2017 NFL Season Preview: NFC East

Will the battle between the Giants and Cowboys continue?

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The Sideline Reports’ look ahead to the 2017 NFL season continues today with the National Football Conference. And what better way to begin in the NFC than the enticing battle of the NFC East. The last two winners of the division have gone from worst to first, so season 2017 will make for interesting viewing.

Dallas

Key Additions

CB Nolan Carroll, DE Taco Charlton, RB Ronnie Hillman

Key Losses

QB Tony Romo, G Ronald Leary, OT Doug Free, CB Branden Carr, CB Morris Claiborne, S Barry Church, S JJ Wilcox

What does a successful season look like?

The Cowboys were one of the real surprise packets last season, going from last in the division in 2015 to the second seed in the NFC last season off the back of their sensational rookie tandem. Despite many predicting a sophomore slump for QB Dak Prescott and RB Zeke Elliott, the two look poised for bigger and better things in big D having gained such invaluable experience in their respective rookie seasons. The Boys will have some hurdles, starting with a possible early season suspension to Elliott and blooding in two new starters on what is widely considered the best O-line in the business. Prescott showed last season the leadership and a thirst for the big moment rarely seen by rookies in this league. Cowboy fans hope to see it all again in year two, feeling gutted after the heart breaking loss to the Packers in the divisional round last season. On defense, there are enormous question marks in a secondary that was picked apart through free agency, so Dallas will be hoping their rookie class of CB’s Chidobe Awuzie, Jourdan Lewis and Marquez White can adjust quickly to the pros. If they all revel in a friendly defensive scheme led by defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli, and first round pick Taco Charlton can give this Dallas D a genuine pass rush they’ve been missing since the departure of Demarcus Ware, the Cowboys could be on their way to a second Straight division title, and perhaps more.

What does a disastrous season look like?

If the doubters are proven to be correct and Dak and Zek both fail to live up to the hype in year 2, things could fall apart in a division that looks like being a real arm wrestle all season long. Zeke Elliot finds it difficult to run behind a line that dearly misses the defection of guard Ronald Leary and retirement of right tackle Doug Free, only barely scratching the 1,000 yard mark come seasons end. A defense that knew how to bend but not break last season breaks a lot, with too many rookies asked to do too much, leaving Dak Prescott with the same issue on offense. Dallas struggles mightily in a wonderful competitive division, resorting back to their 8-8 run of mediocrity only a few seasons ago under Romo. This would be a disaster, especially for the vocal fans in Arlington, Texas.

Cold Hard Truth

In a division where every team looks to have gotten stronger over the offseason, the Cowboys enter 2017 with quite a few question marks and a lot of pressure on their most recent rookie class to perform right away. 13-3 was a phenomenal effort last season, but repeating that again this season would be unrealistic. Perhaps 10-6 and a wild card berth would be more realistic.

New York Giants

Key Additions 

WR Brandon Marshall, OT DJ Fluker, TE Evan Engram

Key Losses

WR Victor Cruz, DT Johnathan Hankins, RB Rashad Jennings

What does a successful season look like?

If the offensive line and running game (two groups that have haunted the Giants regime for a few seasons now) could sort itself out, Big Blue would be odds on to not just win the division, but make a deep run in January once again. The Giants will be desperate for former first round pick Ereck Flowers to finally cement himself as the teams answer to Eli Manning’s blindside. If Flowers can announce himself as the teams number one left tackle, it could help this offense no end. The ground game has also been an issue for the Giants, but Paul Perkins looked a good prospect late in his rookie season in 2016. If Eli and newlly aquisitioned WR Brandon Marshall can hit it off from week 1, and Perkins blossoms into a thousand yard rusher, this becomes a serious contender in the NFC, offensive line woes permitting. This looks like being one of the premier defenses in the conference once again in 2017, despite the loss of behemoth defensive tackle Johnathan Hankins. If superstar safety Landon Collins can go to another level, the Giants could run away with the division and do some serious damage come January. If the 5 big blokes in front of Eli can sort themselves out, this Giants team is certainly talented enough to climb to 12 or 13 wins, which could make Pats fans nervous. Maybe.

What does a disastrous season look like?

Injuries look to be the only real cause for concern on the defensive side of the ball, as the Giants do lack some depth behind the starters. On offense, the connection between Eli and gun receive Odell Beckham could be enough to get New York to 10 wins on their own, however, if the offensive line trouble persist and no clear number 1 running back emerges, it could be another wasted season for Eli and these Giants. A loseing record would be a disaster in the Big apple, but this looks to be a far superior team than that. 9-7 would be a good outcome in this division for some teams, but Giants fans would see this as a major disappointment.

Cold Hard Truth

If they could find their preferred offensive line tandem, the Giants would then be deserved favourites for the rugged NFC East. If not, a wild card would be their best hope. There will be serious challengers, but 11-5 could be enough to clinch a tough and evenly fought division.

