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Preseason Watch List: NFC East

A detailed look at the key questions facing each team in the preseason

Dallas Cowboys

The Cowboys are coming off back-to-back 8-8 seasons and the pressure is on everyone from head coach Jason Garrett (who had his play-calling duties removed by Jerry Jones) to Monte Kiffin (who at 73 years old will be asked to fix a mediocre defense) to Tony Romo (who was handed a massive contract extension in spite of a lack of postseason success). The Cowboys will relying on better coaching, better discipline and the continued maturation of the roster considering the team was relatively quiet in free agency. It's not unrealistic to think the Cowboys could step into contention this year, but in the razor's edge of NFL parity, they could easily fall short of the playoffs again and -- if so -- expect major changes to the franchise in 2014. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/4 -- Miami (8:00 ET)
  • 8/9 -- @Oakland (10:00 ET)
  • 8/16 -- @Arizona (4:30 ET)
  • 8/24 -- Cincinnati (8:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- Houston (8:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • What does Bill Callahan plan on changing? -- The Cowboys are handing play-calling duties over to OC Bill Callahan, who hasn't called plays in the NFL in a decade. Callahan will want to put his own stamp on the offense, but is maintaining the existing playbook and terminology. 
  • Is DeMarco Murray durable? -- Murray clearly has the talent to dominate at the NFL level, but his injury history leaves much to be desired. If Murray can get through the preseason as a full practice participant, it will go a long way in reassuring fantasy owners he's worth a high draft pick. 
  • A make-or-break season for Miles Austin -- In 2009 Miles Austin was an exciting, ascendant player (81 receptions for 1,320 yards and 11 TDs) but nagging injuries, particularly to his hamstrings, have robbed him of his explosiveness in recent seasons. With Dez Bryant emerging as one of the NFL's best, Austin has to deliver a huge season in order to secure a role in Dallas beyond 2013. 
  • Shuffling the interior offensive line -- Phil Costa signed an extension but lost his starting center job when the Cowboys drafted Travis Benjamin in the first round. Will Costa start at one of the guard positions or become the swing man? Can Ron Leary build off an impressive rookie season and displace Nate Livings? 
  • Can Kiffin's Cover-2 fix what ails the defense? -- Rob Ryan was full of sound and fury, signifying nothing as his defense failed to live up to his boisterous reputation for the ninth season in nine tries. Dallas allowed 400 points last year (24th) and could stop neither the pass (25th in net yards/attempt) nor the run (27th in net yards/attempt). Enter Kiffin -- the godfather of the ubiquitous Tampa-2 defense -- and his defensive right-hand man Rod Marinelli who will change the Cowboys into a 4-3 defensive front and ratchet back the blitz happy ways in favor of asking the front four to bring the pressure. 

New York Giants

Mediocrity is the best way to describe the Giants 2012 season, as the team finished 9-7 and missed the playoffs. On offense, the Giants put plenty of points on the board (6th in the NFL) but struggled to move the ball at times (15th in yards) while the defense was a complete disappointment (29th in net pass yards/attempt and 28th in net rush yards/attempt).  The struggles defensively set up a number of training camp battles to find new starters. Offensively most of the starters are set, but health and contractual issues must be dealt with so as not to become major distractions. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/10 -- @Pittsburgh (7:30 ET)
  • 8/18 -- Indianapolis (7:00 ET)
  • 8/24 -- New York Jets (7:00 ET)
  • 8/29 -- @New England (7:30 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Can Justin Pugh displace David Diehl? -- David Diehl is the incumbent starter at right tackle, but the Giants used a 1st round choice on Pugh in hopes he can transition from a collegiate left tackle to the right side. Diehl won't simply hand over the job, and Pugh must impress this preseason to win the job. 
  • Is Brandon Myers more than a one-year wonder? -- Brandon Myers surprised everyone with a 79-catch, 806-yard season for the Raiders, and parlayed that into a multi-year deal to start for the Giants. Is Myers a true difference maker and someone fantasy owners should pay attention to, or will he be more of a tertiary option in New York? 
  • David Wilson's emergence -- David Wilson will have the opportunity to become the Giants bell cow if he can refrain from fumbling (as he did early in his rookie year), but if his blitz pickup and turnover issues don't abate, Andre Brown is healthy and ready to push for playing time. 
  • Getting key contributors healthy -- Jason Pierre-Paul is recovering from back surgery and it's unclear whether he'll be ready for the start of the regular season. Hakeem Nicks (knee and foot) skipped OTAs although he appears healthy and ready for camp. He'll need to stay healthy as he plays for a new contract (or risk losing his spot to Rueben Randle). Power blocking fullback Henry Hynoski hurt his knee during OTAs and his status is up in the air. 
  • Linebacker battles -- Mark Herzlich wants to be the starting middle linebacker in his third season, but the Giants brought in Dan Connor to push him for the job. On the weak side, two 3rd year players -- Jacquian Williams and Spencer Paysinger -- will wage an intense camp competition to replace Michael Boley. 

