Cowboys – 9.5 2015: 4-12
Tony Romo has to stay healthy. This is not an insider tip or a national secret, but is common knowledge. If Tony Romo can manage to play 16 games this season, the Dallas Cowboys will win the NFC East and finish with 11 wins. The combination of Romo and Dez Bryant is more than enough to cover up all the issues with the defense. This offseason the Cowboys made the no-braniner move to get rid of Greg Hardy and not splurge on any top tier free agents. The Cowboys made some questionable decisions in the draft though. Drafting 4th overall gave the Cowboys the opportunity to fill their biggest needs – DE, CB, S – but they instead drafted running back Ezekiell Elliott out of Ohio State. Elliott will be a beast. He will demand teams load up the box with 8 defenders, which will allow Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams, Coe Beasley, and Jason Witten to get open more easily and in turn protect Romo. Elliott is deservedly a heavy favorite to win OROY and most likely will, even if Romo goes down with an injury. As exciting as Elliott will be to watch, the biggest story is on the defensive side of the ball. Demarcus Lawrence, who led the team with 6 sacks last season, will miss the first four games because of a suspension for violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Opposite of Lawrence, Randy Gregory will also miss the first four games because of violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Third round pick defensive tackle Maliek Collins is also questionable for the season opener after breaking his foot in OTA’s. Rolando McLain will miss the first 10 games of the season for his second violation of the league’s substance abuse policy. Some good news is the Cowboys are getting corner back Orlando Scandrick back after tearing his ACL last off season and he is expected to be a full participant at the start of camp. Byron Jones will be playing safety full time this year and that will benefit this team greatly. With games against the Giants, Redskins, Bears, and 49ers, the Cowboys shouldn’t end up worse than 2-2 through their first four. Then they’ll get back Lawrence, Gregory, and a healthy Collins who should all make an immediate impact. As long as Romo stays healthy this team should win 11 games and win this division no problem.
New York Giants – 8 2015: 6-10
The Giants just couldn’t perform when it mattered most. They continuously lost games late and that cost them a chance at a divisional title and subsequently a playoff spot. The Giants went into the offseason committed to making changes that those same late game collapses don’t happen this year. The Giants signed Olivier Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, and Damon Harrison for a combined $193.75 million. But the Giants weren’t done there. They used the 10th overall pick on cornerback Eli Apple and their 3rd round pick on safety Darian Thompson. Vernon, Jenkins, and Harrison are expected to be immediate starters and make a massive impact on defense, while Apple and Thompson are expected to be contributors as role players while they acclimate to the league. On Offense the Giants didn’t make too many changes outside of drafting wide receiver Sterling Shepard in the 2nd round. Shepard is a smooth route runner who should be a starter on Day 1. Shepard replaces an old and injured Victor Cruz and should provide a solid weapon opposite of Victor Cruz. The main issue with the Giants is their offensive line play and their running game which was non-existent at times last season. The Giants o-line was ranked 20th last season by Pro Football Focus and they made almost no improvements this offseason. Rashad Jennings looks to be the starter once again in New York but look for rookie Paul Perkins to make a push for carries and take over the starting job if Jennings is injured or fails to produce. This team is a toss-up with how they will perform this year but I find it hard to bet against Eli Manning. The Giants will win 9 games and finish third in the NFC East.
Philadelphia Eagles – 7 2015: 7-9
The Eagles are not ready to win this year. The Chip Kelly era cleared this team of its most talented players and failed to bring in top level talent to replace them. You could argue that the best player Kelly brought in was DeMarco Murray but he is in Tennessee now after one year with the team. The Eagles will run a much slower, run first scheme under head coach Doug Pederson compared to what Chip Kelly ran. This should help quarterback Sam Bradford but I think we’ve seen Bradford’s ceiling – glimpses of the talent that got him drafted first overall followed up by long stretches of average play. The Eagles mortgaged their future to trade up to second overall for quarterback Carson Wentz. Before trading up for Wentz, the Eagles traded Byron Maxwell, Kiko Alonso, and the 13th overall pick in the draft to Miami for the 8th pick in the draft. While Alonso has battled injuries for most of his career and Maxwell had a down season last year, the Eagles brought in no one to replace them. The Eagles finished last season 28th against the pass, 32nd against the run, and 30th in total yards. These numbers were a bit inflated with how often their defense was on the field but even if they improved 10 spots in each category, they’re still only in the high teens or low 20’s. This team mortgaged its future for a rookie QB when it has very few playmakers on the team. This is not a team that is going to miraculously have success this year and shouldn’t play Wentz if they actually want to give him a chance to be good in the future. The Eagles will not win more than 6 games this year.
Washington Redskins – 7.5 2015: 9-7
The Redskins surprised the NFL last season, going 9-7 and winning the NFC East. The Cowboys being incapable of producing decent backup quarterback play helped a lot but this team by far deserved to win this division. The emergence of quarterback Kirk Cousins was a welcome development and he will play 2016 under the franchise tag while he tries to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. Cousins will be helped out by first round pick Josh Doctson. Doctson is behind DeSean Jackson, Pierre Garcon, and Jamison Crowder for playing time but don’t be surprised if the ultra-athletic receiver is regularly on the field by midseason. The Redskins biggest improvement this offseason was bringing in cornerback Josh Norman, who was released by the Panthers after they failed to reach a long term deal. Norman is a household name now and will immediately upgrade a pass defense that ranked 25th last season and lacked any real playmakers. The Redskins also drafted cornerback Kendall Fuller out of Virginia Tech. Fuller is coming off of MCL surgery but should be ready for the start of the season. The Redskins will get back OLB Junior Galette. Galette tore his Achilles last August and should be a full participant in training camp. The question for Galette is will he have the required explosiveness to get to the quarterback. If so, the Redskins will have a solid pass rush with Galette and Ryan Kerrigan. The Redskins stayed the course this offseason under General Manager Scott McCloughan by not spending recklessly in the beginning of free agency and adding a certified playmaker in Norman. These small moves will improve the team and get them to 10 wins and a second place finish in the NFC East.