Philadelphia

Key Additions 

WR Alshon Jeffrey, WR Torrey Smith, G Chance Warmack, DE Chris Long, RB LeGarrette Blount, DE Derek Barnett, DT Timmy Jernigan

Key Losses

CB Nolan Carroll, LB Connor Barwin, DT Bennie Logan, QB Chase Daniel

What does a successful season look like?

After a sensational start to his rookie season, QB Carson Wentz really did struggle down the stretch in 2016. After surrounding their young signal caller with playmakers on the perimeter and a bruising back in LaGarrette Blount, the Eagles are confident they can be the dark horse in the NFC. Eagles fans are anxious to see just how good Wentz can be with a true number 1 receiver in Alshon Jeffrey now in the mix, and a great second fiddle in veteran Torrey Smith. RB LaGarrette Blount will be keen to show the football world  he’s not a back that only thrives in a Bill Belicheck offense, running behind what would be the best offensive line in most divisions. On defense, Philly will be hoping first round pass rusher Derek Barnett can evoke memories of a former QB-hunter out of the University of Tennessee for older Eagles fans, adding to what already looks like one of the stronger front sevens in the entire conference, led by gun defensive tackle Fletcher Cox. If the front seven can cover for what is an extremely thin secondary (particularly at the cornerback position), the Eagles may be able to wrestle their way back into the playoffs. 10-6 could be enough to win the division, though this is an exciting team led by an exciting young QB that could surpass even 11 wins.

What does a disastrous season look like?

If Carson Wents can’t make the leap in year 2, despite the weapons he’s been blessed with, it could all come crashing down for Philly fans. Blount has to be the answer on the ground for this season at least, as there’s not much else happening in the running back room. On defense, rookie Derek Barnett has to start with a bang in year 1 rushing opposition QB’s, for if Barnett and co struggle, the entire defense will struggle, as this is not a secondary that looks like standing up under constant barrage in 2017. Despite the optimism around this team heading into this season, there’s still some cause for concern. 6-10 would be a really disappointing season, and not a true reflection on just how good these Eagles can be.

Cold Hard Truth

This may be a team that is still a year away from reaching its potential, though if Carson Wents can emulate his early season form from his rookie season for a 16 game stretch in 2017, these Eagles could be in for a wild ride. The guess here is 8-8, though this is a bandwagon ready to be jumped on in 1017.

Washington

Key Additions 

S DJ Swearinger, WR Terrelle Pryor, LB Zach Brown, DE Jonathan Allen

Key Losses

WR DeSean Jackson, WR Pierre Garçon, DE Chris Baker

What does a successful season look like?

After a tumultuous offseason for the Redskins, the fans and players alike will be hoping the sooner week 1 gets here, the better. QB Kirk Cousins will be playing under the franchise tag once again, and will be hell bent on proving to the front office that he’s the man for the job. Despite losing quite a bit of talent on offense, Washington were able to lure free agent wide receiver Terrelle Pryor from the Browns. Adding a healthy Josh Doctson to the field could lesson the blow for an offense that lost its top 3 targets in the offseason. The Redskins stole defensive end Jonathan Allen out of Alabama in the first round last April, and will be hoping Allen can add some talent up front to a defense that lacks A-graders (other than Josh Norman). If edge rushers Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith can both produce off the edge in 2017, this is a Washington defense that could surprise a few in the division. Double digit wins looks beyond them, but 8 or 9 wins and maybe a sneaky wild card spot isn’t.

What does a disastrous season look like?

If Terrelle Pryor can’t regain last seasons form playing alongside a quality QB for the first time, and former first round receiver Josh Doctson struggles again with injuries, it could be a long season on offense for the Skins. Rookie RB Samaje Perine comes to Washington with high expectation, and he may have quite an amount of pressure on him to hit the ground running, as this is an otherwise underwhelming running back group. On defense, if rookie Jonathan Allen can’t make an immediate impact on the Redskins poor defensive line, this could be a front seven that gets run on with ease.  Josh Norman needs some friends in the secondary, otherwise this is a defense that simply doesn’t stack up in the NFC East. Expectation is low in the nations capitol, so exceeding them shouldn’t be difficult. 6-10 and a place at the foot of the NFC East could await the Redskins if coach Jay Gruden can’t pick this team up after a testing offseason.

Cold Hard Truth

Cases can be made for the other 3 teams in the division, but Washington are a hard team to make a case for. After just missing out on a playoff berth last season, and losing quite a few important pieces during the offseason on both sides of the ball, these Redskins look like facing an uphill battle in an extremely difficult division. They have surprised before, however 7-9 would be a good indication as to where this team sits in the scheme of things in the NFC.

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