X-Dallas Cowboys 9-7
After winning the NFC East in 2014, the bar of expectations for the Dallas Cowboys heading into the 2015 National Football League season increased. But when quarterback Tony Romo suffered a broken clavicle last September, the Cowboys chances went up in smoke. Dallas would go 4-12 for their worst season since 1989 and they are now hopeful for a quick turnaround.
With a porous season for the Cowboys, it resulted in them gaining the fourth overall pick in the National Football League Draft which led to them selecting former Ohio State Buckeyes running back Ezekiel Elliot. Elliot is a home-run hitter at the running back position that is always on the verge of breaking a big play. Elliot will run behind an offensive line that is one of the biggest and physical groups in football as they are reminiscent of Dallas’ line in the 1990’s.
Left tackle Tyron Smith and center Travis Frederick are developing into two of the better players at their respective positions, and guard La’el Collins has the potential to be a Pro Bowl selection this year. And this offensive line will be very important as they must find a way to protect Romo.
Like Romo, wide receiver Dez Bryant is looking to bounce back after an injury hampered his 2015 campaign. Bryant only appeared in nine games last season due to a foot injury and his presence is vital for any success that the Cowboys intend on having. But Bryant has had to deal with his fair share of feet and ankle injuries and you have to wonder if he’ll begin to lose some of his speed and explosiveness. However having Bryant on the field opens things up for the other Cowboys wide receivers such as Cole Beasley and Terrance Williams who then tend to get more one-on-one coverage on them.
But the Cowboys chances simply come down to the health of Romo. Collarbone and clavicle injuries have been taking their toll on Romo who is one or two good hits away from having to bid farewell to the National Football League. And unfortunately for the Cowboys, they don’t have any insurance behind Romo as they have not used a first-round pick on a quarterback since selecting Troy Aikman in 1989.
Defensive for the Cowboys, team owner/general manager Jerry Jones took some chances on some players and it has recently come back to bite him in the rear end. Defensive end DeMarcus Lawrence, middle linebacker Rolando McClain, and defensive end Randy Gregory are facing suspensions from the National Football League this year as each player was expected to have an impact on that side of the football for Dallas.
In the secondary, cornerback Morris Claiborne has nine lives and he might be on his ninth life with the Cowboys as it simply has not worked out for him in Dallas. But cornerback/safety Byron Jones could be ready to step into a leadership role on that side of the football.
Kicker Dan Bailey has been a key cog for the Cowboys in recent years as he is almost automatic from within 55 yards, and more importantly he has a strong leg to get it done when the temperature changes which will be big for Dallas’ chances of getting to the postseason.
For Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett, he and his squad have a chance to get on the right foot as they’ll host the New York Giants in Week 1 before traveling to face the Washington Redskins in Week 2. The Redskins won the NFC East last year and the Cowboys definitely want to try to set the tone for themselves in 2016 with a strong start within the division.
New York Giants 9-7
There will definitely be a different feel to the New York Giants this year as for the first time since 2003, Tom Coughlin is not the team’s head coach. Coughlin was at the forefront of one of the greatest stretches in Giants franchise history, but after three consecutive losing seasons and not making the postseason since 2011, he was relieved of his duties at the end of the 2015 National Football League season. But if you’ve watched the Giants over the past two years, you saw the writing on the wall when Ben McAdoo was hired to be the team’s offensive coordinator in 2014. McAdoo has been groomed to be the Giants head coach and the time is now for him to have his opportunity.
For Giants quarterback Eli Manning, he is hands down the most prolific quarterback in the 92-year history of the franchise. But what has hurt Manning recently is that the Giants have not put the most talented team around him. However Manning is entering his third season working with McAdoo which should benefit him and the Giants offense.
One thing that will definitely help Manning is wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr. In just two years in the National Football League, Beckham has already amassed 2,755 receiving yards and 25 touchdowns as he is on the fast track to becoming the best wide receiver in the history of the Giants.
But the Giants will holding their breath on wide receiver Victor Cruz who has been hit with the injury bug over the last two years. In 2014, Cruz suffered a torn patellar tendon, while a calf injury kept him out for the entire 2015 National Football League season. The deck is stacked against him as far as having the same explosiveness that made him an overnight sensation in 2011, however the key for him is to be healthy.
