Tony Romo and 4 Players That Will Decide the NFC East in 2012
A season ago, the NFC East needed 17 weeks to decide a winner. Not even 16 weeks was enough to separate the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys in 2011.
In Week 17, in New Jersey, the Giants defeated the Cowboys 31-14 to capture the division crown. New York would later go on to win their fourth Super Bowl title after dispatching the Atlanta Falcons, Green Bay Packers, San Francisco 49ers and New England Patriots in the postseason.
Will the NFC East again need 17 weeks to find a winner in 2012?
In the following slides, we breakdown the five players who will answer that question next season.
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Eli Manning is a better player in crunch time and has two Super Bowl rings, but Romo is still the most talented quarterback in the division. The pieces around him—especially on defense—simply haven't been in place for the Cowboys to reach the NFL's summit.
That said, the clock is ticking. Eventually, there aren't going to be any more excuses—Romo will need to get to the postseason and win some games.
The Cowboys have done well in adding the necessary pieces this offseason. Romo now needs to take full advantage. A division championship isn't out of the Cowboys' reach in 2012.
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The Giants are the defending division and Super Bowl champions, so there's probably no player as important as Manning in terms of deciding the NFC East.
You have to assume that if Manning is anything like he was in 2011, the Giants will defend their crown. No. 10 threw for almost 5,000 yards and scored 29 touchdowns during the regular season, before adding another nine touchdowns and just one interception in the postseason.
New York is difficult to hold down when Manning isn't making mistakes.
However, if Manning reverts back to the player that turns the football over (25 interceptions in 2010) at a high rate, the NFC East will be wide open.
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Vick was the centerpiece of the Eagles' disappointing 2011 season. His completion percentage, yards per attempt and passer rating all fell drastically. He threw 18 touchdowns against 14 interceptions after a 21-6 ratio in 2010.
If the Eagles are to make something of their 2012 season, Vick will need to be at the center of the revival.
The strides he took as a passer two seasons ago have to reappear, especially in terms of decision-making. Far too often in 2011, Vick threw back-breaking turnovers and made poor decisions that cost Philadelphia more than once.
The playmaking abilities will always be there, but the passing side of Michael Vick needs to return to 2010 form. If it doesn't, the Eagles won't be in contention in the division.
Robert Griffin III
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We're beating a dead horse with the division's four quarterbacks as the four most important players, but that's the state of the NFL right now.
With a good quarterback, anything is possible. Without one, a long stretch in the division cellar isn't just possible, it's likely.
The Redskins can sympathize with both sides. Worst to first isn't just a fable in the NFL—it happens almost every season—and Washington has been stuck as the division's fourth best team far too often over the last 10-15 years.
If Robert Griffin III is everything most think he is, the Redskins are going to be convincingly better in 2012. Washington has a capable roster around the rookie, but he's the key to whether the Redskins can make the jump.
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To be honest, there's probably 10 or more players you could make a case for as the fifth most important player in deciding the NFC East.
DeMarcus Ware, Jason Pierre-Paul, Victor Cruz, Dez Bryant, LeSean McCoy, Nnamdi Asomugha, Jason Babin, DeMeco Ryans, Brandon Carr, Brian Orakpo...the list goes on and on.
I'm going to put the No. 5 spot on Morris Claiborne, the rookie cornerback in Dallas.
The Cowboys should have won two or three more games last season, but Rob Ryan's secondary couldn't stop anyone late in the fourth quarter. Dallas moved up several spots to get Claiborne—the draft's top cover corner—to solve that problem.
If Claiborne and Carr can be expected to turn around the Cowboys' cornerback position, Dallas is plenty capable of dethroning the Giants atop the NFC East. However, the Cowboys can't win the division without better play on the defensive side of the football.