Last years Cowboys team seemed to be doomed once Tony Romo exited the first pre-season game against the Seahawks with a back injury. It was time for Dak Prescott to start until #9 could return.
He never did.
Dak Prescott went on to have one of the best rookie seasons of all time, throwing only 4 interceptions, lowest out of all QBs who started all 16 games. Despite pressure from Romo, the media, and even Jerry Jones, Prescott never relinquished his starting role by guiding the Cowboys to a 13-3 record and a #1 seed in the NFC. They lost 34-31 in a hard fought divisional round game to the Packers, definitely nothing to hang your head about.This year, Dak Prescott comes into the season as THE guy, looking to prove that last year was not just some beginners luck. I expect Dak to grow and have an even better 2017.
In the offseason, the Cowboys took some hits to their secondary and encountered suspensions on the defensive line. They lost Barry Church, J.J. Wilcox, and Morris Claiborne in free-agency, while also losing Randy Gregory for the entire year on a suspension and David Irving on a four gamer. They also lost two of their five starting o-linemen, however Doug Free and Ronald Leary were the weakest of them all. La’el Collins will do fine stepping in a right tackle, and they’ll figure out left guard.
In the draft, they addressed the losses on defense by taking Taco Charlton, the 6’6″ DE from Michigan in the first, then took corner Chidobe Awuzie from Colorado in the second. They went back to Ann Arbor in the third to select corner Jourdan Lewis. Even though they are young, these are talented guys playing positions of need for Dallas.
On offense, barring a ridiculous Ezekiel Elliot suspension, I forsee an even better year than last. Even with an Elliot suspension that I can’t imagine being more than four games, they still would be able to run effectively with Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. I expect Jason Garrett and Scott Linehan to give Dak even more freedom with the offense, and their receiving core is once again solid. Even though I tend to think Dez Bryant is overrated, I cannot deny that he’s a definite #1 receiver in this league. Terrance Williams, Cole Beasley, and Brice Butler are all good second options, and I really like the rookies Noah Brown and Ryan Switzer that they drafted in later rounds.
The defense is definitely the weaker group, however there are guys at each level that are above average NFL starters. The D-Line is a little rough, but you could do worse than Demarcus Lawrence, Maliek Collins, and Tyrone Crawford. David Irving really came on towards the end of last year and it will be really good to get him back week 5. Sean Lee is one of the NFL’s best backers, and if Jaylon Smith is ready to go week one that could be a dangerous duo. Bryon Smith is one of my favorite NFL safeties, and Orlando Scandrick is a decent corner. Both are very versatile, which helps the Cowboys find roles for their two rookie corners coming in this year.
I am picking this team to win the East because I think they have the best QB in the division with the least amount of question mark areas on the roster.
New York Giants
The New York Giants are entering 2017 with expectations the highest they’ve been in recent memory. This is not the team of underdog 9-7 Super Bowl glory, this team is a contender from wire to wire. The Giants finished 2016 11-5 good for second in a stacked NFC East. Odell Beckham Jr. (101/1367/10) continued to set himself apart from the competition, establishing himself as one of the games best talents. Rookie wide receiver Sterling Sheppard paired well with Beckham and had impressive first season himself (65/683/8). Eli Manning’s thirteenth season saw him complete 63% of his passes for 4,027 yards with 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Manning was by no means bad, but really did nothing to put the Giants over the edge. The Giants offensive line was easily the biggest hole on the team and did nothing to help Manning or the run game. Left tackle Ereck Flowers looked inept in year two and is probably a natural right tackle (or bust).
They added two big bodied pass catchers in the draft and free-agency this offseason. They signed Brandon Marshall over from the other side of town and for the first time in his young and illustrious career Odell Beckham has a proven talent opposite him. Then in the first round of the draft, they took the receiving tight end prototype Evan Engram from Ole Miss. Engram may be the first real TE that they’ve had since Shockey.