In the second round of the 2016 National Football League Draft, the Giants selected wide receiver Sterling Shepard who is Cruz with the explosiveness. The last few years have seen Shepard be one of the most dynamic wide receivers on the college football scene and it shouldn’t take him that long to become a favorite of Manning; especially on third down.
However as good as Beckham, Cruz, and Shepard can be, they are all smaller wide receivers which doesn’t help the Giants in the red zone where they need a big, physical receiver, or tight end. The Giants haven’t had a wide receiver with that presence since Hakeem Nicks in 2011, and they’ve lacked a player with that ability at tight end since Jeremy Shockey who last played with the team in 2007. However the Giants believe in their combination at tight end in Will Tye and Larry Donnell to be good options for Manning.
Under McAdoo, Manning has worked on getting the football out quicker which has taken away some stress from the Giants offensive line. But after having so much continuity on the offensive line from 2005-2012, the Giants have spent the past few years getting younger and more athletic. The Giants have used first-round picks on left tackle Ereck Flowers and guard Justin Pugh who along with center Weston Richburg need to become consistent contributors on the offensive line in 2016 if New York’s offense is going to have some success.
Defensively in 2015, the Giants never got on track as they were the worst unit in the National Football League. It was ten times easier for opponents to navigate their way through the Giants defense than traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike as they simply couldn’t stop anyone. As Steve Spagnuolo is in the second year of his second stint as Giants defensive coordinator, he is looking to get the unit back to what he had in 2007 when they made life tough for opposing quarterbacks en route to winning the Super Bowl.
A fireworks incident appeared ready to derail the career of defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul who played last year in spite of losing two fingers. Pierre-Paul played with a “club” on his right hand, and although that he was able to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, he was unable to record sacks. Pierre-Paul had a surgery on his hand this off-season that means no more club for him on his right hand, but he will still be fighting an uphill battle to tally quarterback sacks.
To offset Pierre-Paul, Giants general manager Jerry Reese went out and spent big in free agency on the defensive side of the football. The Giants signed defensive end Olivier Vernon to a five-year contract that could potentially be worth $85 million. In four seasons with the Miami Dolphins, Vernon had 29 sacks, but with the contract that he signed, the folks in the Tri-State Area want to see him become a great pass rusher in the mode of Lawrence Taylor and Michael Strahan.
Aside from Vernon, the Giants also signed defensive tackle Damon Harrison and cornerback Janoris Jenkins to big deals this off-season, while using their first-round pick on cornerback Eli Apple. The additions of Jenkins and Apple give the Giants much needed depth in the secondary as veteran cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie could be the team’s nickel cornerback, or Apple could assume that role as he gets his feet wet.
After a solid rookie season in 2015, strong safety Landon Collins could be ready to take a bigger role defensively as he showed flashes last year of being a game changer which will be vital if the Giants are going to end their playoff drought.
The Giants linebacking core has been weak in recent years and this is a unit that has been searching for a leader since Antonio Pierce retired in 2009. And it will once again be a patch work unit here in 2016 which will hurt New York’s chances.
It seems like just about each National Football League season in recent years has the Giants opening with the Dallas Cowboys and that will be the same in 2016 when New York travels to AT&T Stadium to get things started in a few weeks. But the pressure will be on Reese to get the Giants to the playoffs for the first time since winning Super Bowl 46 as he has run out of people to fire and team co-owner John Mara wants to see some positive results from his team.
Washington Redskins 6-10
The Washington Redskins found themselves as one of the pleasant surprises during the 2015 National Football League season as they came out of nowhere to win the NFC East. But the Redskins will begin 2016 looking to do something that they have not done since 1992 which is to make the playoffs in consecutive years. And to give you an idea of how long that has been, it was the last year of Joe Gibbs’ initial run as Redskins head coach, while the team still also called RFK Stadium home.
In 2015, Kirk Cousins shocked many skeptics (myself included) to have the finest passing season of any Redskins quarterback to date. Cousins passed for 4,196 yards and 29 touchdowns as his famous catchphrase “you like that” was right at the forefront. The emergence of Cousins would see the Redskins part with quarterback Robert Griffin III who was the second overall pick of the 2012 National Football League Draft. Ironically Cousins was a seventh-round selection that year, but he was the one that was more prepared for the pro-style offense that Redskins head coach Jay Gruden is running. But the biggest question around Cousins entering the upcoming season is whether or not that last year was a fluke, or is he ready to become the Redskins franchise quarterback?
