2010 NFL Division Preview: NFC East

Yesterday I put up a post by Michael Wright that gave 15 thoughts he had about his New York Football Giants for this upcoming season. I hinted that my NFC East preview would be written in the near future so here it is. This is the third installment of my eight-part preview of the 2010 NFL season, breaking it down division by division. In each of these posts I will preview each team in the division and then at the end I will predict who will win the division and how the other three teams will end up behind them.

To read my other divisional previews just click on the appropriate link:

NFC South

NFC West

In the NFC East we have had a lot of drama this offseason. A face-of-the-franchise quarterback being traded to another team within the division. Big name veteran free agency signings. A team trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2009 season. A team trying to build on their first playoff win since 1996. We had a big name quarterback get bloodied in the preseason opener. There was a prima donna receiver refusing to carry pads. You get the idea. Let’s jump in.

Teams: Dallas Cowboys, New York Giants, Philadelphia Eagles, Washington Redskins

Since the divisi0nal realignment in 2002 the Eagles have taken home the division crown the most (four times) but haven’t done so since 2006 -they did tie for it last year, but the tie breaker was in favor of the Cowboys- but all of those teams were led by Donovan McNabb, who is now with the Redskins, which is the only team that has yet to win the division since the realignment. The Giants and Cowboys have each won the division twice in this span. Also in that time this division has had at least one team grabbing one of the two wild card spots except for one year (2004) and in two of they years (2006 and 2007) both wild card spots were occupied by NFC East teams. So this division has certainly been the most competitive in the conference, yet has only had a Super Bowl victor once since the Cowboys in 1995, which was when the Giants thwarted the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. Expect this to be a hard fought division again this year.

These teams will be facing the AFC South and the NFC North this year.

Dallas Cowboys – The Cowboys have a tough schedule this year. Not counting the tough division they’re in they have to go to Minnesota and Indy and host the Saints. That’s three of the four teams that made it to the conference championship round last year in the playoffs. This team should start 4-0 before heading up north to Minnesota on October 17 to play the Vikings, which should just be an absolute slug-fest. In the division I see them going 4-2 again. They have to play the Giants in New York in November and then the Eagles in Philly in January, both will be hard to win. But even if they do win one of those the Cowboys always seem to have that one game that they should win but end up losing (Broncos in 09 and Rams in 08) and so I’m just going to give them losses on the road in New York and Philly rather than trying to predict a random upset. Against the NFC North they host the Bears and Lions while having to travel to Minnesota and Green Bay. I see them going 3-1 here. Green Bay and Minnesota will be extremely tough road games, but I see them winning one of the two. I see them going 3-1 against the AFC South as well. The Colts are just too good at home so predict a win for the Cowboys there. The remaining two games on the schedule are at home against the Saints and in Arizona versus the Cardinals. I see them winning both of these games. That leaves the ‘Boys at 12-4. I could easily see them going a game or two in either direction, but I think a three-loss season is a reasonable expectation for this team.

The Cowboys will be looking to repeat as division champs this year, and build upon their 11-5 record as well as their 4-2 divisional record. They finally got the playoff monkey off of their back after defeating the Eagles in the Wild Card round last year before falling to the Vikings in the next round. That was their first post season victory in nearly a decade-and-a-half. The good news for them is that the only offensive player that they don’t have coming back from last year is left tackle Flozell Adams, who went to the Pittsburgh Steelers. He will likely be replaced by Doug Free, who got a lot of experience last year (seven starts) at right tackle while Marc Colombo was out. They have had two injuries on the o-line that cause some concern. Both Kyle Kosier (starting LG) and Colombo are both out right now. There’s a chance that both will be back in time for their opening when the travel to DC to play against the Redskins, but even if they are both back by then the fact that they misses this time will make you wonder how long it will take the o-line to find the continuity that they would have had in place if it weren’t for the injuries.

Like the offense the defense returns all but one starter. Safety Ken Hamlin is now with the Baltimore Ravens. He will be replaced by Alan Ball who has apparently had a phenomenal camp and according to Matt Mosley of ESPN “Ball looks like he has been starting for years.”  It has also been reported that Terence Newman has been a stud in camp this year. So this defense, which was one of the best in the league last year, appears to be ready to rock. They also drafted linebacker Sean Penn out of Penn State in the second round and defensive back Akwasi Owusu-Ansah from Indiana (PA) with their fourth rounder. The scary thing is that it looks like the offense is catching up to the defense, spending their first round pick on wide receiver Dez Bryant from Oklahoma State, who suffered an ankle injury but here’s a good quote from Mosley:

He appears to be ahead of schedule in his rehab work… Bryant has done a nice job of staying in the playbook… You can stand there and watch him play catch during practice and be amazed by the way he snags balls with his left hand. The more I’m around Bryant, the more obvious it becomes that he’s going to force his way into the starting lineup early in the season.”

