Dallas Cowboys (Projected Record: 7-9)
Key Additions: Ezekiel Elliot (1st-Round Pick, 4th Overall), Alfred Morris (Redskins), Dak Prescott (4th-Round Pick, 135th Overall), Mark Sanchez (Broncos)
Key Losses: Demarcus Lawrence (4-Game Suspension), Randy Gregory (4-Game Suspension), Rolando McClain (10-Game Suspension), Tony Romo (Back Injury – Timetable Unknown)
Don’t get me wrong, this team can easily perform better than this record, but as of today, they’re missing 3 defensive starters (Rolando McClain, Randy Gregory, and Demarcus Lawrence). McClain as reported today by Yahoo’s Jason Cole, may never come back to Dallas after gaining nearly 40 pounds due to a codeine syrup binge. Randy Gregory has checked himself into rehab for his marijuana problem.
On a positive note, Orlando Scandrick returns from ACL surgery, and looks great in camp. Lining up across from Scandrick or wherever they ask him to play, is the very talented Byron Jones. Jones may also line up at safety, next to underrated Barry Church. If this happens, expect Brandon Carr and draft bust (so far) Morris Claiborne to compete for the second corner position. Dallas has also brought back former Cowboy Justin Durant to help fill in at linebacker. If Dallas’s defense can withstand McClain, Gregory, and Lawrence being out, their offense has the ability to dominate.
They have the best line in football, returning 3 pro-bowlers in Tyron Smith, Travis Frederick, and Zack Martin. A healthy Dez Bryant is easily a top 10 receiver in the league, and will help Terrance Williams and Cole Beasley tremendously. Dallas also brings back a very hungry Tony Romo, on the back-end of his career. Finally, they’ve added maybe the best player in the NFL Draft this year, Ezekiel Elliot, running back, from The Ohio State University. Coming off of his first Pro Bowl, can veteran Sean Lee take control of this depleted defense and keep them afloat in a very winnable division?
Washington Redskins (Projected Record: 8-8)
Key Additions: Josh Norman (Panthers), Josh Doctson (1st-Round Pick, 22nd Overall)
Key Losses: Alfred Morris (Cowboys), Robert Griffin III (Browns)
The 2015 division winners are maybe the most complete team in the NFC East. Kirk Cousins emerged as a capable quarterback. They have an elite tight end in Jordan Reed. Their receiving corps became stronger, adding Josh Doctson from TCU at No. 22 overall in the draft, to an already potent, yet underrated, duo of Pierre Garcon and Desean Jackson. Their line is above average, with Trent Williams being a wall on the left side.
Their defense starts with their line and Chris Baker. They bring back emerging outside linebacker Trent Murphy, and 2012 pro-bowler Ryan Kerrigan. Oh, and we cannot forget that they have added one of the best corners in the game, Josh Norman, to a secondary already containing Deangelo Hall, and Bashaud Breeland.
Looking through their schedule game by game, I have this team starting 5-1 with the only loss coming at the hands of the Steelers. Following a week 9 bye, this team faces the Vikings, Packers, followed by away games at Dallas, Arizona, and Philadelphia, and then a home game against Carolina. This stretch of games will make or break the 2016 Washington Redskins.
New York Giants (Projected Record: 8-8)
Key Additions: Eli Apple (1st-Round Pick, 10th Overall), Sterling Shepard (2nd-Round Pick, 40th Overall), Olivier Vernon (Dolphins), Janoris Jenkins (Rams), Damon Harrison (Jets)
Key Losses: Hakeem Nicks (Saints), Rueben Randle (Eagles), Prince Amukamara (Jaguars), Robert Ayers (Buccaneers), Andre Williams (Released – Chargers)
The talk around the watercooler is that this team may have one of the most potent passing attacks in the game today. They already have two-time Super Bowl champ QB Eli Manning throwing to Odell Beckham, and Victor Cruz coming back from a year-and-a-half injury plagued stint. Now they’ve added maybe the best wide receiver in the 2016 draft, Sterling Shepard from the University of Oklahoma. If healthy, this trio will put up big-time numbers. Also through the draft, they brought in RB Paul Perkins, who was a dual threat at UCLA. The Giants did not improve a very mediocre offensive line, and that could come back to haunt them. They return starters Erik Flowers, Justin Pugh (moved to left guard), and Marshall Newhouse to command the line.
The defense was somewhat improved adding what looks to be an emerging star in defensive end Olivier Vernon with a massive free agent deal (5 years, $85M). The Giants also added a very underrated defensive tackle in Damon Harrison. They failed to address an average linebacking corps and, like their offensive line, this could really hurt. Rounding out the Giants defense is the drafting of talented CB, and hometown hero, Eli Apple from Ohio State University. They also managed to sign highly-touted CB Janoris Jenkins from the team formely known as the St. Louis Rams for a contract worth $62 million over 5 years. The biggest question around the Giants is can they put their money where there mouth is?