The Redskins allowed running back Alfred Morris to leave in free agency which means that running back Matt Jones will have an increased role this year in the team’s rushing attack. Morris was the team’s leading rusher last year with just 751 and Washington cannot afford to have an imbalance on offense like they did in 2015.
Tight end Jordan Reed and wide receiver Pierre Garcon should once again be the recipient of the majority of Cousins passes, but the Redskins must find a way to incorporate wide receiver DeSean Jackson into the offense more. Jackson missed six games last year due to injury and and Washington needs him to be healthy as he is their deep threat at wide receiver.
Last year under defensive coordinator Joe Barry, the Redskins defense was a no-named band of brothers. But there will be some swagger in D.C. this year with the addition of cornerback Josh Norman. In four years with the Carolina Panthers, Norman developed a reputation around the National Football League as a solid cover corner. However we’ll soon find out if what we’ve seen from Norman was his ability, or the fact that he played behind a solid front seven with the Panthers.
Washington will have the luxury of beginning the upcoming season with consecutive home games against the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys. But it will be tough for the Redskins to once again find the formula that worked so fluidly for them in 2015.
Philadelphia Eagles 6-10
After nearly three years of seeing the Chip Kelly experiment destroy his locker room, Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie decided to make a change. Lurie had gotten away from what had made his Eagles successful when he fired longtime head coach Andy Reid in 2012, in favor of a college coach in Kelly. Kelly tried to run the Eagles in the same mode that he ran his college program with the Oregon Ducks, but in the National Football League he didn’t realize that he was dealing with grown men. Lurie gave Kelly full autonomy over all personnel decisions which was a recipe for disaster. But Lurie saw the ills of his ways and he has decided to go back to the formula that made his Eagles a perennial playoff contender in the 2000’s.
With the termination of Kelly, Howie Roseman who is the Eagles executive vice president of football operations is now back to being the main decision maker when it comes to the team’s personnel moves. Roseman’s first order of business was to hire Doug Pederson as the Eagles new head coach. Pederson is very familiar with the Eagles family as he played for them as well as serving as an assistant coach under Reid.
Pederson is looking to rebuild the Eagles from the ground up and the first order of business for him was to find a franchise quarterback. At the 2016 National Football League Draft, the Eagles moved up to the second overall spot to select quarterback Carson Wentz. At 6’5″ 237 lbs., Wentz has the size to be a solid NFL quarterback, along with a strong arm. But Wentz has a tough task ahead of him as he looks to win over the fans in Philadelphia who’ve been known to be rather hostile.
However the Eagles are going about in the right way as Wentz is not expected to begin the season under center for the Eagles as he’ll have a clipboard in his hands, and an earpiece in his ear. Sam Bradford was the Eagles starting quarterback in 2015, and even though that the writing is on the wall as far as him not being in the long term plans of Philadelphia, he isn’t ready to give up the starter’s role without a fight.
It’s best that the Eagles are not ready to throw Wentz to the wolves as they don’t have a solid running game to protect him. The Eagles will more than likely employ a running back by committee system with Ryan Matthews and Kenjon Barner more than likely getting the bulk of the carries.
Philadelphia does have some young talent to catch the football in wide receiver Jordan Matthews and tight Zach Ertz who should once again be able to click with Bradford in the passing game. And it also didn’t hurt that the Eagles recently acquired wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham from the Tennessee Titans. Green-Beckham has immense potential, but it is just a matter of him becoming consistent.
The Eagles defense has been undersized in recent years with Kelly at the helm, but there will be a new brand of physical and aggressive football under defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. The Eagles were 30th in the National Football League last year in total defense and in order for them to improve, safety Malcolm Jenkins cannot lead this unit in tackles for a second consecutive year. The Eagles have veteran pass rushers in defensive tackle Fletcher Cox and defensive end Connor Barwin who must get after opposing quarterbacks and possibly force some turnovers.
The Eagles will more than likely be fighting an uphill battle in 2016, but Pederson is in the process of laying the foundation for his time in Philadelphia.