Philadelphia Eagles

Change is afoot this year in Philadelphia. After 14 seasons at the helm, Andy Reid deserved a better ending to his tenure than a 4-12 season that saw the Eagles finish near the league's bottom on offense (29th in points scored) and defense (29th in points allowed). Owner Jeffrey Lurie made a splash by hiring Chip Kelly away from the University of Oregon to replace Reid, and it's clear Kelly and his staff plan on changing every aspect of the way the team is run; most notably moving away from their long-time training camp home at Lehigh University. This season when the Eagles report to camp in late July, it will be at their regular season home at Lincoln Financial Field. 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/9 -- New England (7:30 ET)
  • 8/15 -- Carolina (7:30 ET)
  • 8/24 -- @Jacksonville (7:30 ET)
  • 8/29 -- @New York Jets (7:00 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Who starts at quarterback? -- Michael Vick and Nick Foles have each gotten their fair share of 1st team reps this preseason, and Matt Barkley has drawn rave reviews in rookie camp. Chip Kelly is holding his chips close to the vest, and won't name a starter until training camp has gotten underway. 
  • Putting the pieces of the Chip Kelly offensive puzzle in place -- Chip Kelly was hired because of his reputation as an innovator, and many are wondering whether his system translates well to the NFL. Kelly's frenetic pace and play-calling will be highly scrutinized this preseason as we try to figure out the fantasy winners and losers on the roster. 
  • Is Jason Peters healthy? -- Jason Peters was the best offensive tackle in the league two years ago but tore his Achilles before the 2012 season. He's back practicing and should be a go for training camp, and his presence in the lineup is vital to fixing what ailed the Eagles offense last year. 
  • How will the TE roles shake out? -- Brent Celek is a great blocker and the incumbent. James Casey is the versatile free agent signing. Zach Ertz is the 2nd round rookie with the pass-catching pedigree. Will Chip Kelly use all three, or will one emerge as a viable fantasy sleeper? 
  • Transitioning to a 3-4 defense -- Bill Davis has his hands full, taking over a unit that ranked near the bottom of the league in points allowed. He insists that his scheme will use both 3- and 4-man fronts, but the primary look will be a 3-4, which puts pressure on veterans Trent Cole and Brandon Graham to move to linebacker. There will be a ton of new faces on defense, including big priced free agent Connor Barwin and cornerbacks Cary Williams and Bradley Fletcher. 

Washington Redskins

The 2012 season was -- for the most part -- a dream for Redskins fans as Robert Griffin III and Alfred Morris stepped into the lineup and completely reshaped the tenor of the offense. Washington was the surprising winner of the NFC East (10-6) thanks to a top 5 offense. Unfortunately the dream season became a nightmare in the playoffs as Griffin tore multiple ligaments in his knee. Griffin's recovery will be central to whether the Redskins can build off last year's resurgence. On defense there are more questions after the unit finished a disappointing 28th in yards allowed and 22nd in points allowed. The defense was a tale of two halves, as the run defense (5th in yards allowed) was irrelevant due to a horrendous pass defense (30th in yards allowed, 29th in TDs allowed). 

Preseason Game Schedule

  • 8/8 -- @Tennessee (8:00 ET)
  • 8/19 -- Pittsburgh (8:00 ET)
  • 8/24 -- Buffalo (4:30 ET)
  • 8/29 -- @Tampa Bay (7:30 ET)

What We're Watching

  • Robert Griffin's recovery -- All eyes are on Griffin's rehabilitation efforts considering he was an elite fantasy option in his first season. Although the team is staying quiet, there seems to be an air of optimism that Griffin could be ready for the start of the regular season. 
  • Backing up Alfred Morris -- Alfred Morris set Redskins' single season records last year but the backup situation should be one of the more intense camp story lines. Roy Helu and Evan Royster may have an uphill battle to hold off rookies Chris Thompson and Jawan Jamison, but suffice to say only two of the quartet are likely to make the final 53-man roster. 
  • Pierre Garcon's foot -- Garcon immediately looked like an elite #1 receiver last year but then suffered a foot injury that robbed him of a chunk of the season, and he was far from 100% upon his return. Garcon opted against surgery and will hope that special shoes keep him on the field. 
  • Finding Robert Griffin III other receiving options -- It seems like every year the Redskins are searching for Santana Moss' replacement, and every year the rest of the roster fails to step up. Veterans Donte Stallworth and Devery Henderson were added to push the likes of incumbents Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan
  • Who starts opposite Brandon Meriweather? -- If the Redskins pass defense is to improve, it'll be thanks in part to the emergence of rookies Phillip Thomas and Bacarri Rambo; who will be competing for a starting job this preseason. 

More from Jason Wood:

What If Roddy White or Julio Jones Are Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Robert Griffin III Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
What If Cecil Shorts Is Lost for the Season? - August 19
Player Spotlight: Philip Rivers - August 8
Player Spotlight: Jordan Cameron - August 7
Player Spotlight: LeSean McCoy - August 7
Player Spotlight: Peyton Manning - August 6
Player Spotlight: Marshawn Lynch - August 6
Preseason Watch List - July 22
Preseason Watch List: AFC North - July 22