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NFL Preview: NFC East

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The Sports Xchange

One week before the 2015 regular season begins, here is a snapshot of the NFC East teams through the eyes of Sports Xchange correspondents covering each team.

Next week The Sports Xchange will analyze every unit on every team and project order of finish in each division

Teams here are listed in alphabetical order:

DALLAS COWBOYS

2014 RECORD: 13-5

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 4-2

COACH: Jason Garrett

5th full season as Cowboys

5th season as NFL head coach

42-32 overall; 1-1 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: The offensive line is the best in the NFL and remains the heart and soul of the Cowboys, and the foundation for their success. They have three Pro Bowlers — tackle Tyrone Smith, center Travis Frederick and guard Zack Martin. It’s the reason the Cowboys let running back DeMarco Murray walk in free agency and why they believed aging quarterback Tony Romo can play three more years.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Running back remains a concern for the Cowboys, who are trying to replace DeMarco Murray, the 2014 NFL leading rusher, with a committee of Darren McFadden, Joseph Randle and Lance Dunbar. McFadden was an oft-injured disappointment in Oakland who is looking for a new lease on life in the NFL. He still has some juice but the question is can he stay healthy for 16 games. Randle is unproven, but succeeded last year as a change of pace back in small doses. Dunbar will be the team’s third-down back.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Tony Romo. Backups — Brandon Weeden, Dustin Vaughan, Jameill Showers.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — Darren McFadden, FB Tyler Clutts. Backups — Joseph Randle, Lance Dunbar, Ben Malena, Gus Johnson, FB Ray Agnew.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Jason Witten. Backups — James Hanna, Gavin Escobar, Geoff Swaim.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Dez Bryant, Terrance Williams. Backups — Cole Beasley, Devin Street, A.J. Jenkins, Lucky Whitehead, Nick Harwell, Clyde Gates.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Tyron Smith, LG Ronald Leary, C Travis Frederick, RG Zack Martin, RT Doug Free. Backups — G La’el Collins, G Mackenzy Bernadeau, T Darrion Weems, T John Wetzel, T Laurence Gibson, G Ronald Patrick, C Shane McDermott. Others: T Chaz Green (backup, PUP).

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE DeMarcus Lawrence, DLT Tyrone Crawford, NT Nick Hayden, DRE Jeremy Mincey. Backups — DE Randy Gregory, DE Jack Crawford, DE Lavar Edwards, DE Ben Gardner, DE Ryan Russell, DE Efe Obada, DT Terrell McClain, DT Ken Bishop, DT Davin Coleman. Others: DE Greg Hardy (starter, suspended 4 games).

LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB Sean Lee, MLB Anthony Hitchens, SLB Andre Gachkar. Backups — SLB Kyle Wilber, LB Jasper Brinkley, LB Keith Smith, LB Damien Wilson, Donnie Baggs. Others: MLB Rolando McClain (starter, suspended 4 games), Mark Nzeocha (backup, NFI).

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Brandon Carr, RCB Morris Claiborne, SS Barry Church, FS J.J. Wilcox. Backups — CB Tyler Patmon, CB Byron Jones, CB Morris Claiborne, CB Corey White, S Jeff Heath, S Danny McCray, S Tim Scott, CB Joel Ross, CB Rod Sweating.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Dan Bailey, P Chris Jones, LS L.P. Ladouceur, KOR Lance Dunbar, PR Cole Beasley.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .467; Division .417; Non-Division .497.

