Posted July 19, 2013

2013 NFL Preview: NFC East

Dallas Cowboys, Division Previews, New York Giants, NFC East, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins
Will Robert Griffin III lead the Redskins to another division crown this year? (The Washington Post/Getty Images

Will Robert Griffin III lead the Redskins to another division crown this year? (The Washington Post/Getty Images

With training camps about to begin, we take a division-by-division look at where each team stands heading into the 2013 season.

Always a fascinating division to watch, the NFC East has been about as good as it gets over the past two seasons. The division race has gone down to the wire each time, with the eventual Super Bowl champion Giants grabbing the crown with a final-week win over Dallas in 2011 and the Redskins doing the same to Dallas in 2012.

There appears to be minimal separation again, at least among the East’s top three teams. Philadelphia will add another dose of intrigue, with all eyes on new coach Chip Kelly. The Eagles may be a year away, but a rapid rebuild could turn this into a remarkable four-team race.

It’s time to break down the NFC East, as we wrap up our pre-training camp division previews:

Dallas Cowboys

Key moves:

Additions:

OLB Justin Durant, S Will Allen; drafted C Travis Frederick, TE Gavin Escobar, WR Terrance Williams, S J.J. Wilcox, CB B.W. Webb, RB Joseph Randle; hired D.C. Monte Kiffin

Subtractions:  

RB Felix Jones, WR Kevin Ogletree, DT Kenyon Coleman, DT Marcus Spears, LB Dan Connor, OLB Victor Butler, CB Mike Jenkins, S Gerald Sensabaugh.

Where they got better: Tight end. The Cowboys hope at center, too, after spending a first-round pick on Frederick. They are particularly excited about rookie Gavin Escobar, though. Jerry Jones said right after selecting Escobar that the Cowboys would use the San Diego State product and Jason Witten in two-TE sets to open up the offense, something they did not do all that much with blocking-proficient John Phillips as their No. 2 tight end last season. If the Witten-Escobar combo can thrive, it would lessen the pressure the Cowboys are feeling to force a third receiver onto the field.

Where they got worse: Safety. No one was going to confuse Gerald Sensabaugh with a Hall of Famer, but the Cowboys’ cap-influenced decision to release the veteran (who then retired) further thinned out a weak safety group. Sensabaugh had been a full-time starter for the Cowboys since joining the team in 2009. Will Allen will try to fill one of the safety spots, but he had only started two games from 2007-11 before starting seven games last season. Barry Church has the other spot in his control, despite making all of four career NFL starts. Danny McCray, Matt Johnson and rookie J.J. Wilcox will have to chip in. This still could be the Cowboys’ weak spot on defense.

Breakout player: Dwayne Harris, WR. Harris reportedly had a sensational set of offseason workouts. He’ll try to carry that momentum into camp and, if he does, could earn significant playing time. Harris caught 22 balls for 354 yards and a touchdown last season.

Where they stand: Because they were tight up against the salary cap all offseason, Dallas made minimal additions outside the draft — Justin Durant and Allen being the team’s only two significant free-agent pickups. The Cowboys instead will hang their hats on better performances from their stars, like QB Tony Romo and RB DeMarco Murray, and a switch from a 3-4 to a 4-3 defense under new coordinator Monte Kiffin leading to results. They should hang in the NFC East all season, yet again. Beyond that? Well, it would be false to say that the Cowboys look better than either the Giants or Redskins right now.

Division Previews: NFC South | AFC South | NFC West | AFC West | NFC North | AFC North AFC East

New York Giants

Key moves:

Additions:

WR Louis Murphy, TE Brandon Myers, DT Cullen Jenkins, LB Dan Connor, OLB Aaron Curry, S Ryan Mundy; drafted G/T Justin Pugh, DT Johnathan Hankins, DE Damontre Moore, QB Ryan Nassib.

Subtractions:

RB Ahmad Bradshaw, WR Domenik Hixon, TE Martellus Bennett, OT Sean Locklear, DE Osi Umenyiora, DT Rocky Bernard, DT Chris Canty, LB Chase Blackburn, OLB Michael Boley, S Kenny Phillips

Where they got better: The offensive line. You can thank Syracuse’s Justin Pugh for that, after the Giants nabbed him with the 19th overall pick in the 2013 draft. Eli Manning took a mere 19 sacks last season, but this O-line still needed a shot in the arm. Pugh could slot in at either guard or tackle, though he worked as a right tackle during minicamp and OTAs. New York might keep him there, given that David Diehl struggled so mightily there, when he was healthy. Pugh also could challenge LG Kevin Boothe. Either way, the Giants upgraded their depth and flexibility with that draft choice.

