August 24, 2006


NFL Preview: NFC East

I'm halfway done with my NFL previews, and today I get to the NFC East. I've already covered the AFC East, the AFC North, the AFC South, and the AFC West. The NFC East is most likely the toughest division in all of football, with four legitimate playoff contenders. It's likely that two teams will come out of this division, especially given the weakness of the NFC North and West.

Dallas: The Cowboys were 9-7 last year, missing the playoffs by one game. They should be even better this year, as they add Terrell Owens to their offense and (don't laugh!) bolstering their special teams by adding kicker Mike Vanderjagt - who happens to be the most accurate kicker in NFL history - and some other pieces. The Cowboys lost three games last year by four points or less, so any upgrades could be the difference between 9-7 and 11-5. Coach Bill Parcells took the Giants to the Super Bowl in his fourth year in New York, and took the Patriots to the championship game in his fourth year in New England. It's year four of the Parcells regime in Dallas, and the Cowboys certainly have the pieces to make a deep playoff run this year. For all his off-field problems, Owens is a dominating force on the field and should help create some space for the running game. The one question mark for this team is the offensive line. Drew Bledsoe is about as mobile as a corpse, so the o-line needs to give him enough time to find Owens or Terry Glenn. I think the Cowboys should have a successful season, probably with an 11-5 record.

New York: The Giants are coming off an 11-5 season last year, and are returning most of the pieces from last year's fourth-ranked offense. Eli Manning is coming off a breakout year - you may not know this, but Eli actually threw for more yards last year than his brother Peyton - and Tiki Barber is a top-five running back. Eli has great recievers to throw to (watch out for rookie Sinorice Moss), but the one knock on him has been his accuracy. He completed only 52% of his passes last year; the average QBs complete around 60%, and the best complete somewhere around 64-67% of their passes. The defense is another question mark - they were 24th last year in YPG allowed. They retooled their secondary in the offseason, but whether they will be better is still a question. But the larger problem, in my mind, is their schedule. They open their season with Indy at home, at Philly, at Seattle, Washington at home, at Atlanta, at Dallas, and then Tampa Bay at home. None of those are easy victories, and they also have to play Philly, Dallas, and the Redskins again as well as at Jacksonville, at Carolina, and against Chicago. The likely scenario to me is that the Giants will suffer what happened to the Chargers last year - they have enough talent to make the playoffs, but their schedule is so tough that they will finish 8-8 or 9-7 and spend January at home.

Philadelphia: The Eagles suffered a lot of injuries last year, but they still finished with a 6-10 record. The larger problem is that they failed to get even one win against the teams in their division. With McNabb healthy and T.O. gone, this team should be better than last year. The question is, how much better will they be? Everyone else in the division improved as well, so wins will not be easy to come by for the Eagles. Philly will continue to have a virtually nonexistent running attack, so the pressure will once again be on McNabb to carry the offense. The Eagles were beat up last year on defense as well (especially in the secondary), and that was one of the strengths of their NFC championship team two years ago. Second-year wideout Reggie Brown should be McNabb's favorite target with Owens out of the picture, but this team doesn't look that much better than last year's version. I can't see the Eagles faring any better than 7-9.

Washington: The Redskins made the playoffs last year with a 10-6 record, largely in part to running back Clinton Portis. But Portis suffered a partially dislocated shoulder in his first preseason game, and may not be able to play in the season opener for the Redskins. He shouldn't miss too much time, but losing any games in this division will cripple your chances of making the playoffs. The Skins also had football's ninth-ranked defense last year, and they keep most of the pieces for this year's team. Mark Brunell is not a great quarterback, but he is good enough to take care of the offense and put some points on the board. Brunell also has great players to throw to; WR Santana Moss and TE Chris Cooley will both see their share of yards. Unless Portis misses a lot of time, I can't see this team missing the playoffs. They'll probably finish 11-5 as well.

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