Reid Fischer's World of Rants

Looking at the sports world through orange colored glasses

NFC East Preview

Posted by mizzou1028 on August 27, 2009

Teams listed in predicted order of finish:

1. Philadelphia Eagles – The Eagles certainly peaked at the right time last season, winning four of their final five regular season games to sneak into the playoffs.  They then won playoff road games in Minnesota and at the Giants before losing a tough NFC title game battle to Arizona.  This year the Eagles are very confident they can keep that momentum going and take the next step.

Offensively, the Eagles are as talented as any team in the NFL.  Start with Brian Westbrook, arguably the most talented back in the NFL.  Westbrook did have offseason surgery that he hopes will extend his career, but so far it appears that Eagles fans can expect another big year out of their star back.  The Eagles did also draft LeSean McCoy out of Pittsburgh in the second round of the draft in hopes they can give Westbrook an occasional break and keep him fresh.  The passing game is also among the league’s best thanks to signal caller Donovan McNabb.  I really think McNabb does not get the respect he should as a top quarterback in the league.  After he got benched at halftime in an embarrassing loss at Baltimore last season, McNabb played some of the best football of his career in leading the Eagles to the NFC title game.  The receivers are solid with last year’s rookie standout DeSean Jackson and this year’s first round pick, Jeremy Maclin of Missouri (I might be biased as a Mizzou alum, but I think Maclin was clearly the best wideout available in the draft).  Factor in the dangerous Kevin Curtis, and Philadelphia has no shortage of targets that can stretch the field.  Philadelphia also boosted the offensive line with additions of Pro Bowl left tackle Jason Peters (from Buffalo) and guard Stacy Andrews from the Bengals.  Oh yeah, and they also signed this Vick guy that’s supposed to be talented.  In all seriousness, do not underestimate Michael Vick’s potential impact here.  The Eagles have possibilities of lining him up at tailback, pairing him with Westbrook on plays where either could run the ball, using Vick in the Wildcat, using him to spell McNabb for a few plays, or even having him and McNabb on the field together.  This is of course assuming Vick is still the talent he was two years ago.  Keep in mind Vick will not be allowed to play until at least week six.

The defense in Philly will have a very different look because they lost captain and fan favorite Brian Dawkins to Denver in free agency.  Dawkins was the heart and soul of the Eagles defense and he will be sorely missed, not just in the secondary but throughout the entire defensive unit and in the locker room as a leader.  It is imperative that someone else on the defense take the reigns as leader, or else there will be complete chaos and it could end up dooming the Eagles.  The secondary itself is still loaded with talent thanks to Asante Samuel and Sheldon Brown at corner.  The front seven is still a fairly young group, but they did rise to the task last year.  Tackles Mike Patterson and Brodrick Bunkley are good run stuffers, and linebacker Trent Cole has shown great ability to rush the passer.  The Eagles will also be impacted by the summer passing of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson, who sadly died of cancer.

The Eagles don’t have many concerns on special teams.  Kicker David Akers is among the best, and punter Sav Rocca does a capable job.  With Jackson and Maclin both extremely capable of handling returns, along with new addition Ellis Hobbs from New England, Philadelphia will be dominating the field position battle more often than not.

Overall, I don’t think there is much doubt the Eagles will return to the playoffs, and I like them to prevail in this very difficult division primarily because of their offensive firepower and special teams.  Plus, I’ve learned not to pick against Andy Reid.

2. New York Giants – For awhile last season, the Giants looked every bit like the defending champs.  In fact they were pretty much dominating the league, starting 11-1 and winning many games that weren’t close.  The turning point came when Plaxico Burress accidently shot himself in a New York nightclub.  The Giants proceeded to lose three of their final four regular season contests and then looked listless in a home playoff loss to the division rival Eagles.  Burress is gone, being that he’s about to serve a two year jail sentence.  The question for the Giants is can the move past that and get back to their Super Bowl level?  They think they can.

