I’ve previewed seven of the eight NFL divisions already, which leaves one last division to dissect before the start of training camps this week – the NFC East. After this column, I’ll be taking a short break from writing Wiseguy Reports, taking some time to be fresh for the start of football season. My next report – all about beating preseason NFL – will come in mid- August.
Let’s start with the division favorite Dallas Cowboys who are lined at 9 wins. Last year was an unmitigated disaster for Jerry Jones’ squad and their supporters in the betting markets: 4-12 SU, 4-11-1 ATS. The Cowboys top heavy roster was besieged with key injuries, most notably at quarterback and their defense was an abject disaster. The Cowboys finished dead last in the NFL with a -22 turnover margin in large part because their defense notched only 11 takeaways all year. To put that number in perspective, 24 of the 32 NFL teams recorded 21 takeaways or more.
Jason Garrett is 7-22 ATS as a home favorite in his first five years as the Cowboys head coach; a consistent track record of failure. And the Cowboys are likely to be home favorites at least seven times this season – maybe all eight, with a relatively easy opposing slate of foe. That stands in sharp contrast to last year when they faced one of the tougher schedules in the NFL.
Dallas is loaded with elite skill position talent. They’ve arguably got the best offensive line in the league. They’ll get top CB Orlando Scandrick back after he got hurt in training camp last year and didn’t play. But with Rolando McClain, Demarcus Lawrence & Randy Gregory all facing league mandated suspensions, there are no shortage of defensive question marks. And for all of the Cowboys elite talent, quality depth remains a major issue for a roster that has been decimated with injuries in the past. Tony Romo has missed 24 games over the last five seasons and if he gets hurt again, the Cowboys backup QB situation doesn’t look much better this year than it did in 2015’s debacle.
The New York Giants enter the Ben McAdoo era off three consecutive losing campaigns, without a single playoff appearance since their 2011 Super Bowl title. The G-men are lined at 8 wins for 2016, coming off a season where their defense was ranked 32nd in yardage – dead last in the NFL, behind even the awful Saints stop unit. Despite those defensive woes, the Giants were actually slight money winners for their supporters last year.
Giants GM Jerry Reese spent $200 million this past offseason – this is not a ‘new coach rebuild’ situation following Tom Coughlin’s dismissal. Instead it’s a ‘We Have Eli Manning but his prime isn’t going to last much longer’ situation – the Giants are most assuredly in win now mode. With the additions of Oliver Vernon, Janoris Jenkins, Damon Harrison in free agency and Eli Apple with their #1 pick in the draft, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has MUCH more talent to work with in 2016 than he did in 2015.
Manning has done well in McAdoo’s offense for the last two seasons; coming off career high in TDs and a career best 35-14 TD-INT ratio. Eli hasn’t missed a game since his rookie season, 11 straight years playing all 16 games. But the offensive talent surrounding him is very ‘iffy’ . Odell Beckham is a stud. But Victor Cruz has been a non-factor, with only 23 catches since 2013. There’s no. 1 RB here. And the offensive line has some major holes, on paper, heading into training camp.
Like the Giants, the Philadelphia Eagles are publicly stating that they intend to win now, despite firing Chip Kelly in the offseason and trading away a haul of draft picks to move up an nab QB of the future Carson Wentz. The Eagles have a split line with their season wins – some books have a 7, others have 7.5 with juice to the under.
First-year first time head coach Doug Pederson has a pretty thin resume. His only previous head coaching experience was at the high school level. He has had only three seasons as an NFL coordinator, handling a Kansas City attack under Andy Reid that did not see off many fireworks. New defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz is switching from 3-4 to 4-3 while replacing four starters, including DeMeco Ryans, Cedric Thornton and Walter Thurmond. On offense, they’re switching from a zone blocking scheme to a power blocking scheme on the offensive line. These are not minor changes!
The Eagles have more salary cap money tied into the QB position than any team in the league. Which, of course, means that their starting QB on opening day is likely to be Sam Bradford –the guy who cost Kelly his job last year; the guy who has failed pretty consistently since being taken #1 overall by the Rams. All of that $$ at QB has led to this quote from GM Howie Roseman, back on the job after getting forced out in a power struggle with Kelly last year: “What we did in free agency was the best that we could to try to fill a bunch of holes. Nobody’s sitting here thinking we are a completed picture.” It’s also worth noting that in the middle of the season, Philly plays three consecutive opponents coming off their bye, then Seattle, Green Bay and Cinci al in a seven week span! Ouch!
The Washington Redskins were the surprise division winner last year after entering the season projected to be the last place team in the NFC East. But the markets aren’t particularly bullish on the Skins' chances to repeat their success, with Washington lined O/U 7.5 wins off last year’s 9-7 SU, 9-7 ATS campaign.
History is not on this team's side. Their last back-to-back winning seasons came in 1996 and 1997. Their last back-to-back playoff appearances came in 1991 and 1992; when this franchise was still competing for Super Bowls and football fans had never even heard of Daniel Snyder.
Looking back at last year, Washington’s success seemed to be more about their very weak division and one of the weakest slate of opposing foes in the league than any other factor. Their nine wins came against the Rams, Eagles (twice), Bucs, Saints, Giants, Bears, Bills and Cowboys. None of those teams finished with a winning record. When Washington tried to step up in class – vs. the Patriots, Panthers and Green Bay Packers in their home playoff loss – they were non-competitive, losing by a combined margin of 106-34. Just to clearly illustrate where this team was power rated at even in December, they were +4 at Chicago; +3 at home vs. the Bills the following week.
Kirk Cousins had a career year in 2015 after entering the season with more career INTs (19) than TDs (18): 70% completions and a 101.6 QB rating. He’s got one of the deepest receiving corps in the NFL to throw to, and he’s playing for a long term contract. But even with the addition of CB Josh Norman in free agency, this defense is loaded with question marks, as is the offensive line and RB corps. Throw in a MUCH tougher schedule in 2016 and you can understand why the markets are not expecting a Redskins repeat.