As the start of the NFL season nears, bustasports will be posting daily debates on who will win each division. Every day a different division will be analyzed, as two writers will debate about who will win that division.
We will start off with the NFC East, a legendary division that has featured more rivalries and close competition then any division in the NFL throughout the last few years. This division holds the defending Super Bowl champ Giants, the fast flying Vick-Lead Eagles, the media-loving Cowboys, and the struggling Redskins, who’s hopes this year all lie on the shoulders of a rookie named Robert. Although there are four teams in this division, only two have a realistic chance at winning the division. The question is, which one will take home that title. The Giants, or Cowboys? Read below to find out.
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[one_half] By: Bruce Chen
The NFC East is ostensibly, one of the most open divisions in football. While the Washington Redskins have a new franchise quarterback in Robert Griffin III, I don’t see them competing, just yet. And every year, it seems to be “the year” for the Dallas Cowboys, although it hasn’t looked good so far with some putrid offensive preseason performances and a spleen injury to Jason Witten.
The defending Super Bowl Champion is the New York Giants, of course, but they have drawn by far the toughest schedule in all of football, and outperformed their Pythagorean expectation by more than a win last year. And the Philadelphia Eagles will make sure that nine wins don’t get you there again.
This Eagles team was 8-8 last year, despite starting the year 3-6. Their offense was fourth in the NFL in total offense, yet silly turnovers and penalties caused them to blow a whopping five fourth-quarter leads in those losses. They had an embarrassment of playmakers on defense, producing 50 sacks, but were just abysmal trying to tackle the ball carrier, often giving up exorbitant amounts of yards after the catch.
They finished the season strong, finishing 5-2 in their last seven. People want to talk about how to the lockout affected rookies’ ability to learn their playbooks, and I don’t see how that excuse doesn’t lend itself to teams that had a huge overhaul in talent, personnel, and philosophy like the Eagles did.
Their team was in constant flux early on, shuffling corners at different spots. The lack of stability and the fact that a straight man-coverage guy like Nnamdi Asomugha played a gimmicky man-zone with a ballhawk like Asante Samuel created an embarrassing amount holes in the zone that any good quarterback could exploit.
The lack of consistent philosophy also infected their linebacking unit, which by all accounts, was terrible, had the one of the league-worst tackling rates and consistently made terrible and undisciplined reads in play-action. They would find a way to screw up on third and long, even as the defensive line, which was the lone bright spot in this unit, worked their butts off to create pressure off the edge.
So the 2011 Philadelphia Eagles are an example of how basic football coaching lynchpins such as taking care of the ball, disciplined tackling, and have a consistent system are so important to success. And no amount of talent can overcome the lack of any of those.
The 2012 Eagles have upgraded at the linebacker spot by adding former Pro Bowler and anchor of the Houston Texans, DeMeco Ryans along with second-round pick Mychal Kendricks. They have both looked unbelievable in camp and made plays all over the field. They got rid of Asante Samuel and look to use Asomugha and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in a man scheme that actually fits their skills. Their first round-pick, Fletcher Cox, will provide depth along the defensive line to help make their pass-rush even better.
Advanced football statistics always lends itself to regression towards the mean, and history says that there won’t be another scenario in which the Eagles blow five fourth quarter leads by Week 10 again.
[one_half_last] By: Arif Hasan
It shouldn’t be any surprise that the reigning Super Bowl champions will win the NFC East, but a number of forecasts have the Giants losing the divisional race, despite not only a divisional win last year, but a solid run for another Lombardi.
They’ll win the NFC East again.
Eli is the best quarterback in the division by far. He has the highest quarterback rating, completion percentage, highest yards per attempt (in career and last season) and the highest net yards per attempt, which includes runs and scrambles. Net yards per attempt is the single best statistic for predicting quarterback wins.
Not only that, they outpace the division in team statistics as well. The most predictive team statistics—offensive efficiency and pass success rate—belong to the New York Giants.
The Giants have two of the top 20 receivers in the NFL, something no other team in the division can claim—professional scouts and professional grading websites agree, and Nicks and Cruz both topped 1000 yards, which is unique. DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin don’t come close.
The Eagles are a popular pick, but on-paper talent doesn’t always translate into rings. The Eagles might be in a good spot if Vick can play a full slate of games, but in his 6-year career, he’s played only one 16-game season… in 2006. The evidence indicates it will happen again, regardless of changes in his line play or whether or not he slides.
Moreover, Vick’s tendency to wait in the pocket (an average of 3.2 seconds, second most in the league) means he wastes his excellent pass protection, obviating what would be an advantage the Eagles have over the Giants. Michael Vick is going to get injured.
Nick Foles can’t reasonably be an answer to that injury. Don’t be seduced by his excellent preseason game, either. Cleo Lemons has had near 100 passer ratings in nearly every preseason (or better) and now plays for the Toronto Argonauts.
Foles could be good, but is raw right now, despite what a unplanned, vanilla preseason game against the Patriots third and fourth string might tell you.
As for defense, the Giants are surprisingly ahead. Despite allowing more yards, the Giants defense does a better job putting their teams in the right position to win. This is because the Giants defense ranked 5th in takeaways last season.
Turnovers better determine division winners and playoff participants than almost any other defensive stats—the top 5 teams in turnovers generated made it to the playoffs and composed 3 of the 4 conference championship teams.
Their players and system are better designed for it. Perry Fewell is a great defensive coordinator that knows how to utilize the deepest pass rush in the league to create opportunities to win, and makes sure to take advantage of player strengths.
While the Eagles have better players on their defense, former offensive line coach Juan Castillo cannot organize a defense around his talent. They have both man corners and zone corners playing zone schemes, and haven’t fixed the weakness in linebacker that the Wide-9 front demands.
Nnamdi Asomugha and Cullen Jenkins are wasted in systems that ignore their strengths and weaknesses, and Castillo hasn’t modified the system to suit that. Like Belichick and Fangio, Fewell has created a system that magnifies the skill of its players. Castillo is using a system that hides the players’ talent.
Offensively and defensively, the Giants are best suited to win the division. There’s a reason Coughlin finds ways to make a team that “shouldn’t” win succeed time and time again. There’s no reason 2012 is any different. [/one_half_last]