Where they got worse: Running back. Ahmad Bradshaw’s nagging foot injuries made his last two seasons with the Giants a test of endurance, rather than real showcases of his talent. Even so, he was a 1,000-yard rusher (and 1,250-total yard player) last season. David Wilson and Andre Brown should make a formidable 1-2 punch for the Giants in 2013, provided Brown gets all the way back from a broken leg. They’ll have to be on their games, because Bradshaw was a do-everything back. The Giants may miss him most on passing downs — Bradshaw averaged 31 catches over the past four seasons and is one of the better pass-blocking RBs in the league.

Breakout player: Rueben Randle, WR. Off a 19-catch rookie season, Randle should be a bigger part of the Giants’ offensive game plan in 2013. He may even develop into Hakeem Nicks’ replacement, next season and beyond, should Nicks bolt in free agency after this year.

Where they stand: The Giants suffered substantial attrition this offseason, with Bradshaw, Osi Umenyiora, Martellus Bennett, Chase Blackburn, Michael Boley all exiting. They’re well-positioned to overcome most of those absences, in no small part due to a draft which addressed both lines. This was a 6-2 team at the halfway point last season. They’re closer to that group, on first glance, than the one that finished with a 3-5 stretch. Expect the Giants to be mentioned often as an NFC East favorite and potentially dangerous playoff team.

Philadelphia Eagles

Key moves:

Additions:

FB/TE James Casey, NT Isaac Sopoaga, OLB Connor Barwin, CB Bradley Fletcher, CB Cary Williams, S Patrick Chung, S Kenny Phillips; traded for WR Arrelious Benn, DE Clifton Geathers; drafted OT Lane Johnson, TE Zach Ertz, DT Bennie Logan, QB Matt Barkley, S Earl Wolff.

Subtractions:

RB Dion Lewis, OT Demetress Bell, OT King Dunlap, DT Cullen Jenkins, DT Derek Landri, DT Mike Patterson, OLB Akeem Jordan, CB Nnamdi Asomugha, CB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie; hired head coach Chip Kelly, O.C. Pat Shurmur, D.C. Bill Davis

Where they got better: The secondary. Call this addition by subtraction. The super secondary of Nnamdi Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie never materialized, with both players struggling in Philadelphia. The Eagles, in fact, gave up more TD passes (32) than any other team in the league last season, despite seeing fewer passing attempts from the opponents than all but one secondary. The new CB duo of Bradley Fletcher and Cary Williams will give up some big plays, but the overall product has to get better. The safety spot should be healthier, as well, with Patrick Chung and ex-Giant Kenny Phillips joining underwhelming 2012 starters Nate Allen and Kurt Coleman. And don’t sleep on fifth-rounder Earl Wolff, who has a shot at starting.

Where they got worse: The defensive line. Some of the issues will be minimized if the Eagles go with a 3-4 base defense, as expected, rather than their old 4-3. Cullen Jenkins, Derek Landri and Mike Patterson all were decent contributors, to varying degrees. The Eagles brought in Isaac Sopoaga, who was pushed out of San Francisco’s lineup last season, as well as Clifton Geathers and rookie Bennie Logan. All in all, the drop-off may not be too steep — a line of Fletcher Cox, Sopoaga and either Cedric Thornton or Logan should hold its own. A combined 36 starts are still gone from the defensive front.

Breakout player: Patrick Chung, S. Wolff could throw a wrench in this plan, if he beats out Chung as the starting strong safety. Should Chung, who has the added benefit of having played for Chip Kelly at Oregon, lock down that job, he could challenge his 96-tackle total from 2010. The Eagles need a SS who can help the front seven in the box.

Where they stand: Some people are expecting Chip Kelly to work magic from the get-go. Others believe he’s doomed to fail in the NFL. The bar should be set somewhere in the middle for Year 1. This is a team in transition, especially on defense. Plus, even the best coaches struggle when trying to implement radical scheme shifts, as Kelly may on offense. It’s possible a Michael Vick-led offense absolutely explodes under Kelly’s tutelage. More likely, the defense will continue to struggle a bit in 2013 and this team will be ready to contend again in 2014.

