EARLY ANALYSIS: NFC East 2016-7 Forecast

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Last season, the Washington Redskins won a very weak division in the NFC East. They won their last 4 games including 3 on the road to finish at 9-7. The NFL Draft has not even taken place yet, but nonetheless it is never too early to make football predictions.

Washington Redskins: They put the franchise tag on QB Kirk Cousins so they have their QB for at least the 2016 season. Cousins played extremely well down the stretch and finished the season with 4,166 yards, 29 TDs and 11 INTs. The Redskins should be good on offense as they return WR DeSean Jackson, WR Pierre Garcon and TE Jordan Reed as well as RB Matt Jones with Alfred Morris now in Dallas. The Redskins schedule is very tough as they open the season against Pittsburgh. They must also travel to Baltimore, Cincinnati, Arizona and Chicago and have home games with Carolina and Green Bay. The Redskins secondary is getting older and should be addressed in the draft. Perhaps they will get a CB or FS in Mackensie Alexander or Karl Joseph.The Redskins probably will not take a step back and should compete for the division title despite a brutal schedule.

Dallas Cowboys: The Cowboys were plagued with injuries a year ago. Dez Bryant was never fully healthy until the back half of the season. Tony Romo broke his collarbone against the Philadelphia Eagles. The Cowboys lost 7 straight games in his absence and finally won again in his return over the Miami Dolphins. He was reinjured against the Panthers and had to sit out the remainder of the season. The Cowboys finished 4-12 in 2015. If they can stay healthy, Romo and Bryant are one of the most explosive duos in the NFL. They also have other weapons in Terrence Williams and a terrific slot receiver in Cole Beasley. The OL is one of the best in the game and should provide running lanes for Darren McFadden and Alfred Morris. The Cowboys would like to apply more pressure on the QB so they might draft a DE such as Joey Bosa. If the stars can stay healthy, the Cowboys would be the frontrunner to win the division.

New York Giants: The Giants finished the season 6-10, mostly in part to their horrendous defense. They finished 24th in the league in rushing defense and dead last in pass defense. The Giants, led by perhaps the most undervalued QB in Eli Manning, particularly last year, had 4th quarter leads in 10 games and would lose 5 of them. Manning was brilliant with 4,432 yards and 35 TDs with just 14 INTs. He was the reason the Giants were in position to win so many games, only to have the defense blow it late. The team has spent a lot in free agency to improve the defense as they added DE Olivier Vernon, DT Damon Harrison and CB Janoris Jenkins. They will absolutely need to address the defense in the draft, especially the secondary so they might get CB Vernon Hargreaves III. The Giants will be able to compete offensively with anyone, especially with a favorable schedule except for road games at Green Bay and Pittsburgh as well as finishing off the season at Philadelphia and Washington. The defense must improve significantly in order for the Giants to win the division.

Philadelphia Eagles: The Chip Kelly era is officially over, and Doug Pederson is now the head man in Philly. Kelly tried to make a statement by showing that his up-tempo spread offense could work no matter who was on the field and because of this the Eagles are without DeSean Jackson, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy as well as DeMarco Murray. The Chip Kelly experiment has left the cabinet very bare in Philadelphia but they have some young pieces to build around in WRs Jordan Matthews and Nelson Agholor for QB Sam Bradford. Bradford must stay healthy and improve in 2016 as he threw 19 TDs with 14 INTs last year. The defense finished 32nd in rush defense allowing an average of 4.5 yards a carry. The pass defense was not much better, finishing 28th in the league. The Eagles schedule is difficult with road games at Chicago, Seattle, back to back on the road against divisional rivals Dallas and New York. They do get three of their final 4 games at home. The Eagles have a lot of rebuilding to do on both sides of the ball and should maybe look to sure up their run defense by drafting thumping LB Reggie Ragland. It will be a rebuilding year in Philadelphia and the record will reflect that.

Bottom Line: The two teams who should look to really compete for the division crown are the Cowboys and the Redskins. The Cowboys when healthy can be one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL and the Redskins are very good all around. The Giants must sure up their atrocious defense and the Eagles have too much rebuilding and regrouping to accomplish to really compete this year, but this is the NFC East so anything can happen.

[Analysis by NFL expert Preston Rowe]