You add that to the fact that the team already had an impressive group of three wide outs in Roy Williams, Miles Austin and Patrick Crayton, and suddenly you have a very dangerous group for Tony Romo to throw to. And I have yet to mention six-time Pro Bowl tight end Jason Witten and the fact that his running mate, Martellus Bennett has apparently improved by leaps and bounds this offseason and was one of the most impressive players in training camp. Nor have I mentioned the three-headed monster at running back known as Marion Barber, Felix Jones and Tashard Choice. The three of them led the Cowboys ground attack which averaged over 4.82 yards per rush last year, which was second best in the league.

Dez Bryant will look to make an immediate impact for the Cowboys

New York Giants – The G-Men should feel fortunate. They have a significantly easier schedule than the Cowboys. In the division I see the Giants going 3-3. I know their fans are gonna see that and be upset by it but this division is going to be ridiculously tough. I see them splitting the series with all three of the other teams. Like the Cowboys, I see the Giants going 3-1 against the AFC South. If they were hosting the Colts late in the season when there would be cold weather I might have them sweeping this division, but that matchup is in Week 2. As for the NFC North, they also get Chicago and Detroit at home (both wins) but have to travel to Minnesota and Green Bay in December. The Giants are such a question mark to me right now because they seem so promising on paper, but I felt that way last year and they disappointed me. I’ll say they win one of those two matchups with the thought that they’ll have rediscovered their identity on defense by then. Their two remaining games are the Week 9 gain in Seattle against the Seahawks (a win) and their opener when they host the Panthers. As I mentioned before, this game against the Panthers is a match up between two teams that had phenomenal 2008 seasons (both went 12-4) then dreadfully disappointing 2009 seasons (both went 8-8) and are looking to return to that ’08 form. I just feel like the Panthers showed so much more promise at the end of the season last year when they finally benched Jake Delhomme. They still had one of the top defenses in the league and one of the best rushing attacks in the league despite their poor record. I’m cringing when I say it, but I have the Panthers winning that game, leaving the Giants with a 10-6 record. As I said, I feel that this team is a huge question mark, and with how competitive this division is going to be, it’s hard to say how they will do. Like the Cowboys, I could see them winning or losing two (or even three) more games than what I predicted.

The Giants, as Michael pointed out, seem to be primed for a good season, and will look to bounce back after the disappointing 8-8 record in 2009. They didn’t lose a single starter on offense, and actually could be upgrading in some areas. Reports are that Will Beatty, the second round draft pick from 2009 is making a very good push in challenging David Diehl for the starting left tackle spot and if that were to happen Diehl would slide over to start at left guard. Another 2009 draft pick, running back Andre Brown will be returning after missing last year with a ruptured Achilles. Brown could end up being a great change-of-pace back and seems to be a solid receiver out of the backfield so I expect to see him on the field a decent bit this year behind Brandon Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw. I also fully expect Jacobs to get back his ferocious running style after looking timid at times last year, while Bradshaw -now entering his fourth season- should continue to improve. Eli Manning is coming off his best season in the NFL and I wouldn’t be surprised if he plays even better this year.

On the defensive side of the ball things aren’t quite the same. Defensive tackle Fred Robbins went to the Rams, linebacker Danny Clark is now in Houston, CC Brown got picked up by the Lions, and Aaron Rouse was released. Plus Antonio Pierce retired. However the Giants also picked up some players in free agency that should be able to step in and contribute immediately: linebacker Keith Bulluck and safeties Deon Grant and Antrel Rolle. Kenny Phillips (safety) will also be returning after missing most of last season with a knee injury. It doesn’t matter which two of those three safeties are on the field, they’ll be a huge improvement over Brown and Rouse. Bulluck is a great replacement for Pierce (if not a slight upgrade) but that still leaves voids in the shapes of Fred Robbins and Danny Clark. In the draft the Giants got defensive tackle Linval Joseph (second round) and linebacker Phillip Dillard (fourth) but neither appear to be ready to take on a starting role. Instead Clint Sintim, a promising second round pick from the 09 draft will likely be starting at linebacker and Jay Alford, who missed all of last season with a knee injury, will step in to start at defensive tackle.

