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2011 NFL Preview – NFC East

We’ve arrived. What better way to complete our NFL Preview than with the most prestigious division in football?

1. Philadelphia Eagles
Football coverage never ceases to amaze me. Within days of trading Kevin Kolb and signing Nnamdi Asomugha, Cullen Jenkins, Jason Babin, and Steve Smith, the Eagles were crowned the 2011 NFL champions. ESPN, websites, bloggers, and radio hosts all but declared it a foregone conclusion. Then Vince Young made the “galactically” stupid “Dream Team” comment. Soon after, the Eagles went from NFL champs to overrated and fatally flawed, all because an idiot backup decided to run his mouth. Again, football coverage amazes me. It’s more volatile than a jaded high school cheerleader, or, more recognizably, Melissa from Bachelor Pad. (My wife makes me watch, I swear.) The Eagles went from excessively overrated to vastly underrated for no apparent reason. Even now, media types are all of a sudden “worried” about the Eagles early schedule, their offensive line, and the overall inexperience throughout the lineup. News flash: these same issues existed before, during, and after Philadelphia’s free agent binge.

The Eagles are still the most talent-laden team in the NFC. While the aforementioned issues are true, each one existed in 2010 as well, and yet, the Eagles managed to finish 10-6, win the division, and came within an underthrown pass of knocking off the eventual champs. Michael Vick erases a lot of issues. It’s not like he was dropping back to pass behind the 1993 Cowboys offensive line last year. The Eagles current offensive line isn’t any worse than the 2010 version. Vick’s weapons, on the other hand, have expanded and improved. The defense is also much improved. Understanding and playing within a scheme is important, but having Asomugha, Jenkins, Babin, Trent Cole, Asante Samuel, and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie improvise until the wrinkles are ironed out is still better than 75% of the defenses in the NFL. Philadelphia will be fine. People panic when too many good things happen. It’s why brides and grooms can’t breath before walking down the aisle. The Eagles were declared NFL champions prematurely and now their weaknesses are being exaggerated. Blame it on the high school girls with the pens and notepads.

DWC’s Take: Eagles – The Eagles had everything going for them this off-season until Vince Young made his infamous “Dream Team” statement. It was like the Miami Heat throwing a celebration before the season even started. Though, unlike the Heat, the Eagles aren’t celebrating. The Eagles brain trust recognizes they haven’t done anything yet. Maybe in February they will be singing a different tune, but Andy Reid will wait until that day comes. As for the actual product, the offense will go as far as Michael Vick takes them. When Vick trusts his teammates and coaches, the Eagles are nearly unbeatable. When he relies too heavily on himself, the Eagles will struggle. The biggest problem for the Eagles is their defense. The secondary is more than fine with all the pieces they brought in and the defensive line will get to the quarterback. However, the Eagles are extremely vulnerable with their linebackers. It is true that linebackers, as a whole, tend to be overrated. You can be extremely good with only one. Unfortunately, the Eagles don’t even have that.

2. Dallas Cowboys
It bothers me that so few people are talking about the Cowboys. Dallas never lives up to expectations, so excessive attention almost guarantees the Cowboys will struggle. Unfortunately, the Cowboys have gone mostly unnoticed. They’re lurking and easily have the talent and experience to win the NFC East. Similar to what I wrote about Minnesota’s situation, the Cowboys are virtually the same team many picked to win the Superbowl last season. Only this year, Dallas has a better coach, a clear identity at running back (a huge and underrated change, by the way), two supremely talented receivers, and a healthy and hungry Tony Romo. Sure, the offensive line is a huge question mark, but the Eagles and Giants have the same problem. Dallas’ major flaw, and this is why I can’t see them stealing the division, is its secondary. Winning in the NFL without a solid defensive backfield is equivalent to driving with three tires. It just doesn’t work.