All times Eastern

Sept. 13, N.Y. GIANTS, 8:30

Sept. 20, at Philadelphia, 4:25

Sept. 27, ATLANTA, 1:00

Oct. 4, at New Orleans, 8:30

Oct. 11, NEW ENGLAND, 4:25

Oct. 18, OPEN DATE

Oct. 25, at N.Y. Giants, 4:25

Nov. 1, SEATTLE, 4:25:

Nov. 8, PHILADELPHIA, 8:30

Nov. 15, at Tampa Bay, 1:00

Nov. 22, at Miami, 1:00

Nov. 26, CAROLINA (Thu.), 4:30

Dec. 7, at Washington (Mon.), 8:30

Dec. 13, at Green Bay, 4:25

Dec. 19, N.Y. JETS (Sat.), 8:25

Dec. 27, at Buffalo, 1:00

Jan. 3, WASHINGTON, 1:00

NEW YORK GIANTS

2014 RECORD: 6-10

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 2-4

COACH: Tom Coughlin

12th season with Giants

104-83 overall; 8-3 postseason

20th season as NFL head coach

176-147 overall; 12-7 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: The Giants’ defensive line might be without last year’s top sack leader, Jason Pierre-Paul, but considering it is a unit that is otherwise healthy and brimming with talent, this is a unit that right now is a team strength.

On the edge, youngsters Owa Odighizuwa and Damontre Moore are promising pass rushers who have shown the ability to disrupt things in the backfield.

Meanwhile, Kerry Wynn continues to make significant improvement; last year, Wynn was already showing the maturity and discipline to hold his own against the run, something he has continued this year.

Inside at tackle, Johnathan Hankins and Jay Bromley are very promising players with surprising athleticism who have also shown an ability to scramble things up in the middle against the opposing running game.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: The Giants chose to move on from the durable, yet aging Antrel Rolle at safety. Thus far the decision has proven to be an ill-advised one. While Rolle continues to take snaps for the Bears, the Giants have struggled to keep healthy bodies on the field at a safety spot that due to the youth movement the team gambled on, came in lacking experience.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Eli Manning. Backup — Ryan Nassib.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — Rashad Jennings. Backups — Andre Williams, Shane Vereen, Orleans Darkwa, FB Henry Hynoski.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Larry Donnell. Backup — Jerome Cunningham.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Odell Beckham Jr., Victor Cruz. Backups — Rueben Randle, James Jones, Dwayne Harris, Geremy Davis, Corey Washington.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Ereck Flowers, LG Justin Pugh, C Weston Richburg, RG Geoff Schwartz, RT Marshall Newhouse. Backups — G/C Dallas Reynolds, G/T John Jerry, G/T Bobby Hart, G/C Brett Jones, G/C Dallas Reynolds. Others: T Will Beatty (starter, PUP).

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE Cullen Jenkins, DT Johnathan Hankins, NT Kenrick Ellis, DRE George Selvie. Backups — DE Robert Ayers, DE Kerry Wynn, DE Owa Odighizuwa, DE Damontre Moore, DT Jay Bromley. Others: DE Jason Pierre-Paul (starter, unsigned franchise player).

LINEBACKERS: Starters — WLB J.T. Thomas, MLB Jon Beason, SLB Devon Kennard. Backups — Jameel McClain, Mark Herzlich, Jonathan Casillas, Uani Unga.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, RCB Prince Amukamara, FS Stevie Brown, SS Landon Collins. Backups — S Brandon Meriweather, S Jeromy Miles, CB Trumaine McBride, CB Trevin Wade, CB Jayron Hosley.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Josh Brown, K Chris Boswell, P Steve Weatherford, LS Zak DeOssie, KOR/PR Dwayne Harris.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .479; Division .542; Non-Division .440.

