Joy Divisions – NFC East

Before the season starts, myself and good friend of the podcast Lee Wakefield (@wakefield90) will give a summary of each division, how we see it playing out over the season along with some players to target in fantasy in each.

NFC East:

A few intriguing storylines in the NFC East this year. Transition, injury and clarity and identity are the main themes. But which teams have which storyline?

TIM

Philadelphia Eagles

We start off with last years NFC Champs, the #1 seed in the NFC and (unfortunately for me), the reigning Super Bowl Champions. Even the most anti Eagles fan would be hard pressed to say that the Eagles were not the best team last year. I have no problem with it. I do have a problem however with the ominous look about the Eagles and the franchise for the next few years.

They have the coaching staff (despite the exits of OC Frank Reich and QB Coach John DeFilippo), they have the depth at most positions and they have the talent but more importantly, the mentality. I could only dream of the Dallas Cowboys coaches and players having the same determination and focus to do what Philadelphia do.  The differences are night and day.

Changes from last year are very little and the main issues surrounding the Eagles in 2018 are getting all the players back and healthy for week 1 and trying to adjust slightly to the new coaches at Quarterback and obviously the Offensive Co-ordinator.

Carson Wentz, Alshon Jeffrey, Darren Sproles, Jason Peters, Jordan Hicks to name but a few players that have all either had long term injuries or surgery last season of in the offseason so will be interesting to see how patched up the Eagles are come week 1.

Key Storyline: Can the Eagles go again or will their injuries cause them to start slow?

Dallas Cowboys

My ‘Boys. If you want a further look into my thoughts on the Cowboys season, I did a quick Q and A for GiveMeSport and can be found here.

Despite all the goings on last year with the Elliot court case, the injuries to Tyron Smith and Sean Lee on both sides of the ball, Dallas still managed to finish 9-7 and were 1 game away from the Playoffs.

The losses to the teams around them hurt them (Philadelphia, Atlanta, Green Bay, Los Angeles Rams and Seattle in the NFC along with crushing defeats to Los Angeles Chargers and Denver Broncos from the AFC) including the 3 game losing stretch which effectively took it out of our hands.

The offseason saw a fair bit of change; around 50% of the 2017 targets walked out the door in Dez Bryant and Jason Witten and were replaced by Allen Hurns and Deonte Thompson in Free Agency and Michael Gallup/Cedric Wilson in the draft. A lack of Tight End replacement (compounded by the “trolling” by Philadelphia in the draft by David Akers) I think has irked Dallas fans the most and given the fans a bad taste going in to the season.

The one thing wont change from season to season is the importance of injuries to our key players. Sean Lee needs to stay healthy on defence in order for them to compete there and certainly the depth on the offensive line is better and should be able to cope with an injury or two.

The season will hinge on Dak’s decision making and his accuracy and will be interesting to see if he learned from November last year. I like him as a late round QB and I like the value of the WRs Hurns and Gallup. Zeke is a monster and will likely get the most rush yards this season. 16-0 here we come…

Key Storyline: Which Cowboys do we get this season? 

Washington Redskins

The Redskins were absolutely decimated by injuries last season on both sides of the ball and unfortunately the trends seem to be continuing in to this season.

Jordan Reed is continuing to Jordan Reed (not quite Tyler Eifert stages yet) and it’s anyone guess as to how many games he plays. The big one though, is Derrius Guice. Guice tore his ACL and is gone for the season, leaving last years combination of Rob Kelley, Samaje Perine and Chris Thompson (who also has injury concerns) in the backfield and don’t forget about Kapri Bibbs. This immediately puts me off the Redskins and it’s possible their season is already a write-off.

Kirk Cousins has gone and is replaced by Alex Smith at Quarterback, Paul Richardson is the big money signing at Wide Receiver to join the ranks of Crowder and Doctson and who knows which one ends up as their main producer in both real life or fantasy.

The defence was bolstered in the draft with DaRon Payne joining Ziggy Hood and Jon Allen. Again, the key is health to help the defence better their performance last season (were the worse in terms of rush yards given up in 2017).

Key Storyline: Can the Redskins shake the injury curse of 2017?