Reports from training camp also indicated that Aaron Ross seems to be getting his quickness back after missing most of last season with a nagging hamstring injury. He will join Corey Webster and Terrell Thomas (all three have had looked great in training camp) to form one of the best cornerback trios in the league – the other New York team being the only one that I think could top them and that’s IF Darrelle Revis decides to play. Cornerback isn’t the only defensive position with good depth. General Manager Jerry Reese said that he expects both Linval Joseph and Jason Pierre-Paul (defensive end drafted in the first round this year) to come in and make an impact immediately, which means there will be good depth along the d-line as well.

blood

Eli Manning, you are a badass.

Philadelphia Eagles – I expect the Eagles to have a lot of highs and lows this year. They have the potential to win the division, but the inexperience to end up missing the playoffs by a long shot. Like the Giants I see them trading wins with their three opponents within the division for a 3-3 record there. Against the AFC South I see them going 2-2. They beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville and beat the Texans when they come to Philly in December, but the Colts will prove to be to experienced and too talented and the Titans will be too tough of a road game. For the NFC North I’m predicting a 3-1 showing. I think they get caught off guard by the Packers when they come to town for the opener, they handle the Bears and Lions without much trouble and then pull a major upset against the Vikings in Week 16. The Vikings seem to always get upset in a game or two at the end of the season – Panthers and Bears in ’09 plus the Falcons in ’08. The other two game are in San Francisco against the Niners and at home against the Falcons. I see both of these being very good games, so they’ll win one and lose one. That gives the Eagles a final record of 9-7. If this team can gel quicker than I expect them to they may win a few more games, but at the same time if they have a couple of the key youngsters end up being busts or take longer the develop than they expect then they could lose a few more games.

As I mentioned before, this team tied with the Cowboys at the top of the division last year with an 11-5 record, but had lost both of their regular season encounters with the ‘Boys and there they lost the tiebreaker, as well as their rematch in Dallas for their Wild Card matchup. They made a couple questionable trades in the offseason as well. There headline trade that sent Donovan McNabb to the Redskins for just two draft picks. McNabb was a six-time Pro Bowler for the Eagles, including last season. The trade that people forget is when they Chris Gocong and Sheldon Brown (both major contributors on their defense in ’09)  to the Cleveland Browns for just 4th and 5th round picks plus Alex Hall, who was released before he even made it to training camp. They also then decided not to resign Brian Westbrook, who had been one of their primary offensive weapons for seven years. There were also four other players that saw a lot of playing time for the Eagles last year that were lost in free agency: tight end Alex Smith went to the Browns, safety Sean Jones went to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, linebacker Will Witherspoon went to the Tennessee Titans and linebacker Jeremiah Trotter is still a free agent. On top of all that defensive end Victor Abiamiri is already on the PUP list.

If you’re wondering why I still think this team is going to be competitive it’s because they made the decision to get younger and did it all at once. They’ve been preparing Kevin Kolb for three years now to take over for McNabb and they’re confident that LeSean McCoy, after a solid rookie season last year, is ready to take over for Westbrook as the feature back. They drafted rookie tight end Cornelius Ingram to replace Smith, Juqua Parker is just fine at left end without Abiamiri, rookie Nate Allen is ready to start at safety right away, Ellis Hobbs can replace Sheldon Brown, they traded for Ernie Sims to fill one of the vacant starting linebacker spots and 2007 draft pick Stewart Bradley will take the other one.  And suddenly this team is a whole lot younger, however they gained youth at the expense of starting a bunch of players with little-to-no experience. It’ll be interesting to see how it plays out. It certainly makes them more dangerous for the future but I see them going through a lot of ups and downs this year. When the young guys are clicking on all cylinders and they’re on the same page they’ll look brilliant, when they make mistakes that illustrate their lack of experience people will be scratching their head – and I expect a whole lot of both.

The Eagles had a couple early scares when within a few days of eachother DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, the teams two starting wide receivers went down with injuries and had to be carted off the field. They ended up being minor injuries though and both players appeared in the Eagles first preseason game, combining for 96 on four receptions and a rushing attempt. On the defensive side they weren’t so lucky. They had signed cornerback Marlin Jackson and safety Antoine Harris to help the secondary but both have already suffered season ending injuries. And on top of all that, and already questionable offensive line has been banged up so far in preseason. Starting center Jamaal Jackson and starting guard Todd Herremans are hoping to be back from injuries in time to start the regular season but if not center could be a big issue. The other starting guard Nick Cole has taken a few lumps and bruises that have kept him out of part of training camp as well.