With Eli Manning at quarterback, that is the half the battle for the Giants.  Manning recently signed a 6-year $97 million extension, so he will be around for a long time.  More importantly for the Giants, he is starting to show that he might just be as good a quarterback as his older brother after all.  The Giants also have good running back talent with Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw.  Jacobs is considered the starter, but both will be major factors in the running game.  Don’t forget that Derrick Ward rushed for over 1,000 yards last year in a supposed backup role to Jacobs, and I wouldn’t be surprised if Bradshaw is able to duplicate that.  As for the question of replacing Burress at wide receiver, much of that burden falls on their first round draft pick, Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina.  I think the Giants got great value considering they were picking toward the end of the round and several other wideouts were already gone.  Nicks looks like he has the potential to be a factor right away.  The Giants also have the capable Steve Smith as well as Dominik Hixon (who I am still upset my Broncos let go).  Tight end Kevin Boss also made Giants fans forget Jeremy Shockey pretty quickly last year.  The offensive line is one of the best around, anchored by Pro Bowlers Shaun O’Hara and Chris Snee.

If there is a reason besides Burress’ off the field behavior for the Giants’ collapse at the end of last year, it was injuries along the defensive line.  New York is thrilled to have defensive end Osi Umemyiora back, for he sat out last year with a knee injury.  The Giants also sustained a major injury to defensive tackle Justin Tuck, whose presence is vital to creating pass rushing opportunities for Umenyiora and Mathias Kiwanuka.  The linebacking core is reasonably solid with veteran Antonio Pierce leading the way, but the secondary could be an issue.  The Giants did sign safety C.C. Brown from Houston in free agency, but he can’t be considered a viable starter.  The key will be the play of corners Aaron Ross and Corey Webster.  The Giants spent big bucks to keep Webster from leaving via free agency, so they have confidence in him.

Lawrence Tynes is back as the full time kicker this year, after he missed significant time last year, first to injury and then sitting behind the ageless John Carney.  Carney has retired, and the equally capable Tynes is back.  Pro Bowler Jeff Feagles is an oustanding punter, and Dominik Hixon is a very good returner.  Not much to complain about on special teams for the G-men.

I think the Giants could well be a playoff team, but they do play in arguably the toughest division in football.  Three of their first four are on the road, so the Giants need to hope they don’t dig themselves a hole they can’t get out of.

3. Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys were needless to say a major disappointment last year.  I will admit that I picked them to win the Super Bowl.  Things started out good for Dallas with a 4-1 start, but things started to go south fast.  The Cowboys ended up losing three of their last four, and missed the playoffs altogether after getting trounced by Philadelphia 44-6 in the final game.  Gone are Terrell Owns, Zach Thomas, Roy Williams (the safety, though the receiver is still there), and Pacman Jones.  In is a new glitzy stadium and supposedly a better attitude.

Quarterback Tony Romo has a very good record as a starter (27-12), but he is just 5-10 in December and January when the pressure is on.  Romo has a terrific arm and has shown ability to make great plays, but now he needs to put everything together and show consistency.  The Cowboys did have a rough stretch last year when Romo was out with a fractured pinikie, so they signed Jon Kitna, who is a very capable backup.  The Cowboys do have few worries in the running game with Marion Barber, who did have a good year last year, and Felix Jones, who looked nothing short of outstanding before suffering hamstring and toe injuries in the sixth game.  Both are healthy and could make the Cowboys running game a real threat.  The biggest offensive change is at receiver, where Owens is gone, and Roy Williams is the main guy now.  Williams was largely a disappointment after Dallas surrendered three draft picks to get him midseason last year, but he might be better suited to be the number one guy.  Jason Witten also gives Romo a great target at tight end, and the Cowboys do have depth with Patrick Crayton and Miles Austin.  There is no question the talent level will be down without Owens, but the attitude and chemistry of the offense could be much improved.  The biggest concern on this side of the ball is the O-line, which is aging and doesn’t have much depth.

