NFL season preview – NFC East

 

1.  Dallas Cowboys 

Talk about controversy to start off the previews!  Every year expert’s talk about how this COULD be the year for the Cowboys.  This COULD be the year Tony Romo puts it together, this COULD be the year their defense steps up, this COULD be the year that the coaching staff doesn’t screw it all up.  Well I’m hearing less of that talk this year, and that is one reason I’m going to say that this will be the Cowboys year….at least to contend.  It may not have seemed like it, but they took giant steps last season.  They lost a ton of games they should have won.  They should have beaten the Jets, the Cardinals, and the Giants the first time around.  That would have put them at 11-5.  The experience of going through that nightmare should make Jason Garret better, should make Tony Romo better, and it should make the team better. 

After the first game of last season where Romo melted down against the Jets, I thought from that point on he looked a lot better in big spots, not trying to force the issue.  He is the anti Tim Tebow.  People think he sucks because he’s never won.  Watch the games.  Romo is a great QB in this league, top 10 in my mind.  A big key this season is that Demarco Murray is healthy.  That o-line isn’t great, but it should be better simply by Tyron Smith getting better entering his 2nd season. Dez Bryant despite getting into endless off field issues is going into year 3 which is usually when WR’s take off.  The off field stuff is scary with this kid, but I like that he has gone to the Cowboys and asked for help, could be a big move for him and the Cowboys. 

The secondary is MASSIVELY upgraded.  The trade up to get Morris Claiborne was perhaps my favorite move of the draft, the kid is going to be a superstar.  Brandon Carr was a great addition in free agency, and keep your eye on first year starter Barry Church at SS.  DeMarcus Ware will be among the league leaders in sacks as usual, and that LB core is only going to get better.  Sean Lee is looking good at ILB and once Bruce Carter gets back to full strength the 2011 2nd round pick could be a beast. 

Call me crazy, I know the Giants and Eagles are much more stable franchises, but I really believe Jerry Jones has actually done a good job here getting the right mix of players and coaches in the fold and has the Cowboys ready to contend with Tony Romo at the helm.

 

2. NY Giants

They shocked the world once again last season winning their 2nd Super Bowl in 5 seasons.  Now they will look to repeat.  And if you recall they looked well on their way in the 2008 season.  Through ¾ of that season they were the top team in the NFL.  But then they started to run out of gas.  They just barely finished with the best record in the NFC, but then got beat down by the Eagles in the divisional playoffs and never really made it back to form until late last season.  But let’s not forget that this was a 9-7 team. 

I don’t know how at this point anyone can question Eli Manning as an elite QB.  He will never put up the stats that Peyton does, but he has that confidence and cool in clutch situations that only great players have.  He still has a great receiving core, they replaced Mario Manningham in the draft with Ruben Randle a very talented wide out from LSU.  They upgraded at RB by drafting David Wilson out of Virgina Tech. 

And of course that defense is always one of the best in football especially at getting to the QB.  JPP is a freak, Tuck and Umenyiora are just consistently among the best pass rushers in the NFL.  Their secondary is underrated too.  A full season of Prince Amukamara will be big.  He, Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas give the Giants a lot of size at corner.  Kenny Phillips is solid at SS. 

But while they’re the defending champs and they have the pieces in place I just can’t see them not having troubles the same way most defending champs do.  I still expect them to make the playoffs, but 10-6 or 9-7 and a wildcard spot more so than a division title.

 

3. Philadelphia Eagles

The dream team!  Isn’t this the team that 12 months ago we were all giving the NFC East title to?  True, Nnamdi Asomugha was a terrific signing for them and was expected to give them perhaps the best secondary in the game.  But the rest of the signings got drastically overrated.  Add to that, Asomugha didn’t live up to expectations.  I expect him to have a much better season, I expect the Eagles to be in the playoff chase right until the end, but I still don’t see them getting in the playoffs. 

One of the big reasons, Michael Vick doesn’t stay healthy.  Most people ask “why try to make a running QB a pocket QB, why not just let him play his way?”  Good question.  The reason for this is because a running QB is a lot more likely to get hurt than one that sits back in the pocket, let his offensive line block, and pick apart defenses.  Vick does a better job of this than he used to, but he still runs more than Andy Reid likely wants him to.  Ben Roethlisberger and Cam Newton can get away with doing that a little more than Vick can.  They’re both over 6’5 and 240 pounds.  Vick is 6’0, 215 at best.  His body simply can’t withstand a lot of punishment that style of game brings with it.  He does have tools around him though.  I love McCoy at RB, Jackson and Maclin at wide out and Celek is a solid TE.  

The defense is good not great.  The d-line is great, Babin and Cole both can get to the QB, and a lot of people love Fletcher Cox their 1st round pick out of Mississippi State.  DeMeco Ryans could be a nice addition at MLB but he isn’t the player he once was.  He has been slowed and coming off a major injury I’m just not sure what kind of impact he may have.  Of course I already touched on Asomugha, and opposite him is DRC (Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie) who has huge talent but has never shed the potential tag. 

Andy Reid is one of the top coaches in the game, so no matter what happens at QB he will have his team in every game.  But it’s all about Vick, and if Vick can’t stay healthy then I can’t see them getting in the playoffs.

 

4. Washington Redskins  

For the first time since…since…since…Joe Theisman?  Sonny Jurgensen?  It’s been a LONG time for the Skins and when you think about that it makes what Joe Gibbs did there even more impressive.  But they knew they had to take the big swing to finally land that guy and they did. 

Make no mistake about it, RG3 goes 1st overall in most years.  This guy is going to be what most hoped Mike Vick was going to be.  He is a pocket QB who has the ability to run, not a running QB who needs to learn to play in the pocket.  But he has to learn from Vick and not run a lot.  Long term I do worry about him with that slight frame running into injury problems.  It’s not a GREAT team that surrounds him, it’s not a weak roster by any means.  Solid WR core with veteran Santana Moss, 2nd year guy out of Miami Leonard Hankerson, and free agent additions Pierre Garçon and Josh Morgan.  RB’s are always solid in a Mike Shanahan system, you just never know which one he will turn to next.  Evan Royster will start the season as the starter, and Roy Helu will see a lot of action as well.  By the end of the season, it’s very possible that this team has a 1,000 yard rusher and that it’s neither of those 2 guys.  The o-line is BAD, that’s far and away the biggest question mark on this team. 

The defense is solid led by the still ticking London Fletcher.  Ryan Kerrigan and Brian Orakpo is a very good and young duo getting after the QB on the outside.  I’m not in love with the secondary, but I will say Brandon Meriweather can be a great safety in the league if he can just stay focused on football. 

I got the Skins to finish last in the division but they will make some noise this season and a 7-9 or 8-8 season should be within reach.

 

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