I can sit here and spout off the Philadelphia Eagles’ preseason offensive statistics to make a fan optimistic, such as league bests in offensive yards (455.5) and passing yards (299.8), and second best in rushing yards (155.8). I can look at the defensive stats, last in passing yards allowed (269.8) and second to last in total defense (394), but point to a 2-2 record and claim that the offense will bail out defensive shortcomings.
But the way the NFL is structured allows for the comparison of stats to be somewhat superficial, as a 9-7 team can win the Super Bowl, while a 15-1 team watches from the couch. The high power of the Eagles’ offense was no surprise in the preseason, and the defense really has no option but to improve barring injury.
For this reason, I find the other three teams in the NFC East to be as significant contributions to the Eagles’ push to the playoffs as the internal workings of the team itself, making them the three reasons the Eagles will comfortably make it to the postseason.
#1 – The Dallas Cowboys:
Strength of Schedule: 18th (.488)
Difficult Road Games: St. Louis (week 3), Seattle (week 6), Chicago (week 14), Philadelphia (week 15)
The Cowboys are no strangers to mediocrity. They’ve gone 8-8 in the last three seasons and have amassed a collective record since 1997 of 136-136. In essence, the Cowboys are a real life coin flip.
How? How can the most valuable team in the NFL (estimated $3.2 billion) be so rooted in the undesirable land of .500-football?
Jones falls into that category of sports owner who lacks self-awareness when it comes to owning a team. The type who feels the need to dip his hand into every matter for reasons unbeknownst to analysts and the general follower of football. Fans of the Cowboys must constantly find themselves incredulously asking of Jones’ latest GM blunder, why?
Jones’ most recent stroke of GM brilliance came in 2013 when he fired defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. The team finished the 2012 season 19th in overall defense, while sustaining five injuries to defensive starters and two more to essential backups. Ryan expressed his emotions to ESPNDallas.com’s Tim MacMahon back in January 2013: “I inherited a team that was 31st in the league in defense and made them better. I (expletive) made them a hell of a lot better. I’ll be out of work for like five minutes.”
The Cowboys’ defense went on in the 2013 season to allow 27 points per game, 6,645 yards (3rd most in NFL history), all while using 41 different players. The 2014 season for the Dallas defense already looks to be even bleaker than 2013, if that’s at all possible:
Sean Lee – Out for the season (torn ACL)
Orlando Scandrick – Suspended 4 weeks
DeMarcus Lawrence – Out 4-7 games (fractured foot)
Ben Gardner – Out for the season (shoulder surgery)
Josh Brent – Expected suspension
Jason Hatcher – (7.0 sacks in 2013) Traded to the Redskins
DeMarcus Ware – (6.0 sacks in 2013) Traded to the Broncos
The saving grace for Dallas is their offense, which came in at 5th in points scored last season. However, strong offensive performances can easily be erased with a poor defense as seen in their 51-48 loss to Denver last season.
Meanwhile, head coach Jason Garrett has guided the Cowboys to a 29-27 record under his tenure. But when asked about the temperature of Garrett’s seat, Jones asserts Garrett’s not coaching for his job.
Who knows what tricks Jones will pull for this season, but as Tim MacMahon reported from him this past December, “I’m the best one to make these decisions, because I ultimately have got to make the decision. That’s what it boils down to,” we know who will be at the heart of it all.
#2 – The Washington Redskins:
Strength of Schedule: 17th (.490)
Difficult Road Games: Philadelphia (week 3), Arizona (week 6), San Francisco (week 12), Indianapolis (week 13)
The Washington Redskins have had their own set of troubles under the ownership of Daniel Snyder. The team has suffered a 106-140 record under Snyder and fallen victim to a head coach carousel almost as bad as the Browns’ quarterback fiasco.
Seven coaches in twice as many years has led to dysfunction on the field, producing just three playoff appearances and one season as divisional champions.
Now, Snyder seems to be more concerned with keeping the nickname of the team than producing a contending team, something not necessarily his fault, but a balance that he appears to have not quite worked out.
On the field, the Redskins now face another new coach in Jay Gruden and a fresh start with Offensive Rookie of the Year QB Robert Griffin III. The unfortunate reality for the Redskins is that Griffin has shown everything in the preseason other than how he became rookie of the year, which has the likes of Joe Theismann already calling for the backup.
Griffin only attempted twenty passes this preseason, throwing two interceptions and zero touchdowns. To cap it off, he was sacked four times and posted a quarterback rating of 46.
Maybe it’s some offseason rust slowly flaking away. Or maybe he’s a young player consumed with vanity over performance.
Griffin spent much of the offseason updating his social media status and ensuring the fans of Washington that he was going to return to the “greatness” he thinks he can be. He started a trend on Twitter, #TheMovement, that ostensibly meant the progression of the team and to draw upon every other cliché relating to hard work. Reality points to that trend as a jab at Mike Shanahan, whom Griffin essentially felt smothered his abilities to the point where Griffin can finally play his own brand of football with Shanahan gone.
Griffin recently took to Twitter to transcribe this gem:
“They doubted in High School
They doubted a turnaround at @Baylor
They doubted a Heisman was possible
Keep doubting. It’s nothing New.”
It’s almost as though there’s an inherent fear in Griffin that his inabilities will get the best of him. If he performs during the season like anything he put up in the preseason, those fears may come to fruition.
So far, the biggest fear the Redskins have instilled in its opponents is putting in Kirk Cousins. As for Griffin, I would suggest trading in the phone for sliding lessons.
#3 – The New York Giants:
Strength of Schedule: 26th (.469)
Difficult Road Games: Detroit (week 1), Philadelphia (week 6), Seattle (week 10), St. Louis (week 16)
The New York Giants lack the off the field chaos of Washington and Dallas, but they certainly do not lack it on the field. The Giants currently fall prey to statistical performance versus managerial incompetence. The offensive line was a continuous struggle for the Giants in 2013 with injuries causing all sorts of inconsistencies.
Eli Manning led the league in interceptions with 27, while only putting up 18 TD passes. He was sacked 39 times and had a dismal 57.5% completion rate.
The outlook for 2014 looks equally dispiriting as Manning recorded a 48.8% completion rate and five sacks during the preseason.
But what’s more troubling for the Giants is the apparent voodoo placed on the offensive line. Kevin Boothe now plays for the Raiders, Chris Snee is returning off of surgery on his hip and missing much of 2013, and David Diehl retired. The Giants are replacing two positions and essentially a third as Snee played just three games last season.
The Giants have spent large on the defensive side of the ball in the offseason, but with Manning winging the ball to anyone remotely open and a consistently fresh look on the offensive line, the Giants are bound to have multiple growing pains within the season.
The NFC East is a Philadelphia Eagles replacement away from being potentially worse than the SEC. Drama, mismanagement, and injuries have made the path for the Eagles to the playoffs a near lock. With the NFL scheduling ensuring relatively alike opponents for teams within the same division, it is hard to not like the Eagles to claim the NFC East and have a deep run into the playoffs.