Washington Redskins

Key moves:

Additions:

WR Devery Henderson, WR Donte Stallworth, OT Jeremy Trueblood, LB Bryan Kehl, OLB Darryl Tapp, CB E.J. Biggers; drafted CB David Amerson, TE Jordan Reed, S Phillip Thomas, S Baccari Rambo.

Subtractions:

OLB Lorenzo Alexander, S Cedric Griffin, S Madieu Williams

Where they got better: Safety. Despite not having a lot of draft picks to work with, the Redskins doubled up on safety in the later rounds, selecting Phillip Thomas (Round 4) and Baccari Rambo (Round 6). One or both could start at the onset of the regular season. Their presences alone at least creates some competition somewhere the Redskins badly need it, after letting 16-game starter Madieu Williams leave. There needed to be changes — Washington’s play at safety, in general, left something to be desired last season. Thomas and Rambo are aggressive and could develop into draft steals in a hurry.

Where they got worse: Right tackle. OK, so the Redskins did not really get worse here, in theory. They also did not get any better. This was the weak spot on their offensive line last year, with Tyler Polumbus scuffling all season. Washington added ex-Buc Jeremy Trueblood and ex-Brown Tony Pashos to provide some depth. Nary an option there is a particularly good one. Polumbus allowed twice as many sacks as any other Redskins O-lineman (8) and more than twice as many hurries (46), per Pro Football Focus. Sometime in the very near future, Washington must find a more reliable answer at this spot.

Breakout player: E.J. Biggers, CB. Biggers did what he could on an absolutely awful Tampa Bay secondary last season. The Redskins then stole him in free agency on a one-year, $1.5 million deal. Biggers will make some plays for that price … and he might even wind up in the starting lineup.

Where they stand: Even more so than the Cowboys, the Redskins’ hands were tied this offseason by NFL-mandated cap penalties and few draft picks. So, aside from a few tweaks here and there, this is essentially the same team that won the NFC East at 10-6 last season. For the most part, the Redskins should be fine with that given the turnover they’ve undergone in recent years, doubly so if Robert Griffin III and Brian Orakpo are on the field in Week 1. The Redskins’ expectations will be higher in 2013. Simply repeating their 2012 performance would be impressive.

46 comments
KolnerGiant
KolnerGiant

How can you have the two statements "The safety spot should be healthier" and "Kenny Phillips" in the same sentence?  I wish him well but health and Phillips do not belong in the same sentence.

DSM
DSM

Given that Tom Coughlin is 110% intense coach, with an excellent GM, why are the Giants so wildly inconsistent, not only after his 2 Super Bowl seasons, but even within those seasons--or last year, when they destroyed the 49ers in SF en route to missing the playoffs?

Mike26
Mike26

Year after year, the NFC East is the most overhyped division and football, followed by the AFC East. Hmmmmm, both are East Coast divisions. Coincidence?

therealmdd
therealmdd

This aricle is pretty much incomplete. The Cowboys were without 7 starters for 75% of the season. Just getting those players back is improvement. They were one win away from getting into the playoffs with a roster that had 9 contributors who were out of football at the beginning of the season. No other team in the division was incapacitated to that extent.

PaulWonSavage
PaulWonSavage

crown jewel.... bwahahahahahahhahahahahahahahhaha... the east has been weak for years. Yes the Giants got hot when being a 9-7 team twice... cool, great sb wins, good job, all the respect. Or maybe it was a fluke... Either way all real football fans know the North has been the toughest since 2009 and now the West has caught up. And all the real football fans know that the east coast media bias always comes in to play with this stuff.... and we don't care.

6marK6
6marK6

Nothing for nothing, but the East is by far the weakest division in the conference. They have nobody that can play with the Seahawks and Niners in the west. the Packers, Bears and Vikes in the Central, or the Saints and Falcons of the South. The East is the most celebrated and hyped, but not that special.

RescuedfromESPN
RescuedfromESPN

The Cowboys will collapse in December, once again finishing outside of the playoffs, Giants and Eli will do what they usually do, go 9-7/10-6 with how other teams do deciding if they make the playoffs or not, Redskins whole season is dependent on how RG3's knee holds up and if defenses can catch to the read option. The Eagles will improve this year, but will end around 7-9/8-8. I would like to see the running game they could have with Vick, McCoy, and Brown in the backfield.

