The NFL kicks off Thursday, September 5. Daily previews of all eight division are in order.
Sidenote: In every post to follow, I will reference the NFL team in Landover as “Washington” and will not use the term “Redskins” intentionally, following in the footsteps of sites such as Slate.
I think we’re all tired of the RGIII/Shanahan storyline by now, and honestly, if that’s the only major issue that team has to face this season, it’s still a good day. Looking at the division, not much stands in the way for Griffin and Co., considering the Eagles are in re-branding shambles, the Cowboys have struggled to maintain possession in the preseason, and the Giants have been hit by a few injuries. Prepare for the worst from your fam/co-worker/friend that can’t shut up about Washington’s glory, but I guess you can sleep at night knowing your team’s QB doesn’t rock Maxine Shaw’s hair from “Living Single.” There’s that, right?
Look, I date a Giants fan. And yes, it’s about as awful as it sounds during football season. This season is no different, as once again, the Giants look like they’ll cost me another couple of dinner bets. However, they’ll be hobbling into the season, bit by an injury bug that seems to have infiltrated both sides of the ball. So even if the Cowboys pull off the W that first Sunday night in Arlington, G-Men fans will blame it on a bruised secondary, a Victor Cruz who will have to gingerly salsa in the endzone fresh out of a walking boot, and a questionable Jason Pierre-Paul for Week 1. I’ll take a win against the Giants any way I can get it, but at the end of the day, New York’s regular season play during their Super Bowl-winning seasons was never anything to write home about. They tend to stumble into the playoffs and then turn it on when it matters. Unlike, well, you know . . . that other blue-clad team in this division.
I’m easily the most pessimistic Cowboys fan I know, so while my tweets point to disaster at every turn, deep down I know the team formerly known as America’s Team will stay in football purgatory (8-8), doing just badly enough to blow the last game needed to make the playoffs but good enough to avoid a good draft spot. Unless the turnovers keep happening; then we’ll be in a great position come April. And then there’s always the off-the-field nonsense that seems to plague this team more than any other (OK, other than the Bengals) and I’m not sure how the Jay Ratliff mysterious groin situation will play out.
The positives: A receiving corps ready to do damage should dominate fantasy leagues all season. In terms of the two big variants to the 2013 Cowboys, I believe in the Monte Kiffin 4-3 schemes, and Bill Callahan stepping in to call plays. That’s the NFC East at a glance, let’s get into it team by team.— Courtney Cox
If I write any predictions or try to give any insight on how the Cowboys’ season will play out, it would be pointless. Forgive me for not talking about Dez Bryant’s ceiling, Tony Romo’s contract, or Jason Garrett on the hot seat. Regardless of what you or I think about the Cowboys, it doesn’t matter. In short, this is “Breaking Bad.” Just look at the similarities:
1. Walter White ran a drug empire that was initially successful, but now has come crashing down. Jerry Jones won multiple Super Bowl’s in the ’90s and turned the Cowboys into a billionaire-dollar franchise, but only has one playoff victory in the past decade.
2. Walter has an inexplicable connection to Jesse, regardless of his past drug-related transgressions, and pays him $5 million. Jerry paid $108 million to an untimely-interception prone quarterback who the media has dubbed a choke artist. Even if he had five fourth quarter comebacks in 2013. Problem dog loyalty.
3. Walter kills shrewd guys like Mike to maintain control of his business. Jerry finds scapegoats and fires coaches he can’t control; most recently Rob Ryan.
4. Walter replaces his former business partners with underperforming neanderthals like Todd. Jerry drafts Gavin Escobar in the second round.
I’m sure the list goes on. But the most important similarity between Dallas Cowboys and “Breaking Bad” is that week-after-week, it’s a roller coaster. Jesse might die, Romo might throw 20 interceptions this year, Walter could kill Hank, Garrett could get fired . . . the Reddit theories are endless. But even with the wide range of predictions for both the ending of “Breaking Bad” and the Cowboys’ season, one thing is certain: The outcomes for both will blow our minds, for better or worse. So I urge all Cowboys fans (and “Breaking Bad” fans for that matter) to stop debating how DeMarcus Ware will adapt into Monte Kiffin’s 4-3 defense or the importance Marie’s yellow shirt. Just grab a seat on Sunday, throw on your Irvin jersey, break out the crystal, and enjoy the ride. — Varoon Bose
New York Giants
The New York Giants are a 50 percent-filled glass of water.
