Debating Cowboys, Eagles as NFC East's best

IRVING, Texas -- Nothing stirs up the masses like predictions. ESPN Insider KC Joyner offered up his prediction today: the Philadelphia Eagles will win the NFC East.

Joyner cited four reasons:Insider

  • Sam Bradford is a vast improvement at quarterback

  • The makings of the best rushing attack in the NFL

  • Pass defense should be much improved

  • Dallas will not be able to lean on the rushing game as much this season

  • Just as cases can be made for the Eagles on those fronts, cases can be made against them as well. Will Bradford really be healthy? Can the Eagles' offensive line improve? Is Byron Maxwell a difference-maker?

    It’s the last point I’d like to look at.

    I agree with Joyner on this point. But I don’t think the Cowboys would have been able to rely on the running game as much this season had they retained DeMarco Murray. What he did in 2014 -- 1,845 yards on 392 carries -- was historic.

    Would you have expected a repeat of that in 2015 or an improvement in 2015? I wouldn’t have expected that and I trumpeted the importance of the Cowboys keeping Murray. Joyner spent a lot of time discussing Darren McFadden as the leader to replace Murray, but I think it’s Joseph Randle.

    Not that that should calm any fears. Until Randle shows he can handle the job, it’s all a projection. McFadden has more of a background, a better draft pedigree and bigger name. That doesn’t mean he is a better runner than Randle, who will have to hear the “left a lot of meat on the bone,” comment all season.

    The running game made everything go in 2014. It protected Tony Romo. It protected the defense and everything came together for a 12-4 finish.

    Coach Jason Garrett and offensive coordinator Scott Linehan said the Cowboys’ plan will remain the same in 2015 without Murray. That’s easy to say in May and June. It’s another thing to do it in September and October.

    I believe the Cowboys will be fine running the ball. Will they gain 2,354 yards like they did in 2014? I don’t think so and I don’t think they would have done that with Murray, either.

    Joyner also mentions how the Cowboys will face a difficult slate of receivers in addition to the two games a year they will see Odell Beckham Jr. and DeSean Jackson. Also on the list are Julio Jones, Mike Evans, Vincent Jackson, Jarvis Landry, DeVante Parker, Kelvin Benjamin, Jordy Nelson, Randall Cobb, Brandon Marshall and Sammy Watkins. He also threw in tight ends Jimmy Graham and Rob Gronkowski.

    Last year the Cowboys saw Anquan Boldin, Marques Colston, Brandin Cooks, DeAndre Hopkins, Andre Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and TY Hilton.

    The better argument, to me, would have been to say the Cowboys will see better quarterbacks in 2015: Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees, Cam Newton, Matt Ryan, Russell Wilson and Ryan Tannehill than they did a year ago.

    But the Cowboys should also be better defensively than they were a year ago with the addition of Greg Hardy, the return of Sean Lee and the benefit of having Rolando McClain around for a full season. If we’re counting Parker as a big-time receiving threat as a rookie, then throw in Cowboys’ picks Byron Jones and Randy Gregory as bets to make the defense better.

    So who’s better? Beats me. Just as I can make cases for the Cowboys, they can be shot down just the same.

    But it’s June and makes for some good debates.