DWC’s Take: Cowboys – The Cowboys were surprisingly quiet over the offseason. They made a few runs at big name players, but lost out to their division rival. Thankfully, Tony Romo got healthy (and married) and Marion Barber was sent packing. They kept Barber around for too long. Felix Jones is going to thrive as the feature back for the Cowboys. Romo’s targets are plentiful with Jason Whitten, Miles Austin, and Dez Bryant. Ultimately, the offense comes down to Romo. He can’t keep getting injured. The offensive line is going to have to do a much better job of protecting him if they are going to turn things around. Defensively, they also have question marks, especially in the secondary. DeMarcus Ware is a fantastic player, but he is not going to get to the QB on every play. Dallas’ corners need to step up and actually stop somebody. They got lit up last year, and without Romo, Dallas couldn’t keep up (though Kitna did perform well). Hopefully, the hairier Ryan brother can help sure up that defense immediately. If he does, we might see this division return to its place as one of the best.

3. New York Giants
If I didn’t expect Tony Romo, Miles Austin, and the rest of the Cowboy offense to explode this season, I’d have snuck the Giants in at number two. New York’s demise has been a little overstated, to say the least. The injuries suffered will certainly impact the team and limit the defense. However, the Giants have proven themselves to be a deep team. Being completely written off only helps the Giants. The overplayed, yet effective, “no one believed in us” mentality has worked wonders in the past. Even with the injuries suffered on defense, the season ultimately comes down to Eli Manning. If he shakes off his lackluster 2010 and finds his 2009 groove, the Giants are right in the thick of the NFC.

DWC’s Take: Giants – It feels like the Giants were the passive kid playing in the sand box. They sat and watched as everyone around them played. Then the kids started noticing their toys, and the Giants couldn’t do anything to stop them. Now they are covered in sand and playing with the crappy toys none of the other kids wanted. To top it all off, any good toys they managed to salvage broke as soon as they started playing with them. The Giants were both a top-10 defense and offense last season. And yet they still missed out on the playoffs because they faltered down the stretch (see Eagles historic comeback). I don’t see either unit returning to form. The secondary has been devastated during the preseason by season-ending injuries. The defensive line is still intact, assuming Osi Umenyiora returns healthy. To make matters worse, Eli Manning lost two of his three favorite targets in Kevin Boss and Steve Smith. Boss was underrated and Smith was Manning’s security blanket when things got tough. With Mario Manningham and Hakeem Nicks running routes, and the Ahmad Bradshaw/Brandon Jacobs combo in the backfield, the Giants will still be tough to beat.

4. Washington Redskins
I’d be shocked if the Redskins didn’t improve in Mike Shanahan’s second season. The awful running game in 2010 was unexpected. There’s no way Washington’s ground game doesn’t improve in 2011. Unfortunately, starting a season with Rex Grossman under center isn’t exactly a winning recipe. Shanahan might as well walk out to the 50 yard line and wave a white flag. Starting John Beck isn’t any better. Without a stellar, or even average defense, Redskin fans can expect plenty of turnovers from the ‘Skins’ cast of quarterback castoffs. Seriously, Daniel Snyder is the greatest thing that ever happened to the NFC East. Those two easy wins every season are huge.

DWC’s Take: Redskins – I used to like Mike Shanahan. I cheered for those Bronco teams in the late 90’s as John Elway and Terrell Davis led them to two consecutive Superbowl titles. Since joining the Redskins, Shanahan’s ego has really come out. He traded for Donovan McNabb, which appeared to be a smart move, only to try and undo everything that made McNabb successful. He brought in Albert Haynesworth, thinking he could fix the problematic talent. Instead, Haynesworth manipulated his way out of Washington while still getting paid for the damage he did. In Shanahan’s short tenure, he has taken a once respectable defense and run it into the ground. What’s worse, he can’t even do what a Mike Shanahan football used to do best: run the football. At this point, Dan Snyder should admit his mistake, ax the coach and call this “year one” of a new era. If he doesn’t, the cycle will only continue. The Beck/Grossman argument doesn’t matter, because neither is going to get the job done. The only hope for Washington is a miracle. While miracles happen, I think there’s a better chance of Congress being productive than the Redskins winning any time soon.

For those keeping score, here are last season’s AFC East predictions:
Me: NYG, PHI, WASH, DAL
DWC: NYG, DAL, PHI, WASH
Actual Results: PHI, NYG, DAL, WASH

Score: DWC: 3, Me: 3, Fail: 3

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