NFC East favorite-Eagles or Cowboys

The NFC East was once recognised as the toughest division in the NFL. Over the past two seasons the respect for the division has dissipated. It has been reduced to a two team race for the division crown between the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dallas Cowboys.

In 2013, Chip Kelly’s first season under helm, the Eagles got the best of their division foes and were back in the playoffs for the first time since 2010. The season came down to a week 17 match up in Arlington, Texas, with playoff aspirations on the line. Dallas was at a severe disadvantage playing without Tony Romo who was injured at the time. Philly managed to escape with a victory thanks to Brandon Boykin who ended the Cowboys hope for a game winning drive; intercepting Kyle Orton with under two minutes left.

Last season was payback for the Cowboys who played great in December and got to face an Eagles team who this time was without their quarterback, Nick Foles. Philly seemed poised to win the division for the second straight year after their thanksgiving matchup with the Cowboys. They dominated Dallas 33-10 and were 9-3 in prime position to compete for a bye week in the playoffs; and that is when the demise of the season began. The Birds derailed so drastically that they lost three straight and were eliminated from playoff contention.

Dallas took a step back this offseason when they lost DeMarco Murray to the Eagles, but they improved substantially defensively via the draft and free agency. All-Pro linebacker, Sean Lee, is returning from consecutive seasons that were ended prematurely due to injury and if he can stay on the field he is the best player on their defense.

In 2014 the Cowboys ranked 28th in the NFL in sacks with a pedestrian 28 for the season. Jerry Jones signed the best pass rusher available in free agency, Greg Hardy. The signing in itself was controversial because the perception is that Hardy is lucky to not be in prison, in a domestic violence case where he has been deemed guilty by the court of public opinion. But as it pertains to on the football field, Dallas acquired a premier pass rusher. Hardy has been suspended 10 regular season games and Dallas will have to compensate for his loss, otherwise their rush will be nothing to worry about.

Dallas also had one of the best drafts, essentially adding three first round picks.

1st Round, Byron Jones CB Uconn: Jones was a player that Chip Kelly was very fond of. He is freakishly athletic and he displayed so at the NFL combine when he set a world record with his 12 feet 3 inch board jump. He also ran a 4.4 40 yard dash and thrives at playing man coverage.

2nd Round, Randy Gregory OLB Nebraska: Gregory was a player anticipated to be selected in the top 10 of this year’s draft. After a failed drug test, that was not his first, it was inevitable that his stock would drop. He slipped all the way to the 60th pick where Jerry Jones concluded that he was worth the risk. If he can manage to “STAY OFF THE WEEEEEEED” as Stephen A Smith would emphasize, then the Cowboys got a 2nd round steal.

Undrafted signing, OT La’el Collins: Another player Chip Kelly was interested in was Collins, who was projected to be a first round selection. Unfortunately Collins was stuck in the middle of a controversy that he had nothing to do with. His ex girlfriend was murdered and police were seeking Collins to ask him questions. Although he was never a primary suspect it was still unknown whether or not he was involved. It was a classic case of terrible timing. Questions surrounding Collins led to him going undrafted. Jerry Jones made a great signing; as if the number one ranked offensive line needed more talent.

Seattle Seahawks - NFL Photos.
Byron Maxwell joins the Eagles with hopes of winning a Superbowl.

On paper Dallas is improved, but their success comes down to the production they get from their running game. Murray led the NFL last season with 1845 yards and despite Dallas fans being consistent with their belief that his success was a result of the offensive line, they will learn otherwise. None of the running backs on the current Cowboys roster is as good as DeMarco is, but if they can be relatively productive running the ball, it may not matter. All they have to do is make sure Romo does not have to win games by himself; because he has proven that he will come up short.

Philadelphia also spent the offseason improving the defense. Early in the offseason, Chip sent shock waves throughout the country when he traded RB LeSean McCoy for ILB Kiko Alonso, who when healthy is an elite player. Shipping McCoy freed a ton of cap space for the Birds to revitalize the secondary by signing the best corner available, Byron Maxwell. Chip also signed Walter Thurmond who the Eagles are optimistic can sure up the safety position. In essence Chip shipped McCoy for Alonso and Maxwell, not a bad deal.

Reconstructing the defense would have done the Eagles no good if they did not find viable replacements for McCoy, and did they ever. As previously mentioned they stole the league leading rusher from the Cowboys, and also signed Ryan Mathews who previously played for the Chargers. Chip replaced the most productive running back in franchise history with two pro bowlers.

1st round, WR Nelson Agholor USC: After Jeremy Maclin elected to play for Andy Reid again in Kansas City, it was obvious the Eagles would seek his replacement. Agholor is very comparable to Maclin. Both players stand at 6’0″ and are almost parallel in terms of speed. Agholor ran a 4.42 40 yard dash slightly faster than Maclin’s 4.50 time. Expectations are high for Agholor and so far he seems to be everything the fans want and more.

2nd round, CB Eric Rowe Utah: Chip continued improving the secondary and made a very intelligent selection. Rowe excels at press coverage and has the size, 6’1″, that Kelly likes in his corner backs. Rowe will compete with Nolan Carroll to start alongside Byron Maxwell this season in a secondary that is unquestionably improved

Philly’s front seven was already elite, and now it seems as if the secondary may finally be able to reward them for their production.

Eagles also have a new signal caller in Sam Bradford. If Bradford can stay healthy, which is hard to believe, then he is a slight improvement to Nick Foles.

 PREDICTION

The Eagles will win the NFC East with Dallas breathing down their neck.

This prediction is based upon the Eagles having a slightly better defense and run game in 2015. A lot of things need to go right for the Birds. Bradford must find a way to stay healthy and all the new acquisitions need to prove that the “dream team”disaster, that occurred in 2011, is an anomaly.

There are too many questions about both organizations to predict rankings with any certainty, but if everything goes right for both teams expect the Eagles to be atop the NFC East once again.

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