As for this "tainted" guy, he can certainly lick my "ta!nt"

Rickapolis
Rickapolis

As long as the Cowboys have Romo at QB they are going nowhere. The Giants will always be in the hunt as long as Eli is QB. I'm guessing that Washington will be a threat as long as RGIII is healthy. The Eagles are the biggest wildcard to my mind. But I am looking froward to see what Kelly can do. 

And what the devil is the 'tainted' guy talking about? Sounds to me like he knows nothing about the game, no?

AllSaintsRow
AllSaintsRow

NFCE is probably the worst division in the conference.

AB.JITSU
AB.JITSU

If the best team in the league doesn't win the superbowl.........one might say their dominating season was "tainted"

AB.JITSU
AB.JITSU

So I guess a team with the worst record of the two playing in a game should just lay down for the "better" team huh. Give em a free waltz right through the playoffs and straight to the superbowl. Smh. IT'S CALLED FOOTBALL. How is a superbowl victory "tainted" just cause a the team didn't have an outstanding record ? And I'm not even a giants fan.

jkearneyiii
jkearneyiii

But they don't own one of the best teams in the NFC (Seattle/GB/Atlanta/SF).   Kinda makes this division irrelevant?  And the Giants you tout had a "tainted" SB win.


Tainted=SB winner supposed to be the best in NFL.  But you are second best team in your division?  You weren't the best team all year.  You just got hot at the end of the season.

6marK6
6marK6

@Mike26 Hmm, you are implying the inordinate number of east coast journalists and media outlets in the east seek to create a reality that does not exist?

gary41
gary41

@therealmdd It's a long season and injuries are a fact of life.  Truth is depth is now critically important, which is why better clubs are now doing something about this each off season in FA & the draft.  Also Dallas could not FA this year--which has been traditionally important for them.  In any case, working smart thru the draft is increasingly critical and economical, but this requires a front office that can identify talent, which is sadly lacking in Dallas.  Compare for example smart staffs in Green Bay, Seattle, Baltimore, SF etc with Dallas, where the front office is essentially unknown.  There are other problems as well, but having an owner who thinks he is a real GM, without help, is not going to cut it going forward.     

6marK6
6marK6

@therealmdd Yeah, but let's face it, they were more than in a position to close out and go the playoffs, but could not beat a banged up Saints team at home or take a game from the Redskins. The Cowboys have become great at making excuses and nothing else,

Veejh
Veejh

@PaulWonSavage say what?  I'm a Skins fan, but saying that the NFC East, having won 2 SBs in the last 4 is weak, is ludicrous.  

mikey6480
mikey6480

@6marK6  The Giants played the Packers, Saints, Falcons, and 49ers last year and blew 3 of the 4 out.  You should do some homework before talking.  Giants were 3-1 against those teams last year and didn't make the playoffs. The reason East teams have 9-7 records is because the division is tough.  There are no dogs in it.  All the teams play each other tough.  

John4
John4

@RescuedfromESPN I have to agree with what you said.  The "taint" stuff is funny, too.  I think the Cowboys could be closer to 6-10 (or worse) than many people think.  The Eagles should have an interesting season, and I would not want to face them late in the year.  The Redskins? Who knows?  Is the read-option a viable long term offense?  If not, then the Redskins have a lot of issues.  My favorite bet this time of year?  The over/under for the Cowboys.  It's 8.5.  No way in the world the Cowboys win 9 so the under looks like easy money.

AB.JITSU
AB.JITSU

You are spot on about the "tainted" guy. But the eagles are the doormat to the nfc east. I'll take Romo over vick any day of the week.

jkearneyiii
jkearneyiii

@AB.JITSU Call it old school.  Dump the Wildcard system.  If you aren't good enough to win the division, you don't get a shot at the Super Bowl.  And yes that would have wiped out Pittsburgh and NYG past two super bowl titles.  Tainted.   7-9 teams shouldn't get a chance to prove they are the best.  They have already proved they are not.  

scBlais
scBlais

@jkearneyiiiChampions when it counts the most. And being a division winner can simply mean you got hot at the start of the season.  

