NFC East Preview

COWBOYS, GIANTS, AND EAGLES ALL HOPING

TO CHASE DOWN REDSKINS IN COMPETITIVE NFC EAST

Football is back! To get you ready for Sunday Night’s Hall of Fame Game featuring the Dallas Cowboys and the Miami Dolphins, we’ll begin our annual summer series of NFL Divisional previews with a look at the NFC East. The Cowboys played .500 ball last year despite having huge turnover troubles. Can they fix what ails them and make a run at first place?

(For you Miami fans, we’ll be previewing the AFC East this coming Friday when the defending divisional champion New England takes on Philadelphia in another high profile NFL contest)

We’ve gathered a set of key indicators that we’ll be using in all eight of our divisional previews. A quick guideline:

Turnover Differential

Schedule Strength according to Jeff Sagarin of USA Today

Yards-per-Play on Offense and Defense

Third Down Conversions on Offense and Defense

You longtime readers know we’ve talked a lot about those all through the years here on these pages. Those stats help paint very accurate pictures of what happened last year…so you can make clear-headed assessments about what’s most likely to happen this season.

2012 NFC East Standings (turnover differential/strength of schedule)

Washington: 10-6 (+17 turnovers, #11 schedule)

NY Giants: 9-7 (+14 turnovers, #10 schedule)

Dallas: 8-8 (-13 turnovers, #4 schedule)

Philadelphia: 4-12 (-24 turnovers, #7 schedule)

Washington won the division…but they really weren’t substantially better than the other teams. They caught a few turnover breaks considering that they had a rookie quarterback! They also graded out (barely) as having the softest schedule in the group (though, it was by no means a “soft” schedule…just easiest of the four teams in the division). Replay the season 100 times, and the top three teams will all take a turn. Heck, Philadelphia won’t have a disastrous implosion most of the time either!

For Cowboys fans…the extremely good news is that it’s not hard to play smarter and fix turnover problems…and this year’s team will probably be doing that against an easier schedule.

2012 Yards-per-Play

Washington: 6.2 on offense, 5.9 on defense

NY Giants: 5.9 on offense, 6.0 on defense

Dallas: 5.7 on offense, 5.8 on defense

Philadelphia: 5.3 on offense, 5.5 on defense

Very tight numbers here…which means that we’re looking at four teams who are basically 9-7, 8-8, and 7-9 in raw caliber…with turnovers and some elements of randomness creating any divergence from that base. The bad news if you’re a Cowboys fan is that the raw numbers here weren’t really great. They become more impressive, of course, when you account for the caliber of opponents they faced.

2012 Third Down Conversions

Dallas: 44% on offense, 40% on defense

NY Giants: 41% on offense, 42% on defense

Philadelphia: 37% on offense, 41% on defense

Washington: 36% on offense, 44% on defense

This is where you see the rookie inexperience in Washington. They used the San Francisco model of punting rather than forcing play and committing turnovers. Philadelphia’s meltdown shows up in this category as well. More good news for Dallas: Tony Romo knows how to move the chains when he’s not throwing passes to the wrong team. If the defense can trim a few points off that 40% mark, the Cowboys become important very quickly.

2013 Projected Win Totals in Las Vegas

NY Giants: 9 wins

Dallas: 8.5 wins

Washington: 8 wins

Philadelphia: 7 wins

The legal betting markets see this as a tight division once again. Philadelphia has changed head coaches as you know…with Chip Kelly from Oregon in the colleges coming into to replace Andy Reid. That could either vault the Eagles to the top of the division, or be a disaster because Kelly is in over his head. Looks like a great dogfight…and Cowboys fans can be happy that so many indicators are pointing their way. Yet…fans of the other team have seen enough bonehead plays from Romo over the years that they know the door is open for them as well.

Can the eventual winner measure up to the best of the West, where San Francisco and Seattle are getting the most respect in early season Power Ratings? Injuries and other issues are already bringing SF and Seattle back to the pack. Whoever ultimately wins the East is very likely to be a legitimate playoff force.

Our series of divisional previews will run on NFL Preseason game days over the next couple of weeks. Here’s the planned schedule, with the four AFC previews coming up in a few days…then the remaining three NFC previews running the following week:

Thursday: AFC West to get you ready for Denver vs. San Francisco

Friday: AFC East to get you ready for New England vs. Philadelphia

Saturday: AFC North to get you ready for Pittsburgh vs. the NY Giants

Sunday: AFC South to get you ready for Indianapolis vs. Buffalo

Thursday 8/15: NFC South to get you ready for Atlanta vs. Baltimore

Friday 8/16: NFC West to get you ready for San Francisco vs. Kansas City

Saturday 8/17: NFC North to get you ready for Green Bay vs. St. Louis

When we’re not talking football, we’ll be talking baseball. Monday’s edition of the NOTEBOOK will preview the much anticipated LA Dodgers/St. Louis Cardinals series.

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