All times Eastern

Sept. 13, at Dallas, 8:30

Sept. 20, ATLANTA, 1:00

Sept. 24, WASHINGTON (Thu.), 8:25

Oct. 4, at Buffalo, 1:00

Oct. 11, SAN FRANCISCO, 8:30

Oct. 19, at Philadelphia (Mon.), 8:30

Oct. 25, DALLAS, 4:25

Nov. 1, at New Orleans, 1:00

Nov. 8, at Tampa Bay, 4:05

Nov. 15, NEW ENGLAND, 4:25

Nov. 22, OPEN DATE

Nov. 29, at Washington, 1:00

Dec. 6, N.Y. JETS, 1:00

Dec. 14, at Miami (Mon.), 8:30

Dec. 20, CAROLINA, 1:00

Dec. 27, at Minnesota, 1:00

Jan. 3, PHILADELPHIA, 1:00

PHILADELPHIA EAGLES

2014 RECORD: 10-6

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 4-2

COACH: Chip Kelly

3rd season as Eagles

3rd season as NFL head coach

20-13 overall; 0-1 postseason

–TEAM STRENGTH: The run defense. The Eagles finished fifth in yards allowed per carry last season (3.7) and third over the final eight games (3.5). They have one of the best 3-4 fronts in the league and acquired playmaking inside linebacker Kiko Alonso in an offseason trade with Buffalo.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: The secondary. The Eagles blew up a unit that gave up 30 touchdown passes and a league-high 72 pass plays of 20 yards or more. They’ve replaced three of the four starters on the back end and signed the top cornerback in free agency, Byron Maxwell, to a six-year, $63-million deal. But they face a Murderer’s Row list of dangerous wideouts, starting with Atlanta’s Julio Jones in Week 1.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Sam Bradford. Backups — Mark Sanchez, Matt Barkley, Tim Tebow.

RUNNING BACKS: Starter — DeMarco Murray. Backups — Ryan Mathews, Darren Sproles, Kenjon Barner.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Nelson Agholor, Riley Cooper, Jordan Matthews. Backups — Miles Austin, Josh Huff, Seyi Ajirotutu.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Zach Ertz. Backups — Brent Celek, Trey Burton.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Jason Peters, LG Allen Barbre, C Jason Kelce, RG Andrew Gardner, RT Lane Johnson. Backups — Matt Tobin, Julian Vandervelde, Dennis Kelly, David Molk.

DEFENSIVE LINE: Starters — LE Cedric Thornton, NT Bennie Logan, RE Fletcher Cox. Backups — Vinny Curry, Brandon Bair, Beau Allen, Taylor Hart.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — LOLB Connor Barwin, LILB Kiko Alonzo, RILB Mychal Kendricks, ROLB Brandon Graham. Backups — DeMeco Ryans, Marcus Smith, Bryan Braman, Najee Goode, Brad Jones, Jordan Hicks.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB Byron Maxwell, RCB Nolan Carroll, S Malcolm Jenkins, S Walter Thurmond. Backups — Eric Rowe, Ed Reynolds, E.J. Biggers, Chris Maragos, Chris Prosinski.

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Cody Parkey, P Donnie Jones, LS Jon Dorenbos, PR Darren Sproles, KR Josh Huff.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .475; Division .458; Non-Division .484.

All times Eastern

Sept. 14, at Atlanta (Mon.), 7:10

Sept. 20, DALLAS, 4:25

Sept. 27, at N.Y. Jets, 1:00

Oct. 4, at Washington, 1:00

Oct. 11, NEW ORLEANS, 1:00

Oct. 19, N.Y. GIANTS (Mon.), 8:30

Oct. 25, at Carolina, 8:30

Nov. 1, OPEN DATE

Nov. 8, at Dallas, 8:30

Nov. 15, MIAMI, 1:00

Nov. 22, TAMPA BAY, 1:00

Nov. 26, at Detroit (Thu.), 12:30

Dec. 6, at New England, 4:25

Dec. 13, BUFFALO, 1:00

Dec. 20, ARIZONA, 1:00

Dec. 26, WASHINGTON (Sat.), 8:25

Jan. 3, at N.Y. Giants, 1:00

WASHINGTON REDSKINS

2014 RECORD: 4-12

DIVISIONAL RECORD: 2-4

COACH: Jay Gruden

2nd season as Redskins

2nd season as NFL head coach

4-12 overall

–TEAM STRENGTH: The running game. Alfred Morris ran for more yards the last three seasons than any NFL back except Marshawn Lynch of Seattle. Combine Morris’ talents with some power football runs that offensive line coach Bill Callahan brought with him from Dallas and a new right side of the line in rookie guard Brandon Scherff and tackle Morgan Moses, who played sparingly as a rookie in 2014, and the Redskins have had one of the NFL’s top running games this summer. Rookie Matt Jones and Chris Thompson, a 2013 draft pick, offer contrasting strengths of power and speed as Morris’ primary backups. Fullback Darrel Young remains solid.