Despite those big additions, the Giants couldn’t do more than a 6th round pick to address the teams biggest weakness, the offensive line. They also have a lack of talent at the running back spot with 2nd year player Paul Perkins as the slated starter.
The defense once again figures to be extremely strong. JPP and Olivier Vernon are the best end duo in the league, and with Snacks Harrison inside the d-line will eat once more. The linebackers leave something to be desired for, but the secondary in my opinion is top 3 in the NFL. Eli Apple surprised with a big rookie campaign, and the Rams are back in LA wishing they’d kept Janoris Jenkins. Dominique Rogers-Cromartie is a great 3rd guy as well, and Landon Collins really came on strong at the end of last year. Collins is one of my favorite players in the league, as he’s big enough to come down and cover tight ends but also athletic enough to stay over top and have range.
I’m on board with the Giants in 2017, and am picking them to win the NFC East.
The 2016 Redskins were an outright disappointment. Prancing around like they just won the super bowl after a week 11 home win against Green Bay was the epitome of their season. They had an opportunity to right their wrongs and make the playoffs in a week 17 against game against an already clinched Giants team, yet they blew the game in the 4th quarter. That being said, I believe the Redskins have improved this off-season and are in a better position to compete for playoff glory in 2017.
Offensively, the Redskins loss of Pierre Garcon turned out to be an upgrade with the signing of Terelle Pryor, who I think will eclipse the 1,200 yard mark and tally on around 8 touchdowns at wideout. Jamison Crowder comes off an incredible year in the slot, and will have to step into a bit of a bigger role with the departure of DeSean Jackson. Josh Doctson will attempt to live up to his first round hype in his 2nd year in the league after injury trouble in his first. They have one of the most productive tight ends in the league in Jordan Reed if he can stay healthy, but they have insurance for that threefold in the forms of Niles Paul, Vernon Davis, and rookie Jeremy Sprinkle. I think it is hard to argue that their offensive line is much worse than the league best and division rival Cowboys. The crop of running backs in Washington does not contain a standout guy or proven stud, but I think it is unfair to call this group anything less than competent. Rob Kelley and Chris Thompson combined for just over 1,000 yards and 9 tugs on the ground last year and 4th round pick Samaje Perine could very well step up and start for them this year.
Lastly and most importantly, Kirk Cousins, the “nerd in pads”-Conor Ryan. Cousins is the recipient of a lot of scrutiny among NFL fans, most of which he does not deserve. Cousins has started two seasons in the NFL. So have Jameis Winston and Marcus Mariota, both of whom are regarded to as franchise and potential elite quarterbacks. In their respective seasons as starters in the NFL (2015/2016) Cousins has statistically blown the other two out of the water. In those seasons Cousins has thrown for 9,083 yards, Winston coming just under 1,000 yards behind with 8,132 and Mariota lagging behind with 6,244 mostly due to him having played 5 less games than both Cousins and Winston. And unless the football gods were planning on Mariota averaging a 568 yards a game, which could most easily be done in maybe Madden 17, Cousins would easily out gun him. When it came to percentage passing, Cousins does the same, boasting an average 67.4% completion percentage while Mariota and Winston trail behind with 61.6% and 59.6% respectively. Touchdowns and picks wise, Cousins combined for 54 and 23, Winston for 50 and 33, and Mariota with 45 and 19. All things considered, Cousins quite comfortably gets the nod as the most productive guy in terms of numbers, and most importantly staying on the field. At the end of the day enough is enough. I am tired of Kirk Cousins getting mass amounts of shade thrown at him and a recent history of managerial reluctance to pull the trigger on a long term deal with him. He can play and he deserves to be respected, just because he isn’t 23 years old does not mean he cannot play 7 to 10 more productive and winning years as a Redskin and be the face of this team.
