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NFC East Preview
NFC East Preview
NFC East Preview
By Joe Nelson
The NFL draft gets all the attention in the spring but the recent release of the 2014 schedule can be a more telling factor in how a team will fare next season. Take a look at the four teams in the NFC East in this schedule preview. The East is one of the highest profile divisions in the league but it has not been a strong division top to bottom for several years. Each of the four teams has a division title in the last five seasons but no team has repeated as division champion since 2004.
Dallas Cowboys: Despite consistent mediocrity in recent seasons, expectations and interest are always sky-high for the Cowboys. This off-season, the team did not appear to make major upgrades, in fact losing one of its biggest stars as DeMarcus Ware signed with Denver. The Cowboys also avoided the high profile drafting of Johnny Manziel, but there have been some positive additions in free agency led by Henry Melton. If Dallas is to breakthrough to the playoffs in 2014, they will need a strong start as the schedule opens with great difficulty. Dallas opens the season at home against San Francisco before heading on back-to-back road games to Nashville and St. Louis, facing two teams that could provide tough tests this season as improved squads. The next two home games come against New Orleans and Houston before the Cowboys head to Seattle. Getting through that run at 3-3 would be a positive step for Dallas before the middle of the season that features several division games. Overexposed is a word that often comes to mind with Dallas and the Cowboys will play six national TV games including four consecutive TV games in the late season schedule.
Dallas faces six 2013 playoff teams, but four of those games will be at home for a somewhat favorable draw. The East faces an AFC South division that could be the weakest in the AFC, but Dallas and the rest of the East will play the stacked NFC West, featuring both of last season’s NFC Championship representatives. The second place draw for the Cowboys brings in challenging games with the Saints and Bears as well to make up a difficult overall slate. Dallas plays Jacksonville in London in November as the Cowboys will only play seven true road games for an advantage, but the lengthy travel late in the season could be taxing. Getting the bye week before big division games with the Giants and Eagles could be beneficial. The first six weeks could make or break the Dallas season and as usual the Cowboys should be interesting and competitive enough to stay relevant, though contending for a championship seems like a stretch.
Dallas Cowboys 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .488 (18/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 6 (four home, two away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games (includes London): 13,642
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 6 (1 Thursday night, 1 Thanksgiving, 3 Sunday night, 1 Monday night)
New York Giants: After going just 9-7 with a point differential of +88 in 2012, the Giants looked like a team poised to deliver a stronger season in 2013. New York wound up 7-9 last season with disastrous numbers on defense and big issues with turnovers on offense. New York started the season 0-6 and rallied to win seven of the final 10 games of the season including putting together a competitive season within the division. The Giants draw a third place schedule in 2014, which means drawing the Lions and Falcons, potentially a dangerous grouping with both of those teams also being big disappointments in 2013 and potentially poised to rebound. One thing to note on the schedule that plays in favor of the Giants is that New York will play a team with a new coaching staff in three of the first four weeks of the season, seemingly a big advantage compared with the rest of the division given the relative stability of the Giants organization in recent years. New York only plays one 2013 playoff team in the first eight weeks of the season, so New York is almost certain to get off to a much better start this year.
The season for New York will face its biggest challenge in November playing the Colts, Seahawks, and 49ers in consecutive games, although that daunting stretch is preceded by a bye week and two of the three games as well as a game with the Cowboys in Week 12 will be at home. New York will only play two games on the road against teams that had a winning record in 2013 and only the finale at home against the Eagles among the final six games comes against a winning team from last season. All in all, New York has what looks like the best schedule in the NFC East, facing the 7th weakest schedule in the league in terms of 2013 win percentage and facing the fewest travel miles in the division. It is worth noting that New York seemingly had a favorable schedule entering the 2013 season as well with a favorable second place draw, but that obviously played out poorly.
New York Giants 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .465 (26/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 5 (three home, two away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 8,193
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 5 (1 Thursday, 2 Sunday night, 2 Monday night)
Philadelphia Eagles: The Eagles wound up winning the NFC East last season in a great bounce back season, led by Chip Kelly making a successful jump to the NFL. Philadelphia found a quarterback with efficient play from Nick Foles and the unique wrinkles in the offense proved difficult for many opponents. Philadelphia benefitted from facing three awful defensive teams in the division last season though two losses came in the division. The Eagles were the second highest scoring team in the NFC last season behind only Chicago, but the Eagles were only +60 in point differential as the defense had several problematic games in an inconsistent season. In 2014, the Eagles draw a first place schedule which means pulling Carolina and a facing a trip to Green Bay with those games coming in consecutive weeks in November. The Eagles have a very tough road schedule overall with only one road game outside of the division coming against a losing team from 2013 and that game is at Houston, a team many expect to be very competitive moving forward.
