Year after year the NFC East is the division that receives the most hype, and last year it rewarded spectators with a hard-fought division race that went right down to the final game of the season, with the Giants coming away victorious. Having won the division crown in six of Andy Reid’s 13 seasons as head coach, it’s not surprising to see the Eagles are installed as the favorite to win the division as you can see in the odds comparison below.
Clearly oddsmakers aren’t as giddy about Mike Shanahan’s new toy as he is. The Redskins remain a long shot to win the division, something they haven’t done since the turn of the century. Turning these odds into percentages, we see that Washington is being given less than a 10 percent chance to win the division:The Philadelphia Eagles are installed as the favorites, but there’s a big reason to pass on this team. Last year, Philadelphia’s “Dream Team” went 8-8, with Michael Vick absent from key moments of their season. This year, Vick left each of the team’s first two preseason games with injuries. The first injury was to his throwing hand, the second was to his ribs. Vick will now wear a Kevlar flak jacket this season, and while his ribs may be bullet proof, the rest of him isn’t.
I don’t see Vick playing more than 12 games this season (he’s played no more than 13 games in any of his three years with the Eagles). The Eagles will play the Ravens, Giants, and Steelers in the first five weeks of the season, and you can be sure that Vick’s going to spend a lot of time on the ground in those games. LeSean McCoy, DeSean Jackson, and Jeremy Maclin will keep the offense from being flat in his absence, but with Mike Kafka struggling to hold down the backup quarterbackrole, the team will be in trouble when Vick is out of the lineup. Andy Reid has shown an ability to make backup quarterbacks look good, so Philadelphia should remain in contention come January, but they won’t run away with the division.
Eli Manning declared himself an elite quarterback before last season started, and he delivered on that sentiment. But the Giants remain a team that gets no respect, and this time it comes from the oddsmakers. Coming off a season in which they won this division en route to winning the Super Bowl, the Giants aren’t even favored to repeat, despite very little turnover in the offseason. The team’s front office has done a fabulous job of replacing the players that shuffled out in the offseason, so it doesn’t appear the Giants have lost much in the way of personnel.
The problem for the Giants this season comes in the form of the Super Bowl bullseye on their backs. Teams generally play the defending champs a little tougher, and the Giants have had issues keeping key players like Hakeem Nicks, Justin Tuck, and Osi Umenyiora on the field before. With other team’s gunning for them, they’ll need all hands on deck. Having said that, the 2008 version of the Giants did finish 12-4 after their first Super Bowl victory over the Patriots, so maybe that won’t be an issue.
Manning threw for a career high 4,933 yards last season, but this year the team will likely lean more on Ahmad Bradshaw and rookie David Wilson out of the backfield, making things a little easier on the defense. That should lead to a little more consistency from this team, which struggled to run the ball at times last year, leading to a 6-6 record through the first week of December. The Giants face a tough schedule this year, with road dates in San Francsico and Atlanta, in addition to the rigors of playing against the AFC North. Regardless, there’s plenty of talent in New York, so expect them to hunt for a double-digit win season.
The Dallas Cowboys did a lot to fix their issues in the secondary over the offseason, drafting Morris Claiborne and signing free agent Brandon Carr. Dallas’ defensive backfield was its biggest weakness in 2011, notably getting picked apart in a crucial Week 17 matchup with the Giants. While the team’s passing defense should no longer be an issue, it looks like Jerry Jones will be dishing out plenty of overtime pay to the medical staff.
Jason Witten’s status for Week 1 is already up in the air, Miles Austin can’t shake the hamstring issues that saw him miss six games last year, Dez Bryant has dealt with both knee and ankle issues in the last 10 days, and DeMarco Murray couldn’t make it through an abbreviated 2011 season, so his ability to play a full 16-game slate is in question. If that’s not enough for you, the Cowboys’ offensive line has sent some bodies to the infirmary, and the men that remain don’t seem particularly interested in keeping Tony Romo upright, making his health a concern. The only celebrating we’ll be seeing from Jones this year will be when his Papa John’s pizza arrives.
Washington generated instant buzz when the team moved up in the NFL Draft to select Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III. While he does look like the real deal, the team’s problems extend beyond the quarterback position. They finished last in the NFC East at 5-11 last year, and their focus will more likely be on developing their new franchise quarterback than winning the division.
A key point to understand about Griffin is that he doesn’t run the football to the extent most people think he does. Many pundits have him tabbed as this year’s Cam Newton. By comparison, Newton ran for 1,473 yards in his final season at Auburn, while RG3 ran for 699 yards in his final year at Baylor. RG3’s tendencies lean more toward throwing the football, and he’ll need some time to develop before he can keep up with the likes of Romo, Eli Manning, and whoever Andy Reid throws under center. The Redskins are 11-21 under Mike Shanahan, and you can expect them to finish dead last in the division for the fifth consecutive season.
Here’s how I see the NFC East breaking down:
1. NY Giants (10-6) – Defending a Super Bowl win is tough, but they have the personnel to do it.
2. Philadelphia (10-6) – They’re a Super Bowl contender if Vick stays healthy, but he’ll miss time.
3. Dallas (8-8) – Improved over last season, but injuries will sink them.
4. Washington (7-9) – Divisional games will test RG3’s ability to handle a tough pass rush.
This division is too tough to call. Any one of the Giants, Eagles, or Cowboys could win it if they stay healthy. But there are too many question marks in the NFC East to be overly confident about any of the teams.
If you have to make a play, I’d advise a small wager on the New York Giants. Sportsbook.com is offering them at the highest rate, so you’d do well to place your wager there.