Entering the 2013 NFL season, the NFC East is without a doubt going to be a competitive division.
The Washington Redskins look to defend their NFC East title on the back – or dare I say, knee – of offensive Rookie of the Year Robert Griffin III. The New York Giants look to rebound from a dismal second half to reclaim the NFC East and make another strong playoff run. The Philadelphia Eagles, now under new head coach Chip Kelly, have a lot of unknowns, but a lot of optimism given the pedigree of Kelly.
And the Dallas Cowboys? Well, for America’s team, it’s Super Bowl or nothing. Just ask Jerry Jones for the 100th time.
Eli Manning, New York Giants
The most underrated quarterback in the league is also the one with the most Super Bowl appearances and Super Bowl victories than any other quarterback in the NFC East.
Manning had his best season last year and while the numbers don’t really reflect him being a better quarterback than RGIII, keep this in mind. RGIII not only passed, but scrambled and handed it off to running back Alfred Morris, giving him more options than Manning had. With the struggling running game New York battled last year, Eli was forced to throw a ton.
RGIII and Manning do possess similarities in their fourth quarter play, but with only one year on RGIII’s resume and nine seasons on Manning’s resume that has a year where Manning broke the NFL season record for most touchdowns in the fourth quarter (15) and most game winning drives (8), RGIII needs more time.
Michael Vick is learning a new offense and Tony Romo is desperately trying to determine how to win the last game of the regular season to make the playoffs so with the uncertainty among three out of the four quarterbacks, Manning wins this race by being the healthiest, most knowledgeable, and most reliable.
Alfred Morris, Washington Redskins
Move over LeSean McCoy, Morris just stiff-armed you off the top of the running back food chain in the NFC East.
Morris broke out in 2012 in the shadows of RGIII and should be receiving a lot of the credit for the Redskins NFC East title. He rushed for 1,613 yards, the most in the NFC East and second in the NFL behind cyborg Adrian Peterson. He ran for 4.8 yards per carry, averaging 100.8 yards per game and finished the season with 13 touchdowns, both second most in the NFL.
The Giants are reincarnating Thunder and Lightning with David Wilson and Andre Ware, but both are somewhat unproven. DeMarco Murray’s inconsistencies at running back for the Cowboys make the their situation dicey as well. McCoy and Bryce Brown are touted to have a great year under Kelly’s system, but for now, you can’t argue against Morris’ production in 2012 and if that was just his first season, what’s next? A 2,000 yard season? Maybe not, since he’s improving his receiving abilities, but that creates another option in receiving, which means the Redskins are going to be scary good with Morris.
Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys
Bryant had the best season out of any other receiver in the NFC East last year. He finished the 2012 season with 1,382 receiving yards, averaging 15.3 yards per reception and 86.4 yards per game.
Not only is he the best wide receiver in the NFC East, but he is Romo’s guardian angel. Bryant has been a huge factor for the Cowboys receiving game and special teams play and given some views that Bryant doesn’t play to his full potential actually speaks to how extremely good he is.
Victor Cruz, New York
Giants fan jumped with glee as Cruz sprinted towards the Pittsburgh end zone scoring the first touchdown of the Giants’ 2013 quest for Super Bowl XLVIII.
Cruz was an undrafted free agent in 2010, but fast forward to 2013, and Cruz is the number one receiver for the Giants. He’s a Pro Bowler, a Super Bowl champion, and the holder of a brand new contract for six years worth $45.8 million with 15.6 million guaranteed, making him the richest wide receiver in Giants history.
And rightfully so. Cruz had the second most receiving yards in the NFC East with 1,092, and scored 10 touchdowns in 2012. While he will probably have fewer touches with Hakeem Nicks back at 100% and Rueben Randle breaking out this offseason, you still have to fear Cruz as the number one receiver in New York.
Jason Witten, Dallas Cowboys
There is no debate that Witten is the best tight end in the NFC East and he is arguably the best in the NFL.
Witten finished the 2012 season with the most receiving yards by a tight end with 1,039 and the third most receiving yards in the NFC East. While he did not accrue many touchdowns, his ability to be a playmaker and his efficiency to get first downs helps propel the Cowboys’ offense.
Brandon Myers will make this an interesting tight end battle given his offensive output last season as well as Manning’s affinity to utilize his tight end. But for now, Witten is winning.
