4. Dallas Cowboys 5-11
It looks as if the Cowboys did the smart thing by taking Offensive Tackle Zack Martin to solidify the running game rather than Quarterback Johnny Manziel in the first round, but that is simply not the truth. Even though Dallas was just 24th in rush yards per game, they actually had one of the best running games in the league. Leading Running Back DeMarco Murray had 217 carries in the 14 games he played, which means he had just 15.5 carries per game. But even with just 15.5 carries [not to mention that he missed two games with an injury] he managed to rush for a career-high 1,121 yards, averaging an outstanding 5.2 yards per carry. Had the Cowboys not so vastly underused Murray, it is not ludicrous to think that they could have won their division and in doing so made the playoffs. So now that we know that they didn't need offensive line help, we need to talk about the defense. While Dallas averaged 94 rushing yards per game, they allowed opponents to an insane 128.5 rushing yards per game. But it's not just the run-defense that was pathetic, they gave up an embarrassing 286.8 passing yards per game. They also lost their best defensive player, Demarcus Ware, to the Broncos this offseason. As bad as the defense was last year, this year it could be even worse. It certainly doesn't help that they have a tough schedule, playing against San Francisco, @ St. Louis, @ Seattle, and @ Chicago as well as other tough games. Honestly, it was difficult to predict how this team would fare this year, since their are so many question marks on defense, and a lot of their games are going to likely come down to the wire. They could go anywhere between 11-5 and 4-12. But with a prolonged bye week and six games against playoff teams from last year, my guess is 5-11.
2014 Grade: C-
3. Washington Redskins 7-9
What's the first thing new Head Coach Jay Gruden needs to do to make this a winning team again? Getting his franchise-quarterback healthy and happy. Robert Griffin III, aka "RG3," was outstanding in his rookie year, winning the Rookie of the Year award. He also led the Redskins from a 4-12 record in 2011 to a 10-6 record and the playoffs in 2012. Unfortunately, to trade up to draft him, Washington had to give up their 2012 first-round pick, their 2012 second-round pick, and their 2014 first-round pick, which turned out to be a bad deal, since this their pick this year was the #2 overall pick. In Griffin's rookie year he threw for 20 touchdowns, compared to just 5 interceptions. He also had a completion percentage of 65.6 percent, a Quarterback rating of 102.4, and threw an interception on just 1.3 percent of his passes. Last year though, he threw for just 16 touchdowns and had 12 interceptions. His completion percentage was down to 60.1 percent and his Quarterback rating was down 20.2 points to 82.2. He also doubled the percent of his passes that were intercepted, having 2.6 percent of his passes intercepted. Worst of all, after going 3-10 over the season's first 10 games, he was placed on Injured Reserve and did not play the rest of the season, because of his knee. The same knee that he tore his ACL on at college in Baylor, and in the playoffs in his rookie season. RG3 is a dynamic Quarterback, but for Washington to make a playoff-push, he's going to have to be fully healthy and at the top of his game. Also, the defense that gave up 354.1 [354.1!] yards per game last year must improve.
2014 Grade: C+
2. Philadelphia Eagles 7-9
The Eagles had a great year last year, winning seven of their last eight games to win the division. They found their Quarterback of the future, Nick Foles, and had the leader in rushing yards, Lesean McCoy. However, they had a disappointing offseason. I say this mainly because they cut ties with leading Wide Receiver Desean Jackson, who later signed with Washington. Jackson had 1,332 receiving yards in 2013, while no one else on the team had more than 835. People consider Nick Foles a the Eagles Quarterback of the future, but I think he was simply spoiled by the best Running Back in the league [at least that year] Lesean McCoy, and a high-octane passing attack led by Jackson and involving other above-average players Riley Cooper and Brent Celek. He also played most of his games against some of the worst defenses in the league [Raiders, Giants, Redskins, Vikings.] With a tough schedule this year against four of the five best defenses in the league, Foles likely won't have another Pro-Bowl worthy season.
2014 Grade: C+
1. New York Giants 9-7
The Giants, who are usually relatively quiet in free-agency, were just the opposite this year. They added the Broncos top Cornerback in 2013, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, and also signed Raiders Running Back to complement David Wilson in the running game. Two moves going under the radar are their signing of former first-round pick Quarterback Josh Freeman to be Eli Manning's backup Quarterback, the only reason this addition is significant is because it means that if something happens and Eli gets hurt or isn't ready by the time the regular season rolls around [which is a possibility since he is scheduled to miss part of training camp due to an ankle injury] that Freeman will be the one starting, rather than Curtis "I Can Make Even Blaine Gabbert Look Good" Painter. The other move is that they signed Pro-Bowl kick and punt-returner Trindon Holliday [who had previously been employed by the Denver Broncos.] And while they need a Tight End after losing both Brandon Myers and Bear Pascoe in free-agency, they at least managed to replace Wide Receiver Hakeem Nicks by drafting Odell Beckham Jr. with their first pick of the draft. But if they're really going to win the division, they're going to need contributions in the running game, as well as the offensive line to step up and protect Eli Manning who desperately needs to have a bounce-back year. They have a tough schedule, but so does everyone else in this division. If they won the NFL's worst division this year, it would be the first time the G-Men made the playoffs since they last won the Super Bowl.
2014 Grade: B-