Half-full enthusiasts will tout the two Super Bowl victories in the past six seasons, Eli’s .727 postseason winning percentage (highest among quarterbacks), and the fact that the Giants have not had a losing season since 2004. Half empty doubters will point out this team missed the playoffs three of the past four season and finished off 2012 by losing five of their last eight. Which leaves Giants fans with plenty of reasons to start chewing their nails.
Eli Manning and the skill position players around him may be the most talented group at their respective positions the Giants have had in my lifetime, if not ever (no offense intended towards Y.A. Tittle). Last year was the first time Giants fans didn’t feel obligated to defend Eli. A healthy Hakeem Nicks and Cruz far exceed Hilliard and Toomer. And David Wilson looks like the real deal, a dangerous combination of speed and power. No reason to think this team won’t break every team record on offense, unless. . .
The injury bug strikes again. The Giants have lost their starting center and right tackle to injury for at least some time. Cruz should be healthy for the start of the season but if he were to miss time it would be trouble. Let’s not forget the defensive side where the Giants just lost S Stevie Brown for the season and S Antrel Rolle is recovering from an ankle sprain. Plus DE JPP juuuuust got off the PUP. Otherwise, how will the Giants cover up their deficiencies?
The Linebackers. You would think a unit that just cut a LB who was the fourth overall pick in 2009 would be loaded at the position, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. It seems the Giants are more interested in keeping LBs who can contribute on special teams than can play LB. They currently have six LBs on the roster: five have contracts that expire at the end of the season and the sixth was the Giants 6th round pick in 2011. I know the Giants don’t consider the position very important but that doesn’t mean you should play 11 vs. eight. — Justin Burniske
Coming off of a 4-12 season, Eagles fans should be happy to reach .500 under noob Chip Kelly. Key word is should. With an improved offensive line (really, there was only room to go up) to protect a constantly-battered Michael Vick and a hungry combo of backup QBs in Nick Foles and Matt Barkley that will most likely see the field at some point this season because of the aforementioned, oft-battered Vick, the offense is already significantly better than last season. The newly minted schemes imported from Oregon are, at their core, fundamental power running attacks–should be an easy NFL transition. Andy Reid put the clamps on Vick as a runner, making him a predictable, sub-standard pocket passer. Kelly is starting Vick because he wants a wild horses running attack and he beautifully it fits into what Kelly wants to do. It’ll be a short but fruitful solution. What lands the Eagles in the basement of the division, however, is a defense seemingly without an identity or even the ability the take the right angles. Bill Davis has his work cut out for him, especially with the offensive talent in this division. — CC
With five nationally televised games including the opening night edition of Monday Night Football it is safe to say that greatness is expected from Washington’s 2013 season. In his rookie season Robert Griffin III resurrected football in D.C., and all he’s being asked of this year is a Super Bowl run. If they are to get there the team will need a repeat performance from breakout running back Alfred Morris and wide receiver Pierre Garcon staying healthy for 16 games. While the offense deserves the hype the biggest leap should come on the defensive side of the ball. With linebacker Brian Orakpo healthy again and playing opposite rising star Ryan Kerrigan the team has its best pass rushers since the 1991 Super Bowl run. Looking at the team on paper it makes sense why people see them as primed for the bright lights. — Ben Liebman
Gambling Pete’s Divisional Special
I love RGIII. I hope he’s fine coming off his injury. But man alive have you seen that schedule? AFC WEST (easy), NFC NORTH (tough), and their two bonus games are Atlanta and San Francisco. Ugh. I think what made RGIII dangerous was his legs. This year’s offense will be his arm + Alfred Morris. Is it enough? I don’t think so. Their win total is set at 8.5. The Eagles will be better, the Giants are formidable and the Cowboys are, well, the Cowboys. I don’t think RGIII starts all 16 games. He’s a fragile guy until proven otherwise to me. I like the Eagles to be better but 7.5 wins is too high. Like the NFC North, every team in this division is dangerous. These are hard to handicap. If I had a million dollars, I’m putting 50k on the Washington 8.5 win under at -125. — Pete Fitzsimmons