2017 NFL Preview: NFC East and NFC North

From Football Outsiders Almanac 2017:

Here is Part 2 with my notes from the Football Outsiders NFL Preview for 2017.

NFC East

Dallas Cowboys: projected 9 wins. Tough schedule. Rushing-led offense behind league’s best O-line carried unit to a #3 ranking last year. Efficient offense though average on 3rd downs. This kept rookie QB Prescott in manageable situations. Defense was bottom 5 in pass pressure rate. Relying on rookies to stay competitive on that side of the ball. Only have two starters over 30 years old for offense/defense combined. Went 7-2 in close games last year; expect that to regress. RB Elliott is out for first 6 games of season due to suspension.

New York Giants: projected 8 wins. Tough schedule. Have 4 weapons to throw to in the passing game but nothing in the running game. Solid pass rush, deep secondary, but no linebackers. Defense jumped from #30 in league in 2015 to #2 last year. That usually leads to regression back toward average in the subsequent season.

Philadelphia Eagles: projected 8 wins. Toughest schedule in NFL this year. QB Wentz had volatile rookie year with lack of downfield passing. Skill position group has been improved including two solid, new WRs. D-line will be formidable, and CB situation is improved after trading for CB Darby. Defense ranked #4 in NFL last year and special teams was #2. Head coach Pederson’s first year running the team was a mixed bag; signals he is still honing his philosophy.

Washington Redskins: projected 8 wins. Tough schedule. Lost talented O-coordinator McVay. Also replaced their D-coordinator. Could be last year for QB Cousins in DC. His top two WRs were lost in free agency. The three new WRs are not an upgrade. Still has an excellent TE in Reed and a very good O-line. Each unit of defense got a draft pick and a new free agent signing. The D should improve from last year’s #25 ranking. The team is improved in total but so is each team in its division.

NFC North

Green Bay Packers: projected 9.5 wins. Lost a key O-lineman in free agency for second straight summer. Added a top tight end. Rest of the #4 offense from last year is unchanged. Defense was 20th last year and added 3 new players to secondary while losing key DB Hyde. Team continues to bank on Rodgers carrying them to a championship almost singlehandedly.

Detroit Lions: projected 8 wins. Set a record with 8 fourth quarter comeback wins last year. Comparable teams in history have a worse record the following season 75% of the time. Despite a winning record, Detroit was outscored last year and ranked 27th as a team on FO’s metrics. They were a 5-11 quality team that miraculously won 9 games. Made two high profile O-line signings in free agency; the left side of the line remains a question mark. Had worst defense in NFL last year with a Cover-2 scheme that yields easy completions if pass pressure is not there. Fewer injuries on D-line could improve pressure rate. Team is still dependent on QB Stafford. Lions are notorious for winning 71% of games vs losing teams and 11% vs teams with winning records in last 8 years. Schedule is front-loaded with tough games.

Chicago Bears: projected 7.5 wins. Confusion about who will be the starting QB, Glennon or Trubisky. RB Howard is great; not much to work with at WR. Excellent O-line, especially in pass blocking. Pass rush has a lot of talent, secondary is shaky. Rush defense was poor last year but that was exacerbated by injuries. The Bears last season had more injuries than any team since 2000. Expect a more normal injury year to lead to improved performance.

Minnesota Vikings: projected 7.5 wins. Injuries decimated the O-line last year, resulting in bottom 5 rushing offense and poor pass protection. Head coach Zimmer’s offensive philosophy remains antiquated by focusing on being physical and running the ball. They did draft a terrific prospect in RB Cook. They have the WRs to throw downfield if QB Bradford has time to throw. While offense remains an issue, the defense is top 10 in league with most players in their prime.