EDITOR’S NOTE: Bob Christ returns to GT with his early look on the NFL divisions. First stop, the NFC East).
There’s a new look to the division this season.
Perennial cellar dweller Washington now is strutting after winning last year’s flag and Philadelphia will have a new sideline boss, parting ways with Andy Reid after 14 largely successful seasons.
In New York, there were grumblings again about coach Tom Coughlin and his Giants, who followed a Super Bowl triumph with an uninspired 7-9 season in 2012. In Dallas, the hubbub was over assistant coaches and rich contracts.
Overall, the division has been in decline, as no wild card has come from this group the past three years. What could give the teams a boost in the playoff chase is playing the AFC West, which finished a league worst 12 games under .500 in 2012.
Anyway, here’s a look at how the division shapes up for 2013. (Odds c/o the LVH Superbook):
NEW YORK GIANTS (9/5 to win division; 20/1 Super Bowl): Through five games last season, it seemed they were headed to great things with an offense ranked second with 429 yards a game. But over the final 11 outings they averaged 322 and plummeted to No. 14 in the charts.
Much of that blame was on QB Eli Manning, who didn’t seem to have much zip on his throws late in the season. It will help Manning that his slot receiver, Victor Cruz, just signed a six-year deal and won’t be sulking through camp.
What also could benefit the Giants is a hungrier core of backs replacing the departed and oft-injured Ahmad Bradshaw. Second-year man David Wilson and fourth-year player Andre Brown glistened last season in small doses, each with a 100-yard game in a relief role.
On defense, the unit created 35 turnovers in 2012, third highest in the NFL. They also yielded 4.6 yards a run, their worst mark since 1972. The G-men added run-stuffer Cullen Jenkins, among others, to attempt to remedy that situation.
WASHINGTON REDSKINS (23/10 division; 35-1 SB): Last season, the Redskins became the second team in league history to win a division/conference after finishing last four straight seasons. Chicago also did so in 2001, but reverted to its previous form in 2002 at 4-12 under a mountain of high expectations.
Washington’s 2013 hopes hinge on the health of QB Robert Griffin III, who suffered a torn ACL in the playoffs. If he can stay healthy, the Redskins could end up as the first repeat NFC East champ since Philly in 2003-04.
Questions also surround RB Alfred Morris, who had 1,693 rushing yards counting the playoffs as a rookie, but on a colossal 351 carries. Can he maintain that workload without breaking down or losing productivity?
On a positive note, LB Brian Arakpo (torn pectoral) and DE Adam Carriker (torn ACL) will make their returns to the lineup. Washington also will pay the price for last year’s division title by playing a first-place schedule. The Skins will have to face both Atlanta and San Francisco. None of their division rivals will face either of those two powerhouses. On top of that, they play at NFC Central champ Green Bay on a short work week.
PHILADELPHIA EAGLES (11/2 division; 60/1 SB): Before Eagles fans get overheated about coach Chip Kelly’s arrival from Oregon, they should realize only one rookie NFL boss ever took over a losing team and won the league title in his first year. That was Adam Walsh, who left his job as line coach at Harvard to take over the Rams in 1945.
Kelly’s major decision this summer will be deciding between second-year QB Nick Foles and veteran Michael Vick. Both had essentially the same passing stats last season, except that Vick had the dubious non-ability of being able to be blindsided from any direction.
No matter, almost certainly the Eagles can’t get worse than last year’s 4-12. FYI: Over the past 10 seasons there has been at least one team each year that made the move from worst to first in the standings, including Philly in 2006.
DALLAS COWBOYS (2/1 division; 30/1 SB): The pressure has to be enormous on coach Jason Garrett to finally produce a team that can make noise in the postseason. And QB Tony Romo should have no less pressure now that he has signed his megadeal.
The Cowboys’ offense is loaded with skill-position talent, but can the team count on WR Dez Bryant to have another 92-catch season for nine TDs? He has a history of being on the police blotter. And DeMarco “Whirlpool” Murray is a freight-train of a running back, but the Vegas native has been vulnerable to injury in college and the pros.
It won’t help that the offensive line is one of the poorest in the league and it’s questionable how the “D” will respond to Kiffin’s shift to the 4-3.
Next week: AFC East
“Popular” Bob Christ has been forecasting Professional Sports games for more than 30 years. His work has appeared in newspapers from coast to coast in Canada and the U.S. Contact him at [email protected].