The Eagles do get to avoid traveling to Seattle this season, but they play at San Francisco and also have likely the tougher of the road game possibilities in the AFC South draw playing at Indianapolis and at Houston. After a an early Week 7 bye, the Eagles play three of the next four games on the road in what could be the most important stretch of the season outside of the division games. Philadelphia has four of its six division games in the final five weeks of the season as the success or failure of the season will likely be decided in December. It will be interesting to see if opponents are better prepared for the Eagles in 2014 with a season of film on the offense, but despite some challenges in the schedule, the Eagles only play five games against 2013 playoff teams and this looks like a division that will not require an amazing record to win.
Philadelphia Eagles 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .479 (20/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 5 (two home, three away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 10,247
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 6 (1 Thursday, 1 Saturday, 2 Sunday night, 2 Monday night)
Washington Redskins: After the great breakthrough season in 2012 led by then-rookie Robert Griffin III, the Redskins crashed last season falling to just 3-13 for the worst record in the NFC. The #2 draft pick slot for Washington went to the Rams, so there was no reward for the awful season in which the team was outscored by 144 points. Washington went 0-6 in the division and 1-11 vs. the NFC last season and while the opportunity to improve will be there, a worst-to-first scenario similar to what has played out in this division the last two seasons seems unlikely. Washington made a coaching change with Jay Gruden taking over and the early season schedule should be manageable for a team in transition. Washington opens at Houston, the only team with a worse record in 2013 and another team in transition and then Washington will host Jacksonville in Week 2, so a promising start is possible. Washington will only play two 2013 playoff teams in the first 11 weeks of the schedule, so it would not be a shock if Washington topped last season’s win total by that point before a challenging closing slate.
Washington’s final three road games include trips to San Francisco and Indianapolis in back-to-back weeks and the final two home games will be big division tests against Philadelphia and Dallas. The fourth place draw provides games with Tampa Bay and Minnesota, two teams that are also going through a coaching transition and those games will surround a Week 10 bye. With a fairly average schedule, Washington seems likely to improve on the ugly numbers from 2013 and the first few weeks should be very telling on whether or not Washington can return to being a playoff contender or whether the transition could take some time. Given the tough games later in the season, starting 2-0 might be critical for the Redskins and they have the opening draw to make it happen, facing teams with questionable quarterback situations in the first two weeks.
Washington Redskins 2014 Schedule Numbers:
2014 Opponents Win Percentage in 2013: .490 (17/32)
Games vs. 2013 Playoff Teams: 5 (two home, three away)
Miles Traveled for 8 road/neutral games: 9,956
Back-to-Back road game sets: 2
Primetime Games: 3 (1 Thursday, 1 Saturday, 2 Monday night)
Re: NFC East Preview
NFC East Betting Preview
By: Micah Roberts
ODDS TO WIN NFC EAST DIVISION
Philadelphia Eagles 7-5
Dallas Cowboys 7-2
New York Giants 5-2
Washington Redskins 7-2
Who does a Las Vegas bookmakers like?
“It's the Eagles division to win, but they have a difficult schedule this year," said LVH SuperBook manager Ed Salmons, a Philadelphia native. "I look for Dallas to implode this year. They did nothing to help one of the worst defenses in the NFL, and as usual, Sean Lee is out for the year. The Giants can't possibly get worse quarterback play than last year but seem like an aging defense and figure to be around .500 this year.
"The Redskins are a team that I believe should be a real player this year. They remind me of the Eagles from this time last year -- a new coach (Jay Gruden) and Griffin was injured all last year. I look for Washington to win the division with Philly second Giants third and Dallas a miserable dead last-place finish.
Who are Vegas books taking the most action on?
"We don't have much action on the odds to win the division, where we have the Eagles a 7-to-5 favorite," said the South Point's Jimmy Vaccaro, who then noticed a bet coming in. "Oh look, we just got a $13 bet on the Cowboys (+375).
"As for the Super Bowl odds, we don't lose on anything among those (four) teams. We win a little bit on everyone, with I'd say the Cowboys being the least attractive for us. We got Philly at 26-to-1, the Giants at 27, Dallas at 40-to-1, and 47-to-1 on Washington. No risk, no danger with any of them."
A team-by-team breakdown ....
Season wins: 8 UNDER -185
Super Bowl odds: 50/1
2013 record: 8-8 (9-7 ATS)
LM outlook: We're not always kind to the Cowboys just because they continually play below expectations, but they started out 2013 with a bang by covering seven of their first eight games (4-3 SU). The one game they really impressed was in their Week 5, 51-48 home loss to the Broncos while getting 7.5 points. However, a few weeks later, most realized the Cowboys weren't that good when they lost 49-17 at New Orleans, which started a run of five straight OVERs with their matador defense. They failed to cover six of their final eight games, but they still covered the number more than any other NFC East team.
