Reason for pessimism: There is absolutely no guarantee the RG3 will stay healthy for 16 games. He experienced his second major surgery on the same knee this off-season and if he were to need a third, his career would be threatened. As a quarterback, his greatest asset is his unpredictability. No offence in the NFL had a better run/pass option than the Redskins. And what happens to the read option offence with Alfred Morris? Will the Redskins have to eliminate that to preserve RG3's health? On defence, the Redskins must improve. They were 28th overall and 30th against the pass. Improvement in the secondary is a top priority.
Reason for optimism: The Redskins return 21 of 22 starters on a team that won 10 games and a division title with a rookie quarterback. Having Brian Orakpo back and hopefully Adam Carriker will make a big difference even though the Redskins finished fifth best against the run. And on the opposite side, Morris was the best sixth round draft pick in a long time. Washington had the top rushing offence and no. 5 offence overall. And what offset the defensive inadequacies was a +16 giveaway/takeaway ratio to end the season. Mike Shanahan will adapt and discipline his quarterback. And I am sure Robert Griffin will look at the sidelines as a friend, not a boundary. Also, and this is important, London Fletcher is back for his 16th season. The Redskins are a young team with key veteran players, but the No. 1 leader is Fletcher, To me a very underrated player and a future Hall of Fame candidate. At 5'10" and 245 pounds he is part Sam Mills and part Ray Lewis. What a career.
Reality: They won the division last year and I think they will win the division again this year. Shanahan is one of the best; he always has good running backs and design. He will have his quarterback play more like a classic pocket QB and I would not be surprised if we saw Kirk Cousins have a package of plays special for him.
Prediction: First in the NFC East.
Reason for pessimism: The Dallas Cowboys were 8-8 last year, 8-8 the year before, and just maybe 8-8 at the end of this year. They set a franchise record for fewest rushing yards in a 16-game schedule and their best running back, DeMarco Murray, has missed nine games due to injury over the last two years. Tony Romo was paid an astronomical amount of money and was overpaid when you think of his limited playoff success. The truth was there was no other quarterback out there so to keep stability along with the recent pay days of Joe Flacco and others, the market was there. So how does he respond? The pressure will be higher than ever before.
Reason for optimism: The Cowboys made some good moves last year. The combination of Monte Kiffin and Rod Marinelli will make a major difference on defence. It will be simple but effective based on the ability to win one-on-one battles consistently. Last year Dallas lost five starters on defence and by mid-season it showed. Sean Lee can be the next Brian Urlacher at middle linebacker; Bruce Carter just needs to stay healthy. Bill Callahan will call plays this year and that is a good move. Key game decisions at critical moments cost the team games over the last two years but now head coach Jason Garrett can anticipate those moments and make better decisions. If Dallas continues to commit to the running game then Romo won't have to put the ball up 648 times like he did last year. Even though he did, Dallas ended the season sixth in total offence, third in pass offence, and fifth in 3rd down efficiency. All they have to do is improve on the 31st run offence.
Reality: Tough division with three good teams and a possible surprise team in the Eagles. But in the last two years Dallas just needed one more win to make a playoff appearance. I like all the moves they have made and, after much criticism, Travis Frederick as a No. 1 pick at center may bring stability to a position that has had personal problems for years.
Prediction: 2nd in the NFC East.
NEW YORK GIANTS
Reason for pessimism: I think the Giants have a long way to go. After winning the Super Bowl last year they didn't even make the playoffs. The low point came in Weeks 16 and 17 when they lost 34-0 in Atlanta and 33-14 in Baltimore. Offensively the Giants are good but on defence they finished 31st in total defence, 25th against the pass and 28th against the run. The only positive point was the positive takeaway/giveaway ratio but I credit that to Eli Manning. The Cowboys were 8-8 the last two years, the Giants weren't much better at 9-7 the last two years. This year's Giants team will be younger, but not necessarily better.
Reason for optimism: Just like other teams that have a disappointing year, it is back to the basics for Giants football and that means being a tough running team and even tougher run defence team. The combination of power back Andre Brown and speed back David Wilson could be effective once Brown is fully recovered from his leg injury. Another combination, Justin Tuck and Jason Pierre-Paul, has to be effective. A four-man pass rush has a history of success under head coach Tom Coughlin. Another issue is new three linebackers but those changes could be beneficial with three new attitudes. Manning is still one of the best quarterbacks in football and when it comes to classic quarterback skills he is the best in the division. The organization knows and believes that dominance on both sides of the ball, defensive line and offensive line, brings consistent success. The Giants first three picks were an offensive tackle, a defensive tackle, and a defensive end.
Reality: Tough one as the Giants usually have a good year after an "off" year. But the division has improved. Will the Giants create a pass rush and run defence to support three new linebackers?
Prediction: Third in the NFC East.
Reason for pessimism: Some college coaches have done well in the Pros, but the majority not so well. How the Eagles run their systems led by Chip Kelly is one of the most interesting stories of the year. At Oregon his offence was fantastic until they met a more physical football team, like Alabama. It is not so much can Kelly run his offence? It's how are defences going to attack it? Any time someone tries something new it seems to have a life span. The "wildcat” offence has come and gone and so will the read option once quarterbacks begin getting hurt. Can the players master all the formations and movement off of formations and still physically execute plays time and time again? Logic says yes because if college kids can do it then it should be easy at the pro level. But the competition at the pro level is much higher. And what is also odd is that Michael Vick and Nick Foles, the best two Eagles quarterbacks, are opposites in primary ability. Vick is spontaneous and athletic with quarterback skills. Foles is structured and stays in a pocket with quarterback skills. Yet they have to run the same offence?
Reason for optimism: The Eagles have talent even with the most recent injuries and distractions. The value of Jason Peters at left tackle and potential of Lane Johnson at right tackle is special. LeSean McCoy, Felix Jones, and Bryce Brown fit a movement offence compared to a power offence of other teams. DeSean Jackson fits, James Casey at tight end fits too. A lot of players are such good athletes that they fit this offence. On defence, the two most important players are two grinders. Fletcher Cox the team's top draft pick from last year, and Isaac Sopoaga have to be good run defenders all season. Both the Giants and Cowboys have "recommitted" to the run game and Washington has Alfred Morris. The NFC East is a tough, physical conference and as much as Philadelphia want speed football you still have to win at the line of scrimmage.
Reality: Can't see Kelly out-preparing Mike Shanahan, Tom Coughlin or Jason Garrett. This is an experimental year for the Eagles that will be very interesting and entertaining to watch. But when times get tough, and they will, do the Eagles stick to the plan to master the system or change to adapt to the circumstances?
Prediction: Fourth in the NFC East.