–BIGGEST QUESTION: Quarterback. It’s heartwarming that Kirk Cousins wrested the job from Robert Griffin III with a strong summer, but Cousins has a 2-7 career record with 18 touchdowns and 19 interceptions and a 77.5 passer rating. Griffin has struggled badly since tearing his right ACL and MCL in a January 2013 playoff loss to Seattle, going 5-15. Colt McCoy has a career 7-18 mark. The Redskins don’t have a quarterback who has proven that he can win in the NFL.

THE PLAYERS

QUARTERBACKS: Starter — Kirk Cousins. Backups — Colt McCoy, Robert Griffin III.

RUNNING BACKS: Starters — Alfred Morris, FB Darrel Young. Backups — Matt Jones, Chris Thompson, Trey Williams, FB Jordan Campbell, Mack Brown.

TIGHT ENDS: Starter — Jordan Reed. Backups — Derek Carrier, Je’Ron Hamm, D.J. Williams.

WIDE RECEIVERS: Starters — Pierre Garcon, DeSean Jackson. Backups — Andre Roberts, Ryan Grant, Jamison Crowder, Evan Spencer, Rashad Ross, Reggie Bell, Colin Lockett.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — LT Trent Williams, LG Shawn Lauvao, C Kory Lichtensteiger, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses. Backups — T Tom Compton, G-C Spencer Long, G Arie Kouandjio, C-G Josh LeRibeus, C-G Tyler Larsen, C Austin Reiter, T Takoby Cofield, T Ty Nsekhe.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN: Starters — DLE Stephen Paea, NT Terrance Knighton, DRE Jason Hatcher. Backups — DE Ricky Jean Francois, NT Chris Baker, DE Kedric Golston, DE Frank Kearse, NT Jerrell Powe, DE Corey Crawford, NT Robert Thomas, DE Travian Robertson.

LINEBACKERS: Starters — LOLB Ryan Kerrigan, LILB Keenan Robinson, RILB Perry Riley, ROLB Trent Murphy. Backups — OLB Preston Smith, ILB Houston Bates, ILB Will Compton, OLB Jackson Jeffcoat, ILB Terrance Plummer, ILB Martell Spaight, OLB Sage Harold.

DEFENSIVE BACKS: Starters — LCB DeAngelo Hall, RCB Chris Culliver, FS Dashon Goldson, SS Duke Ihenacho. Backups — CB David Amerson, CB Justin Rogers, S Jeron Johnson, S Trent Robinson, S Kyshoen Jarrett, S DaMon Cromartie-Smith, CB DeShazor Everett, S Akeem Davis, CB Quinton Dunbar. Others: CB Bashaud Breeland (backup, suspended 1 game).

SPECIAL TEAMS: K Kai Forbath, P Tress Way, LS Nick Sundberg, KOR Chris Thompson, PR Jamison Crowder.

2015 SCHEDULE

Strength of schedule:

Overall .479; Division .583; Non-Division .416.

All times Eastern

Sept. 13, MIAMI, 1:00

Sept. 20, ST. LOUIS, 1:00

Sept. 24, at N.Y. Giants (Thu.), 8:25

Oct. 4, PHILADELPHIA, 1:00

Oct. 11, at Atlanta, 1:00

Oct. 18, at N.Y. Jets, 1:00

Oct. 25, TAMPA BAY, 1:00

Nov. 1, OPEN DATE

Nov. 8, at New England, 1:00

Nov. 15, NEW ORLEANS, 1:00

Nov. 22, at Carolina, 1:00

Nov. 29, N.Y. GIANTS, 1:00

Dec. 7, DALLAS (Mon.), 8:30

Dec. 13, at Chicago, 1:00

Dec. 20, BUFFALO, 1:00

Dec. 26, at Philadelphia (Sat.), 8:25

Jan. 3, at Dallas, 1:00

–Correspondents covering each team for The Sports Xchange contributed material for this report. Next week The Sports Xchange will analyze every unit on every team and project order of finish in each division


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