We’ve saved the best for last. It’s a well known fact that the NFC East is the top division in football. You can argue all you want, but you won’t find a better division top to bottom. The NFL’s heavyweight division is up for grabs. Who will come out on top?
In the NFC East, all four teams are good enough to win ten games. Obviously that’s unlikely because they beat each other to a pulp, but it’s not impossible either. This is also the only division in football where you could make an argument for each team to win the division. Part of the reason I put the NFC East last in our preview is because I can’t make up my mind on who will win. Truth is I still haven’t. Even now I’m considering picking out of a hat. Are the Giants back? Will McNabb elevate the Redskins? Who’s going to keep Romo upright? Can the Eagles overcome their inexperience? Too many questions for one tiny brain. This is going to be messy.
1. New York Giants
I believe New York’s 2009 season was a fluke. In fact, the Giants are my NFC Champion sleeper pick. The injuries in the secondary killed the Giants last season. To avoid a repeat performance in 2010, they’ve added some depth at the safety position in veteran Deon Grant, and 2009 Pro-Bowler Antrole Rolle. The healthy returns of cornerback Aaron Ross and standout safety Kenny Phillips will also help solidify the secondary. Offensively, the Giants should be tough to handle. I think Eli Manning is underrated. Look at what he did last season with a unit of unproven receivers; 4,021 yards, 27 TDs, and a 62.3 completion percentage. With another year under their belts, Hakeem Nicks, Steve Smith, and Mario Manningham will help make Manning one of the top seven quarterbacks in the league. I’m not a believer in Brandon Jacobs’ injury riddled knees or the Giants’ running game as a whole, but the tandem of Jacobs and Ahmad Bradshaw will suffice. New York sports the best offensive line in the division, so the Giants will go as far as Manning’s arm will take them.
DWC’s Take: Giants – All four teams have more than capable offenses with top 10 defenses. The reason I pick the Giants is twofold: Kenny Phillips and a run game. Kenny Phillips went down last year, leaving the Giants a depleted secondary. His injury put more pressure on the defensive line and they failed, miserably. Adding Phillips will allow the defensive line more time to pressure opposing quarterbacks. If that unit gets back to Superbowl form, watch out NFC East, NFC, and NFL! But didn’t I say running game too? The Giants are the one team in the division (though Shanahan could change that) who will commit to the run. I like Bradshaw to get more touches because he is faster and more elusive. The league is turning into a pass-first league and I think “little Peyton” can throw with the best of them.
2a. Philadelphia Eagles
From the national media’s perspective, Philadelphia went from sexy sleeper pick to, “the roof is caving in” within a month’s time. There’s no doubt the Eagles are the most unpredictable team in the division. They could finish 4-12 or 12-4. If the younger players can adjust quickly and build a rapport, especially on offense, the playoffs are a possibility. The offensive line is a mess though, and the lack of a running game gives me the willies. Andy Reid is great at improving his team as the season progresses, but he’ll need either his offense or defense to buy him that time. Unfortunately, both are filled with question marks. If rookie defensive end Brandon Graham can complement Trent Cole in the pass rush, the secondary will subsequently improve too. Stewart Bradley’s return, increased pressure on the quarterback, and athleticism at safety will hopefully give the Eagles the reliable defense they sorely missed in 2009. Ugly wins early in the season may be necessary for the Eagles to stay in the playoff hunt as Kevin Kolb and the offense work out the kinks. No need to worry though. Philadelphia fans are generally patient.
P.S. Five days ago I had the Eagles finishing last in the division. After all the naysayers jumped on them, I moved them up to second. The positive attention scared me, but the negative attention is perfect for this team.
DWC’s Take: Cowboys – The Cowboys would run away with this division if Jason Garrett didn’t think he was the next Bill Walsh. They have the best running back trio in the league. If they entered every game with a 65-35 run-pass ratio, they would control the clock with ease. Instead, they ask Romo to throw a perfect game every Sunday. He puts up the stats, but doesn’t always handle the pressure situations too well. Give the guy some slack and run the ball. Personally, I kind of like Romo. Since the curbing of Miss Simpson and removal of TO, I have more respect for him as a player and leader. With the speed of that defense to back him up, there is no reason why the Cowboys shouldn’t be playing at home in the Superbowl (first time ever). Unfortunately, an idiot coach will always prevent a team from reaching its true potential.