Will Beatty, New York Giants, Tyron Smith, Dallas Cowboys
A brand new 5-year contract worth $38.75 million to protect the best quarterback in the NFC East is more than enough to speak to how valuable Beatty is. The Giants offensive line allowed the fewest sacks in the NFC East, much because of Beatty’s play.
At 28, he is entering the prime of his career as the offensive line continues to age. The Giants look to Beatty to be the man with Justin Pugh as the second in command to protect Manning and help establish the new Thunder and Lightning this season.
For Tyron Smith, his value is just as big as Beatty’s. At 22, he is entering is third season that follows an impressive 2012 season. The Cowboys increased their yards per carry in the run game from 3.56 to 4.47 with him on the field. Keep in mind that Romo has a tendency to hold the ball too long which results in the large amount of sacks allowed by the Cowboys so for Smith to have only allowed 3 sacks says a lot.
Chris Snee, New York Giants, Evan Mathis, Philadelphia Eagles
Snee is a four-time Pro Bowl selection with the most recent being in 2012. He’s also a two-time Super Bowl champion and has been a key factor in protecting Manning. Since Snee entered the league in 2004, the Giants offense has flourished. As the guard of the offensive line that protects the least sacked quarterback in the NFC East, the accolades Snee has collected aren’t flukes. 2013 will be another great year for Snee.
Amidst a chaotic season offensively for the Philadelphia Eagles, Mathis fell beneath the cracks of a dysfunction team. Mathis has been a prolific run and pass blocker his entire career, showing nothing but consistency despite him being undervalued by many. Pro Football Focus rated Mathis as the best guard in the 2011 and 2012 season.
Will Montgomery, Washington Redskins
He’s quick, athletic, and an integral part of the Redskins offensive line, making Montgomery the best center in the NFC East.
Jason Pierre-Paul, New York Giants, DeMarcus Ware, Dallas Cowboys
Yes, Pierre-Paul is out with an injury right now, but that shouldn’t deter people from calling him one of the best defensive ends in the game today. Pierre-Paul didn’t accumulate many sacks in 2012, but his YDSL (yards lost on sack) were second most in the NFC East with 67. There’s no question the Giants defensive line is slightly weaker without Pierre-Paul and unfortunately his injury may keep him out of Week 1 against the Cowboys, displaying how important he is to the Giants.
He is a two-time Pro Bowl selection and if we want to play the comparison game, he is the new Michael Strahan and without Strahan, it’s hard to fathom how the Giants could have won Super Bowl XLII.
DeMarcus Ware needs no introduction. While he was listed as a linebacker last season, the Cowboys have switched to a 4-3 defense, making him a defensive end this season where he will focus solely on pass rushing, which is what has made him the premier defender he is. He led the NFC East in sacks and he will lead in sacks again now as a defensive end.
Linval Joseph, New York Giants, Fletcher Cox, Philadelphia Eagles
It is very difficult to give a most improved award in the NFL, but if the NFC East gave out the award, I’d give it to Linval Joseph.
Joseph finished the 2012 season with the most combined tackles of any DT in the league and the most fumble recoveries in the NFC East. His output has improved each season and given 2012 was his best season, look for this season to be even better.
Entering his sophomore season, Fletcher Cox had the most sacks of any NFC East DT in the 2012 season and with the new defense being implemented by Kelly, Cox looks to be a force to be reckoned with in 2013.
Anthony Spencer, Dallas Cowboys, Ryan Kerrigan, Washington Redskins
Okay, I’ll admit I am cheating by putting Anthony Spencer as an outside linebacker given he will be a defensive end with the switch to a 4-3 defense.
Yet, you have to commend Spencer’s amazing 2012 season. He was a Pro Bowl selection, accounted for the 2nd most sacks in the NFC East with 11 and 95 combined tackles. Also, he was 1st in YDSL in the NFC East with 83 and with the shift to defensive end; Spencer’s numbers will be even higher. The tandem of Ware and Spencer will definitely be tough for any offensive line.
Kerrigan on the other hand finished the 2012 season with 8.5 sacks and 42 tackles, but in the waning weeks of the season, Kerrigan became a focal point for the Redskins defense. In the last regular season game against the Eagles, Kerrigan sacked Nick Foles twice and caused a fumble.