The defensive side of the ball has been completely retooled, but it remains to be seen if this will be a good thing.  An underrated loss could be defensive end Chris Canty, who was one of Dallas’ more effective pass rushers.  Nose tackle Jay Ratliff did have seven sacks last year, and DeMarcus Ware is an excellent pass rusher as well.  Beyond that, Dallas will go with several unknowns on defense.  Greg Ellis really started to slow with age last season, and Anthony Spencer has not even come close to justifying his selection as a first round pick in 2007.  The Cowboys did sign veteran Keith Brooking from Atlanta, and that should help stabilize the linebackers a little.  Terence Newman has the potential to be a shutdown corner, but he has not been healthy for the past two seasons.  The rest of the secondary is average, and will miss the loss of the other Roy Williams.

The Cowboys will have punter Mat McBriar back after he broke his foot last season.  Kicker Nick Folk has also been excellent, connecting on 46 of 53 field goals the last two seasons.  A healthy Felix Jones should also make a difference in the return game, and Patrick Crayton is capable there as well.

This could well be an interesting season in Dallas.  Jerry Jones wants to win bad, especially now that he has opened his new, expensive pleasure palace.  The Cowboys play a very tough schedule, largely because of the division they play in.  The Cowboys believe they have improved chemistry and that will help them win.  It may or may not.  If it doesn’t, expect coach Wade Phillips to be out.  Mike Shanahan could be coaching this team in 2010.

4. Washington Redskins – The Redskins are always a tough team to figure out.  Over the years they have made several big splashes in free agency, or in the coaching ranks, or in some other way.  There are always expected to be good but never seem to be a serious contender.  Last year looked good with a 4-1 start, including wins at Dallas and Philadelphia.  Things started to unravel though, and Washington finished a mediocre 8-8.  The Redskins made another big splash this offseason, but it remains to be seen if this team will be any better than medicore in the rugged NFC East.

This is a very important year for quarterback Jason Campbell.  The Redskins were rumored to be very involved in the Jay Cutler sweepstakes, but ultimately couldn’t swing the deal, perhaps because Denver may not have been enamored with Campbell.  The Redskins hope that Campbell will be highly motivated this season, for they feel he hasn’t shown the fire they expect out of the quarterback position thus far in his career.  One fact many don’t know is Campbell’s quarterback rating has actually gone up every season, so there is a chance he could reach his potential this year.  The running game is in great shape with Clinton Portis, who is a workhorse and isn’t afraid of a high carry total, and Ladell Betts, who has proven capable of spelling Portis when necessary.  There is also talent at receiver with Santana Moss and Antwaan Randle El, as well as tight end Chris Cooley.  The offensive line could be a problem, as it is a very aging unit and doesn’t have much depth.  The Redskins offense has been puzzling at times because the pieces seem to be there for the most part, but they have been unable to really get it together.

The Redskins wasted no time in free agency, spending $100 million over seven years to sign defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth from Tennessee.  The Redskins wanted Haynesworth so badly they signed him on the first day that free agency was open.  He could prove to be worth it, as his presence alone usually ties up two blockers, allowing other players to get pressure on the quarterback and stop the run.  The downside to this move is that Haynesworth has missed time due to injury more than once in his career, so this could be a risky investment.  The Redskins also addressed defensive line in the draft, tabbing Brian Orakpo from Texas with their first pick. The linebackers could also be in good shape with London Fletcher leading the way.  Fletcher is a very underrated player who should be regarded as one of the best tacklers in football and a guy who can make plays all over the field.  The cornerbacks are also outstanding with Fred Smoot and DeAngelo Hall, whom the Redskins signed to a 6-year extension in February.  It’s amazing how much better Hall played in a Redskins uniform than when he was in Oakland last season.

The special teams were a huge problem for Washington last season. Percentage wise, Shaun Suisham was the worst kicker in the league, so it is puzzling that he is still around.  The punting game was also ineffective last year, but the Redskins addressed that by raiding the Colts for Hunter Smith.  Randle El has the talent to be a good punt returner, but he has yet to show that potential with the Redskins.

Washington has the talent to be a playoff team.  On paper this looks like it could be a dangerous team, but everything seems so precarious (the play of Campbell and the health of Haynesworth in particular), that it seems like it could fall apart like a house of cards any moment.  Coach Jim Zorn has to win to save his job.

Coming next: the AFC North

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