Fortunately, even behind a shaky o-line Kolb has a slew of talented options to throw the ball to. Jackson and Maclin are probably the best young receiving duo in the league and Jason Avant is a very solid #3 receiver. Throw Brent Celek in the mix (who is apparently Kolb’s best friend, which smells suspiciously like Jason Witten and Tony Romo) and that’s four great options. They also brought back Hank Baskett, who as a #4 receiver… well actually, I hate Hank Baskett – but his wife is nice on the eyes. Either way, Kolb has nice receiving options. Add to that the fact that first round draft pick, defensive end Brandon Graham is apparently having a phenomenal camp and you have a lot of promise for this young team.

And this has nothing to do with football, but it’s a great quote from Mosley:

This is the only camp I’ve attended where fans tailgate in the parking lots between morning and afternoon practices. Even NFL commissioner Roger Goodell seemed to get caught up in the moment”

Maclin, Jackson and Avant: The 3 Stud Wideouts for Philly

Washington Redskins – I don’t know what to think about this team. They went 4-12 last year and 0-6 in the division, but brought in a bunch of seasoned veterans and improved in a number of areas. I have no idea if they’re going to be any better this year but if they’re not then they likely will be next year. I think within the division they’ll go 2-4, getting swept by the Cowboys but grabbing a win each from the Giants and Eagles. Against the AFC south I see them going 3-1, losing to the Colts, easily beating the Jaguars, and surprising the Texans and Titans. As for the NFC North it’s 2-2, with wins over the Lions and Bears but home losses to the Vikings and Packers.  Their two remaining games are against the Lions and Buccaneers, both of which should be easy wins. This puts the ‘Skins finishing at 9-7. Like the other three teams, because this division is going to be so competitive and small things about each team could swing them one way of the other, I could easily be a few games off with this prediction.

The Redskins did the exact opposite of what the Eagles did.  They signed five key free agents: running backs Larry Johnson and Willie Parker, wide receiver Joey Galloway, nose tackle Ma’ake Kemoeatu and cornerback Phillip Buchanon. They have all been in the league for an average of nearly ten years. The also traded for offensive tackle Jammal Brown who had started for the Saints from 2005-08 but was injured all of last year. They also signed offensive guard Artis Hicks who started for the Eagles for two years  (04 and 05) before being traded to the Vikings who he started for in 06. He spent three years as a backup for the Vikings and is now the projected starter for the ‘Skins. They also used their fourth overall pick of the draft to get offensive tackle Trent Williams, who should be starting at left tackle from day one. Oh and also that block buster trade that brought Donovan McNabb over from the Eagles.

They worked it out perfectly. Levi Jones and Chris Samuels, the two players they had start at left tackle last year, are now gone, but they drafted Williams to replace them. Mike Williams, who started the most at right guard last year, is now gone but Hicks can replace him. Cornelius Griffin, who started 14 games at defensive tackle, is now gone but they signed Kemoeatu to replace him. Fred Smoot, who started six games at corner last year, is now gone but they brought in Phillip Buchannon to replace him. Jason Campbell, who started every game at quarterback last year, is now with the Raiders but they have McNabb to replace him. All of these changes are upgrades at their respective positions and that doesn’t even include Jammal Brown being an upgrade over Stephon Heyer and Johnson and Parker being upgrades over Ladell Betts and Quiton Ganther, who are now with the Saints and Seahawks respectively. Plus Galloway adding depth and experience to the receiving corp. And I haven’t even mentioned Kareem Moore yet, a third year safety, who has apparently had a sensational offseason and has won the starting safety job and will be roaming the defensive back field next to LaRon Landry.

This team’s starting group of linebackers is actually shockingly good. Andre Carter, London Fletcher, Rocky McIntosh and Brian Orakpo are all going to thrive under new defensive coordinator Jim Haslett, who is much more creative with his defenses and has many more blitzes, especially with the linebackers. Carlos Rogers is also finding his stride in Haslett’s system, finally looking like the player the Redskins expected him to be when they drafted him with a top ten pick in the first round of the 2005 draft. You can also look for him to be in on some blitzes as well. Look for Orakpo to build on his Pro Bowl rookie season and continue to learn and improve under the guidance of Fletcher and Haslett.