Also, Spencer and Kerrigan were the only two outside linebackers out of the NFC East selected to the Pro Bowl.
London Fletcher, Washington Redskins, Perry Riley, Washington Redskins
Bad news for the rest of the NFC East. The best middle linebackers both play for the Redskins.
Fletcher may be 38, but during 2012, he looked like he was 28. Fletcher led all NFC East linebackers in combined tackles with 139, ranking him 8th in the league and had the most interceptions of any linebacker in the league with 5. How good is that number? He had more interceptions for the Redskins than their star cornerback, DeAngelo Hall. Fletcher is without a doubt the most feared and efficient linebacker in the NFC East and 2013 should be another banner year.
The 25-year-old Riley seems to have learned a lot from playing alongside Fletcher. In 2012, Riley had the 2nd most combined tackles in the NFC East with 129, to go with 3.5 sacks to supplement his already-nice season. Riley is looking to take on more responsibility given Fletcher’s age and 2013 could be a year Riley looks to become one of the elite linebackers in the NFL.
Stevie Brown, New York Giants, Patrick Chung, Philadelphia Eagles
There is no debate Brown is the best safety in the NFC East. Brown had a breakout season in 2012 and while it was the defense that accounted for the Giant’s collapse, Brown’s play was the silver lining. He ended the season with 8 interceptions, which was the most of any safety in the NFL. Brown is known for hard hits and that’s what will need to be done in the Giants’ year of redemption.
The Eagles bulked up on defense and the addition of Chung could turn out to be the big steal. Chung dropped in the depth charts of the New England Patriots at the end of the 2012 season, but he has been the breakout star of the Eagles’ offseason. If he remains healthy, he can match his 2010 season of 96 tackles. Don’t forget, he went to Oregon where he got All-Pac 10 honors for his defensive efforts. Who coached at Oregon? The new Eagles head coach, Chip Kelly.
DeAngelo Hall, Washington Redskins, Prince Amukamara, New York Giants
In a division that lacks secondary prowess, Hall proved to be the standout cornerback in the NFC East. He finished the 2012 season with 95 combined tackles, 14 passes defended and 4 interceptions. These numbers aren’t impressive, but you can’t deny having Hall as a cornerback on your team is a bonus. He has been reliable his entire career and it is a good thing the Redskins re-signed him over the offseason to bolster their secondary.
On a team’s secondary that is looking for redemption, Prince Amukamara seeks to be the star cornerback he is touted to be. Last season was tough as he was trusted as the number one option at cornerback, but with that experience comes optimism entering the 2013 season. Amukamara is more known for his lockdown-style defense instead of his ability to intercept a pass. He had 7 passes defended and doesn’t allow much completions. He wants to be the top corner in the NFL and if he plays 16 regular season games, he can propel from one of the top 2 corners in the NFC East to a top 2 corner in the NFL.
Dan Bailey, Dallas Cowboys
Bailey had the highest field-goal percentage of any kickers in the NFC East. He was 100% for kicks from 1-49 yards and made the most 50+ yard field goals in the NFC East going 3 for 5. He is the most efficient kicker in the NFC East and one of the most efficient in the NFL.
Steve Weatherford, New York Giants
This was close between Weatherford and Washington Redskins punter Sav Rocca, but the edge goes to Weatherford because he has the highest gross and net punting average on only 58 punts. Both Rocca and Weatherford are reliable in keeping teams inside the 20, but given that Weatherford had success on lesser punts than Rocca displays more efficiency.
David Wilson, New York Giants
No question Wilson is the best returner in the NFC East and arguably the NFL. He had the most returning yards in the NFL in 2012. Even though he will be sharing the load in the running game of the Giants, Wilson will still be returning kicks, making him a dual threat.
Tom Coughlin, New York Giants
A 3-time Super Bowl champion, 9 playoff appearances and the most wins in the postseason of any head coach in the NFC East makes this a no-contest.
He isn’t Chip Kelly, who is entering his first season as an NFL head coach, nor is he Mike Shanahan who’s relationship with RGIII is getting more attention than the defending NFC East champion Redskins team. And he is certainly not Jason Garrett, who is getting the dreaded “vote of confidence” every other week.
While Coughlin is the head coach of the most even-keel team in the NFC East, his resume speaks for itself. He is the most experienced, most successful, and is looking toward leading his Giants to Super Bowl XLVIII.