There just doesn’t seem to be any reason to believe Dallas will be improved from last season, especially defensively where they lost some of their biggest playmakers. New defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli is a very good coach, but he's not a miracle worker, but they can't get any worse than No. 32, which is where they ranked last season. Dead Last. Allowing 415 yards per game.
Despite the defense, there seems to be a pattern with extremely poor play in December, and the common denominator since 2006 has been Tony Romo. Another 8-8 season seems likely, which would be the fourth straight year they've ended up with that record.
“They have 8-8 written all over them, but they have the talent to be 11-5,” says The Linemakers on Sporting News' Kenny White.
Key quote. Former Cowboys QB and Fox Sports analyst Troy Aikman, per the Dallas Morning News, on what Dallas needs to be successful in 2014: "The defense is going to be better. They can't possibly be as bad or worse than they were a year ago. But is it going to be enough? It's hard for me imagining that being the case, with the injury now to Sean Lee and being out for the season.
"It's a bottom-line business and Jason Garrett understands that. How many more chances are you going to get if you fail to make the playoffs. For that to happen, they've gotta to stay healthy; Tony Romo has to stay healthy. He has to play well. The defense has to be better."
New York Giants
Season wins: 8 OVER -110
Super Bowl odds: 40/1
2013: 7-9 (7-9 ATS)
LM outlook: They were busy with transactions in the offseason, and the offensive line figures to be improved, but they still have the same QB, Eli Manning, who threw 27 INTs. They can’t possibly start 0-6 again, and the discipline of Tom Coughlin is respected in Vegas. Getting at least eight wins should be in the cards, but the value of the opening number of 7.5 is gone.
“Coughlin will never let this year’s team play like last year’s,” says Kenny White. “Manning – 27 INTs – you’re not going to see that happen this year. He’ll cut down on the interceptions. This will be the most improved team, I think, in the NFL this year. … You can bet them in Weeks 1 and 2. They should win their first two games.”
Key quote. Eli Manning, per the New York Daily News, on learning new offensive coordinator Ben McAdoo's system after 10 years under Kevin Gilbride: “It’s reenergized me. I’m trying to speed up the process of getting comfortable in the new system. I don’t have 10 years. I have a few months.”
Season wins: 9 OVER -130
Super Bowl odds: 20/1
2013 record: 10-6, lost wild-card game at home to Saints (8-7-1 ATS)
LM outlook: Chip Kelly’s high-octane college offense snuck up on Vegas regarding to totals (five of first siz games went OVER), with the numbers peaking with a 58 against the Broncos (52-20 loss), but the Eagles gained the respect of bookmakers when their defense (No. 29 ranked) started playing better and the offense played keep-away – seven of their last 11 games stayed UNDER the total.
A 1-3 or 3-5 start like last season seems improbable. It's natural for a team to struggle early with a first-year coach, but they sure became a family quickly. Cutting DeSean Jackson in the offseason sent a clear message to everyone in the locker room – and one they all respected. Look for them to win the division again with 10 or 11 wins and be a threat to challenge San Francisco and Seattle for the NFC title.
"This division, I think, is a toss up," Kenny White says. "I do like Chip Kelly. We’ll see if his offense continues to baffle NFL defenses. That usually doesn’t happen, but I think for at least one more year it actually will."
Key quote. LeSean McCoy, appearing on Rich Eisen's podcast, regarding Darren Sproles: “Sproles has the quickest feet I've ever seen out of any player. He'll help us out tremendously. I think the best thing about him, what he brings to this team is not only leadership and experience, but also just another big playmaker on the team. You talk about losing DeSean, but I think (GM) Howie (Roseman) and Chip did a great job of bringing another playmaker to our team.
"With me and him in the backfield together it will definitely cause an issue with the defense."
Season wins: 7.5 OVER -120
Super Bowl odds: 50/1
2013 record: 3-13 (5-11 ATS)
LM outlook: They were one of the hardest teams to make spreads on during their eight-game slide (2-6 ATS) to close out 2013. No matter how low a rating put on them, they'd play at an ever lower level. Bad offense, and an even worse defense, marked a a complete change from the final half of the 2012 season that spurred them into the playoffs. New coach Jay Gruden has some great offensive talent to work with, but getting more than seven wins seems like a stretch, even though bettors have taken the season win total up from 7 to 7.5.
Says Kenny White, “I have the Redskins rated lowest in the division, but I actually think the Redskins have a shot to make a run because I think RG3 will be a lot better in year three at 100 percent, and I think he’ll get along with Gruden.”