Moving to the defensive side of the ball, Jonathan Allen was a monstrous addition to this defensive line. He will be a dominant force for years to come and will prove to be a defensive staple in D.C.. He is accompanied by fellow newcomers Stacy McGee and Terrell McClain in their three man front. That front is supported by a solid rotation of linebackers. Ryan Kerrigan and Preston Smith will take most the responsibility of rushing the passer. In the middle, Mason Foster and newcomer Zach Brown, who were collectively responsible for a whopping 273 tackles in 2016, will intend on doing just that this season. I also love the addition of gritty outside backer Ryan Anderson from Bama in round 2, I truly believe he can make a big rookie impact. The defensive backfield is led by Josh Norman, popularly regarded to as an elite corner. Behind him there is Bashaud Breeland and rookie Fabian Moreau who won’t be under much pressure to lock down anyone special barring an injury. Their safeties, Sua Cravens and D.J Swearinger worry me with their similarity as hit first-cover later guys, but I believe that their secondary is at least average as a whole. It helps to have a lock down guy like Norman around with the receiver talent in their division.
Wrapping it up here, I like this team a lot in 2017 mostly because of two things; One, I think if Kirk Cousins has not had a prove it year yet, he will now. Cousins is not close to a bad quarterback and the Redskins would be foolish to lose him. If he put up the same numbers as he did last year but with 3 more touchdowns and 3 less picks, I don’t see why this team can’t make the playoffs. And two, I think the Cowboys are going to go 8-8, giving some wiggle room for the Redskins, amongst others, to compete in this division.
The Eagles had a hot start (3-0) but cooled down after a early bye and finished 7-9. A lackluster secondary and weak receiving group were reasons for the rough end, as well as rookie growing pains from quarterback Carson Wentz. In free agency though, they arguably signed the most talented player in the group with Alshon Jeffery. He has had injury and suspension issues while in Chicago, but when on the field he is a true #1 receiver in the league. Howie Roseman also signed WR Torrey Smith and RB LaGarrett Blount to further improve the offense and it’s depth. The Eagles also added some marquee pieces on the defensive line with the signings of Chris Long and Timmy Jernigan.
In the draft, the hosts spent their 16th overall pick on defensive end Derek Barnett out of Tennesse. Sidney Jones, projected 1st rounder whos pre draft process achilles tear knocked him to the second round where the Eagles picked him. He’s talented, but doesn’t figure much into the picture for 2017. In the third, they grabbed the big corner out of West Virginia Rasul Douglas.
Count me among the believers in second year QB Carson Wentz. Last offseason I was calling for Chase Daniel to start over him because I thought he wouldn’t be ready for the NFL game yet. Clearly I was wrong. Even though Wentz didn’t light the league up like his NFC East rookie counter-part down in Dallas, he definitely showed the capability and talent to succeed. I also really like what I see from Wentz as a leader. Things like inviting the receivers up to North Dakota to work out and do recreational activities proves his growing confidence and self-recognition in the imprtance of the role he plays as QB. His receiving group is fairly deep this season, and I think Jordan Matthews will have a very nice season this year due to him not having to be the #1 option.
The defensive line is one of the best in football and is the deepest in terms of talent. Brandon Graham is one of the more underrated defensive ends, and I would venture to say Fletcher Cox is the third best defensive tackle in football behind Ndamukong Suh and Aaron Donald. I like that Barnett gets to sit behind Long, Graham, and Curry to really hone his craft before taking the reigns as Philly’s future go-to pass rusher. Where this team will run into issues is the secondary.
As mentioned before, the Eagles drafted corners in the 2nd and 3rd rounds, but Sidney Jones won’t play more than half the games and Rasul Douglas faces a steep learning curve. I am a fan of Douglas, but it’s going to be difficult for him to be a solid starter his rookie season. Malcolm Jenkins is really the only notable player in this back four. I do think that the strength of the front 7 will help mask some of the weaknesses though. It’s much better to have a good front 7 and bad back 4 than a bad front 7 and good back 4. Ideally Jim Schwartz will be able to create consistent enough rush and chaos to throw QBs off and not dice up the secondary.
I expect to be higher on the Eagles than most, but as an unbiased eye I don’t think Philly fans are crazy to be thinking playoffs.