The preseason is starting to wind down, and so our NFL preview is about to pick up, with not only a division-by-division preview of all 32 teams, but also a preseason power ranking of each division. We’ll start with NFC East, which could be the most difficult division to handicap, as well as the most competitive division in the NFL. Nevertheless, here’s how each team stacks up heading into the 2013 season:
1. New York Giants – The Giants get the top spot in the preseason power rankings almost by default. They come off a down season, but Tom Coughlin has a history of rebounding well from bad seasons, and the franchise has two recent Super Bowl victories with him at the helm. The Giants also have a big advantage in that they have Eli Manning at quarterback. Despite a lot of losses last season, Manning had a fine season in 2012, and not only will he have Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz, but the addition of tight end Brandon Myers and the development of wide receiver Rueben Randle should give New York an even more potent aerial attack. However, the Giants will have to plug some holes on the offensive line, which could be an issue.
Defensively, the Giants have a lot to figure out. The secondary was atrocious last season, and heading into the season there is a lot of uncertainty as to who the linebackers will be. New York’s pass rush had a down season last year, which was a big reason why the team struggled, but they have the personnel to get after the quarterback and hide some of the deficiencies in the rest of the defense. With Manning at quarterback, Coughlin coaching, and several good pass rushers; the Giants have perhaps the highest ceiling in the NFC East, which is why they lead the preseason power rankings.
2. Washington – So much of Washington’s season remains a mystery until we know the health status of quarterback Robert Griffin III. The Redskins have the benefit of having Kirk Cousins as their back, and he should be able to hold down the fort until Griffin comes back, although Cousins is obviously a different type of quarterback. With or without Griffin, the Redskins will be able to lean on running back Alfred Morris, after Morris helped to make them the top rushing team in the NFL last season.
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Defensively, Washington worked hard during the offseason to make improvements to their secondary, which was one of the worst in the NFL last season. They should be fine in the front-7, but they’ll be relying on some new faces, including a couple of rookies, to give their secondary a boost, so that could be an area of concern.
Ultimately, Washington’s season will come down to when Griffin comes back and how healthy he is when he does come back. The Redskins could finish anywhere between first and last in the NFC East, but it’s impossible to tell where until we see Griffin play.
3. Dallas – The Cowboys have been the vision of mediocrity over the past few seasons, and it’s tough to believe that will change unless they prove it on the field, which is why they start out third in the division in the preseason power rankings. Offensively, Dallas needs to get improved play out their offensive line, which remains questionable, despite first round pick Travis Frederick stepping in as the starting center. Not only does the offensive line need to be the catalyst for an improved rushing attack, but they also need to keep the heat off Tony Romo; if Romo has time in the pocket, he’ll be able to pick apart defenses with weapons like Dez Bryant, Miles Austin, and Jason Witten.
Defensively, the biggest key for the Cowboys could be to stay healthy, as injuries were an issue for them last season. Dallas has enough talent, especially in the front-7, to be a solid defensive team if they can stay healthy for 16 games. Dallas has the kind of talent that can compete at the top of the division, but they haven’t been able to put it all together and reach their potential in recent years, leaving them with a lot to prove heading into 2013.
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4. Philadelphia – The Eagles start out the season at the bottom, in part because they won four games last year, but also because there is so much mystery to the team that it’s hard to know what to expect. One thing we do know is that Michael Vick will be the starting quarterback, and if Philadelphia’s offense is anything like Chip Kelly’s offense at Oregon, Vick should be a good fit, although he still has to prove that he can take care of the football and avoid turnovers. In addition to Vick, the Eagles will rely heavily on running back LeSean McCoy, as their corps of wide receivers has been decimated with injuries, and outside of DeSean Jackson they don’t know who their playmakers will be in the passing game.
Defensively, there is just as much uncertainty, as Kelly is hoping to transition to a 3-4 defense, although he doesn’t necessarily have the personnel to play that scheme. The secondary is almost entirely new and there is a lot of position switching going on in the front-7, especially among players that will be the primary pass rushers, so it’ll be tough to tell how it all comes together, although there is enough talent to put together a solid defense. There’s a lot of promise in Philadelphia, but with so much mystery, they’re going to have to work their way out of the NFC East basement.