New York Giants

New York on offence could be really scary this year. Unless you were on an expedition to the moon this year, you’ll know all about Saquon Barkley. He could finally solve the issues at the running back position for Big Blue, a void that they haven’t really filled since Tiki Barber.

To help matters, Nate Solder has been signed from the Patriots in Free Agency along with 2nd round draft pick Will Hernandez one of the steals of the whole draft. A much needed upgrade on a particularly poor offensive line in 2017 should help the offence in general and so should the returns of Odell Beckham Jr and Sterling Shepard (Brandon Marshall who doesnt return was also injured for the most part of last year).

Evan Engram took the Giants on his back last season after the injuries hit and because of that, it showed all his skills and is leading to his high draft price in fantasy this season. Don’t fall in to the trap of thinking he will replicate the numbers from last year. There are a lot of mouths to feed in New York and Engram, despite his great first season at Tight End (contrary to historic trends), will see a likely downtick in production. Not something you want from a round 5 draft pick.

Eli Manning is in the final year or 2 of his career and who can forget the abomination of Ben McAdoo’s coaching and his decision to break the Manning streak of 210 consecutive starts last year for Geno Smith in Week 13. He should benefit from an improved line and a running back so he could be a sneaky DFS play in some weeks, especially due to the comfort of Barkley in his pass catching.

New York could be anything this year. If the line stays intact and gels, they could be a playoff team. If not, they could be a top 10 pick in the 2019 draft.

Key Storyline: How good will this offence be in 2018?

Summary:

The East is generally a good watch and is a division that is prone to a last to first type of finishing from year to year. Could be again this year with the intrigue in New York and as always, the divisional games will be hard fought and may throw up a few surprises. If the Eagles are good to go, they’ll win the division again but Dallas certainly have something to prove, especially Zeke, and New York have the firepower to mount a challenge. I think the Guice injury has put to Washington’s hopes of a division title and possibly even a playoff spot. Fantasy wise, the Eagles should put up a lot of points but it’s not easy to pick out who will lead the way. Dallas is all about Zeke it seems and you are paying a early 1st round price for him obviously. New York could be an offence you want a piece of and I love Sterling Shepard this year. Washington’s WR are a shot in the dark and if you pick one, good luck to you.

Predictions:

  1. Philadelphia Eagles
  2. Dallas Cowboys
  3. New York Giants
  4. Washington Redskins

LEE

NFC East today let’s start with the champion Eagles.

The Eagles are still in great shape, their team is still stacked in every area on both sides of the ball. They excel in the trenches on both sides of the ball; they have one of the strongest offensive lines in the league and they won the Superbowl partly because of their deep rotation along the defensive line.

Picture an defensive line of; Michael Bennett, Haloti Ngata, Chris Long and Josh Sweat… pretty strong right? That group is the second unit for the Eagles. That group would start for a few teams.

The offense is equally deep; the skill positions are all full of talent and diversity, and the offensive scheme suits QB, Carson Wentz down to the ground. All of this allows the Eagles to great mismatches all over the field, including with Wentz’s physicality and rushing ability. Although you question the wisdom of that since it cost Wentz the back end of his season.

Bottom line is that the Eagles are here to stay, I have them to take the division again and their Superbowl window in still wide open.

Fantasy wise the Eagles have a lot of good players but you have to think of how many touches they’re all going to take off each other. Alshon Jeffery, Zach Ertz and Carson Wentz are can’t miss players, if they fall to you, then go and get them. Outside of that you’ll find some nice role players for your roster.

After the Eagles the division is going to be a little bit of a battle between the other three teams. Personally at this moment in time, I don’t see a natural hierarchy in the East, so it’s going to be really interesting to see how it all shakes out.

Let’s talk about America’s team.

This Dallas team still feels a few players away from being a threat to the top dogs in the league.

In offense; they have Zeke and a fantastic offensive line, which could be really successful again if they go back to the 2016 formula when Elliott lead the league in rushing. The problem is replacing the target share of Dez Bryant and Jason Witten. I don’t see where the production is going to come from; I’m not saying it won’t happen, I’m saying the answer is not obvious. Dalton Schultz is predominantly a blocking tight end so will need to show some growth and it’s going to make a sizable leap from Blake Jarwin too. At receiver, my money would be on Allen Hurns backed up by Michael Gallup but again that’s no sure bet.

