– Jim Bearor
Over the past couple months, I’ve been ingesting more than the standard dosage of NFL, and the side effects seem relatively mild so I don’t plan on cutting back anytime soon. My mind is usually all over the place anyway, but lately I’ve caught myself making ridiculous connections between things totally unrelated to football, and whatever player, team, or situation could be analogous to the subject at hand. I’m zoning out in the middle of conversations and wondering if I’m crazy for thinking the Broncos won’t make the playoffs, or if my expectations are too high for this whole RGIII renaissance. I’m reading articles, sifting through stats, and listening to podcasts whenever I can afford to – and sometimes even when I can’t – but this is all stuff I can live with. Football is life right now, that’s just the way it is. There are teams and players I’m more familiar with than others, but for the most part, I feel like I’ve got a solid grasp of the league in its current standing. That being said, the longer I spend trying to wrap my head around the NFC East – the division my beloved Giants call home – the less confident I am in my understanding of it.
This group has been a screwy bunch of teams as long as I can remember, and it can be maddening to try to find some kind of rhyme or reason about them. The last team to repeat was Philly, who reigned from 01-04, and since then, it’s been parity at its finest. Here are the champions for each of the past 12 years:
- 2004: Eagles
- 2005: Giants
- 2006: Eagles
- 2007: Cowboys
- 2008: Giants
- 2009: Cowboys
- 2010: Eagles
- 2011: Giants
- 2012: Washington
- 2013: Eagles
- 2014: Cowboys
- 2015: Washington
There isn’t a lot you can safely assume about these four teams this year, and that’s the nexus of all these messes. Even before Romo went down in Week 3 of the preseason, nothing was a certainty. Now we’ve been handed another complicating factor, and his name is Dak Prescott. The rookie fourth-rounder was as electric as a player can be in games that don’t count, and it looks like he’ll fare better than Dallas’ disastrous replacement quarterbacks from 2015, but we won’t know for sure until we see it. Dallas still has the best offensive line in football – one that still might be getting better – and now they’ve got Ezekiel Elliott, a rookie that Vegas sees as the 16th most likely player to win league MVP.
So now we’re looking at a team with a weak-to-middling defense and an offense where two rookies – albeit talented ones – are running the show. I’d still agree that the Cowboys are the ones with targets on their backs (sorry, Kirk Cousins, I’m sure you don’t like that), but the Romo injury knocks them down just enough that the other three teams may be able to reach up, grab a leg, and drag them down into the fight below.
Washington is coming off an improbable finish to 2015 where Kirk Cousins lit the world on fire and led them to the playoffs, and their illusions of grandeur were promptly snuffed out by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. It’s accurate to say this team isn’t being given the respect that usually comes with the crown, and I don’t see any problem with that. Rivalries and bitterness aside, they didn’t prove jack shit last year.
For starters, they lost every game they played against an opponent with a winning record. Yes, you read that right, they didn’t beat a single team that finished above .500. Also, Kirk Cousins had done nothing to prove he’s worthy of being a franchise quarterback prior to week 7 of last year. Even after that, his receivers helped inflate his numbers with some great YAC. Additionally, Washington’s defense was worse than Dallas’ defense by many measures. I’m not buying what they’re selling, especially knowing the organization’s history of inconsistency and the fact that they’re looking at a first place schedule this year as opposed to the last place cake walk they were dealt last year.
Even so, they’ll be right in the thick of things again this year. The NFC East is slated to play the northern divisions of both conferences this year, and both groups have established tough teams and others that are hard to get a read on. It’s not difficult to imagine a scenario where Prescott looks like a rookie taken in the fourth round, the Eagles and Giants struggle in the first year of new regimes, and Cousins only takes a baby step back from his world-beater pace at the end of last year. They’re in there, and they’ve got a shot. I don’t think they’re good though.
I don’t think Philly is that bad, either. The offense will probably struggle, especially if Bradford does what he does best and gets injured. The weapons are questionable after Zach Ertz and Jordan Matthews, and this is Doug Pederson’s first time calling plays. We probably won’t see much of Wentz unless things go bad, and that could very well happen. On the other side of the ball though, Jim Schwartz is calling the shots and he’s got some interesting tools at his disposal, especially in his area of expertise: creating havoc up front.
I’m expecting a lot out of the Curry, Cox, Graham, Logan group this year, and if they’re able to make a jump, it makes the offense’s job a lot easier. If Bradford can stay on the field – probably the defining “if” of this team – he’s at least an average quarterback who’s capable of game managing. Knowing that the other three teams have their own question marks, it isn’t out of the realm of possibility that the Eagles win some games they aren’t expected to en route to a playoff birth.
Then we’ve got the New York Football Giants, who I’ve spent more time on than Washington, Dallas, and Philadelphia combined – and still, I have no idea what’s going on. I know the offensive line is a massive liability, and that has been on display for the world in the first three preseason games. I know we have a shiny, expensive new defense that hasn’t fallen on its face yet.
We have a new head coach, and Victor Cruz is supposedly back. There’s a lot going on and no matter how much I read about them or watch last year’s game film, I don’t feel confident connecting the dots. Such is the beauty of the offseason. This team could be absolute mess again, or maybe this horrific streak of bad injury luck and poor game management starts to turn around and the best quarterback in the division leads them to the top in his best season yet.
You already know how ugly the NFC East can get, but I think it’s healthy to remind ourselves this time of year. Outside of Romo’s broken vertebrae – which is very real and very serious – the preseason doesn’t do too much to ground us as fans. Ready or not, its almost time for us to wake up to the harsh reality of the regular season from our optimistic daydream of an offseason.
I’m a Giants fan and I’ll admit it: I can’t help but eat up some of the feel-good stories the organization is putting out there for us fans, and whether or not you’d like to admit it, I’m sure you’ve sipped some of your team’s Kool-Aid over the past few months as well. It’s nothing to feel bad about. With no games to watch, our minds are free to wander to happier pastures where hope and excitement aren’t in danger of being stomped out every week.
That time is coming to an end though, and rude awakenings are on the horizon. In a little over a week, the 2016 season will be underway. We’ll be able to start to put together tangible evidence about the Giants offensive line, Kirk Cousins, Dak Prescott, and the Eagles defense under new defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz. We’ll be surprised, pleasantly and unpleasantly. Most of all, we’ll probably be shaking our heads and wondering: “how didn’t we see this coming?”
– Jim Bearor (@JimBearor)