With the first two rounds of pre-season games in the books, the countdown to the first NFL Sunday of the regular season is upon us. Fred Stanley Sport takes a look at all eight divisions in the league, previewing each of the NFL’s 32 teams and assessing their prospects for the upcoming campaign. Let’s get things started with a look at the ultra-competitive NFC East.
Key Additions: RB Darren McFadden (free agency), OT La’el Collins (draft), DE Greg Hardy (FA), CB Byron Jones (draft)
Key Losses: RB DeMarco Murray (FA)
After winning the division crown in 2014 and a dramatic post-season which culminated with a defeat at Lambeau Field, the Cowboys and head coach Jason Garrett will be out to prove that they were no one season wonder with another stellar campaign. They’ll have to do so without the league’s leading rusher from a year ago, DeMarco Murray, who left Texas to join forces with his old college roommate Sam Bradford in Philadelphia. Whether or not Murray can be adequately replaced by a combination of former Raiders running back Darren McFadden and Murray’s former back-up in Dallas, Joseph Randle, will go a long way to determining the success of the Cowboys 2015 season. Incoming defensive end Greg Hardy was a controversial addition to a defensive unit that outperformed expectations last season, but his off-field history and four game suspension to begin the regular season could result in the move backfiring spectacularly. La’el Collins, signed after he went undrafted back in May, should bolster an already superb offensive line and while Collins had his own share of problems this summer (he was named as a person of interest in his ex-girlfriends murder investigation), he appears to be in the clear and his first-round talent will likely help him settle right in in Big D. Ultimately the Cowboys ability to return both Tony Romo and Dez Bryant should ensure another fruitful season offensively, while the defense will welcome back linebacker Sean Lee, who missed all of 2014 with a knee injury.
New York Giants
Key Additions: OT Ereck Flowers (draft), Shane Vereen (FA), S Landon Collins (draft), LB J.T Thomas (FA), DT Kenrick Ellis (FA)
Key Losses: CB Walter Thurmond (FA), S Antrel Rolle (FA), S Stevie Brown (FA)
After two Superbowl titles in the space of four years between 2007 and 2011, Tom Coughlin’s Giants have failed to make much of an impression in either the NFC East or the NFL in general, with QB Eli Manning’s play falling off steeply in recent seasons. A lack of a running game and poor offensive line play hasn’t helped, however the emergence of Odell Beckham Jr. gives both Manning and Coughlin hope for the coming season. A healthy Victor Cruz would help compliment Beckham Jr and his big play ability, however Cruz has struggled with injuries in the past two years after his surprise emergence during New York’s 2011 Superbowl run. If the Giants offense was inconsistent last year, their defense was downright atrocious at times, and with star defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul out indefinitely after losing a finger in a fireworks accident (yes, you read that correctly), things aren’t exactly looking promising for 2015 either. While Beckham Jr. is worth watching alone, the rest of the Giants roster looks woefully short of top level talent.
Key Additions: WR Nelson Agholor (draft), QB Sam Bradford (trade), LB Kiko Alonso (trade), RB DeMarco Murray (FA), CB Byron Maxwell (FA), RB Ryan Matthews (FA)
Key Losses: QB Nick Foles (trade), WR Jeremy Maclin (FA), RB LeSean McCoy (trade), OG Todd Herremans (released), LB Trent Cole (released), OG Evan Mathis (released)
Eagles coach Chip Kelly took total control of the roster following a disappointing second place finish in 2014, in the process deciding to blow up a team that delivered 20 wins in his first two seasons at the helm in Philly. Gone were starting QB Nick Foles, star running back LeSean McCoy and seasoned veterans Todd Herremans, Evan Mathis and Trent Cole. Jeremy Maclin was also allowed to leave via free agency, meaning the Eagles 2015 roster is almost unrecognisable from its 2014 counterpart. Sam Bradford was acquired from the St. Louis Rams in the Foles trade, and although Bradford has elite talent (he was once the number one overall pick in the draft) he has also undergone two knee surgeries since he entered the league in 2010. Murray should be a better fit at running back than McCoy was with his downhill running style, and former Seahawks corner Byron Maxwell bolsters a previously porous secondary – however holes still remain on a roster that has little offensive line depth and question marks at both safety and the cornerback spot opposite Maxwell. If, and it’s a big if, Bradford remains healthy then Philadelphia should challenge for NFC East supremacy. If not, it could be a long season for Chip Kelly in the city of brotherly love.
Key Additions: OT Brandon Sherff (draft), S Dashon Goldson (trade), DT Terrance Knighton (FA)
Key Losses: S Ryan Clark (retired), LB Brian Orakpo (FA)
It’s been a while since the Redskins entered an NFL season without some sort of controversy engulfing the team, and 2015 is no different as head coach Jay Gruden sits on the most scorching of hot seats and quarterback Robert Griffin III is under intense scrutiny after two well below-par campaigns. A 4-12 record in 2014 doesn’t bode well, and though a few nice pieces have been added to the roster it would be some shock if Washington made the post-season this time round. One positive is the weapons the Redskins have on offense; DeSean Jackson stretches the field as well as any receiver in football, and both Pierre Garcon and Alfred Morris possess veteran savvy. Unfortunately tight end Niles Paul is done for the season with an ankle injury, and last year’s terrible defense returns many of the same players. Ryan Kerrigan is worth watching at outside linebacker, and new addition Terrance Knighton will help the run defense. However those two notwithstanding, the starting 11 on defense is average at best and dreadful at its worst.