However, this could suit Dak Prescott as he could be allowed to just be the point guard and distribute the ball to a number a pass catchers, rather than force feed the big names.

On defense the heart and soul is Sean Lee and it almost wholly depends on his health. Can DeMarcus Lawrence ensure he gets paid next year and show he’s not a one season wonder? Will the young secondary step up and grow into a top unit? At the moment the defense has more questions than answers and it makes me unsure of where to place the Cowboys at the minute.

Ok, so I’m not going to lie… upon reading the news about Derrius Guice and his torn ACL, I had to rewrite the next section on Washington. I feel like it’s a huge blow for the ‘Skins as I had Guice down as a strong rookie of the year candidate due to the strong offensive line and offensive scheme. As a sports fan, I hate injuries in general and as someone who loves the NFL draft and college football, I hate when injuries make us wait to see prospects that so many were excited about… so here goes, take 2.

I feel like the Redskins are built in a similar way to the Cowboys in the way that they have a dink and dunk QB, a top offensive line and a strong running game. As i said above, I thought Guice was about to go off but a back field of Chris Thompson ft. “fat” Rob Kelley & Samaje Perine should be serviceable. With Guice I’d have Washington above the Cowboys is because Alex Smith is a better version of Prescott, Jordan Reed is a great weapon when he’s on the field and with the running scheme that Jay Gruden runs, Derrius Guice would have been a rookie of the year candidate. Right now though I think it’s cigarette paper close since Ezekiel Elliott is probably the best player from either team and as we saw in 2016, he has broad enough shoulders to carry his team to a lot of wins.

On defense I feel the ‘Skins have built themselves a really nice rotation on the defensive line via the past couple of drafts. I like the Da’Ron Payne pick, even if everyone knows that they really wanted Vita Vea. It means that Payne links up again with his former Crimson Tide running mate, John Allen. Those two with Matt Ioannidis, with Ziggy Hood and Tim Settle as back ups form a good rotation up front.

Ryan Kerrigan and Josh Norman add some star quality to the linebacking and secondary levels too, something which other teams in the division lack, outside of Philadelphia.

Finally, the New York Giants.

I expect the Giants to be a pretty exciting team to watch this season, mainly because I think they look fantastic on paper on the offensive side of the ball but on defense it’s much less pretty.

When we look at the skill positions for the Giants, it’s an all star cast; Odell Beckham Jr., second overall pick Saquon Barkley, Sterling Shepard in the slot and Evan Engram at tight end. All very explosive, all great options for both you in your fantasy league and Eli Manning. The only issue comes with Eli Manning, his age and loss of arm strength. Does that hinder the Giants too much? As we saw last season, Big Blue fans don’t want him benched and the front office were never in the market for a QB early in the draft to replace him, so it doesn’t look like Eli is on his way out anytime soon.

Maybe the hire of Pat Shurmur had a little to do with what he did last year with Case Keenum, a QB who is not known for his arm strength but is known to be savvy and intelligent. One thing Eli Manning is, is intelligent.

If it all falls apart at quarterback again in New York, then the progress of Davis Webb and/or Kyle Lauletta could be accelerated because the Giants can’t waste time with what is a potentially very explosive offense.

Another quick note of the offense; I really like the pick of Will Hernandez in the second round since he should be able to help to open up holes for Barkley in the run game.

Flipping over to defense it’s less impressive. Don’t get me wrong, the Giants have some good players but so does every team.

Landon Collins will probably be the highlight as he continues to grow into one of the best safeties in the NFL.

The Giants are the toughest to predict here since it depends so much on Eli and the defense. If both fail then the Giants will be picking in the top 5 again, if Eli manages the games well and gives the explosive guys enough opportunities and the defense can keep pace, the Giants could be in the hunt for a postseason spot. I think it’ll be somewhere in between and I think there will be a few high scoring games involving Big Blue in 2018.

So that wraps it up and brings me to probably my most difficult prediction yet, I’m going to go for:

  1. Eagles
  2. Redskins
  3. Cowboys
  4. Giants

I’ll probably be completely wrong on this one as I expect the records of everyone besides Philly to have a pretty similar record.