more than the type of shoes that bear the same name. The new head coach Jay Gruden is likely not going to help Griffin III, who is hurt more than an overly-sensitive teenager. Really, this team will come down to how quickly the offense can adapt to the new system and if they can score enough points to keep the defense in games. Neither side of the ball is particularly deep for this team, but if they catch lightning in a bottle, who knows what could happen?
Griffin III is the type of guy that can win games in a variety of ways. The offense has playmakers at every position and the line is pretty solid. The defense needs to step up, and if they can, this team could surprise, particularly early in the season.
Bold Prediction: Tom Coughlin won’t make it through the season
Medical issues, or a really bad start (in part due to the McAdoo hiring) will result in Coughlin not being the head coach of the New York Giants by the end of the season. This would be a huge blow to the G-Men. His steady coaching has really set the tone for what the team has been at its core for over a decade. The defense has been shredded more than cheese intended for a fine New York pizza, and a new offensive system might be enough to break this team.
Offensive Player of the Year: LeSean McCoy, RB, Philadelphia Eagles
Would the real Slim Shady please run wild on the lackluster defenses that will be put before him in the NFC East? No offense to Dez Bryant, Victor Cruz, Pierre Garcon, or any of the QBs in the division, but no one is going to have an easier time running or catching the ball than McCoy. The other running backs in the division will likely put up solid numbers, but they don’t catch the ball the way McCoy does. McCoy is right up there with Jamaal Charles as a player that is a legit dual-threat, and given play against lackluster fronts within the division, he could be in for a really big year.
Defensive Player of the Year: Jason Pierre-Paul, DE, New York Giants
Do I have to pick someone here? Really, do I have to? Ok, fine! Dallas has Sean Lee, wait, no, he’s hurt. Umm, they have DeMarcus Ware who, wait, no, he went to Denver. Philly has, ummm, that guy who, no, Trent Cole? Yeah, he’s … actually getting really old. Oh, they have Matthews, oh no, that’s Casey, not Clay. Washington has… Brian Orakpo, who’s injured. By default, I have to give this to Pierre-Paul. He is the only legit All-Pro player the division has on defense. My concern is that I don’t think the Giants will be up often enough, or are good enough to have him not be doubled on almost every down.
With that said he’s still a beast off the edge, and a rare combination of speed and power that makes him tough to block and even more difficult to contain. Much like the best team, this is more a case of the best of the worst here, but someone has to win it, so it might as well be JPP.
Philadelphia Eagles: 9-7
New York Giants: 8-8
Dallas Cowboys: 8-8
Washington Redskins: 7-9