Submitted by Jim Hurley on Sunday, August 12, 2012 at 8:20 PM
The NFC East always makes great copy. But, heading into the 2012 season, there are dramatic storylines involving each and every team that either reflects on the past or the future. Heading into tonight’s n nationally televised Preseason showdown between the Dallas Cowboys of the NFC East and the Oakland Raiders, let’s take a look at those storylines and how they might play out.
PHILADELPHIA: the Eagles are considered by many to be on the short list of potential NFC champions along with Green Bay, New Orleans, and San Francisco. Philadelphia players were talking “Dream Team” nonsense last year (when they were good, but not sharp), and are now talking “Dynasty” even though this group hasn’t won anything that’s mattered. Even if the players are going a bit too far, many respected Power Rating composites DO have the Eagles amongst the elite.
NY GIANTS: this is the team that can make a legitimate case as a budding dynasty, as odd as that seems. Eli Manning has now won two Super Bowls. The defense was awesome last year when it finally got healthy in the postseason. They’re not flashy, so they don’t get the hype of a powerhouse like New England. All they did was BEAT New England TWICE as underdogs with the Lombardi Trophy on the line. Don’t sell these guys short!
DALLAS: America’s Team hasn’t even mattered much in their division in recent years, even if they still get a lot of marquee TV appearances. They haven’t been able to hire an impact head coach. Tony Romo fluctuates between “productive but mistake prone” and “hobbled but adequate.” He has the potential for a monster season every year. His window of opportunity may be closing.
WASHINGTON: As one window starts to close, another may just be opening. Robert Griffin III takes his Heisman Trophy talents from Baylor to Washington just when the Redskins franchise needed an injection of something special. Can RGIII be this year’s Cam Newton? Can he be BETTER than Cam Newton? It’s going to be a lot of fun to watch…particularly with his divisional games being so important to those other divisional teams.
Let’s crunch the numbers from last year to get some more context for what might happen this year…
2011 FINAL NFC EAST STANDINGS
NY Giants: 9-7 (+7 turnovers, 1st rated schedule)
Philadelphia: 8-8 (-14 turnovers, 6th rated schedule)
Dallas: 8-8 (+4 turnovers, 5th rated schedule)
Washington: 5-11 (-14 turnovers, 3rd rated schedule)
Notebook: At first glance, those records don’t seem very impressive. There’s only one team over .500. And, the division as a whole was four games below .500. Is this a mediocre division? HARDLY! Check out those strengths of schedule (as tabulated by Jeff Sagarin at USA Today). The Giants had a winning record against the toughest schedule in pro football…which foreshadowed their run to the championship once they got some defenders healthy. Philadelphia would have had a winning record vs. a league average schedule, as would have Dallas. And, even Washington would have had a shot at 7-8 victories if they weren’t playing the third ranked schedule. This was actually a VERY strong division last year once you adjust for context.
That being said…it was a SLOPPY division in the turnover category. Philadelphia had huge problems with badly timed mistakes that prevented them from even reaching the postseason. Washington couldn’t find a quarterback who wasn’t a screw-up. It’s a funny year when Eli Manning is seen as the sharpest quarterback in your division! He has matured…and throws fewer bad interceptions than he used to.
Bottom line…this is once again a power division…one that could even rule the NFC if they can cut down on offensive miscues.
NY Giants: 6.0
Notebook: It’s been a few days since we’ve posted these kinds of NFL numbers in the NOTEBOOK (be sure to check last week’s archives if you missed the AFC previews…you should be printing all of these out for reference during August and September!). Anything over 6.0 is fantastic. Green Bay and New Orleans were up in the mid 6’s last year to lead the conference. Philly tied for third in the conference and the Giants were right behind them. There are some big threats to score in this division…and Washington may be making that a fantastic four-way very soon. Oh, don’t forget that these teams all played tough schedules last year. That’s a VERY strong YPP grouping considering the schedule.
YARDS-PER-PLAY ALLOWED DEFENSIVELY
NY Giants: 5.6
Notebook: It’s tough to post really great defensive numbers when you play so many games against good offenses. You can probably knock about two-tenths of a yard off of all those averages to get a better sense of true defense. And, that puts the teams in good company. San Francisco led the NFC at 5.1. These defenses are scary when NOT having to face Michael Vick, Eli Manning, or Tony Romo. You really saw that with the Giants when they had a healthy defense in the postseason. The offenses of Green Bay and New England suddenly looked mortal against them.
OFFENSIVE THIRD DOWN PERCENTAGE
NY Giants: 37%
Notebook: Remember that it was a down year in this stat across the whole NFL last year. So, those aren’t as bad as they might look at first. Still, we’d expect higher from Romo and Manning in particular. Veterans are supposed to move the chains. Vick and the Eagles did that well enough to rank third in the whole NFC behind the very well-run attacks of Green Bay and New Orleans. If Romo doesn’t perk up in this stat in 2012, it’s going to be very hard to take him seriously as a true start quarterback. It’s time to lead the team Tony!
DEFENSIVE THIRD DOWN PERCENTAGE
NY Giants: 38%
Notebook: Tough to evaluate these. Not good at first blush because numbers were down in the NFL last year. But, they did face tough schedules. There are reasons for the Cowboys to be embarrassed even when you adjust for that. Philadelphia becomes even scarier on defense when you give them credit for teams played. If there’s a weakness in the division as a group…it’s that they let opponents have too much control of the clock and the flow of the game. You saw this whenever they’d get upset as favorites (particularly with the Eagles).
Here’s how the markets see the NFC East in terms of projected regular season victories…
NFC East Regular Season Win Projections
NY Giants 9
Dallas 8.5 or 9
Those seem pretty low for a division with so much swagger. What’s going on? Well, the NFC East may have tough schedules again. They face the AFC North in non-conference play, which means Pittsburgh and Baltimore…and then maybe even Cincinnati as a challenge. Within the NFC, they face the South, which means New Orleans, Atlanta, and possible Carolina becoming a factor. Still, we don’t think that those schedules will grade out to rank in the top six for the foursome. Time will tell.
Most sharp sources we’ve talked to have the NFC East teams rated better in their Power Ratings than those won-loss records would suggest. Philadelphia is priced with the NFC powers. The Giants are rated more like a 10-win team with potential for 11. The Cowboys get respect at least as a legitimate contender. We wouldn’t be surprised if two of those top three teams exceed their current market estimates.
Our NFC previews continue tomorrow with the NFC North. We’ll do the West on Wednesday, then finish the week with the South on Thursday because Atlanta of the South will play Cincinnati in a national TV game on FOX that night. Again, we strongly encourage you to print out these reports so you can have them handy for handicapping. Do the same in the colleges. Our summer series continues this weekend with the Pac 12. The next weekend it’s the SEC. And then we’ll finish off with the Big 10 just before those much anticipated Michigan State-Boise State and Michigan-Alabama showcase showdowns that kick off the first week of regular season action.
Isn’t it great to have football back! You can collect the Dollars of August with Jim Hurley tonight in the Dallas-Oakland game on ESPN…and all through the rest of the exhibition slate. Great rates are available online for the rest of the Preseason or the full season. If you have any questions, call the office at 1-800-323-4453.
See you tomorrow for the NFC North. Be sure you’re with us in the NOTEBOOK every day so you know what’s REALLY going on in the world of sports!