Key quote. Griffin III, on what player is the Redskins' biggest weapon: “I think everyone would lean towards DeSean or Pierre (Garcon) or Jordan Reed. I think it’s Alfred (Morris). With him, defenses have to make a decision whether to put guys in the box to stop him or leave the box light and allow Alfred to go between the tackles and lure in the safeties. I think it will be interesting to see what defenses do against him.”
Re: NFC East Preview
NFC East Outlook
By Tony Mejia
Over the past five years, each team in this historically hyper competitive division has claimed an NFC East title. Philadelphia is the only team to win multiple times in that span, a statement that should remain true this time next year. While fans of the other three franchises can cry themselves to sleep by reminding themselves that the Eagles are the only one of this foursome without a Super Bowl, the fact is that they're the only ones that don't carry massive question marks into this season. Even with DeSean Jackson plotting vengeance in D.C., growing pains are likely to weigh down Washington. New York and Dallas have hovered around, or in the Cowboys case, exactly, at .500 for three years running. Don't put it past either team to regress further.
Projected order of finish
3) N.Y. Giants
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The Eagles have a year under their belt in Chip Kelly's system, which is going to help him get his message across fasted and more efficiently, ultimately leading to steady improvement. Brevity has always been a key for Kelly, who loves concise practices as much as he does up-tempo offense. With the continuity provided by Nick Foles and LeSean McCoy, not to mention an expected boost from the arrival of Darren Sproles and return of Jeremy Maclin, "Fly, Eagles Fly" will be heard frequently at Lincoln Financial Field. Sportsbook.ag has their projected win total at 9, so it's certainly worth banking that Philadelphia soars over that, either matching or surpassing last year's 10-6 mark.
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After three consecutive 8-8 finishes, oddsmakers had an easy decision with what to project for Dallas, especially since owner/GM Jerry Jones kept head coach Jason Garrett and his staff in place while not really upgrading the roster. Coming off a season where the defense was often an abomination, the Cowboys cut franchise all-time sack leader DeMarcus Ware and watched star middle linebacker Sean Lee tear his ACL in late May. Former No. 6 pick Morris Claiborne is hobbling around with a sore knee, while quarterback Tony Romo is still pacing himself following back surgery last December. There would be nothing shameful about another 8-8 finish given all the obstacles, but I don't see the Cowboys as a .500 team.
Games to Watch - September
Sept. 7 - Washington at Houston: The Jay Gruden era begins in muggy H-town, where Robert Griffin III is sure to have his share of support against a Texans team eager to put last season's disaster in the rear view mirror. There are no must-wins in Week 1, but getting off on the right foot would sure take some pressure off Gruden or fellow newbie Bill O'Brien.
Sept. 7 - San Francisco at Dallas: Two of the NFL's elite franchise will show faithful Cowboys fans exactly where both currently in a game sure to feature plenty of a grimacing Jones clasping his hands.
Sept. 8 - N.Y. Giants at Detroit: Eli Manning showcases his early command of New York's newly installed West Coast offense against a front four whose pressure he'll be wise to avoid. Factor in a road environment in the season's first Monday night matchup and you get a challenging first test.
Sept. 14 - Arizona at N.Y. Giants: Now mix in a short week of preparation for a talented Cardinals secondary and it's clear that Manning will need plenty of early help from playmakers like Reuben Randle and rookies Odell Beckham and Andre Williams.
Sept. 15 - Philadelphia at Indianapolis: This one is on Monday night for a reason. Bravo, schedule-makers. Hopefully, it lives up to the hype as an early litmus test between Super Bowl hopefuls.
Sept. 21 - Dallas at St. Louis: The Cowboys won last year's meeting 31-7 and need to capture winnable road games like these if they're going to truly contend. Of course, the Rams have assembled one of the NFL's most feared defensive fronts, which can't make Romo's back feel any better.
Sept. 21- Washington at Philadelphia: DeSean Jackson's return will be the big story, but the first divisional game of the season should also supply an early front-runner since these appear to be the NFC East 's most talented sides.
Sept. 25 - N.Y. Giants at Washington: Week 4 opens on Thursday night at Fed Ex field with a rivalry that's always personal. It will help to have a home crowd behind Washington given the lack of recovery and preparation time from what's bound to be an emotional contest in Philly.
Sept. 28 - Philadelphia at San Francisco: A truly difficult first month for the Eagles ends in the Bay area against Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers. A projected top 5 offense visits Vic Fangio's elite defense in the week's marquee matchup.
Sept. 28 - New Orleans at Dallas: Saints defensive coordinator Rob Ryan got revenge against his former employer in a 49-17 rout last November, watching Drew Brees carve up the Cowboys for an NFL-record 40 first downs and a franchise-best 625 yards. He'd love to go into Jerry World and have his defense put on an equally impressive showing in an enticing Sunday night battle.