Philadelphia Eagles (Projected Record: 9-7)
Key Additions: Carson Wentz (1st-Round Pick, 2nd Overall), Chase Daniel (Chiefs), Stefen Wisniewski (Jaguars), Brandon Brooks (Texans), Rodney McLeod (Rams), Stephen Tulloch (Lions), Dorial Green-Beckham (Trade with Titans)
Key Losses: Demarco Murray (Titans), Mark Sanchez (Broncos), Byron Maxwell (Trade with Dolphins), Kiko Alonso (Trade with Dolphins), Demeco Ryans (Free Agent), Rueben Randle (Released), Sam Bradford (Trade with Vikings), Eric Rowe (Trade with Patriots)
Before I get called a homer, hear me out. This record can go a whole new way if the Eagles cannot close out three out of their last four games at home against their division, with their only road game being in Baltimore. The Eagles biggest question is their offense. Sam Bradford was underwhelming in his first year in Philly. He’s coming off a year in which he had no offseason to train due to his ACL recovery, and also a lackluster receiving corps that dropped an NFL-high 37 passes. Demarco Murray and Chip Kelly are gone.
Enter Doug Pederson. While being the offensive coordinator for the Kansas City Chiefs, Pederson helped Spencer Ware and Chacandrick West into NFL relevancy. Can he do the same with a running back by committee of the oft-injured Ryan Mathews, 33-year old Darren Sproles, journeyman Kenjon Barner, and a rookie 5th-round pick from West Virginia, Wendell Smallwood? The Eagles brought with Pederson a talented offensive mind in Frank Reich, formally of the San Diego Chargers, to help Sam Bradford. Behind Bradford lies the one-start wonder, Chase Daniel, whom is probably most useful in coaching Bradford and 2nd overall pick Carson Wentz, coming from Pederson’s scheme in Kansas City. The Eagles built on their offensive line, bringing in talented guards Brandon Brooks (Houston), and Stefan Wisniewski (Jacksonville) to a group containing future Hall of Fame candidate, Jason Peters, Center Jason Kelce, and newly extended Lane Johnson (6 years, $63M). They’ve cut ties with Riley Cooper and Miles Austin, replacing them with Chris Givens and Rueben Randle, whom will battle it out for the second receiver spot behind Nelson Agholor. Jordan Matthews will continue to man the slot. The Eagles extended both Brent Celek and Zach Ertz. Ertz is interesting as he and Antonio Brown were the only two pass catchers to haul in 30 receptions in the last three games of 2015. Can he keep up the pace?
The defense gets a complete overhaul brining in Jim Schwartz, who has coached three top-10 defenses in his career. The defense, which led the NFL in minutes played in 2015 (nearly 40 minutes a game), switches from a 3-4 style, to a 4-3 wide nine defense. Led by 25 year-old Fletcher Cox and his new contract, (6 years, $103M!!!) the 2016 Eagles defensive line looks potent. Underrated defensive tackle, Bennie Logan lines up next to Cox, with a defensive end rotation of Connor Barwin, Brandon Graham, Vinny Curry, and Marcus Smith. The linebacking core moves Mychal Kendricks to the outside, adds Nigel Bradham opposite of him, and places last year’s rookie standout Jordan Hicks up the middle. The cornerback situation is iffy. The Eagles brought back Nolan Carroll on a short deal. They also added former Jim Schwartz players Leodis Mckelvin and Ron Brooks to compete at corner. Behind those three is 2015 2nd-round pick Eric Rowe. Rounding out the Eagles secondary is a newly contracted Malcolm Jenkins and free agent heavy-hitter Rodney McLeod. Their defense is very talented, but can the offense hold up their end of the bargain?
Update (8/29/16): Despite having the most experience among the young wide receiving corps, Rueben Randle was released in a somewhat surprising cut by the team. He and Chris Givens were working with the first team just days before, but that’s as good as nothing in this league. The veterans will have chance to land on their feet with another team, while Matthews, Huff, Agholor, Green-Beckham, and Turner appear to be the top five wideouts on the depth chart. The Eagles also signed linebacker Stephen Tulloch off the free agent market. He’s poised to work in the middle linebacker rotation.
Update (9/3/16): The Eagles traded to-be starting quarterback Sam Bradford to the Vikings in exchange for a 2017 1st-round pick, and conditional 2018 4th-round pick. The team later named 2nd-overall pick Carson Wentz as the Week 1 starter against the Cleveland Browns.