This team is also under a new coaching staff. Mike Shanahan was brought in to turn this team around. They’re switching from a 4-3 defense to a 3-4 and have a group of guys (players, coaches, offense, defense, they’re everywhere) who are on a mission to show their former teams that they made mistakes by letting them (or making them) leave. Shanahan came in, changed the team’s philosophy, changed the team’s mentality, is emphasizing hustle and discipline and shook up the depth chart. Another quote from Matt Mosley:

This was a team crying out for some form of discipline, and Shanahan has delivered in spades. If a player doesn’t hustle between drills in practice, Shanahan will call their names after practice and tell them to run extra sprints. He also makes sure that every player keeps his shirttail in during those sessions… With one hire, the Redskins are once again relevant in the NFC East.”

James Thrash, Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell. Donovan McNabb led the Eagles to the NFC Championship four years in a row and during that time those were the three receivers he threw to the most. Not one of them ever went to a Pro Bowl. If McNabb can lead that group of receivers deep into the playoffs on a consistent basis then I’m sure he can make at least a little magic happen with Santana Moss, Malcolm Kelly, Devin Thomas and Joey Galloway, with Chris Cooley, Cliton Portis, Larry Johnson and Willie Parker to boot. Don’t sleep on the Redskins this year. They’re going to surprise some people.

Orakpo will look to improve upon his stellar rookie season

In case you hand’t caught on, I’ve done a ton of research on this division and I’m still not convinced I know what to expect from any of these teams. I could see any of these teams winning the division (yes, even the Redskins) and I could see any of them making a run in the playoffs. I wouldn’t be surprised if both the wild card spots are yet again taken up by two teams from this division. I expect this division to be the toughest one and most hardly fought out. The team that takes home the crown this year will definitely have earned it. Based on what I predicted about, here’s how I see the final standings shaking out:

1. Dallas Cowboys

2. New York Giants

3. Philadelphia Eagles

4. Washington Redskins

Let me know what you think in the comments. And because we now know Favre is definitely back, next up we’ll finish the NFC with the NFC North preview. I know you’re excited.

4 Responses

  1. I’m not sure what to make of this division. I was listening to Colin Cowherd the other day and he brought up a funny point about Romo. Can you win with a hat backwards QB? Brady and Manning never wear their hats backwards, so his theory was that Romo never grew up haha. Not sure how much I agree with it, but thought it was funny nonethe less.

    I think if the Giants can start running the ball again like they did when they won the SB, they could sneak up on some people!

  2. We own Dallas. But as far as vs. PHI and WSH go, we should probably split with WSH (their defense is still good, and McNabb isn’t Campbell), but the jury should still be out on PHI. People think this small sample size is enough to think Kolb will be good. I don’t know yet. And their defense isn’t what it was from 2000-2008. We will split or sweep them.

  3. Roethlisberger wears his backwards, and at times, Brees has. But I knew the funny point Colin was trying to make.

  4. Philly is the toughest to project. I won’t root for anyone to get hurt but I’m pulling for Vick to start. That whole team is unconventionally structured and I wanna see if Mike can work his magic.

    This ‘Skins team is by far the best we’ve had in forever. But it’s gonna come down to whether or not we can come up with timely big plays on both sides of the ball, and staying tight on defense in the 4th quarter. Ultimately I think the defense will hold up their end, and I won’t be surprised to see the unit in the top 5 at the end of the year, especially if Kareem Moore doesn’t get beat in centerfield every other play like Landry did last year.

    On offense, the running game will be the key. Ports is supposedly as healthy as ever, and is back down to his Denver weight (tho he ain’t that CO). Larry Johnson has been solid, tho I remain skeptical. Ryan Torain is the kid of the group and he’s a stud, watch out for him. Parker will probably be cut. You mentioned the line, obviously MUCH improved, another reason to be confident. I’m not as high on Donovan as most, but I like him, and he definitely brings leadership. The receivers suck (Moss is solid but a likely injury candidate), but Cooley and Fred Davis are high quality.

    I’ll be disappointed by sub-.500, expect 8 wins, and wouldn’t be surprised by 10-11. The upgrade in coaching is massive. I liked Jim Zorn, but not only was he not ready, I’m pretty sure he purposefully tanked just to get back at Snyder for trying to get him to quit in week 2 or 3.

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