The NFC East, the most prestigious division in football. Hate it or love it, the Beast is bursting with contenders in 2012. (Sorry, RG3 and the Redskins are not one of them.) Will it be the Cowboys, Eagles or Giants wearing the crown in January?
1. Philadelphia Eagles
Shocker, right? Are the Eagles significantly better than the Cowboys or Giants? No. Do they have a better quarterback? No. In fact, Michael Vick isn’t on the same level as Eli Manning and Tony Romo, at least not as a passer. Is the Eagles defense superior? No. But the Eagles have the best receivers, right? Uh, not exactly. So why am I picking the Eagles? Because as talented as the Cowboys and Giants are, the Eagles have the most potential for greatness. First, there’s Vick. When healthy, few players in the NFL can take over a game like Vick does. Will Vick stay healthy is a huge question. If he does, the Eagles are players in the NFC. If not, Andy Reid may be unemployed in four months. Second, the defense’s back seven. The Eagles have an insane pass rush. Probably the best pass rush in the Reid era. Unfortunately, that pass rush has cost them against the run because the Eagles linebackers have struggled (to put it lightly). The secondary has also been unstable due to inexperience and injuries and therefore given up too many big plays in big moments. BUT, if the linebackers improve (DeMeco Ryans was a nice addition and Mychal Kendricks looks scary good) and the secondary gets comfortable (Nnamdi Asomugha has been moved back to the role he played in Oakland and Nate Allen is healthy) the defense could lead the Eagles all the way to… gulp … the Super Bowl. Yes, these are all very big ifs. There’s probably a 17% chance all these factors break the Eagles way, but if they do, they’ll be the best team in the division. Therefore, as an Eagles fan, I feel obligated to give them my vote of confidence and select them as my first place finishers.
DWC’s Take: Giants – This division is a coin toss. Any of the top three could finish the season on top and it would not surprise me in the least. So, why pick the Giants? I pick the Giants because Eli Manning backed up his seemingly outrageous statement prior to last season about being an elite quarterback. I pick the Giants because as much as players hate him, Tom Coughlin is a great coach who knows how to win. I pick the Giants because their defense steps up when it matters most. I pick the Giants because the schedule in front of them (hardest in the league) won’t let them slack off like they have in the past. The Giants have the pedigree it takes to overcome the ups and downs of a long season.
2. Dallas Cowboys
Sorry, Giants. I could easily see the Giants winning the division but the Cowboys have wildcards similar to the Eagles, just not as many. DeMarco Murray is a budding star. If he can stay healthy, he’ll bring balance to an offense that hasn’t had a reliable every down back since Emmitt Smith left town. The Cowboys were dominant when Murray was healthy and starting in 2011. Their collapse coincided with his injury. And then there’s the immensely talented and unbelievably stupid Dez Bryant. If Bryant decides he wants to make football his career, earn a ton of money, and be one of the game’s top receivers, then Tony Romo will have a field day in 2012. Each of those decisions is completely up to Bryant. He’s that talented. He only has to flip the switch. Finally, we come to Romo. Romo was quietly spectacular last year. He was even better than Eli Manning (before Eli went all John Elway on us in the playoffs). Romo isn’t fun to harass anymore. He no longer seems overwhelmed or panicked by big games or difficult situations. (I credit marriage and kids – his priorities changed.) With Romo on his game, Dallas may have the best offense in the division… assuming Murray can stay healthy. The Cowboys biggest question mark is the defense. Similar to Philadelphia, how well the defense performs will determine how far the Cowboys can go.
DWC’s Take: Eagles – I’m putting the Eagles ahead of the Cowboys with the hope that Michael Vick plays the entire year. If he fails to stay on the field for at least 13 games (and by that I mean the entire game) the Eagles will suffer another disappointing year. The reality is the Eagles should have been better than they were last year. This team boasted one of the top offenses in the NFL along with a talented defense. Unfortunately, turnovers, blown leads, and far too many mistakes doomed this team along with Vick’s health. And sadly, I think had the coaching staff relied upon LeSean McCoy even more the Eagles probably would have made the playoffs. On paper, this team is better than the Giants. But paper is known for tearing, wrinkling, and falling apart. The Giants have the moxie the Eagles lack. If the Eagles find it, I could see a happy ending.
3. New York Giants
I’m totally going to regret this when the Giants finish 12-4 but whatever. I put the Giants third because I feel like I know exactly who the Giants are. Not much has changed since the 2011 version. And you know what? The Giants finished 9-7 and were a single loss away from the Eagles stealing their playoff spot. Obviously, New York took full advantage and stormed their way to another title but still, am I supposed to just forget all their struggles from 2011, like the four game losing streak in November and how they lost twice to the Redskins? New York’s strengths are in the passing game and on the defensive line. Of the three NFC East contenders, they own the worst ground game. The New York secondary is as iffy as the Cowboys and Eagles, too. I went with Dallas and Philadelphia based on potential. If I’m wrong, I’m wrong. It wouldn’t be the first time.
DWC’s Take: Cowboys – Tony Romo has proven himself to be an extremely good quarterback. As much as people like to rag on him, the Cowboys are only as good as Romo, which is why his health may be even more important to the Cowboys than Vick’s is to the Eagles. But like Vick, I can’t yet trust Romo to win the big games. Though, unlike the Eagles, the Cowboys don’t have a fallback plan. They can’t run the ball or stop the pass. They put a lot of stock in the off-season in upgrading the defense, but it is far too early to make any definitive statement about whether or not it worked. All I know is that it had better work considering the high draft picks they gave up. It’s safe to say a lot is riding on this season. Otherwise Jerry Jones might fire himself as owner and take over as head coach.
4. Washington Redskins
Oh I almost forgot, there’s a fourth team in this division. The Redskins tried and failed with Joe Gibbs during his second tenure in the NFL. They appear headed down the same path with Mike Shanahan. The Steelers, Saints, and Packers all recently won championships with new, up-and-coming hungry coaches, not retreads. Of course, I’m not complaining. As an Eagles fan, I appreciate the two easy victories every year. On a positive note, at least Redskins fans have a reason to watch. I’m not sure how sold I am on Robert Griffin III just yet but it’ll be exciting nonetheless. And if you’re a Redskins fan, you can’t ask for much more than that.
DWC’s Take: Redskins – The Redskins were not as bad as their 5-11 record suggests. They started 3-1 before losing six in a row. And I blame those losses primarily on Mike Shanahan. For all the praise he receives as a quarterback coach, he destroyed the Redskins chances with his version of musical chairs. He benched Rex Grossman, who played well the first four weeks before a bad game against the Eagles, and replaced him with the overwhelmed John Beck. The players did not approve of it, and the team never recovered even after Grossman was reinserted three weeks later. Shanahan had already divided the team. That brings us to the Robert Griffin III era. Griffin has the tools to be a good quarterback. A lot of people are expecting something similar to Cam Newton. Unfortunately, unlike Newton, RGIII has no running game to rely upon. Regardless, Griffin’s presence at the very least should push the Redskins in a forward direction.
I’ll take the Giants to win and cover at home. They’ve owned the Cowboys recently and I can’t think of a team the Giants play better against than the Cowboys. Ok, well other than the New England Patriots.
For those keeping score, last season’s NFC East predictions:
Me: PHI, DAL, NYG, WASH
Actual Results: NYG, PHI, DAL, WASH
Score: DWC 1, Me 1, Fail 2, Tie 4