It’s always good to start any journey going toward the light, so we begin our tour of the NFL’s other conference the same as we began the first, by taking a right turn on the compass.
The Philadelphia Eagles have the most potential for immediate success. Quarterback Nick Foles appears to be on the cusp of performances best described as “Brady-esque.” Head coach Chip Kelly’s zone-read schemes appear to be a perfect fit for the skill set in Foles’ brain.
As an added bonus, running back LeSean McCoy has few peers in his ability to navigate tight spaces. All the workhorse yardage he piled on last year didn’t seem to wear him down, but nobody can do that in the NFL for very long so he will be getting help this year from the quick feet of Darren Sproles. These two factors together mean the Eagles have more game-breaking potential, helped considerably by the fact they have one of the best offensive lines in the league.
While their defense is still in transition personnel-wise to a 3-4 scheme, they definitely should be improved but a long way from being reliably stout. Look for them to take more chances and try to be more disruptive and opportunistic, which is a really good thing in this game.
When it comes to the unmeasurable intangibles, the overall positive attitude and almost collegial character of the team is evidenced by the report that every single member of the squad attended the voluntary off-season training activities. These guys believe in what they are doing and want to succeed. With an approach like that, it’s hard not to see them finishing anywhere other than in first place.
I guess it’s hard not to jump on the Dallas Cowboys next, but when you’ve got no defense to speak of you’ve really got no chance at all. Even with all the things offensive talents like Tony Romo and Dez Bryant can accomplish — all the fireworks you can throw out there and show off on the big screen replays — it won’t matter if you can’t stop anybody. No matter how spectacular your pyrotechnics get, if you get them wet they sputter, and that offense is going to get dumped on like they’re an ALS charity.
Expect a constant stream of drama again from the owner’s box because this franchise is as much an ego project as it is a professional football team. It’s one reason why they are stuck at the 8-8 plateau. This year the guess is the poor Cowboys don’t even make it to the final week to have something totally unexpected go horribly wrong. If you can’t see a last place finish coming, you need to visit the optometrist.
And if the Cowboys are bad, what about the Indians? Washington’s new head coach Jay Gruden’s newly-installed playbook will take some time to smooth out. First he must make sure Robert Griffin III is not a candidate for more orthopedic surgery. The Redskins have given Griffin plenty of offensive weapons. Now he has to just make smart use of them and understand incompletions and punts are not intrinsically bad things. Probably the key to that professional revelation will be the running of Alfred Morris to encourage Griffin to remain in the pocket as much as possible and keep that knee stable.
Their defense should be average or a little better up front, which is a great improvement over last year’s tepid performance. What’s really scary is the mess in their secondary. Given the quarterbacks in their division, without an overpowering pass rush (which they surely don’t have) these guys are not going to cover well enough long enough to keep points off the board. Everybody in this division is primed for playing shootouts, but only one has a real shot to win consistently that way and it’s not the team in D.C., who will be fortunate to finish third.
The New York Giants surprised everyone with their free fall into oblivion the first six weeks of the season. Everybody has their eyes on quarterback Eli Manning’s recent troubles, but it’s all on the lines for Big Blue. It’s true there will be a new offensive scheme for Manning to get comfortable with — the control-passing or “West Coast” offense (that really got its start in Cincinnati when Bill Walsh was schooling Ken Anderson in the early 1980s).
Multiple receiver sets are not something Giants fans are used to seeing, but if they don’t get too ambitious with it too early and can minimize the mistakes, it could be a productive offense. They bought some tools with aggressive moves in the free agent market, which is also something Giant fans are also not used to seeing.
The key will be in rebuilding the offensive and defensive lines. Last year on offense they could not protect the passer nor open running lanes, hence four new starters among the five positions. The defense suffered a big loss when Justin Tuck opted to move in free agency, but coach Tom Coughlin has a knack and history of making solid defensive personnel choices.
Early on the strength of the defense will be in the secondary, which made a nice pickup when they added Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie to a unit that was already very good. If there’s more speed up front, and the line’s health holds up, solid coverage on the backside will allow the front seven to gain confidence from a few extra sacks that have always been a defining characteristic of the team.