Your argument may be the dumbest I have seen on the internet, congrats.

AB.JITSU
AB.JITSU

Superbowl winner is supposed to be the best team in the nfl. Hmm. Guess somebody forgot to tell the giants. Man I thought I saw some dumb posts over at espn.

jkearneyiii
jkearneyiii

Interesting all the rebuttal comments are about my "taint" definition, none on "irrelevant" division.

Randy26
Randy26

@jkearneyiii What a stupid argument.  How often does the best team during the regular season win the Super Bowl?  Would *anyone* argue that the Ravens were the best this year?  The Packers in 2010?  Steelers in 2005/2008?

No.  That's why they play the games.  Would you prefer the NFL go to the BCS, seeing as how you seem to place more importance on the regular season than the playoffs?

mgranadosv
mgranadosv

@jkearneyiii The ring is what matters, not if you were awesome all season.

Just ask Peyton Manning or Aaron Rodgers if they would rather have an MVP trophy or another Superbowl ring.

zonkeriah
zonkeriah

@6marK6 @Mike26Then again, last year's Super Bowl winner was an east coast team (though not in an "East" titled division). And the year before that, too, with the Giants. In fact, over the last ten years, five east coast teams have won it. Pittsburgh isn't a coast team, but they are in a northeastern state, and if you counted them it would be 7 of 10. 

M Mc
M Mc

What we do know is that the media will pay unending attention to the Giants even if they are in last place.

6marK6
6marK6

@Veejh @PaulWonSavage You mean the Giants, don't you? How many playoff games have the Redskins, Cowboys or Eagles won in the last five or more years? The Eastern conference is a joke for that reason. Yes, the Giants have gotten hot in the playoffs and won a pair of superbowls, but quit saying the conference is strong when nobody else in the conference has done crap in a very long time.

6marK6
6marK6

@mikey6480 @6marK6 Once again, another person goes on about the greatness of the east, but all they can talk about is the giants.

Mike26
Mike26

Yeah, and then the East kicked butt in the playoffs too....

LT56
LT56

@jkearneyiii @AB.JITSU Call it dumb school. To win 3 playoff games, the last two being on the road then beating, according to your criteria, one of the best teams in football year in and year out? That's tainted? And btw, the Giants DID win the division prior to beating the piss out of the Falcons during the last run after starting 6-2. Lick my tainted nutsack dumbass.

AB.JITSU
AB.JITSU

Ah that's the answer. Let's revamp the whole system. (like there isn't enough rule changes yr in and yr out.) Just cause you don't like the set up doesn't make the superbowl victory"tainted". Look up the word "tainted".

LT56
LT56

@jkearneyiii 

Yesh, iirrelevant division that has the most Lombardi's ever and the most superbowl appearances. Think McFly, think.

anon76
anon76

@jkearneyiii 

You're 'irrelevant' comment was predicated on the fact that the 2012 super bowl was tainted.  Once that ridiculous assertion is cast aside, why does anyone need to rebut the rest of your argument?  

The 'irrelevant' 9-7 team that won the 2012 SB also won 3 times as many playoff games as your 'elite' Atlanta has won over the last 3 years, in spite of the fact that the Falcons posted a 36-12 combined record over those 3 seasons.

KolnerGiant
KolnerGiant

@6marK6 Let's see, where are there more readers, big cities or little cities?  How does the media make money? The media (all media for that matter) are biased towards money.  They can claim to be nonjudgmental but in reality, they want to be paid for their work (can you blame them for that)?

6marK6
6marK6

@zonkeriah @6marK6 @Mike26 I would not consider a team in western Pennsylvania as an east coast team. And nobody is sayin anything about geographical favoritism, it is big city favoritism.

EasyGoer
EasyGoer

OK. I'll write in and ask the journalists to pay more attention to whichever last place team you desire.

John4
John4

@6marK6 6 mark - Good knowledge.  The Cowboys, Redskins and Eagles have not been great teams for quite a while.  The Giants have been good for essentially all of Coughlin's time and have 2 SB wins during his tenure.  The Giants are good, the NFC East (as a group of 4 teams) is not that great.  

LT56
LT56

@Mike26 haha. Point noted.  I get riled up when people try to diminish what the Giants are and have done.  Thanks for the check.

Mike26
Mike26

Are you in 7th grade?