2b. Washington Redskins
I’ve spent three weeks trying to rationalize Donovan McNabb dragging the Redskins to the division title. I just don’t see it happening. While I love Jim Haslett as a defensive coordinator and expect his 3-4 defense to bring a renewed zest to the team, the Washington secondary isn’t up to par. Facing the aerial attacks of the Giants, Cowboys, and Eagles twice this season will be hard enough, but Washington will also battle the Colts and Texans from the AFC South and the Vikings and Packers from the NFC North. That’s ten games the Redskins suspect secondary will be asked to compete with prolific passing attacks, and that’s not good. Even as an Eagles fan, I hope McNabb excels in D.C. For starters, he’ll have a consistent run game for the first time since Duce Staley. If some of the younger players step up on offense, the Redskins should be fun to watch too. Either way, I don’t see them or anyone else in the division finishing the season with a losing record. Maybe it’s time to take the NFC West’s playoff spot away until further notice.
DWC’s Take: Eagles –When will Andy Reid learn that a running game is the best way to protect a lead and a young quarterback? The Eagles enter the year with McCoy as their starter and Bell and Weaver behind him. This might be the worst individual/tandem/trio in the league. But in all honesty, they could have Barry Sanders back there and still only give him the ball fifteen times a game. I do enjoy the West Coast offense and think Kevin Kolb is a better fit than McNabb. He’s more accurate, but without the threat of a run game, I see too much being asked of Kolb in year one. The defense will be good with Bradley coming back from IR. If he stays healthy, the run game may not be needed because the defense will keep the opposing offense off the field. If that doesn’t happen, my dad will not be a happy camper. I see the Eagles in the hunt and maybe snatching the 2nd wildcard spot along with those Cowboys.
2c. Dallas Cowboys
This is essentially the same team that outscored the Eagles 58-14 in the last two games of the 2009 season. Why am I picking them to finish last in the division? Because my cousin is a die-hard Cowboy fan and he scared me into this pick. I initially had them first but then dwelt too long on the offensive line issues. If they can’t gel and protect Romo, he’ll revert to Turnover Tony. When that happens, the Cowboys don’t stand a chance. There is good news though. The defensive line will be even better in 2010 as Anthony Spencer sees more time opposite DeMarcus Ware. Also, if he can stay healthy, Dez Bryant should provide Tony Romo another option when Miles Austin is double teamed and Roy Williams is stomping his feet in protest at the line of scrimmage. This pick is based solely on the offensive line. If they get it together, the Cowboys catapult to competing with the G-Men for the NFC East title.
[Editor’s Note: Yes, both the Cowboys and Eagles have offensive line issues. Yes, the Cowboys have a proven quarterback and a better defense. Why then are the Cowboys picked 4th and the Eagles 2nd? Because I can do whatever I want.]
DWC’s Take: Redskins – I liked them a lot better before Haynesworth became an issue. First, he’s complaining about being under appreciated. Then, he shows up to camp fat, overweight, and unable to run 10 yards down the field. Next, he calls foul for being made to run a conditioning test (how dare athletes be forced to be in shape!). Now, he wants to go back to Nashville to hang out with his good buddy Jeff Fisher. Personally, I think the Redskins need Haynesworth, but they can’t really live with him. That’s a shame because I was really hoping for Donovan to take this team to the top of the division. True, it was time for him to leave Philadelphia. True, he isn’t the most accurate passer. True, he doesn’t have the toughest skin. Despite all that, I can’t help but like the guy. He put up with a lot of crap from Philly fans, media, and everyone else. He kept on smiling and working. I firmly believe he gave his best efforts to bring a championship to Philly, but was not given the full support of the organization. He has some weapons in D.C. and Shanahan won’t expect him to throw 9,000,000 times in the first half alone. Go get ’em Don.
If you’re wondering, last season’s NFC East predictions were:
Me: NYG, PHI, DAL, WASH
DWC: NYG, PHI, DAL, WASH
Actual Results: DAL, PHI, NYG, WASH
Thus, DWC 5, Me 1, No Winner 2
Also, the Vikings open the 2010 NFL Regular Season by exacting revenge on the Saints.